Reading Feeds the Writer

I finished reading an amazing book. It was one of those reads, the sort that embeds in your psyche and leaves you changed. The narrative techniques employed were startling, surreal, and just exactly what I needed to read.

You see, I was stuck.

Editing, that is. I had a story that was true to itself, but flat. It didn’t resonate the way it should. This story touched only the word-receptors in my brain, but gave nothing to the mythology-receptors in my psyche or the truth-receptors in my soul. In short: it didn’t move me.  The story deserved better. My readers deserved better. But what to do? The answer, as always, is to pause. Read someone else’s work. Partake of the fruits of a writer I admire. I never know what I’ll read that will help me lift a lifeless story, but I have faith that I will find what I need. And I did! Shirley Jackson’s HANGSAMAN.

You can read my review on Google+. Here’s an excerpt:

HANGSAMAN is a bizarre, nightmare trance. I came up from reading it feeling deeply affected, infected. The prose warped my mind. I found myself thinking like the narrator reporting Natalie’s musings; it was disturbing. HANGSAMAN is not a book for anyone on the brink of a mental breakdown. It is a dangerous beast. It will swallow you whole. It is frightfully unique, and one of the most masterful novels I’ve experienced.

HANGSAMAN gave me the answer to my problem with my story. I needed to change my narrative voice! I’m attempting (bumbling) to use a few of the techniques I identified in HANGSAMAN. This approach, to identifying and then practicing with different techniques, is the most valuable writing lesson I absorbed out of all of my writing seminars, workshops, and classes. I owe thanks to the Writers Studio in NYC for that – it has changed my writing for the better. The trick, of course, is to practice until I find my own way of employing the technique; my goal is not to be a pastiche of other writers. This is one of the more advanced narrative personas I’ve ever tried to employ. I’ve spent nine years honing my craft, and you know what? I’ve grown! I can aspire to (bumble at!) using Jackson’s techniques. The writer I was in 2005 couldn’t even have attempted this, and probably couldn’t have identified the technique, although surely I would have felt the tingle of rightness in HANGSAMAN. Reading feeds me as a writer, and practicing my craft allows me to feed you, my readers. My lifeless story is being revived. I look forward to sharing it with you later this year.

Now, though, I have a big announcement about a different story!

Announcement!

MIXED MEDIA, my surreal short story, goes live on JULY 17th!! It will be free to read as a PDF from my blog – always! If you want the convenience of Kindle Whispernet delivery, it’ll cost you .99 cents. Please support me by reading, sharing and reviewing!

DIY Book Covers, Fiction Template #17

A Surreal Short Story, with a Cover You Helped Design!


The Blurb

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?


Schedule of Launch Events

JULY 17: Launch day!!! I guest post on Mari Biella’s blog to announce the official release.
JULY 17: Brighter than a Technicolor Dream, a post on my blog about the influence of O’Keefe, Rothko, and Ashley.

JULY 24Groovy Escher, a post about the influence of M.C. Escher, a surreal painter after my own heart!

JULY 31: Wisdom Tooth in the Belly of a Worm, a post describing why I chose to include THE SCREAM, by Edvard Munch.

AUG 7: We Always Want to See What is Hidden, a post examining the HUGE impact René Magritte’s work had on MIXED MEDIA.

AUG 14: A Sort of Sex/Wine Triumph, a post about the Melendez painting (with those feminine figs!)

AUG 21: Want to see how sausage is made? This is a post about revision. I show you how the first paragraph changed throughout my editing process.

AUG 28: Author Reading, a video of me reading the opening scenes of MIXED MEDIA.

xoxo,

-aniko

 

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Spooky Inspiration

( Welcome, Coffin Hoppers! Prizes. Ghost story. )

I’m not surprised the sexy gypsy won the costume contest, but you were robbed. Your costume is more authentic, especially the way your innards dangle over your belt. How are you getting your eyes so glassy?

Okay, not much of a talker, are you?

The keg’s just been replaced. Now it’s Devil’s Backbone, named for a road near Austin that’s claimed its share of travelers. Guys who probably look about as bad as you do, now that I think of it!

