Posts Tagged ‘writing’

“Reading Robert Aickman is like watching a magician work, and very often I’m not even sure what the trick was.  All I know is that he did it beautifully.”-  Neil Gaiman

Recently, I came across a mention of Robert Aickman again.  He was  a horror writer I’d hear about every once in awhile, certainly not as famous as many of his contemporaries.  A writer’s writer, it would seem.  The twentieth century’s “most profound writer of what we call horror stories”- according to Peter Straub.

Yet, he certainly has his critics as well, his stories being described as too obscure.

Curious to finally read him and form my own opinion, I picked up a copy of Dark Entries.

The first story within, “The School Friend” begins, “It would be false modesty to deny that Sally Tessler and I were the bright girls in school.” And so, an older Mel reflects upon how she met one of her oldest girlfriends.  Only a few pages in, I was hit by this doozy of a line.  “I was able to construe Latin fairly well for a girl, but the italics and long s’s daunted me.” Really? I recalled how once another woman mentioned she’d been reading a work with a female main character which happened to have  been written by a man.  Everything was fine and believable until the writer had the character make reference to her period by calling it, “my menstruation.”  Because no woman talks like that.  I had a similar feeling here because I doubt there is any female who thinks to herself, “wow! I can do this pretty well, you know, even though, I’m like, only a girl.”

Okay, so Mr. Aickman wasn’t going to win any POV awards for this, but I tried to put that aside and concentrate on the rest of the story.

Forty-one year old Mel comes into contact with her old friend after decades apart when Sally returns to their hometown after the death of her father.  A man who “never went out”, and who received a doctorate for an unknown subject.   Sally, herself, was always odd- living to work and revealing very little about her private life.

Now Sally has moved back in her father’s old house.  One that Mel describes as, “entirely commonplace, and in the most unpleasing fashion.”  After her friend suffers an accident, Mel is asked to look after the place.  To her surprise, she discovers every room is kept locked; there is one chain with numerous keys to open each one.

What Mel discovers inside the house is difficult to say even after one has finished the story, and my initial reaction was one of disappointment.  Some ambiguity is fine.  Were Miles and Flora really haunted in The Turn of the Screw, or was their governess mad?  What exactly did Eleanor and Theodora see in The Haunting of Hill House?

But here, it felt like full pages had been ripped out.  As though the author was being lazy, here you do the work.  I’ll just sit back and appear clever.

Yet, the story stayed with me, and I recalled hearing how Aickman’s stories begged to be reread.  In doing so, I did notice more things- said and unsaid- that had escaped my initial notice.

I’m not yet settled on how I feel about this particular little strange story, but it continues to gnaw.

Fritz Leiber: “Robert Aickman has a gift for depicting the eerie areas of inner space, the churning storms and silent overcasts that engulf the minds of lonely and alienated people. He is a weatherman of the subconscious.”

dark entries cover

the monk

reblogged from my older blog, Gypsyscarlett: Writing the Victorian Gothic.  originally posted on May 20, 2012

Into the Gothic World of the Monk

One of my maxims for writing stories that take place in past eras is that people have always been the same.  What goes on inside hearts, and behind closed doors has never changed.   It is only the outer society that differs in clothes and manner.
     A fantastic example of this is the 1796 novel by Matthew G. Lewis.   It is difficult to imagine this being published in the staid Victorian period.  But go back one century to the much more bawdy 18th, and this book was not only published, it was a smashing hit.  The fact that some critics deemed it obscene and dangerous, of course, only helped to sell more copies.
      Matthew Lewis, born on July 9. 1775, to a prominant English family, wrote the novel in a span of ten weeks.  Inspired by the novel, Mysteries of Udolpho, he aimed to write his own Gothic masterpiece.   Evidently putting aside any care or worry what anyone would think of him or his novel, he went full out, no-holds barred. The title character, Ambrosio is the ultimate man of two faces.  To his congregation he is the embodiment of purity and moral excellence.  Inside, he is an ego-ist who feeds on their adoration.
       The novel becomes a Matryoshka doll of stories within stories.  Romance,  sex, magic, murder,  and ghosts  fill the pages. While the confessions he hears indicate that most of the characters are decent enough folk caught up in an unjust world,  Ambrosio, himself, spirals into one of the most loathesome characters in all of literature.  A hypocrite to the extreme who blames everyone  and everyone but himself for anything and everything he does,  his arrogance and utter disregard for others leads him to rape and murder.
     The novel also boasts one of the most fascinating, unapologetic characters in Matilda.  As Ambrosio’s lover and nemesis,  she is his perfect foil, and the reader will be quite curious whose side she is really on.
     Story-wise, the novel is a marvel and it is easy to see why it had such great influence on such later literary figures as Emily Bronte and Poe.  On the negative side, the novel is unfortunately filled with the racism and sexism of its day.  Reading the treatment of the women is not easy.  Their constant punishment will raise the hair of anyone with modern sensibility.   While the men happily go along their merry ways, you can bet any of the female characters who engages in physical intercourse- whether it be consensual sex or  rape, will either die or lose her beauty and retire into a convent.  Only one female character in the book who has had pre-marital sex is “allowed” by the author to marry the man she loves at the end.   But not until after she has suffered one of  the cruelest, most heartbreaking tragedies one can imagine.
     Accepting the book for the era it was written, I was able to greatly enjoy the story while glaring at times and being grateful that authors no longer need to punish their ladies as some sort of horrible, hypocritical “moral”.
     Recommended as a highly engaging, spellbinding, and at times, surprisingly humorous tale with a fantasic, witty end.

