The Less You Know, the More You Tremble

I write this in defiance of a friend of mine. She says “Paul, you and I have different levels of tolerance for horror. I like far scarier things than you do.”

She lies. She likes a certain type of horror. If it’s not thrashing about, blood everywhere, heads turning and vomiting, it’s not her type of horror. I do not appreciate this type of horror. It also relies on a level of shock and awe. Anyone can shock and awe. It takes little effort. A monster jumps out of the shadows and eats someone we liked. Or, you know, King Joffrey orders someone loses their head at whim and GRRM has stolen another beloved character from us. I rank the little brat right up there with Aliens vs Predator. But GRRM, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and anyone else who does suspense well, the other form of horror, approaches it very differently.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – H.P. Lovecraft

I bring this up because of the game Don’t Starve. It’s an indie game that was released for free on the PS4 for PS Plus members. My friend laughed at it when the darkness killed her, after day one, and said it’s not scary to her. Well if I watch the first ten minutes of a horror flick, it’s generally a soft core porn. So no, day one isn’t that scary.

How the game scares you after day one, along with all those writers mentioned, is the unknown. In the below clip there was strange music in the dead of night. I had played over 100 days and never heard it. What could it mean? What horror was coming? I convinced myself more and more this was normal. Everything was okay with the world. But I was wrong, and in the darkness, far off in the recesses of my mind, shadows formed and took shape. They stole the light of my sanity along with my campfire.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=607418268345&l=945062941677537297

Dear friends, those hands were a terror unbeknownst to me. When they first appeared, I pondered if they were reaching for my small, delicious, cartoon flesh. Were those outstretched claws trying to claim me into the night? I would rather brave the farthest reaches of my campfire’s light then get close to those obfuscating digits, stealing the very soul of all I am and was on this alien planet full of frightening delights: fire and light. Light made the known, even late in the evening, and these tore that knowing from me.

Obviously horror writers use this all the time. The greatest horror movies, long ago when they were black and white, were entirely based on the unknown. Even when we knew, it was kept at the edge of our perception. We wondered if there was something else, something benign. Maybe we were wrong about the malice crawling up our spine. For the sake of the character, we hoped. But we were wrong.

Check out the other awesome artwork from this awesome deviant. http://ticktocktinker.deviantart.com/
Check out the other awesome artwork from this awesome deviant. Along with the game in the other link provided. http://ticktocktinker.deviantart.com/

 

What about other writing such as fantasy, science fiction, and romance?

Game of Thrones spoiler, when Ned was taken in front of the crowd, weren’t we all wondering what would happen? Weren’t we all terrified? We had a good idea of how it ended, but it couldn’t. Not to him. After GRRM proved he would kill anyone, every time we turned the page was a moment of heart stopping suspense. In an interview, GRRM says that was his goal, and he accomplished it by showing anyone can die or be maimed in any manner of ignoble ways.

You’re still wondering about how romance novels use this. I reached page fifty or so in such a novel when I put it down and stated I learned what I could from the book. I learned a lot. There was a woman who debated putting on her sexiest underwear, in the moment of incredible heartbreak, and lay upon a man’s bed, waiting for him to walk in. It was a page of her thinking this, and suddenly she does it. The entire time you’re thinking, “No, she’s too sensible for this!” She wasn’t.

Another page or two of her traveling to his house, breaking in, and laying in his bed, wondering what would happen. Was she going to regret this in the morning? What would happen when he walked through that door? Would there be sex!? It’s a romance novel. There had to be sex!

She’s about to leave out of shame when the light turned on. The next fifteen to twenty pages went into how they looked at each other, what they were thinking, their little nuances and physical interactions. All the while you’re thinking, “When do I get to the good stuff?!” Or even if they’ll get to the good stuff. Sexual tension is an incredible unknown. In the end, they didn’t have sex. They would later, but I learned more than I thought I would from the book and didn’t want to cheapen it.

