Monthly Archives: May 2013

Water is an Orphan

More rain
And scones with
Rosemary, danced under
A tree, with John
That made three
This our surrogate family
Of mum, dad and me
Together we sing
It’s a hard-luck life
Before I dry my
Eyes from laughing
So hard, now
Wet through.

Icarus Overdrive or Setting the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

The cautionary tale of Icarus, the young man who rashly flew too close to the sun, is of course known by all. In fact, the image of this tragic figure of myth, who by way of his ill-considered actions doomed himself to a watery grave, is so deeply etched into our collective imaginations so as to have become a universal archetype of impetuous youth overreaching its limits.

What is not dwelt upon, quite so much, however, in the telling of this tale, is the fact that Icarus can alternatively also be viewed as having been one of the world’s first test pilots. For, quite literally, he boldly went where no man had gone before.

From this viewpoint, then, Icarus can be seen as having possessed the “right stuff”. He tested the boundaries of physical human endurance and paid the ultimate price. A price that any test pilot worthy of his wings is more than willing to pay, in pursuit of “pushing the envelope”.

In its symbolic sense, the myth of Icarus, I believe, is so compelling to us artist types, precisely because of his fearless, trailblazing attitude. For, simply put, there can be no creation of breathtakingly new and original artworks, without one’s first flying in the face of tradition.

The danger, obviously, is that the artist will next suffer a tragic fall, like Icarus himself did, if he or she should try to overstep the limiting boundaries of societal consensus and norms by too much.

But, then again, I would argue, there exists those kind of days, as an artist, when you just need to suit up and say, “Stuff it, set the controls for the heart of the sun”. Those make or break days, when all thoughts of failure are dismissed as irrelevant. Those days, when you feel you must — even though it goes against your better judgement — reach into the fiery crucible of the sun and drag forth a molten ray of destiny and claim it as your own.

I call them Icarus Overdrive Days, and I can only pray whenever they crop up that I’m able to find the write stuff within me to ride them out. I suppose, half the fun in a myth, though, ultimately lies in its making…wouldn’t you agree?


Broken chords/Broken man

With a much diminished
Poisoned 5th
Of jealous whiskey
On blue lips
He breathed his last
Tritonic breath
His Master’s voice
The harbinger of death.

An idle deal of youth
At midnight made
The price of fame
An unmarked grave.
The Devil tuned
His first guitar
He gave his soul
To play 12 bars.

None knew from whence
His talent came
Until too late to purge
His dying shame
Allowed 3 full days
To suffer and die
Robert Johnson
Hitched his final ride…

Robert Johnson's studio portrait, circa 1935—o...

Robert Johnson’s studio portrait, circa 1935—one of only two verified known published photographs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

$how Me the Ben Franklins!

The question that keeps cropping up for me this week is “what made you get into this writing business in the first place, anyway?”

Now, at the outset, let me state very clearly, while I might have spent a lot of time working at being a writer, I’ve yet to experience the so-called business side of this whole writing caper.

Ok, I tell a lie. Because today I got a price back from a lawyer, who was quoting me the cost of his services for looking over a publishing contract. This is for if and when the miraculous should occur and my novel should actually get picked up by a major publishing house in the near future.

The price quoted was somewhere between $1,650.00 – $2,750.00. It’s probably not that outrageous, I suppose. But, to be honest, I’ve never really considered that I would ever make anywhere near that kind of profit from anything I have written. Let alone that I could afford to pay a lawyer such a fee.

As an aside, not so long ago, I had to hold my tongue when an old friend told me he was hoping to get a $100,000 advance on his half-finished, debut sci fi novel. In the end, though, I decided that maybe I was the one who had been guilty of setting my goals too low all along. And that perhaps he was right to aim high. Whatever.

You see, within all this talk of money, I keep thinking about just why it is any of us choose to write at all. Because it can’t seriously be for the money. Washing windscreens at the traffic lights would provide a steadier stream of income, honestly. Well, in my case, at the very least, let’s say.

Anyhow, so there must be more to it. More beyond the mental masochism and intellectual vanity, that is. More beyond the crippling writer’s block and equally crippling alcohol consumption, as well.

