I’ve had stories appear now in six horror anthologies. Some of those books, in full disclosure, I had a hand in designing the covers or page layouts, though completely separate from my story submissions and inclusions. A few more horror-genre publications containing my work are on the way to print in the next few months, but I still often wonder whether I am truly a horror writer.
Before anyone lambasts me for such a self-serving ponderous statement, I’m being completely honest about this question, and this is my personal blog. All organization and personal blogs are self-serving regardless of their intents and purposes, don’t blind yourself to this one truism.
Thing is, I never set out to be a horror writer. I am always drawn toward dark material for the books I read or TV shows I watch, which in turn influences or inspires what I write. I’ve tried my hand at happy stories and they never feel authentic to me. Difficult decisions, personal conflicts, and imperfect flaws that lead to dramatic and usually tragic conclusions are what drive me. They are sometimes allegories, other times criticisms on or responses to our current day culture and society. The messages may not be obvious to everyone, and I don’t expect them to be; they typically serve as starting points from which a story takes on its own life. As a story should for every writer.
These statements or criticisms on the world, our society, or our culture come from a perspective of gritty realism, they are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. They just are. The world exists as we shape its existence, both good and bad. This perspective spawns the perpetual evolution of my creativity: a dark point-of-view mired in grit and horror; a creative process carried by a glimmer of hope that challenges an ominous darkness and crushing fear. Think Baroque music and painting. Think Gothic architecture and literature.
Looking back at these paragraphs I just wrote I realize just how subjective it is to define one’s work in any particular genre. This is art and not science after all, there are no mandated axioms on the natural world’s behaviors that dictate creativity, just concepts and ideas.
So my stories may not contain much gore, graphic sex or violence, or the standard supernatural creatures that account for many horror movie and story tropes, but they do contain accounts of mental anguish, trauma, shock, and the deterioration of one’s mental faculties. In that sense, these attributes are real life everyday horrors of the human experience, whether they are set in a dystopian backdrop or a current-day real-world environment that may or may not be affected by a supernatural influence depending on the protagonist’s perspective.
The answer, then, is yes. I do write horror.
Never underestimate the power your mood holds over your creative work. I put mood up there with inspiration and incentive. Good moods lend themselves to producing good work, great moods for even better work. However, bad moods not only lead to poor work, but unfinished and post-deadline deliveries, and that’s why you need to take notice.
Self-awareness is a valuable attribute for anyone producing creative work. It should be part of the standard art school curriculum alongside other relevant subjects including psychological health and well-being, placed at the same level as Art History and Aesthetics. A holistic approach to a positive mindset can mean the difference between success and failure in the creative business.
Artists carry a stigma of brooding and general moodiness in American culture. An unfortunate contradiction to the celebrated and enlightened artist found in other cultures around the world. Perhaps this is because their efforts go unnoticed and under-appreciated in our society where hype is valued above integrity. Think summer blockbuster films and the huge overpriced video game releases each holiday season. The brooding artist stereotype does a wonderful disservice to creative folk of all types, as any other stereotype does. It will only change if enough artists consistently present themselves in a more positive light.
In the spirit of giving, because that’s the popular phrase to toss around at the moment, here are my suggestions on building your self-awareness to avoid becoming creatively oblivious. All actions that I have found to work well for me and I hope will benefit you too. By the way, I wasn’t intending to turn this into a touchy-feely confidence-boosting self-help thing; that would be so out of character for me.
You can’t change the people around you, but you can change whom you are around.
If someone else’s actions or behaviors are negatively affecting yours, do yourself a favor and remove yourself from the situation. Be respectful and respectable. Don’t pick a fight or complain. Don’t even consider trying to change the person to meet your immediate needs. If another person inquires about your removal from a situation, respond honestly about your needs with everything else in this paragraph in mind. Do not unload your frustrations unless you’re itching for a fight.
I bet you didn’t already know any of this. Right? Maybe in a different context. Or it has gone forgotten.
Recognize that you have full control over yourself.
