Tagged: summer

A Man Under the Influence

images-1Something has gone haywire.

My Muse has taken charge of my summer and is refusing to relinquish it.  Writing a couple of stories for the Esquire fiction contest was supposed to be a warm-up, something to limber up the ol’ wrists and get the synapses firing.  I wrote the first story and the second one occurred to me and a third…and all of them featured a recurring character, this Conrad Dahl fella, at various ages, from 13-19.  I’ve pondered and batted around the idea of writing (at some point) a linked series of stories but had made no specific plans, didn’t even have an outline committed to paper.  Now here I am with three stories–“Twenty-Ten”, “An Insurrection” and “Never, Ever Say That To Me Again”–written for that fucking contest.  One (“Twenty-Ten”) is complete and was submitted with about four hours to spare before the deadline and the other two need at least a week of polishing and I’m bouncing around the notion for a fourth Conrad Dahl story that would (he hopes) complete the cycle.  Which means at least another 2 or three weeks and pretty much the rest of my summer devoted to short fiction.

What about that novel I was supposed to be revising?  What about the filming and recording I had planned, to sample and explore some of the features of this amazing, stunning, paradigm-shifting new iMac (I’m still enamored, can you tell)?

And do you think I can seize back the initiative, demand that my Muse shitcan this story cycle, at least for now, and get back to the novel?  Not bloody likely.  It doesn’t work that way, my dears.  I can’t program my inspiration, channel it with any degree of success.  Not this lad.  And I’m very single-minded, I can only focus on one project at a time; I’m not one of those agile bastards who can juggle any number of novels, article ideas, short stories, what have you.  After I finish this blog entry it will take me the rest of the morning to regain a fiction-writing mindset.  I’ll play lots of music, pace around my office, let every last vestige of this post evaporate away before I’ll be able to return to my regular work.  Get my game face on again.

I have no idea why my Muse has determined that these short stories should be given precedence.  I’m frustrated by this change of plan; I thought I had my summer all figured out.  Matter of fact, this entire year to this point has been taken up with works that weren’t exactly at the top of my list of priorities.  My “Innocent Moon” radio play took me wayyy too long to research and complete, eating up the early part of 2009.  And then I worked on finishing the long version of “First Room” and a short story that will shortly appear on this blog called “Death Threats”.  And now these linked tales.

Grrrrr.

So what happens if my Muse decides to try to try her hand at writing a ballet or a libretto to a fucking opera?  There’s no way of getting around it:  I’d have to give it a shot.  I throw up my hands in frustration, I curse and shake my fist at the sky but in the end I must accede to the wishes of the one who defines me as an artist and person.  I’m a control freak and the act of writing is the only time I let that go.  That can be terrifying, enlivening, thrilling, daunting; like walking a high wire naked, with no safety net and only half the world watching, hoping you’ll fall.  Addictive and sick-making.  Adrenaline-charged and gut-churning.  I often quote Robert Penn Warren, the act and process of writing the pain I can’t live without.

I’m guessing some of you out there know what I’m talking about.

We’ve sacrificed our backs, fingers, even our peace of mind.  All for the sake of following our Muse wherever she takes us:  never without complaint but, in the end, always obedient, wary of offending her fickle, unpredictable sensibilities.

The horrific, unspeakable risk such an attitude might entail…

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Brief respite…and then…

images-1Took yesterday off…sort of.  I mean, I did some writing (poetry and journaling) but I didn’t so much as glance at the trio of stories I’ve been editing like a demon for most of the past month.

Speaking of which, I’d better explain what I’m up to:

This year Esquire magazine is promoting a fiction contest where authors are invited to write stories based on three titles they (the editors) provide.  You can visit their website for further details.  I discovered the contest in May, printed up the info for later reference.  Found the stuff again in late June, thought writing a story based on someone else’s title might be an interesting writing exercise.  Wrote down the first title, “Twenty-Ten”, and went for it.   Not necessarily thinking of submitting the finished work to the contest, just seeking to limber up my wrists before the real work of the summer began.

Well, I wrote one story and it turned out pretty darn good so the next day, suitably encouraged,  I wrote a second and almost immediately a concept occurred to me for the third.  So in the space of a few days I had three handwritten drafts.  Tapped them into the iMac, opened one up, did a bit of fiddling…and now, three weeks later, here I am.