And this week, I feel that I may well have experienced just what that “more” might be, in the form of the interactions I have had with other people in the context of my being a writer.

Really, I’m like everybody else. A dreadful mess of insecurities and inconsistencies, you know, the usual. But because I write, I am able to present myself to the world as being a very considered and (hopefully) erudite person. And, whereas, by contrast, in real life, where I can sometimes be quite reserved and self-conscious, depending on the situation, on the page, I can pass for self-assured, if not even downright witty and debonair.

What this means is that I can communicate my ideas and feelings far better when I write, than when I interact face-to-face with people. Which, in a fairly convoluted way, answers the initial question of why I got into this whole writing business to begin with. When I write, I can be the me I’d like to be. The real me.

Coz it sure ain’t for the damn Ben Franklins, I tellz ya! Ok, maybe just a little… 😉

Ben Franklins

The Long Tradition of Using Pictures to Illustrate the Point

William Blake's etching/watercolour "Anci...

William Blake’s etching/watercolour “Ancient of Days” British Museum, London . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In line with the suggestion of a friend, I approached an illustrator today about his possibly supplying some artwork to accompany the text of my novel, Missing Zero.

Really, I don’t know why I didn’t think of doing this much earlier. You see, I identify my novel as being a work of Jungian alchemy. And, the thing is, a great many ancient alchemical works actually came with woodcut illustrations to help illuminate the often arcane and obscure passages of text contained therein.

It’s a no-brainer, ultimately. The only problem, I suppose, would be the raised printing costs that including illustrations would incur, if my novel were to ever find a publisher. However, at this stage, Missing Zero looks destined to remain a self-published eBook. The worryingly overdue, final verdict of Coronet publishing, in the UK, notwithstanding.

Interestingly, there’s always been a part of me that’s been totally intrigued by the prospect of turning Missing Zero into a graphic novel. My greatest reservation, obviously, being that such works are in no way viewed as serious attempts at literature but rather as adult comic books.

By contrast, fortunately, though, there’s a long history of cases where satirical/speculative writing has been coupled with illustrations. For instance, I can’t think of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, without the images of Ralph Steadman’s surreal artwork coming flooding into my mind.

A more distant example from the past is, of course, the work of Arthur Rackman, whose illustrations for editions of Gulliver’s Travels, Alice in Wonderland and Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination have forever changed how these classics have gone on to be pictured in the minds of generations of readers over time.

In case you’re inclined to believe this is all just kid stuff, William Blake also famously illustrated his own often prophetic and surreal writing. And I don’t think you could find a literary critic alive who would try and argue Blake’s extensive body of work doesn’t constitute the very essence of serious, “capital L” literature.

So, there exists a long tradition of book illustrating, from the illuminated manuscripts of medieval times, through to the modern stylings of Ralph Steadman. And, therefore, who am I to willfully break with tradition?

Moreover, many are calling the times we live in the Age of the Image, as we move away from the page and towards the screen. The visual is king. Everything will soon be multimedia, including possibly Missing Zero. And I’m none too bothered, because for the reasons outlined above, to my mind, the marriage of words and images is simply just another instance of history repeating.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.jpg

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Writer’s Art and Learning How to Read People Like an Open Book

I had a brilliant exchange of ideas today, with a regular visitor to the Missing Zero Facebook page. Now, look, I know from reading other authors’ blogs here at WordPress a lot of you don’t know what Facebook offers. And usually I would wholeheartedly agree with you.

But recently I’ve started to get some good interactions happening. Sure, there’s still the odd, drunken interloper who types random, semi-coherent comments about all sorts of bizarre stuff. However, the slightly surreal nature of the Missing Zero page probably lends itself to these kinds of agents of chaos dropping by. My bad.

Anyhow, as I was saying earlier, this regular visitor to my Facebook site and I got into quite a prolonged exchange, whereby we ended up covering a whole range of different topics. Which got me to thinking about how, quite literally, everybody’s got a story to tell.