Think about sexual tension as suspense, though. Think about the unknown of dating. I’m in the midst of it right now. It’s scary. Is she playing with her hair because she likes me or is bored? She touched me, that’s good, right? Did she just check out that other guy? Do I go in for a kiss on the first date, or is that rushing it? What’s she going to think when the only furniture in my apartment is a bed? I so should not have asked her over. It’s not the same, terror inducing suspense we think of. But trust me, your reader is on edge. We’ve all been there. Dates never go how you think they’re going to. The woman you thought was uninterested could just as easily end up waking up next to you. Or the interested one can just as easily slap you.

What I’m getting at is explore the unknown. This world is terrifying because we make it that way. Our imagination is a minefield of insecurities. Stop filling in every detail, stop thinking it needs to be in the horror genre. Give sparse details, make us realize anything is possible, and let the reader fill in the holes with their greatest fears. The audience will do most of the writing for you.

Literary Catharsis

Nevermore.
Nevermore.

The idea of using writing as a means of relieving pain or releasing negative emotions isn’t exactly a new one. Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft both used their creative processes to assuage their inner demons during dark times of their lives, and there’re countless other poets and writers who have done the same. In other words, what I’m discussing today isn’t exactly a light bulb moment that will change lives or anything. Instead, I want to talk about situations in which I use this particular method of pain relief, and some ways I’ve found to be effective in doing so.

First off, I want to talk about anger. I don’t mean the grumpy, wake up on the wrong side of the bed, someone is sitting in my spot kind of irritated bad mood. By angry, I mean the all-encompassing, blood boiling, evil genius ranting, rarely ever happens kind of angry. This tends to fall into two categories, for me: anger directed at a specific person or persons, and anger directed at an event, and my writing takes a different tack depending on which category of anger I’m trying to vent. The first one has only happened twice…once directed against an ex-boyfriend, and once against a good friend’s ex. My ex was abusive, and he continued to be so even after we broke up. I was inspired to Taylor Swift levels of anger, and since I couldn’t go break his face, I did what I do whenever I’m mad at someone: wrote him into my novel and did horrible things to him. Seriously, you would not believe how much better you feel after doing that to someone. In the case of my ex, he got his nose broken, and then later screamed like a little girl while being munched on very slowly by a very hungry vampire. After that, I wasn’t really angry anymore – whenever he tried to pull something, I just imagined him being eaten by the vampire and screaming, and I could laugh at him and pretty much ignore him. As for my friend’s ex, I had him polished off by a serial killer. What really helps get rid of the anger is to write the character down, do horrible things to them, and then shred the paper/burn it/stomp on it. It feels like you’re deleting them and their issues from your life. In my experience, this method provides a lot more relief than any physical action, and it means you’re also less likely to get in trouble with the police. Just saying.

Never forget.
Never forget.

In regards to the other kind of anger, that directed at an event, the method is slightly different, and will probably vary for most people. For me, I tend to write stories from the POV of someone who could have been involved. Sometimes I write very grumpy blog posts, but usually it’s a story. I was only a kid when 9/11 happened, but I was definitely old enough to understand what was going on. I remember watching it on TV and seeing the aftermath, and being really, really angry about it. It wasn’t even anger at the people who caused it – I was just angry that it happened. I didn’t know how to cope with that anger, so I just sat down and wrote a story. I was very young, so of course it wasn’t very good, but I wrote a “could have been” story about a young married couple in New York. The wife worked in one of the towers; the husband worked downtown. I wrote about the death of the wife and her husband’s grieving process. For me, it helped relieve the anger I didn’t know how to deal with and calmed it down into a grief and pain that was easier to manage. I’ve done that for several situations in my relatively short life, and it’s always worked for me.

Finally, I want to briefly talk about using writing to relieve extreme grief/depression. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m prone to severe depression from time to time. Sometimes there’s a cause, sometimes there isn’t. Recently, I lost someone who is very dear to me (not through bereavement, but a loss just the same). So for the past couple weeks, I’ve been dealing with both grief and depression, and that’s where my writing comes in. The only physical thing I’ve found that can really ease the pain is putting it down in words…it’s the only thing that can give voice to what I feel. In these cases, I mostly write poetry. Can’t write it at any other time, but I can when the pain is too much for me to handle alone. All that emotion and grief just pours itself into imagery that is best expressed through poetry. Sometimes I write creative non-fiction – a short story that uses imagery and metaphors to describe what I’m going through. It never completely relieves the pain, but at least it helps me understand what’s going on, and lets me reach out to someone else when I normally wouldn’t. It gives me hope, and that’s really the best kind of catharsis I can ask for.

