Monthly Archives: May 2013

$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?

Revelation Sickness

Walked a desert mile, this a.m.
A half-swallowed viper
Caught in my
Death Valley throat
Making me gag
Looking for some burning
Behind which to retch and
Dislodge the discomfort
Of entrenched years of
The embittered failure/
Of a would-be hagiographer
Lost under a merciless sky
The skin peeling away from
Beneath my unseeing eyes
And across my
Crucified shoulders
In strips of midrashic law
To be interpreted later
In a time of peace
When the crows should stop
Circling my beaten
And bloodied excuse
For a brain
As all the time
My parched, split
Lips silently beseech
Through darkly-remembered
Prayer that the
Implacable godhead should
Thunder down
Forgiving rain instead of…

There’s No Success Like Failure And Failure’s No Success at All

I’m probably not the first person to argue the fact that fear of success can easily generate the same crippling level of anxiety, in the mind of any given individual, that fear of failure can.

The trappings of success stand to ensnare us, just as equally as they have the potential to liberate us from our mundane ordinariness.

Which makes me think, as artists, we writer-types are oftentimes supreme masters of self-sabotage. I suppose, what I’m really trying to say is that we set ourselves up to fail. Almost as a method of self-preservation, I’d put it to you.

Because how else is it that what we create doesn’t succeed? Once the basics of grammar and structure are grasped, what makes the work of one writer outshine that of another? I mean, there are only 12 or so different storylines in the history of written language. In fact, Shakespeare himself, for instance, failed to come up with a single original plot throughout the duration of his much celebrated career.

So, therefore, I suspect, success actually equates with unshakeable self-belief. And this is what is meant by the idea that somebody is not yet ready to step up to the plate, as a writer or artist, to claim their rightful place amongst other successful luminaries in his or her field. It means they don’t believe themselves to be worthy yet.

But just how is this feeling of unworthiness expressed in unconscious acts of self-sabotage, exactly? Well, the simple act of repeatedly not meeting a daily word-count goal is a simple example of this.

As is my wont, I have found a counterexample to this kind of self-defeating thinking, from within the world of music and musicians. And I often reflect on the message that this counterexample contains, when contemplating my own lack of success in my creative life. It’s basically a quote from legendary guitarist Carlos Santana, in which he says that one day he simply realized he was too good to be washing dishes for a living.

I think he’s long since proved his point, wouldn’t you say? And I’m hoping I’ve also succeeded in making mine somewhere along the way within all this. “Oye Como Va!”

Idle is as Idle Does — A Book Review of Sorts

Today represents something of a first for the Missing Zero blog, as I undertake my inaugural attempt at a book review. In my usual way, however, said review will not necessarily conform to the standard format for such things.

The book under review (I think) is called How to Be Idle. And is written by the well-known exponent of the “slow movement” Tom something-or-other.

Now, at the outset, let me point out that I’ve been so influenced by the title in question’s call for universal idleness that my review is in essence merely an idle exploration of the book’s various merits, be they literary, philosophical or otherwise.

So it might be best to think of this review as being a kind of verbal plug one of your friends might make for a book he or she has read a year or so ago. For indeed that is the length of time that has elapsed since I first read this work of nonfiction currently being reviewed.

Anyway, from what I recall, the book is divided up into chapters that correspond to the hours of a single day. Within which, examples are given from throughout history as to how various practices of idleness have been observed down through the ages.

An example might be, for instance, that 6.00pm has traditionally been associated with the cocktail hour. And snippets of poetry and comic observations of celebrated wags like Oscar Wilde will be mixed together with anarchist sentiment to explore and celebrate the golden age/hour of the gin sling and the vodka martini.

Believe me, I’m not doing Tom-what’s-his-face enough justice with this example, though, because his style is both very British and superbly droll, in an educated-at-Eton, English-public-school-kind of way.

I suppose, the main thrust of his book’s central argument is that it’s completely crazy to accept that as human beings we must work from 9 till 5 everyday, when historically this was most certainly never the norm. Agricultural laborers, he points out, for example, traditionally worked seasonally and spent their down time mostly drunk, waiting for harvest time to again come around.

In fact, he says his own inspiration for founding his literary career came from protracted soaking sessions in the bathtub, where he just spent time simply loafing off and idly musing about whatever took his fancy.

Tellingly, his biggest beef seems to be with Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote which states, “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”. What proof is there, the book’s author indignantly asks, that this oft-quoted phrase even has any validity whatsoever?

But there really is much more to commend the writing than these few examples. To wit, the entry on the dying art of the long business lunch was a particular favorite of mine, along with the similarly extolled virtues of learning to look forward to (nay, even love) the morning-after hangover.

In conclusion, while confessing that I never bothered to finish reading How to Be Idle, I readily identify it as being a formative text in the creation of my personal philosophy on life. If I had to give it a score, I wouldn’t. On the grounds that reading is not a sport, wherein points are awarded for goal-scoring activities and the like.

