Sphere of fictional influence

Following my break from all things academic this past summer, I am discovering that the various authors’ I have read recently have had subtle influences over my writing style in my latest stories.

Raymond Carver’s short and to the point sentences making the mundane interesting in Cathedral. In “The Lottery” Shirley Jackson portrays a dark and twisted community tradition in matter-of-fact light-heartedness. Even though this is a nonfiction example about fiction, Stephen King’s flowing narrative of On Writing is filled with brutally honest prose of carefully selected words laced with wit and self-deprecating humor. Cormac McCarthy’s jarring sentence structures in The Road shifted point-of-views blended with internal dialogue and swift variances in psychic distance to portray a bleak world. All incredible styles, each quite different, sharing the common thread of a little says a lot.

I developed my own unique fiction voice in the early 1990s as a college student, with the influences of Salinger and Hemingway resonating in my brain since high school. Some time after my professional career became focused on commercial creative work, I spent a long time away from fiction – I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t know how long that was – only picking it up again in 2010 with the dark humor horror novel John Dies at the End by David Wong. I loved that book! I was excited again about writing creatively after years of corporate writing.

Interestingly, that abstinence from published fiction allowed (or forced) me to shape my writing style in a vacuum. Now that I have returned to short story writing on a weekly basis, I find that I draw inspiration from each author’s style and repurpose it in my own voice. My sentences vary in length and rhythm considerably more than they used to, combining fragments and run-ons as they illustrate the tone and atmosphere of a scene. My former tendency was artful and fluid all of the time, now those attributes are only reserved for times most appropriate.

In my own roundabout way, I have proven to myself the value of regularly reading other published works as a writer as each contributes another layer to my foundation. In past blog entries I’ve written about breaking the rules to develop style and finding my voice. My work has matured considerably over the past twelve months and continues to mold itself when I’m not looking. It’s a transformation I had not expected; one I fully embrace.

Summer of change

It’s that moment when the cats’s special diet food smells appetizing you realize it’s time to get out. Locked inside, cleaning, working, only feeling the burn of the summer sun when it’s time to make a dump run or donate more hoarded materials taking up valuable space in the house. By the time night arrives, all of that creative inspiration to write the next great American novel takes on the hazy view of an intoxicated glaucoma patient. Motivation withers away as exhaustion – both mental and physical – presides.

Surrounded by nature – wooded open spaces, rivers, an Audubon – yet never able to really appreciate any of it. Life has not dealt me those cards, the universe seems to have other realities in store for me. Realities in the form of work, obligations to meet for my employer to yield a profit and in-turn pay me a salary. A salary that is obligated to pay for home and food and a few little luxuries; most importantly though, to support my daughter’s skating career. Obligations never cease to grow from the fertile soil of an active family lifestyle.

It is so rare that I find myself without something to do. Today is one of those days as I sit here in a Panera in the rolling hills on Connecticut eating lunch and writing feverishly on my iPad, waiting to return home after the realtor shows my private home off to prospective buyers. A circumstance we had not anticipated only a few months ago as our landlord placed the house on the market. One that necessitates relocating to my more urban hometown on the coast near friends, family, and the sprawling culture of the Greater NYC region. At least I’ll once again feel at home. My nature will be the patches of woods between commercial properties, the rivers dissecting towns and cities as they spill into Long Island Sound, and the waterfronts.

As it’s been said many times in varying capacities, life brings us full-circle. Less the snake eating its own tail and more an expedition through many life changing events and locations, only to return home as a stronger, wiser, more matured self. Until this move materialized, I never thought I would return to my hometown, much less feel excited about it.

Change is the predominant theme in my life this summer in every way. And I have no choice but to embrace it if I want to survive and continue to grow, and lose my appetite for the aroma of special cat food. More to come in a much less self-indulgent manner.

Destination Procrastination, Vindication

I wonder how many faceless people out there find themselves like me at this moment: filled with several creative ideas and inspirations, overwhelmed with sudden life changes and the associated obligations, and bearing the weight of a significant project about to rollout at my job. Thing is, if I had control over the timing on everything I would be in great shape, but I’m not a deity. Thing is, the project I feel least motivated to focus on this weekend is my top priority, and it would serve me well to work on it. Thing is, this is a pivotal point in my career … I think.

Nothing is worse than uncertainty, well, not literally, I can think of many worse things that result in ER visits. Some job scenarios out of my control have cost me secured employment, killed opportunities to get ahead in life, and one even set me back.