I hope this post was insightful today, and I also hope that maybe it inspires someone. Writing is one of the best forms of catharsis in this world, and I strongly encourage you all to take advantage of it.

Like a Nightmare

ghost girlI’m on vacation this week, visiting my family in Arizona. Therefore, I thought I’d share with you another creative work of mine. Next time, I’ll get back to writing more posts on…well, the actual art of writing. Anyway, this short story is actually from my Senior thesis, which was a collection of original short stories influenced by Gothic writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Now that the thesis has been published, I’m free to share some of it with you. Enjoy!!

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Like a Nightmare

It hurt. I didn’t expect it to. I mean, it never seems to in the movies. Even in slow motion, it looks so quick. Painless. But it wasn’t. It was agonizingly endless, like those nightmares where you find yourself falling for hours until you either wake up or hit the bottom. They say that if you do land in one of those dreams, it’ll kill you. Rather unsettling to think about, isn’t it? Ever had a nightmare like that? Trip over a rock or someone pushes you and you just keep falling. Fear and Terror sitting on your shoulders, cackling in your ears, agonizing reminders that death is so very close, that your very heart is about to shatter within you. That’s kind of what getting shot in the head feels like. A brief shock burning through you, making you stumble, and then you begin to slowly fall earthwards, a brief moment of time ever expanding, a small second stretching into eternity as waves of panic envelop you in their cold embrace. And you know that when you stop falling, you die.

I know what you’re going to say – the metaphor doesn’t completely fit the experience. Of course it doesn’t. Nothing can really be compared to the pain you feel as that tiny piece of metal embeds itself in your brain. It just doesn’t stop. You fall and fall, the tiny jab of infernal fire growing faster than the time slows down, until it consumes you and your entire universe consists of the bitter shrieking of your own voice inside your head and the vengeful ravaging of nightmarish pain. That’s what being shot feels like. Your worst nightmares colliding…unimaginable agony and the endless fall, knowing that you’re going to die.

Did you hear the screaming? No, I guess not. I suppose to you, it happened far too quickly for any of that. A millisecond for you, an eternity for me. I wish you could have heard it. I wish you could have felt it. Even you would have been begging for mercy within moments, longing for sweet Death to ride up on his black steed and envelop you in his misty cloak, rather than live through one more second of that torture. Yes, even you, with your granite heart, your blustering bravado. Even you would have screamed.       

So...artistic.
So…artistic.

How did you feel, I wonder? Relief, fear, joy, pain? It was such an artistic scene…you in your always immaculate suit standing so regal, so tall, so proud, with your pistol in your hand dangling limply by your side, slight wisps of grey smoke disappearing as quickly as they appeared. Standing over me, careful to not let your freshly polished shoes touch the scarlet liquid pooling under my neck and trickling down to stain my white dress. So dramatic. So unaware of the torture you were putting me through, even then. Maybe you thought the bullet would be the quickest way, the most painless way. I don’t think you really wanted me to suffer, did you? Maybe you did. But somehow, I don’t think so. You didn’t mean to revive my nightmares. You just wanted me dead. I don’t know why. I’ll probably never know, just as I’ll never know why you took the ring off of my marble finger and then put it back on again five minutes later. Maybe you don’t even know why.

It hurt, you know. And somehow, I don’t think you should be able to cause that much pain for someone and get away with it. No, no, I’m not going to kill you. How can I? I’m dead. You know that. And killing you right away would just be too simple. But I can some see you every night, you know. Talk to you, whisper sweetly in your ear, remind you of your sins. And I don’t think you’ll ever be able to get this image out of your head, will you? I think it will hurt you more than that friendly bullet of yours tortured me. Stay away from cliffs in your dreams, dear. Don’t stumble. Don’t trip. Don’t fall. You may never stop. But when you do stop…I think you know what happens next. Goodnight. I’ll see you in your nightmares.