Suffice to say, if a copy of How to Be Idle should drift your way, at some time in the future, be sure to idle away a few hours within its deceptively illuminating pages. It just might change your life…


On Being Out of Sync With Synchronicity — The Perils of Hitchhiking on the Electronic Superhighway

So, here’s the thing, I’ve recently managed to establish contact with the intellectual grandsire of my novel, Missing Zero. I call this man my book’s grandsire, because it was his works on Jungian alchemy, in particular, that so deeply influenced me when I first started out to become a writer of surrealist fiction.

Anyway, I have been corresponding, over the past few months, with this man about his possibly writing a preface to my book. And, gods be praised, amazingly enough, he recently agreed to actually read my manuscript, in view of providing said preface. Hallelujah!

As an aside, let me add that I’m hoping, by adding a preface to my book, uninitiated readers will not confuse its contents as being some form of satanic scripture, but rather see it for what it is, namely, a satirical take on the moral catastrophe we call modern life. Trust me, it’s meant to be funny, as well as being subversive, and I ought to know because I wrote the bloody thing! Really, you wouldn’t believe the names I’ve already been called, in the course of promoting Missing Zero to the reading public. But enough!

Whatever. The actual problem right now is that I have since found it practically impossible to forward a copy of the manuscript to this man, Missing Zero’s intellectual grandsire.

It’s quite weird, in fact. I must have tried half-a-dozen different email addresses for him, so far. But, each time, without fail, my message bounces back, along with the attachment containing my electronic manuscript.

Now, each time, this man has encouraged me to try again, with a different email address. So I’m fairly confident I’m not being given the cold shoulder here. Yet, even so, there’s something pretty wacky going on.

Which got me to thinking about not so much what Jesus would do, but what Jung would do if he were faced with a similar situation.
After all, the novel’s grandsire is a Jungian analyst and leading exponent of Jungian alchemical practice. What’s more, I also identify myself as a Jungian alchemist, having responded to being such when asked my religion in the latest census.

Well, anyhow, it seems to me the magic word for Jung (and all us Jungians, alike) was/is synchronicity. The idea of meaningful coincidences. And I’m beginning to suspect there is something meaningful about how my efforts to pass on my novel are being blocked.

It was all too easy. I first contacted this man, of whom I speak, for instance, through Facebook’s messenger application. And before you know it, I was next attempting to send off my 120,000 word manuscript to him via email, all in the twinkling of an eye.

Not too shabby for a morning’s work, eh? But to what end? So he could next skim over the first five or ten pages and decide he didn’t actually like it? Or worse yet, have him not even read it, but instead write a preface anyway based on the synopsis I had also forwarded on?

And this is the danger of the electronic age, I would argue. Everything happens so damn fast. Because of which, we constantly run the risk of being out of synch with things. We settle for the shallow and superficial, when we should seek the deeply significant.

I desperately want to see my novel published, preferably with the said preface in place (pardon the alliteration); however, it took me nearly eight years to write the thing, and so why should I be in such a screaming hurry now to give it to the world?

Maybe the world’s not ready for it yet. A satirical tale about the defunct Antichrist’s personal search for a moral compass, in a world long-gone to hell…hmm, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Sure, it makes me laugh, but then I’ve got an extremely wacky sense of humour.

How did my own sister describe it? Oh, yes, unpalatable. At which point, I laughed longer and harder than I have at probably any other point in the past eight years. My bad.

Hmm, what would Jung do, I wonder? Or Dali or Burroughs or Godard or Beckett or Cocteau or A Belgian Ballerina Named Frank…

The Phony Police Prank Phone Call

Enjoying the heat of
The spoon left too long
In the pan biting
My hand in dissenting waves
Of blistering chaos
My mind for once
Uprooted by sensation
Not contiguous with
Overtaxed, crazy
Nonsense about faking
Filing and folding
Laundry day items
Towards presenting
A civilized appearance
Of simian sophistication.

A Questionable Philosophy?

I was taken aback yesterday, when a young child, quite out of the blue, asked me what my philosophy was.

After doing a sort of double-take due to the impromptu nature of the question, I then tried to think whether I even have a philosophy as such. Sure, I’m always going on and on about a whole bunch of imponderables. But I tend to drift between whatever interests me, at any given time.

Anyway, not wanting to seem foolish in front of a child, I decided I really needed to come up with something fast. So I did. Because, apparently, unbeknownst to me, I do have my own personal philosophy floating around inside my mind, which (on reflection, I’m inclined to argue) guides me in how I generally view the world and others.

And here it is:

“Everybody should be allowed to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t interfere with anybody else.”

Slightly anarchic, I guess. But something I’m happy to stick with, until something better should come along. Interesting, though, that it took a child’s innocent question to put me in touch with this guiding principle I’ve been unconsciously living my life in line with, all this time. Oh well, from the mouth of babes, I suppose…