Don’t be an ass towards others about your creative needs. Respect is key here too. Treat others no different than you expect them to treat you. This is groundbreaking advice you should have learned in kindergarten and from the people who raised you, even if wolves raised you.
Establish your creative space.
You need your quiet alone space. An environment you have complete control over where you can shut the door and not be disturbed. Where you can blast the Dropkick Murphys, Rihanna, or the Boston Pops when the mood hits. Where you can write by candlelight and an open window during a thunderstorm or paint under a full spectrum balanced floodlight rig. Whatever works. You’re full in control, and if you complain, do yourself a favor and punch yourself in the gut and stop complaining.
Pay attention to the quality of your work. Always.
Now you don’t want to enter the bad practice of editing as you create, that will stunt your flow and productivity. It’s expected that a first or rough draft is far from perfect, so let it happen, be shameless. However, as you revise and edit, take notice of how the work is shaping up. Is the quality sub-par in comparison to your usual output? If so, take a look at yourself; chances are the problem lies in your outlook. Straighten it out before you get back to work. Remember, you are in complete control. The same applies to writer’s block or other analogous scenarios in any medium.
Don’t spend your energy venting frustrations to others, use that energy for your art.
You woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? That’s nice. No one wants to hear about it at work or the coffee shop or the bar. Seriously, no one does. Don’t bother trying. Refocus that kinetic energy toward your creative work. Take that anger, frustration, sadness, anxiety, whatever; fashion it into a galvanized six foot spike and drive that passion into your art so hard the room is splattered in a colorful array of your creative juices. It feels great!
Whether you choose to take my advice or run amuck with your brooding self, just remember: the quality of your work is effected by how you feel.
Since the early 1990s, I have occasionally stumbled across the notion that reading fiction is a waste of time. I remember seeing a hair metal rocker in an MTV interview back then proclaiming this frivolous statement. You would think this concept was profound by the attention it was given during the “news” segment. I can’t even recall who the musician was, guess it wasn’t all that big a deal.
More recently, however, Noel Gallagher of Oasis echoed a similar time-wasting sentiment in an interview for GQ’s Icon of the Year. You can see an article about this in The Guardian here. Is it trendy for some celebrities to make this unnecessarily stupid statement? I have yet to see a legitimate reason to defend this point. At best, it promotes his pompous arrogance. It begs the question why GQ deemed Gallagher worthy of such a prestigious title; he’s certainly on track to become a Nobel Laureate.
I understand some people prefer reading nonfiction over fiction just as others prefer the inverse – I get that. I don’t argue personal preference and I don’t pass judgment either way. I enjoy reading both and writing both. So be it. But the public proclamation of fiction as a waste of time sucks the marrow from my bones as a giant mosquito would if given the opportunity. It’s far more than just stating a personal preference when delivered to a mass media outlet.
For those who don’t see the point of fiction, I offer you these groundbreaking thoughts. And yes, they are opinions, rooted in observations, professional experience, and most importantly, common knowledge. Only a narcissist would be oblivious.
Fiction provides escape.
For some it’s a journey into another world. For others, it’s the opportunity to live out a fantasy while ignoring the day’s real life stress. There’s no magic here, it should be obvious even to the most cynical bastard.
Fiction is ubiquitous.
I wonder if the people claiming fiction is a waste enjoy TV dramas, art galleries, blockbuster movies, or even stand-up comedy. Even when based on facts there are elements of fiction throughout these media. How many Civil War documentaries feature audio clips of Abraham Lincoln’s words of wisdom? Voiced by actors, of course. As for the gaps between recorded events, writers have to surmise what probably had occurred to connect the dots – fiction based on fact.
Fiction excites the mind.
An amazing side affect of reading fiction is that it inspires. It can invoke creativity. Especially for children. Concepts in science fiction haves opened the way to real life inventiveness, bringing to the world submarines and helicopters. Check out this Smithsonian.com article if you don’t believe me. Star Trek fans relish in this fact considering the number of inventions the original TV show inspired.
Fiction is the livelihood for many people.