But I have a problem and I’ll bet you spotted it right away, didn’t you?  You’re only supposed to submit one story and I’ve got three I’m quite taken with.  I read all of them to my family the other night, hoping they’d immediately point out a winner but the verdict was mixed.  They loved the stories, the characters, but each seemed to favor a different tale. Even I had changed my mind as to which one I preferred by the time I’d finished reading the last of them.  Good grief.  Well…I’ve got until the 31st (what is that, Friday?) to choose one story and edit it into tip-top shape.  Because I will indeed be submitting something, despite my oft-repeated reluctance to enter writing competitions.  For one thing, there’s no entry fee (mandatory).  For another, Esquire, like the BBC, is a flagship, one of those names you’d dearly love, as a writer, to have on your resume.  And one last consideration:  I’ve written three bloody good tales, any of which is worthy for consideration.

images-2My break’s over.  Yesterday was fun:  I sat around reading Paul Auster’s Man in the Dark (not one of his great ones, unfortunately), straightened up in the office, cleaned my area of the basement (we’ve been painting and installing a new ceiling light/fan in our kitchen so everything is a mess), listened to some alternative radio on the ‘net, trying to ease up and relax…but it’s time to get back at it.  Grind, grind grind.  Funny how hard you have to work on a story to make it read and flow naturally.

This tales have already taken up more of my summer than I’d intended–this started out as a simple writing exercise, remember?  I still want to dive into edits of my next novel and here we are, approaching the end of July.  Yike!

Time to finish up these tales and get back on track.  It’s been an intriguing interlude but that novel beckons, miles to go before I sleep and all that.

That’s it for the update.

Hope you’re all having a fun summer.  We’re finally getting some hot, sunny days, real Saskatchewan scorchers.

And, last but not least, it’s our 19th anniversary tomorrow.

Thanks, Sherron, for everything.

Forever and ever, doll…

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Temporarily Unavailable

RadarHill_FMy wife and sons are on the West Coast–getting their first dose of rain after a week of great weather–and I’ve stopped answering the phone, shaving, checking  e-mails and visiting some of my favorite sites and forums.  It’s summertime and that means WORK.

It must be a hormonal thing.  While everyone else is seized by an impulse to drag their sorry asses off to the woods and get closer to nature (i.e. Lyme disease, poison oak and bears), I become almost feverish with a desire to be shut away in a 10 X 12 room, scribbling like a madman all day and long into the night.  And then, when I finish, I collapse in front of our big Sony and watch old movies or foreign flicks until I zonk out.

And, indeed, that’s what I’ve been up to since I’ve bid farewell and adieu to Sher and the lads last Sunday.  I got warmed up with lots of “automatic writing”, filling page after page of my notebook with cryptic, allusive remarks cribbed from my subconscious.  Lots of journaling and personal writing too; I use these opportunities when I’m alone to blow off emotional steam, purge my system of some of the accumulated ugliness and toxic sludge.  Restoring balance and focus, checking the state of my faith life.

In the past four or five days I’ve really gotten down to business, completing three short stories and tapping them in–over 10,000 words of new prose.  But that’s just a warm-up.  In the coming weeks I want to tackle a big revision of another novel, really sink my teeth into that one and shake the living shit out of it.

imagesUnfortunately, all that work means I might not be posting here as frequently or at any length.   But I promise you there will be new work added soon, more prose you won’t find anywhere else.  Because the point of this site isn’t to provide me with a platform for my various rants and obsessions (though sometimes it might appear that way).  It’s to give you access to my work, the stories and novels and prose poems and verse and radio plays and essays that I’ve composed over the past quarter century.  It’s all here–well, a good portion of it, anyway.  Available for absolutely nothing.  Posted (see the various “Pages” above) in the PDF format, which (I’m told) makes it compatible with most of those new-fangled e-readers (even the Kindles, I and II).  So download away!

And please pop back in again soon.  I’ll make sure you have some decent summer reading, never fear.  Something for your leisure hours.

Leisure…leisure…have to look that one up in the dictionary some time.  Exotic sounding word.

Meanwhile, it’s back to work for yours truly.

Sigh.  The sacrifices I make for my hordes of readers…

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Automatic Writings

automaticLast week I joined Sherron out on the patio to keep her company while she made masks.  Her materials consisted of old juice jugs and papier-mache.  It was fun to watch her work and see faces and personalities emerge from simple plastic containers–the gal possesses an artfulness, visual acuity and imagination that I would swap a kidney for.

It was a lovely day, the first decent weather we’ve had in what has been a cool and unpredictable summer.  I brought along a book with me, the Atlas Press edition of The Automatic Message, a surrealist classic featuring the work of Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and Philippe Soupault (translated by David Gascoyne, Anthony Melville & Jon Graham).