It’s funny stuff like this, the little coincidences or glimpses that inspire the horror I write. Stolen Climates is the Muse-child of a few major artistic inspirations. Since you’re so quiet, and the line for beer is long, I’ll fill the space by telling you about one.

front porch of Hill HouseI love The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. I enjoy the supernatural aspects of the story, but what really captures my imagination is the main character’s stubborn insistence on fabricating a better, more interesting version of herself. She lies to everyone, building a story of a life that doesn’t exist. Just as I pluck details from the chimera of reality to weave my tales, so too did Jackson’s character. Her stone lions and ‘cup of stars’ make cameos in Stolen Climates. My character, Prentice Feyerbach, is the male, iPhone-toting version of Jackson’s character. That’s why I include a copy of The Haunting of Hill House in the ‘I Won the Grand Prize!’ Scream; they are companion pieces, meant to match up like two stone lions on a high-rise balcony.

Where did that guy with the bad-ass fatal car crash costume go? You didn’t see him? He was right here a moment ago…

Don’t forget you can get a free ebook edition of Stolen Climates just by leaving me a comment that includes the phrase, “Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor.”

May you find your blue cup full of stars,

-aniko

 

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Inspiration/Appropriation?

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (Photo credit: MariamMAM)

I just finished a second read of Wintering, a novel of Sylvia Plath by Kate Moses. Wintering is written in a Plath-like voice, about a Plath-like character going through Plath-like tragedy. The protagonist is even named Sylvia Plath, and the characters she interacts with bear the names of other real people, but Wintering is not presented as a biography. It is copyrighted as a fiction that portrays real people. Wintering is beautifully written, and has a symbolic form that serves to emphasize the imbalance of emotions experienced by the Sylvia character. Yet I don’t love it. In fact, Wintering leaves me – well, cold. There is a lot of Plath by Plath, and her journals are a mainline into her consciousness at the time of the events fictionalized by Moses. There is no need for a secondary source:  Plath speaks for herself.

Wintering reminded me of a craft exercise I completed early in my writing career. My exercise was inspired by an event rumored to have occurred Plath’s life, and emulated the plot structure used in a short story by Rick DeMarinis. Is my craft exercise an example of inspiration, or a case of appropriating from not one, but two sources?

Everything I have written is influenced by all that I’ve read, watched, or experienced. Stolen Climates owes its existence to my exposure to Italo Calvino, Shirley Jackson, and the B-movie, Food of the Gods. I leveraged Calvino’s theme of a family faced with a seemingly innocuous yet unconquerable natural enemy. I deliberately chose to pay homage to Jackson’s wonderfully neurotic character who, like Prentice Feyerback of Stolen Climates, starts the journey into darkness with nothing except hope and a car. I certainly took the B-movie idea of Nature growing out of control and put that to use. I like to think of these things as being “inspired by” rather than “appropriated from,” but how different is what I did than what Moses did with Wintering? Where is the boundary between inspiration and appropriation?

Perhaps the boundary has less to do with subject than with impact. I believe Wintering could have gone farther in the examination of a damaged woman trying to repair herself if it were pure fiction. In a fiction, Moses could have taken us right up to the moment when the character took her last breath. As a fictionalization of real events, though, doing so would have been crass. Moses didn’t cross that line, but in a sense, that’s one of the things that bothers me: as a story teller, Moses didn’t deliver the hard truths. She couldn’t, because she was writing a fictionalized reality, not writing fiction.

I want the books I read to have guts. I want them to go into the hidden recesses of humanity’s darkest secrets and root around for the element of truth. I want to see the darkness in order to guard myself from it. I expect a skilled author to make me understand true desperation, and do so with a steady hand and lack of sentimentality. No one with a conscience can do that when writing about a real person, and perhaps that is the marker of appropriation. When a life story is appropriated, there are certain things that will be off limits. Fiction can reveal truths, but only if the writer is willing to press beyond the boundaries of reality and into the realm of inspiration – no matter how dark the path.

 

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