Whether we are talking about novelists, publishers, or filmmakers, fiction is at the root of many Americans’ livelihood. It’s an industry no less legitimate than music.
Fiction is this or that….
Anyone can spend a few minutes on this topic and come up with a list. My point is this: don’t berate fiction because it’s not your cup of tea, even if your cup of tea contains sulfuric acid and bleach. No one enjoys hearing of their life’s passion proclaimed a waste of time. Not even formerly celebrated musicians.
I was challenged by my MFA writing mentor with a writing process and personal aesthetics prompt: when am I happiest with my writing? And when am I unhappiest about it? Well, since I am going to address this on my blog, I need to make it relatable to you the reader. Otherwise, what’s the point of the blog? Talking to myself is not an option. I just assume keep a diary – I mean journal – under my pillow if that was the case. So, let’s start on a negative note.
I am least happy when I’ve written nothing.
I am the most unhappy when I’ve gone through the motions of the writing process and yielded garbage; the times when a part of a story might emerge that I look back and realize it’s been written somewhere sometime before. A text modeled after a cliché. Or a storyline I hate. Or, most despised of all, one with no ending in sight. I equate that to receiving injections of chlorine bleach under my skin. I’ve never had bleach injections, but I have a good imagination rooted in knowing its chemical properties and how it interacts with various materials.
Stories with no end in sight. The (clichéd) bane of my writing existence.
This is perhaps my biggest challenge. I have written several almost-stories that don’t end. But they’re supposed to end so they can live the lives of mature stories as they were meant to. Perhaps this is why serial novels are so common, those authors must suffer the same affliction. More than likely capitalism is their driver, which is a good thing. Beats holding a day job while writing at night.
These unfortunate stories sit dormant in my “In Progress” folder on my MacBook waiting for their opportunity to shine. When I open the files and read through, I’ll make changes, write new parts, but they just fight closure. Perhaps that’s the point, they aren’t near completion and I’m being absolutely neurotic over a non-issue. Thing is, I’m not neurotic, I’m obsessive, and that throws a whole new complexity into the mix. It’s that obsessiveness that makes me so specific, so tuned-in to detail when I create. Both to my success and my detriment. Happiness and unhappiness.
Then fear rears its ugly face and taunts me.
In thinking about this issue I realized something, I have a fear of commitment in fiction, which is completely unlike me in the real world. I’m not sure where this comes from. There’s an overwhelming sense of foreboding when I consider allowing a character to die or experience some other incapacitating life-altering event, especially as the means to close a story or a major climax. Unless I despise my protagonist and enjoy the sight of a demon exacting the revenge of the protagonist’s victims – see my story “F is for Furcas: Lies Under Skin” in The Demonologia Biblica. Don’t get me wrong, I will do what’s right for the story, it takes me a while to accept the character’s fate to move forward. This fear of ending a story, however, can cripple the story when not careful, and a source of frustration for me.
I have a challenge to accept. And depending on my mood, I might. This is the root of the matter, I think. Amateur psychologists would have a fun time picking my brain about my creative process as I still haven’t figured it out in my nearly forty years of life. It’s a piece of me, creativity defines me. There is no other light to see me in – like a finance guy or a political guy or a construction guy – and that’s not necessarily by my choice. And I have an impossible time seeing myself in those roles in reality, but that completely changes when it comes to writing.
Bringing this full circle.
This little writing journey today, this blog entry you are reading right now, has been a fun one. The self-discovery and sharing hints of my usually secluded self lighten my brooding artist mood. In real life I tend to be private; in writing life, which is another reality for me, I am more open about myself. It’s this ability to be open that probably makes me happiest in my writing. It encourages confidence in my abilities, it inspires new ideas, new creative methods to add to that mysterious creative process that controls me. And sometimes, it gives me the ability to find my way home, to draw conclusions, to progress a plot line, and to end a story. To resolve my unhappiness with a never-ending story. And that is when I find myself thrilled about my writing, that momentary sense of fulfillment until the next story comes along.