Inspiration from the Beach

629047.TIFWell, I finally graduated from college! Now I have time to write. And, for the first time in eight long years, go on a real vacation. I’m currently on day 8 of my two weeks vacation at Myrtle Beach, and it’s been pretty fantastic. It really is beautiful out here, and I’ve been inspired to do some creative writing, different pieces based on the different things I’ve experienced here. Therefore, I’m going to talk a little bit about the major bursts of inspiration I’ve received during the past few days.

First off, the beach itself has always been a major source of inspiration for me. I’m very much a water spirit, as some of you may remember from an earlier post on the subject. I can’t write very well when I’m away from water, and the ocean provides a veritable well of creativity for me, so to speak. Just looking at the sand and the water and the waves and the horizon where the sky melds into the sea gets my vocabulary flowing. Most of the time, as in this case, it inspires poetry. The poem is a work in progress, and it will probably not be finished until I have to leave. I may share it with y’all at some point in the next few weeks.

beachSeveral times this week, my boyfriend and I have gone out walking to look for shells. I found several very interesting ones, including a conch, some really smooth sea snail shells, a purple sea urchin with all the spines missing, and two unbroken sand dollars. I very much enjoy looking for shells, and this particular activity is relaxing enough to let me think clearly whilst I work. My Master’s thesis, currently in progress, involves mythology, and my shell-searching jaunts actually inspired something of that nature. I recently wrote my own myth, influenced by Ancient Greek mythology, involving a sea god of my own creation, and the bringing into existence of the first mermaid. Shell hunting for some reason gets me into an old fashioned frame of mind, and so I find myself writing myths and such things during these times.

My final major piece of work during this vacation stems from a late night 2 1/2 mile walk along the shore, plus the influence of a storm I witnessed earlier this afternoon. I love the dark and I love storms, which is probably one reason why I love Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft so much. The story I’m currently working on is definitely influenced by those two authors, and storms and darkness abound. I do my best writing at night or in a storm, and an evening storm at the beach couldn’t be any more perfect. I wish I could live here, I really do. I think I’d get a great deal more writing here, thanks to the perfect combination of my inspirational factors. And who knows? I may get even more writing done over the next few days. Where are the best places for you to write?

Must Reads

Enter here to tales of yore,

Everyone has their list of books that they think are amazing.  We tend to tell people that they must read these books, thus the title, must reads.  However, while there are a lot of great books out there, and a lot of books that are beneficial to read, there are relatively few books or authors that one ‘must read’.  Books/authors that one ‘must read’ are books/authors that have become foundational to a particular genre, or that have significantly changed that genre in some way.  So, I have compiled a list of ‘must reads’ for Science Fiction and Fantasy fans.  You will not that this list is relatively short (comparatively speaking) and at least a few books that you think should be on it, aren’t.  Again, these are books/authors that founded or significantly altered the genre.

Isaac Asimov: Asimov wrote numerous short stories and a number of novels.  However, he is best known for his Foundation Trilogy.  Asimov effectively founded the Science Fiction genre, and thus is definitely a must read.

J.R.R. Tolkien:  Tolkien was a prolific author, so prolific that books of his short stories and still be found and newly published by his descendants.  Best know for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien is to fantasy what Asimov is to Science Fiction.

C.S. Lewis: While not as prolific a fiction author, nor as influential to the genre as Tolkien, Lewis’s work and relationship with Tolkien are both significant to the genre.

Edgar Allan Poe: Poe is not the first person to come to mind when one thinks of sci-fi/fantasy.  His work primarily belongs to the genres of horror and mystery, but the influence of Poe’s writing is felt throughout the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres and thus he is a must read for any fan.

H.P. Lovecraft: Like Poe, Lovecraft’s writing belongs primarily in the realm of horror.  However, Lovecraft’s influence is also felt throughout all three genres, and to truly understand any of them, one must be familiar with his work.

Frank Herbert: Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune are all profoundly influential novels that have helped to shape the sci-fi genre in its entirety.  It is difficult to find a good sci-fi author (or film maker) who has not been influenced by Herbert’s work.

Of many man and dragons score,

Robert Heinlein: Like Herbert, Heinlein is a name that should be familiar to all sci-fi fans.  While Herbert dealt more with the philosophical, Heinlein’s fiction deals with practical and political concerns.  Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers are suggested.