I shuffle the cards to clear the deck. With my eyes closed, concentrating on my brow chakra to activate the inner sight, I ask the Spirits to guide my hand to the card which represents my current state of mind on the creative writing process.
“I will shuffle nine times. Let the card on top be the current answer.”

I shuffle and turn the chosen card.

Six of Swords

bohemian gothic tarot six of wands

“Getting through a hard time calmly and quietly. Making a profound change in your life, which will take some time.” Are some of the sentences the Bohemian Gothic Tarot uses to describe the meaning of this card.

And yes, like most writers, I have gone through some difficult times with my current manuscript. There are the days when the words flow seamlessly and I bounce like an excited child as I type away. Giddy that I am a sorceress creating magic with the touch of my fingertips against the keys. There are the times when my brain is frazzled and I just can’t get the images in my head down onto that screen, and I wonder how I ever wrote two novels when I can’t even now get one damned paragaph down. More often than not, there are the okay days, when the words don’t flow, but with patience and faith, they do eventually come.

As I gaze at the picture above, I see a woman asleep, floating on a boat. The water, so symbolic of dreams. Below, is her double. Awake, and staring up at her twin. The conscious and subconscious.

To create one must go deep, deep within themselves into the forests of their mind. This is where story ideas and characters are found. Yet it is the conscious which enables us to weave tales in a comprehensible fashion. To revise and edit and make all words clear and meaningful.

It is a beautiful mental dance.

And yes, it often takes a lot of time.

And that, is all right.

“Writing about the unholy is one way of writing about what is sacred. ”- Clive Barker

“Be regular and orderly in your life, that you may be violent and original in your work.” ― Clive Barker

“Welcome to the worst nightmare of all, reality!”― Clive Barker

“Gather experience… Look at what you should not look at. A feeling of anxiety is the sure and certain evidence that you should do this.”
― Clive Barker

“At best you can hold death at bay, you can pretend it isn’t there; but to deny it totally is a sickness. And I think that horror fiction is one of the ways to approach these problems, and, perversely perhaps, to enjoy a vicarious confrontation with them.” ― Clive Barker

“Nothing ever begins. There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any other story springs” ― Clive Barker

“I don’t like to make a distinction between the writer and the painter , finally , because I do both things anyway . Everybody’s dreaming and trying to put down their dreams in the way that their hand knows best . I feel as much a unity , as much comradeship , with painters as I do writers .”― Clive Barker

“The whole point about vision is that it’s very individual, it’s very personal, and it has to be confessional. It has to be something which hurts – the pulling out of it and putting it on the page hurts. Art can be about the individual writer’s response to his or her condition, and if that response comes out of a predigested belief about what the audience wants to hear about the writer’s condition, then it has no truth, it has no validity. You either write with your own blood or nobody’s. Otherwise it’s just ink.”― Clive Barker

“Keep it simple. Trust your imagination. Discover what is unique about your imagination. Don’t simply read a story and copy it.
I go into myself. Then I transcribe what visions I have. If those ideas are original, and you are devoted, you will go far.” ― Clive Barker

“Don’t bury personal obsessions. Capitalize on them. “The connection between personal obsession and the work you do is the most important thing.”

— Be yourself. “Singularity is what you need.”

— Avoid self-censorship: “We are very self-critical in a way that can be very destructive. In our culture there are voices in our head which have taught us to say, `Oh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.’ Don’t ever think about anybody peering over your shoulder.”

— Don’t be afraid to show off, even if you think, “I’m very close to making a complete fool of myself.”

— Don’t be afraid to entertain. “I want to entertain. I don’t want to lose people. I feel responsible as I write to give people the best time I can.”

— “Love your failures” instead of beating yourself up over them.

— “Learn to love the process” of writing.

