Writing In A Shitty Mood

26 01 2022

This month has been a wash. I got Covid, ran out of my pharmaceutical Vitamin D, worked in an understaffed job, and people my age are dying suddenly of natural causes. The more Bible I read, the more confident I am that There Is Nothing Out There. And I’m still scrolling thirst-traps and politics on TikTok and Twitter.

So anyway, I’m writing a novel. I’m at the point where I am straining to stretch the desired ending to meet the overwrought middle and tie them with an elegant yet strong knot. This does not help my mood.

So I did a trick I learned the last time I wrote a long form story. Feeling angry that everything is futile? Find the sections of the story that convey an angry, futile situation and write those scenes. I warm up with an exercise.

Political Twitter brought me videos of anti-mask people interrupting retail services with their protests. Man, I hate rudeness. Ever want to be somewhere like that and have absolutely no accountability for your actions? Oh yeah.

So I wrote a scene where I’m in this Twitter video with the other suffering people waiting for their sandwiches and the anti-masker brings herself and her camera in to refuse compliance. I Just Want My Sandwich, Lady.

The cool thing that happens is that writing this scene from third person allowed me to see the others as real people, and see my own flaws. The other people in line would obviously intervene. The protesters (two black women) are humans and maybe pretty scrappy. The sandwich guy is HUGE.

Writing the results of this scene realistically helped me get out of my head while focusing my mood. Some good descriptions appeared. “My shoulders tightened as if seized by a giant vulture.” “I sensed every muscle in the room focus on me.”

And why would I as a white guy be scrapping with two black women? Why did I choose this video?

Of course I got my ass kicked. The purpose of fiction is to be real.

And it is to reveal. I need some introspection re my choice.

With that venting out and a desire for humility, I worked on the scene with the sentient cancers. These are very angry cancers and they want to ruin the world. Their host is despairing and dying and playing wet-nurse to the cancers already born. Their host is driving a rental car distributing her children to neighborhood creeps all over.

One important thought that I had internalized, but only now remembered: Do NOT emote at maximum. Do NOT emote with everything you have in you. You WILL burn out within minutes. You SHALL ruin the rest of your day. More than likely, your writing will be overwrought.

“But Nick Cage says ‘There is no upper limit to human emotion.'” True. But Nick has to do multiple takes. He does not just lay it out there in one take like you have to and hope you will have it together enough to revise. I believe he is describing emotional expression, not the internal feeling.

Is this helpful?





Ari Aster Movie FREE On YouTube, Plus Other Horror Movies

20 01 2022

It’s worth just searching stuff on YouTube to see what shows up. Like the first movie made by Ari Aster of Midsommar and Hereditary.

The Strange Things About The Johnsons was released to festivals in 2010. It introduces Aster’s recurring themes of betrayal of the family contract, denial, and society as oppressor. Unlike his later movies, his first film reveals the horror early on, and makes the plot about how the Johnson family copes with that horror.

Come And See often appears in critics’ lists for “Best Movie Of All Time”. After the German invasion of Russia, partisans recruit a teen boy. The boy finds starvation, random death, and finally an einsatzgruppen. The teen survives, but is shattered and still has the rebuilding of his country ahead. The teen is played by an actor with no previous experience, which just adds to the rawness of his emotions. Trauma therapists were on set to help all the actors. Not as intense as say Saving Private Ryan, but ten times more believable. As above, YouTube won’t let me link directly.

Wisconsin Death Trip is not as horrid as the title implies. Imagine Ken Cook documenting the rough decade endured by a rural Wisconsin county. An influx of immigrants copes with land fraud, brutal winters, an overwhelmed health care system, disease, and crime. No, it is not contemporary; this happened in the late 1800s. The stories are respectful. They remind that our current woes are truly quite old, and that our ancestors were just like us, people just trying to get through. Come for the scandals, stay for Mary the Wisconsin Window Smasher.

I don’t get why YouTub is restricting this link. You see worse on PBS, seriously.

I don’t know why I’m watching things like this. I used to write humor. I used to perform sketch and improv comedy. Comedy on TV doesn’t make me laugh anymore. There isn’t anything worth binge-watching. Improv based movies just annoy me at the moment. It’s expected that nothing will compare with what I liked as a teen, but even Monty Python is not aging well. Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead are still my faves. Does anyone do smart comedy with good sight gags anymore?