BretonBreton was a big believer in automatic writing, composing prose with no forethought or planning, allowing the pen to skitter across the page, recording whatever was on the author’s mind at that moment.  Some of the “experiments” undertaken in this manner resulted in pure gibberish (as can be expected) but on other occasions something clicked and the author was able to channel words and images directly from the subconscious portion of the mind, where myths, dreams and inspiration reside in their purest form.

I started reading The Automatic Message and all at once was overcome with a desire to put something on paper.  I rushed inside for my pad, reseated myself and while Sherron applied layer after layer of sodden tissue paper to her creations, I put pen to paper…and let everything fall away.

I’m reproducing here some of the efforts I composed that day.  These are first drafts, no touch-ups or corrections (except for the odd comma added or deleted, for the purpose of clarity).

This technique, while it might seem daunting at first, seeks to put the editorial portion of your brain on hold and permits you to tap into deeper, non-critical areas of consciousness and sometimes (not always) the results can be surprising, instructive, even unnerving.

I think you’ll understand what I mean once you’ve read the samples I’ve provided:

First Light

The guiltless robin knows no travail only the ceaseless pursuit of wind and rain and morsels, wriggling grubs devoured in sharp, yellow beaks.  Teach us the ardor of kindly wings curved in flight and remind us of the eternal beckoning sky.  Somewhere in the shouting beyond mystery waits with claws and teeth and rending.  But that is tomorrow after a long sunset and an ageless night of stars that shine but do not burn.

amazonAmazonian

Jungle sounds, ancient bird cries overhead, the last dinosaurs roosting above me in bone-lined nests.  Gliding, relentless above a furled canopy that admits no light to skulking, near-sighted mammals whose lives are governed by weak, frail senses oblivious to higher calling.  God of the leaves, roots and berries:  furnish us with sustenance and kill us quickly with red claws, bearing us aloft to bursting light, colors unimaginable to dead, in-turned eyes.

The Tower

Some futile voice insisting words carry the weight and mass of Jupiter like failed suns they draw all light toward them letting no hope escape into harboring dictionaries lexicons of lost languages preserved against extinction by dusty academics housed in Babel towers ivory-colored rooms hardened against nuclear sized impacts the bones of the curators dissolving into polished floors mute mouths gaping wordless.

wagonContinental Divide

Out on the frontier in long trains of sweating creatures cursing men the loneliness of vast distances existential mesas where ancient bones are pried out and held to the first light in 65 million years upon dry lakebeds parched lips upturned prayers to a Creator grown still and thoughtful God of expanses crammed into leather bound books tattooed with births and deaths parchment thin pages like elderly skin drained of life-giving blood.

Flies

I want to reassure myself on your smooth shoulders the lithe sweep of your back reminding me of insupportable days youthful fantasies wrought in carefully weeded gardens.  My head like a pecked chick.  When the trains sang it was a reminder that hope is transported across long plains plumes of smoke with dreams attached.  In hot weather the house would leak fleeing moss and sometimes sparrows would roost in the eaves and flies buzz somnolently waiting for inevitable decay.

robinLeisure

How the doleful hours long to be filled with spritely birdsong unencumbered by syntax!  You think too much your bold thoughts commence to devour your barely formed nascent spirit before it has a chance to fill your fluttering breast.  Be still the fears that beat against your neuroses like living dead upon unresponsive doors.  Remember thou art mortal and if the color of roses offend thee, pluck out your eyes and render yourself dumb.

Homo Erectus

Rooted in heavy houses gazing fearfully out at the universe speeding away from us spreading parsecs of empty space blank canvas dark matter coloring airless density splattered black to pouring edges racing outward in a timeless rippling current expending the energy of that first cough sneeze scream shit the candle guttering we are the smoke rising to dissipate into nothingness.

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And there you have it.  Those short bits were scrawled in less than an hour, before the spirit departed and I was left scratching my head at what I had produced.  I read some of them to Sherron and we tried to decipher what they might indicate in terms of my state of mind and current preoccupations, fears and obsessions.

I offer these pieces to you not as examples of great literature but in an effort to convince you to give this method a shot, particularly if you are suffering from some form of writer’s block or are feeling like you’re in a creative rut.

Automatic writing is a good way of addressing both those problems/mindsets and I urge you to take the plunge, start scribbling.  I’m always surprised by what my brain comes up with when it doesn’t sense that harsh, editorial eye watching, judging, condemning.

Try it…and see what happens.

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