My current situation is a little different. I have some insight in what’s going on with this project since I’m leading the communication part of it. I know what is expected of me, but I don’t know enough about where I will stand when I come out on the other side. It’s a very strange scenario, one I don’t mean to be vague about, but I don’t have a choice. Vagueness drives me crazy when I read it elsewhere, believe me, I empathize and half-apologize.

A lack of foresight in anyone’s career path can lead to many questions and reservations. They must be smacked down before their dark tentacles take hold, choking off the oxygen nourishing one’s brain. I find the problem is with placing one’s future in someone else’s possession. It’s a risky endeavor, one not meant to exist in the natural world. Mother Nature would cringe at such a thought, if she was more than a metaphorical figure.

At the end of it all, more effort is required than should be necessary to maintain control over our futures. Despite corporate policies, legal disclaimers, and unwavering personalities, do what’s right for you. No one else cares about you more than you. And that applies to me too. Starting with my big project, there is a clichéd bull whose horns I must grab.

That’s it for the self-indulgent blog posts for the weekend. Next up … heads gone missing.

Let the words flow

I have been missing from this blog for the past month since my spring semester courses wrapped. It has a been a tumultuous four weeks filled with the common theme of change at home and professionally. Among the bigger things we have decided to relocate back to my hometown and I am creating managing a change communication plan for a large reorganization at my company. Crazy stuff. But great experience.

I had vowed to myself I would not let this summer slip away; that I would use the available time to write new stories and catch up on a laundry list of reading. Of course I had not anticipating moving so soon, spending free days and nights on sorting, purging, cleaning, and eventually packing possessions. To my surprise, purging items is quite freeing, no longer do I have a collection of four hundred-something CDs following me around from storage space to storage space, not once listened to in the past decade. Without all that stuff I can focus on what matters. It’s a great feeling.

So I wasn’t sure what I would write today, but felt I owed it to myself and my readers to put something out there. Despite the several levels of change occurring this summer, I have several things to look forward to – no worries, I won’t bore you any more with introspective personal stuff. But I will mention that my short story, “Johnny Versus the Creatures” will be part of the upcoming anthology Unnatural Tales of the Jackalope from Western Legends Press, due out in a few weeks. I will post more info as we close in on the launch.

On that note, back to my life at rink side as my now 13-year-old daughter trains with her coach.

A Writer’s Exploration: Going There

Now that I have been back to writing fiction consistently for the past year (a nice break from the corporate writing), I realized there is an occasional conflict I face: “going there,” as in, “Oh no! He did not just go there!” It appears during the writing process when I come to the figurative fork in the road, but I typically resolve it without much difficulty. However, some instances throw me into a relentless vicious cycle of decision-making.

In fiction it’s easy for a writer to fall in love with a character, and I don’t mean romance. There are those protagonists and secondary characters that embody special traits to make the story work, whether they are likeable or repulsive. Writers love their creations; they have to. The creations take on lives of their own, living and breathing on our pages. There are those moments of reckoning, however, when a character must meet its demise. It can be a difficult thing to wrap my head around. You would think it would be easy, having no trouble portraying violence, dementia, and gore when a story calls for it. I get attached.

It’s not just ending a character’s life that can hard at times, the same conflict arises in morphing an apparently good character into something evil and despicable. I am battling with myself right now over a particular secondary character my workshop readers have expressed a liking for. Do I maintain her damaged but otherwise good-natured persona, giving her a positive role? Or does an unspeakable malevolence brew in her gut under that sweet exterior? Ultimately, I know the latter choice is the right direction for an already twisted story about a disturbed protagonist.

If I learned anything from reading Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” recently, it is that the apparent good guys can be bad, and the bad can be good. Many shades of gray define humans, not polar extremes in outlook and behavior. People do what they must in order to survive – good or bad – that’s our nature.

King’s novella also taught me to portray a scene – to show prison violence, in particular – for what it is, in all of it’s gruesome detail and the very real impact it has on human beings. He went there without self-censorship or Hollywood-style heroics, and applied a raw sense of humanity in response to it; the type of humanity that exists in beaten down characters that must be willing to endure the worst atrocities in order to survive. He painted a cruel yet honest portrayal of prison life. That alone made for a compelling story. He took the risk and succeeded.

Today, I am putting an end to that “going there” conflict, driving an icepick through its callous heart. The relentless vicious cycles of decision-making have met their demise.

Ever face this risk-taking conflict? Please share your thoughts, spill your guts – just remember to clean up after yourself.