George Orwell: While there are many great dystopian authors, Orwell is arguably the most prolific and influential (thought both Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley rank only slightly lower).  Animal Farm and 1984 are suggested.

Sir Thomas More:  More’s novel Utopia (1516) is responsible for the great flood of dystopian fiction of the 20th century.  While the novel itself is not a must read, familiarity with its ideas is important.

George Macdonald: Macdonald was a significant influence on the work of both Tolkien and Lewis, and many consider Macdonald’s writing to be the first true fantasy written for adults.  Phantastes is recommended (although my favorites have always been The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdy, though these are written for children).

Robert E. Howard: Best known for Conan The Barbarian, and his many short stories involving this character.  It is argued that Howard introduced the first protagonist with a significantly different moral structure in fantasy.

Ursula K. Leguin: The Earthsea series is almost as foundational to the development of modern fantasy as Tolkien’s work.

Terry Brooks: While his work is often as maligned as it is loved among fans of the fantasy genre, the Shannara series led a major change in the way that fantasy was published (if not the way that it was written) and opened doors for many other fantasy authors.

And of the living lands all covered in war.

Stephen R. Donaldson: Donaldson’s work in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: The Unbeliever stood side by side with Brooks’ Shannara novels in reintroducing the fantasy genre to the American public.

Glen Cook:  While Brooks and Donaldson changed the way that fantasy was published, Cook changed the way that fantasy was written.  Before Cook the fantasy genre was dominated by stories about kings, princes, and maidens.  The tales tended to revolve around men and women of significant power and influence, who changed the world.  Cook’s The Black Company changed this focus.  Cook’s series looks at fantasy through the eyes of the soldier, the mercenary, and the peasant.  Instead of great heroes, Cook’s protagonists are men and women who’s primary goal is to stay alive, and to get home with all their parts intact.

A Matter of Responsiblity

You know the drill. Pass it on.

When I was seventeen years old, I hit two pedestrians with my car.  Now, this was ruled a no-fault accident.  It was 6:30 am in the middle of February on a cloudy day.  The road was quite misty, I was coming around a blind turn and my lights were on a yard instead of on the road, and the pedestrians were walking down the middle of the road in dark clothing.  There was no action that I could reasonably have taken to avoid the accident, other than not being behind the wheel of the car.  So, this accident was not my fault, but that lack of fault does not absolve me of responsibility.  If I had not been driving, the accident would not have happened.  If I had left later, the accident would not have happened.  My responsibility also does not absolve the pedestrians of their responsibility.  If they had left later, the accident would not have happened.  If they were not walking in the middle of the road, the accident would not have happened, etc.  However, this is a responsibility that I live with, because there were permanent consequences to my actions that day.

There is a lot more to this story, but my focus today is on the nature of responsibility.  We are responsible for our actions, and for the consequences of those actions – whether intended or unintended, and this is something that we should bear in mind both as people, and as writers.  If my action, or inaction, hurts another person (regardless of intent), then this is my responsibility, and I should take steps to mitigate that hurt (it is impossible to ‘right a wrong’ but it is possible to mitigate the harm done by a wrong).  This applies to any action, whether it involves a car, a relationship, a work of art, etc, and it is something that I have noticed a distinct lack of in the American people – both in our celebrities, our art, and in our everyday lives.

We can't start living up to our responsibilities until we start owning our mistakes. We must learn how and when to be the bad guy.

We have become a nation of people who insist that ‘it’s not my fault’ and ‘I can’t be held responsible for that’, and this affects our relationships, our work, our studies, and our entertainment.  As a professor, I can’t count the number of students who argue that they shouldn’t be responsible for the actions that led to their grade.  While I certainly bear a responsibility as the professor to inform them of class requirements, to post their grades in a timely manner, and give them feedback on what they need to improve; the student also bears a responsibility to fulfill those requirements, to act on that feedback, and to ensure that their work is finished in a timely manner.

In relationships, whether friendships or romantic, when I have done something to harm another it is my responsibility to make amends.  If I have harmed another unknowningly this responsibility is not absolved (although that person does have a responsibility to make me aware of the harm before I can make amends).  If my inaction hurts a friend or romantic partner, then it is my responsibility to make amends for that inaction, and in some cases, if my kindness will lead to greater harm, then it is my responsibility to be cruel (to be the bad guy) so that the harm done to my friend might be mitigated.  This same nature of responsibility applies to us as writers.