Neat Writing Tricks From “The Ruins” (If you are from Ireland and usually read this, you are my sole reader from Ireland. Thanks for reading!)

13 01 2022

While I had COVID, I took a gift card I had won at a work-place raffle and I ordered some books. The first to arrive (used from ThriftBooks) was “The Ruins” by Scott Smith. A movie had been made and is available for streaming. I had watched the movie and was really impressed. Over the years, many writers I respect had claimed that the novel itself was a compelling page-turner.

They weren’t kidding! It’s 500 pages and I tore through it in 24 hours. I hadn’t read a novel so eagerly since I was a kid. Despite knowing how the novel was going to end. Despite the characters being obvious redshirt/victims and the monster being a Pottsylvania Creeper that can do impressions.

SPOILERS

The plot: six generic white college age tourists in Mexico go off the beaten track, ignore multiple harbingers, and find themselves forced to stay in Mayan ruins covered with vines that are predatory, carnivorous, and intelligent. The natives know the vines are dangerous and will not let the kids leave the ruins, lest a tendril hitch a ride on them. Lacking resources or means to call for help, the six die rather quickly. You’d think that this plot couldn’t last longer than a Tales From The Crypt episode. But Smith makes it a compelling read over 500 pages.

How did Smith do this? I studied the book as I read and have some answers. Let’s look at style and structure first.

The POV shifts in third-person limited between the six characters. The language is contemporary with little artistic flourish. There are no chapter breaks. There is very little to break the narrative flow. I skimmed the prose easily. Jumping POVs kept scenes from being too long and gave moments where characters could assess a situation from different perspectives.

The plot is a basic Four Beat Structure. The McGuffin for going to The Ruins was to find a missing brother. That drew the plot up to Beat One about 20% in. The brother’s body is found literally when a character notices the vines seems crowding him. The plot questions shifts from “Where Is?” to “How?”. Within that 20%, all the plot elements have been established: a phone ringing in a deep pit, birdcalls from within the vines, and the vines’ peculiar growth.

The other three beats are Reveals Of Horror and the characters’ reactions. Beat Two is discovering the vines are acidic and grow quickly to eat any meat. Beat Three reveals the starving characters discovering the bird calls are actually coming from the vines’ blossoms, and that the vines are as fast as snakes. In Beat Four, the ringing phone is also a mimicry to lure them into the pit to be digested. Characters die on the way, of course, and after each horrid realization there is a POV change where the next character summarizes anew the whole dire situation.

Another group of tourists is supposed to come looking for the doomed, but even that isn’t taken seriously. That group shows up at the end much too late, only to climb The Ruins to presumably seal their own fate.

I noted the McGuffin handoff when the missing brother is found dead. That handoff is made into a “What Is Happening” through the world-building of The Ruins themselves. The brother is found amid the wreckage of an archeological dig. No other bodies are found. There are notebooks, though, and passports and other documents. I was waiting for them to try to piece together the clues. But Smith quite rightly made the paperwork a tease to keep my attention and concentrated on the character interaction. It was the same when the archeologists remains were found, when the natives (rendered in ways sympathetic and distinct) organized, and in examining The Ruins themselves. Just enough world-building to create believability, then moving on with the plot.

The most important aspect of the novel comes with establishing the six redshirt/victims themselves. We learn about them through description and behavior. There is almost no dialogue for the first forty pages. This perspective one step removed shows that this is “an ensemble” so to speak and there is no main character. What is vital is that it sets us up as watchers and not sympathizers. We are set up to watch flawed WASP college kids get drunk, make a lot of assumptions, and Get What’s Coming To Drunk Assuming WASP College Kids.

One could argue that what kills them is White Privilege and this is addressed in the book. It’s touched on only briefly, because deep sociological reflection would create sympathy and ruin plot momentum.

The first forty pages also set tone really well. From the first sentence, the characters spend their time with churning hangovers, sizzling sunburns, bleary from lack of sleep, resentful of another’s actions, menaced by snarling dogs, unsettled by disease and poverty. I’m going to pay more attention to using environment to create tone.

The horror I felt for their fate came through the sensory descriptions. Tendrils squirmed under skin. Acidic sap burned hands. Hopes dropped into chilled horror. Amputations cracked and snapped. I found myself thinking “these guys were dopes, but day-um they didn’t deserve all this.”