You see, the thing is, as writers, it’s easy for us to forget that telling stories is not the sole preserve of we wordsmiths alone. Everybody has something interesting to say, ultimately, sheerly by having experienced this precarious condition of what we term being alive.

For instance, this guy I was messaging backwards and forwards with began telling me about some experiences he’d had with the supernatural. I can’t divulge too much, unfortunately, because I haven’t okayed it with him first. Yet, let me just say, though, it was some pretty eerie and thought-provoking stuff. A messages-from-the-beyond type of thing. Believe me, it made the Sixth Sense seem like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Well, I was fascinated (if also a little spooked), and it struck me this guy’s story was better and more intriguing than anything I’ve ever read that dealt with similar topics. Essentially, I guess, it was a case of truth being stranger than fiction.

But the larger lesson, for me, I believe, was the realization that I need to look more to real life (and, in particular, at how real people tell the stories that make up their lives), as a way of learning more about the art of storytelling. Instead of reading yet another scholarly handbook on the writer’s craft, that is.

If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. Next time you’re thrown together with someone you don’t know, trust in the fact that they have, at the very least, one amazing story they’re just itching to tell you, should you only just let them. And take my word, it’ll be better than anything you could ever possibly come up with, even if you were somehow capable of channeling both Edgar Allan Poe and Dostoevsky simultaneously. Consider it my money-back guarantee!

A copy photograph of the portrait painted by O...

A copy photograph of the portrait painted by Oscar Halling in the late 1860’s of Edgar Allan Poe. Halling used the “Thompson” daguerreotype, one of the last portraits taken of Poe in 1849, as a model for this painting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reality Fatigue and the Truth of Why We Read What We Read

While thinking about the purpose of fiction today, I came up with the idea of “reality fatigue”. You see, I’d been following this chain of logic about how reading books is a form of escapism — escape from reality, that is — and I started to wonder what was so dreadful about the real world.

After all, most of us who actually have time to read works of fiction mustn’t be too badly off, surely? Our housing, clothing and food needs are obviously being adequately met. So what is it we book-loving, world-denying types are seeking to escape? Boredom?

Yes, to some degree, boredom or ennui is probably partly the reason we try to lose ourselves in the pages of a book. Also, isolation or alienation from others might explain this retreat into fictitious worlds of the imagination. Unhappiness due to heartbreak or loss might similarly be a motivating factor to read.

Whatever. I suppose, my conclusion was all of these various states of being could be labelled under the blanket term of “reality fatigue”. And, as it happens, I believe I was suffering today from exactly that.

My day wasn’t particularly arduous or stressful; in fact, I had nothing pressing to do and all my needs were satisfactorily being met. Yet I was on edge somehow. Real life was making me feel claustrophobic. There was a sameness to everything: my thoughts, my social interactions with others, those nagging doubts I’m habitually plagued with etc. It was all too familiarly familiar.

And then I stumbled upon a book. It was a collection of ghost stories, of all things. A genre I would usually avoid. However, my reality fatigue ran deep, and so I began reading the tales of horror contained therein, in spite of myself.

Well, in truth, I only read one such tale. Because that was all it took to change my day. The story I speak of was neither particularly scary or suspenseful. Okay, it was sort of suspenseful. Nonetheless, I felt I had lived through something by the time I’d finished reading it.

I’m not going to get into how the writing achieved this effect on me. My only interest, here and now, is to observe that the story recharged the coping mechanism within me that helps me deal with reality. The story cured me of my reality fatigue. Which makes me think reading, for me, isn’t strictly speaking a form of escape, but rather a way of replenishing my spirit. I believe the two concepts are quite different, although you might not agree?

On the flip-side of this idea, there is something interesting to be said about the role of us writers, then, when seen in the context of my experience of reality fatigue and its literature-based cure, I would argue.

As is usually the case, though, a much earlier thinker/writer than myself has distilled this idea down into a pithy phrase. And here ’tis:

“A tale, however slight, illuminates truth.” – Jalaluddin Rumi

In light of which, by reworking this phrase into slightly different words, I would put it to you there is literally no escaping the truth through the so-called “escapism” of reading. For even a tale told by an idiot signifies something, if it should connect with another, true?