Words and images have power, and as writers and artists we must be aware of that power, and use it responsibly – and we must also take responsibility for the effect that our use of words and images has on others.  There is, and must be, a place for darkness in writing, as well as for graphic material (this is something that we have discussed before here and here).  However, we cannot control who reads our work.   If someone decides to read H.P. Lovecraft or Stephen King to a five year old, while the author cannot be held at fault, that author does bear some measure of responsibility for the inevitable damage this will do.  As artists we must take responsibility for the effect that our works have on others.  Just as a doctor, parent, or teacher must bear responsibility for the consequences of their actions, so we must take responsibility for the consequences of ours.  This is, and should be, a heavy burden on the mind of any artist – not just, ‘how will my work be received’, but ‘what effect will my work have on others’.

However, this responsibility cannot cause us to shy away from doing work that must be done.  If Schindler’s List had never been made, then it would be a great loss to the world.  If King, Lovecraft, or Edgar Allan Poe had never written, then it would be a great loss to the world.  While we must take these things seriously, and understand the gravity of our words, we cannot allow the responsibility that they bear to force us to shy away from hard things.  Responsibility is a frightening thing.  It is uncomfortable, often painful, and rarely appreciated.  However, it is also profoundly needed, precisely because it is something that our culture has left behind.  I encourage all of you, and myself as well, to be careful with your writing, but do not be fearful.

Write What You… Part 3: Write What You Write

It's true, don't fight criticism - it's good for you.

So, we’ve talked about writing what you know (because, you know…you know it – 😉 I love bad puns), and writing what you are. The last step in finding your voice that I can help you with in making sure that what you write is yours.  One of the worst pieces of criticism that I have ever received was contained in the phrase, ‘I don’t like it, it’s not the way I would write the story.’ This was a reply that I got on a story I wrote a few years ago and sent out to several friends.  Don’t get me wrong, the story was not incredible, and will not see the light of publication without some significant revisions, so this is not me saying ‘my story was perfect, blah, blah, blah.’ However, you can only successfully write the way you write.  It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you will never be able to write like anyone but you.  You can grow your writing, expand the scope and breadth of the way you write, but what you write is still going to be written the way you write it.  This really should be obvious, but for some reason most new authors (including myself) miss it – some for longer than others.  The reviewer who gave me this criticism did not provide anything that could help me to improve the story or improve my writing.  Instead the reviewer just said ‘you write the wrong way’ (for you editors and reviewers out there this is one of the worst things that you can say to an author.  Be critical, but keep your criticism constructive.  Remember that you’re job is to help the author make the story better.)

I use this example to say that the way you write is the way you write.  If you have a dry, sardonic style then don’t try to write something that is all fluffy bunnies…you’ll fail.  If you have a fluffy bunny style, then don’t try to write something that is dry and sardonic…again, you’ll fail.  This is not to say that an author can only write one style – some authors can only write one style, some authors can write many styles – but that you shouldn’t let someone else tell you that the way you write is wrong.  Authors have many different styles, and they all have readers that appreciate that style.  J.R.R. Tolkien was very straightforward in his writing, Steven Erikson is much more verbose.  Glen Cook’s writing is simple, gritty, and…I think chewy is a good word to describe it, but don’t ask me exactly what I mean by that because I’m not sure that I can explain.  David Eddings, on the other hand, is much more complicated.

Hehehehe...your shoes are mine..hehehe.

There is no wrong style of writing (however you might need to develop more skill in the mechanics of your writing), you can be dry, wet, short, circular, verbose, gritty, happy, sarcastic, etc.  The key is that it is yours.  Remember that you can’t write like anyone else.  For the longest time I wanted to be able to write like H.P. Lovecraft, or like Stephen King, or even like my friend Melissa (who writes for Lantern Hollow Press), because they are writers that I admire, and they can all do things with their writing that I can’t. However, I can’t write like them any more than they can write like me.  Any one of them might be a better writer than I am, but none of them writes in a better style than I do.  This is because style is not better or worse, just different.