This is a good book. The movie has a better ending, in that it follows a Main Character out of the six who becomes the sensory touchstone for the viewer.





This Week I Had COVID, So This Is What I Did (Hello DirtySciFiBuddha and Literary Titan)

8 01 2022

I’ve been looking through “Idea Book” by Jack Heffron. Heffron uses exercises to find personal experiences as inspiration. I like this and will let you know how this goes.

Here is a found footage movie review site. It is comprehensive and the reviews are thorough.

I won a raffle at my job and got a $50 gift card, which I spent on books, of course. First in is this anthology. William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki The Ghost Finder has been a favorite. Had no idea so many authors wrote occult detectives, including Robert Chambers and Dion Fortune. Many names new to me in the ToC and I’m looking forward to sampling in the coming weeks.





2022: In Which I Get My Career Up And Going Again (Hello to My Reader In India)

2 01 2022

Recently, one of my oldest friends looked at my bibliography.

“You have a lot of publishing credits! Good ones!”

They ended in 2014 and he knew why: my stab at self-publishing drove my self-defeating habits in way, way deep.

The last two years especially have been tough. I made huge progress with my counsellor and realized in full: I had grown up and grown old wanting to impress everyone, and I had been willing to destroy myself in the process.

People expect this from writers and comedians. Oddly enough, horror creators don’t seem to self-destruct. I can’t think of a horror creator who destroyed themselves aside from the old Universal actors and directors, and well, we can blame those bodies on Hollywood. Horror creators tend to live long lives.

That said, two years ago I had to rediscover what I liked. I had spent so many years pushing myself that I didn’t know how to just “like”.

I listened to music that made me angry. I watched movies to absorb ideas. I couldn’t read anymore because my ego said I should be reading The Great Books series while my gut wanted stuff like Liartown.

Have you read any Sean Tejaratchi? It is so funny!

Here is my usual Spotify playlist. Find a positive emotion. Find any emotion.

Now I am listening to 2nd Wave Ska and reminding myself that yeah, this is good. I like this.

Now, how did I get like this? Why did I stay like this for so long? My first impulse is to explain my need to share as a way to maybe help you. Maybe you do stuff like this too. Then I realize, what the hell, this is my page and I’m not embarrassed by this anymore.

Getting something out of your head makes room for new things.

My Dad was a terribly insecure man. He could not relax without alcohol. Mom grew up in a tense, phobic family. She felt overwhelmed by life. They found themselves in each other. Then they avoided their families by moving away, and taking a career where they might relocate hundreds of miles at any given time. It was an alcoholic family with all the markers, even if no one punched or screamed or missed a day of work.

It took thirty years of counseling to realize I had a lot of really bad personal habits. I could not make mistakes. I was irritable. I trusted no one. I took no risks. Catastrophe loomed everywhere. Most of all I forgave no one except my family. I marked my life not with joys, but with a trail of jaw-clenching regrets. I came to suspect all of this was interrelated, that there was a grand unification theory of all this.

I was the entire Adult Child of Alcoholics checklist. Every memory I had and I mean my earliest baby memory could be filtered through it. Even the things I liked about myself — my joking, my writing, drawing, creating — were in response to parents who just weren’t emotionally available.

Who am I? What should I want? I am almost sixty and I’m just learning to just say unexamined thoughts.

So why not jump start my career?

Writing fiction has helped me process all of this. Example: allowing myself to express my fixation with my high school bully (after thirty years) gave me a sellable story, with the additional benefit of seeing the true source of my fixation, and purge that fixation.

I really like the idea of Chaos Magick. If undirected writing could give me such benefit, what would methodical art provide?

So writing would help me. I do enjoy it. At this moment, it is one of about a dozen things I can say confidently that I enjoy.

Here’s to my career. I’m working on a sequel and I am enjoying that. I’d like to get back to short fiction, but time and energy are tricky. I just ordered a bunch of books (before, all books had to be writing related) to see if I like them.

Part of this includes reaching out and saying Hi! In this case, through the years, my WordPress stats have told me that my most reliable reader is some soul in India. I have no idea who you are, but if you get a moment’s kick out of what I share, okay. Thanks for reading for so long!

I’m going to post more regularly, if anything to vent like a lot of other bloggers do. I’ve some stuff to share later this week.








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