Listen to your reviewers, your friends, and your editors.  They can give you some great advice that will really improve your writing.  Let them help you grow and develop the way you write, but don’t let them convince you that the way you write is bad.  Don’t let them change the way you write.  It’s a fine line, and sometimes it’s hard for people on both sides to tell the difference, but you need to figure out where this line is for you, and then you need to live on it.  Take as much criticism as you can, it will make you better, but you have to know when to accept something, and when to shove it off to the side.

A Review of Alhazred: Author of the Necronomicon by Donald Tyson

Like I said, some people take their Necronomicon's very seriously.

For those of you who don’t know The Necronomicon is not a book of witchcraft (although there are many people out there who will claim that it is), but is a fictional book invented by H.P. Lovecraft for his story “The Hound” which was published in the February 1924 edition of Weird Tales.  This fictional book has since been written, edited, or published by Owlswick Press in 1973, ‘Simon’ in the late 1970s, George Hay in 1978, ‘Petrus de Dacia’ in 1994, and Donald Tyson in 2004.  There has been much controversy over the book because some of the earlier version(espeically the Simon Necronomicon) claim to be actual historical texts and have relatively little to do with Lovecraft’s work.  However, The Necronomicon Files (originally published in 1998 and later revised and expanded in 2003) prove fairly conclusively that, The Necronomicon is a work of fiction invented by Lovecraft for use in his fiction.  This being said, Tyson’s Necronomicon is by far the closest to Lovecraft’s original fiction, and is an interesting read in and of itself.

Alhazred: Author of the Necronomicon is a novel by Tyson portraying the life of the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, the fictional writer of The Necronomicon first introduced in Lovecraft’s story “The Nameless City” published in the November 1921 issue of The Wolverine.  The book follows Alhazred from his life in an Arabian court through his banishment and discovery of the dark Cthulian gods, his death and resurrection, and his eventual mastery of the black arts.  Let it be said at the beginning that this is not a book for children.  Tyson, while not on Lovecraft’s level as an author, grasps the horror of Lovecraft’s Cthulian fiction with great aplomb.

Overall: 5.0/10

Alhazred is long for non-epic fantasy (almost 700 pages) and has several slow points.  If the book were shorter then I would give it a higher rating, but as its length it tends to outweigh its worth.

Writing: 5.5/10

Tyson’s writing in his version of The Necronomicon is very different from his writing in Alhazred.  While his Necronomicon contains an odd mixture of technical and narrative writing it is interesting, informative, and often surprisingly humorous.  On the other hand Alhazred tends to be overly dry and serious.  While is sentence structure is decent, it is not stellar, and his paragraph structure ranges from good to poor and back again through the course of the book.  In Alhazred Tyson tends to be overly wordy.  However, unlike Erikson with whom wordiness feels natural (if annoying at times), Tyson’s wordiness feels forced – as if he is trying to reach a minimum word count and not quite succeeding.

Fictional languages anyone? It was actually common practice in the middle ages for Grimiore authors to insert made up versions of Latin, Hebrew, or Norse letter/words to give their grimiores authenticity.

Characters: 7.0/10

Alhazred is the main character of the book, which should be obvious, and tends to be very dark and brooding (although given what happens to him at the beginning this is understandable).  There are a number of minor character, some of whom lighten the mood of the book, while others push it further into the dismal.  While most of his characters are well-built, and show strong character growth, they also tend to be annoying or unbelievable at times.

World: 9.0/10

This is where Tyson shines.  Both in The Necronomicon and in Alhazred Tyson take Lovecraft’s Cthulian mythos and weaves it into the real world almost seamlessly.    Tyson’s understanding of Lovecraft’s world and gods is phenomenal, and he shows a great ability to make that mythos his own.

Plot: 6.0/10

Alhazred presents itself as a fictional biography.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of real biographies, so fictional ones seem kind of pointless.  The plot of the book follows Alhazred’s life through its many twists and turns, including dying and coming back to life, and while it never feels jumpy, sometimes you can easily see that Alhazred didn’t earn the name ‘the Mad Arab’ because he was an evil genius.

Pacing: 4.0/10

Just because it felt right.

As I mentioned earlier, there are several points in the book where it becomes unnecessarily slow.  In fact there were times when I felt like I was slogging my way through.  This pacing trouble makes the book difficult to read.

Commentary: 3.0/10

Alhazred has some commentary on the necessity of pain and the nature of evil, but all in all this is not a book that you read for the incredible insights.

Conclusion:

If you are a big fan of Lovecraft’s Cthulian mythos, or if you like some of Tyson’s other work, then Alhazred is probably worth reading just for the fun of it.  However, if you’re not already a fan, then Alhazred definitely isn’t the place to start.

Write What You… Part Two: Write What You Are

You have a voice on the page as well as in you're mouth.

So, last time I talked about writing what you know.  This is important because, if you write what you don’t know, it’s pretty obvious that you don’t know your stuff.  However, writing what you know is only the first part of the equation.  I live in Lynchburg, Va, so I’m very comfortable writing a story set in Lynchburg.  However, if that story isn’t mine, if it isn’t a part of me, then its not going to be very good. Remember that writing fiction is very different from journalism, or writing a biography.  When you are writing about real events then you are telling someone else’s story (not to deride these forms of writing, they are important and have their own difficulties to contend with).  However, when you are writing fiction you are telling a story that comes from within yourself.  You need to find your own voice.

By ‘voice’ I mean not only the words you use, but the way your write.  Grammar and syntax are a part of ‘voice’, but they are not the entirety of it.  Every author will evoke a certain feeling through their writing – some are whimsical, others sardonic; some are childish, other serious.  Your voice can encompass and be affected by everything from the words you use, to the way you approach writing in general, to the reason you write in the first place.  Someone who writes for fun is going to have a very different voice than someone who writes to bring across a specific message.  Someone who disciplines him/herself to write a thousand words a day is going to have a different voice than someone who writes only when they feel like writing.  Your voice is a part of who you are, and that is something that you need to find, and don’t want to lose.

Writing, like speaking, is all about communicating your ideas...sometimes as loudly as possible.

Finding your voice is not easy to do, especially if you are a big reader (as most writers are).  You have a hundred different voices floating around in your head, and when you see something you like it’s very easy to say “Ooh! I should do that!” This is a trap that you need to avoid.  If what you are currently writing feels and sounds surprisingly like what you are currently reading, then you’re probably not writing with your own voice.  You’re probably trying to write with someone else’s voice.  This is a problem because that person’s voice is not your own, and you can’t successfully emulate it.  When you try to write with someone else’s voice then what you write will usually feel like a copy…often a bad copy.

However, it is also important not to mistake similarities in style or subject for a copied voice.  H.P. Lovecraft is an excellent example.  Lovecraft’s writing spawned an entire sub-genre of horror fiction.  His work was so good that other authors wanted to emulate aspects of his style, intent, and world.  Some of these authors do very well* – they take Lovecraft’s world and ideas, but bring their own unique voice to the table.  Others try to emulate Lovecraft’s voice, and sometimes they get close, but no-one can perfectly emulate the voice of another author.  We’re all too different.

That being said, your voice is a part of who you are.  The reason that it is easy to lose is that most of us don’t realize how much of ourselves goes into our writing.  Last month I wrote a post about how much I am like my first novel.  This is a revelation that we all need to have at some point.  I have one friend, a man in his mid-thirties, who is very comfortable writing teenage girls.  I can’t do that.  Personally I am much more comfortable writing old men.  This is an example of one difference in voice.  Some questions to help you find your voice:

What do you want to write?

What are you comfortable writing?

Find your voice, take care of your voice, and grow your voice. Its important.

What is easy for you to write?

What feels natural to you?

As you first start out you want to stick to writing things that fit easily in your voice.  Things that flow naturally, that feel right, and that come out easily.  As you mature as a writer you can begin to broaden this, learn to apply your voice to types of writing, characters, or situations that don’t feel all that natural.  This is a necessary step in your growth as an author (otherwise you will just write the same novel over and over with different names).  However, you have to find your voice before you can begin to grow it.

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*Donald Tyson does an excellent job of fleshing out portions of Lovecraft’s world and works, and he is only one example.