— Just do it. Barker likes something director Stanley Kubrick said: “If you want to make a film, pick up a camera.― Clive Barker

“My imagination is my polestar; I steer by that.”
― Clive Barker

“I really believe that there is an enormous appetite amongst readers for an originality of vision. In other words, be true to your own dreams and there will always be people who want to hear them.” ― Clive Barker

“I can certainly throw out some observation about the process of creating which may be of use. Firstly, it’s the best & the worst of worlds, because the only fuel you have to make the fire blaze on the page / screen is the stuff of your own being. An artist consumes his or herself in the act of making art. I can feel that consumption even now, sitting here at my desk at the end of a working day. In order to generate the ideas that I have set on the page for the last 10 or 11 hours I have burned the fuel of my own history. This is, obviously a double-edged sword. In order to give, the artist must take from himself. That’s the deal. And it’s very important to me that the work I do is the best I can make it, because I know what is being burned up to create. As the villain of Sacrament says: “living & dying, we feed the fire.”― Clive Barker

“I’m an inclusionist. I’ve always divided up (very, very broadly, I admit) the artistic instincts into the inclusionist and the exclusionist. The exclusionist is Raccine. The inclusionist is Shakespeare. I’ve always felt like I’d prefer to throw 45 things into the pot and hope that maybe 36 of them will taste good. You may choke on 9 of them. I’d rather do that than only have half that number of elements and each one perfect. That’s because I know that people choke on different things…. I think that when I was a kid, the experience of things, the experience of just finding words for things, of finding somebody else’s world and being able to leap into it and, like any world, you pick up the geography instantly. You expected the thing to unfold, you expected there to be valleys that upon entering that world you were barely aware of. For me a novel, particularly a large novel, one you put down at the end and think, ‘Hell, that was interesting. I’m not sure I understood Chapters X, Y and Z, but maybe next time I read it or talk to someone about it, I will’… that’s a very different experience to the immaculately formed, beautifully honed, finished ‘art’ thing.” ― Clive Barker

“Even today I keep a Dream Journal. It’s whatever’s going on in my subconscious, or things from dreams or even interesting items that pop into my head. I have thousands of pages of notes which I hope someday will turn into stories, or movies…Being on the road gives me breathing time and the opportunity to think about what to do next. In fact right before I came down for lunch today, I was writing down notes about my feelings. Things that I need to do to keep motivated. I need to be motivated if I am to going to devote fifteen months to writing another book. And I couldn’t write a book just because it’s a commercial idea. I need to have a compelling reason.”― Clive Barker

“People often ask me what advice I have for writers, and I reply that the most important responsibility I believe a writer has is to his or her personal truth. Don’t be misled by the best seller lists. Just do what feels true to you. Speak your heart, however strange or revelatory it is. Don’t be ashamed of how your imagination works. What a reader wants to discover in a book is what you hold uniquely in your head.”I think making stories which touch people deeply is always hard. I’ve been writing plays and books for 20 years and I still go to my desk every morning with a mixture of excitement and dread.”― Clive Barker

“By and large I think art is made by people who have discipline married to talent in sufficiently large amounts to work even if they don’t feel like it. Anybody can get maudlin and decide to write poetry at 11 at night; the question is, can you do it at 8:30 on a Monday morning..?”
― Clive Barker

“Make your own worlds. Make your own laws. Make your own creations, your own star systems. Don’t feel answerable to anyone, or as though you have to create after some preordained model. You don’t have to write like myself, or King or Anne Rice: be yourself. Nothing is more wonderful than discovering a new voice, particularly if it happens to be your own.”
― Clive Barker

“I’m constantly trying to make what Stephen King called head movies or skull movies: things should be playing out on the inside of your eyes, if you will, without you having to think about me as an author being present.
I have no interest in being present, in intervening between you and the work. My job is to be as invisible as possible. My job is to say, ‘Hey, I wrote this book and I’m on the cover, bye bye!’
The story should have its own momentum; it should make its own way. I have no patience for that showy kind of writing, which is all about how clever the writer is. Postmodern stuff just leaves me totally cold. I’m much more interested in being drawn into a book, and I want to create the kind of writing which hopefully makes you turn and turn the pages.”― Clive Barker

“So you can’t please all the people all the time. All you can do is what pleases you, and hope that it pleases other people.
I love my readers, and I respect my readers, but I’m not going to simplify or echo myself, copy myself, just so the sales will be better.”― Clive Barker

“Every day is a writing day. I get to my desk between 8 and 8:30 in the morning and then work through until 6pm, and then normally I’ll take up whatever will be happening in the evening, usually painting or photography.

I do about four drafts total. I do handwritten drafts because I don’t type and I have no wish to type. I mean, I know how to type, but I have no interest in putting the words down that way.
Maybe that’s because I’m an artist and because I’ve always used a pen and so there’s a sort of natural feel to it.

I don’t know how familiar you are with Blake’s illuminated texts, but you know very often he’ll literally make words flower. It’s really this glorious thing in bringing words and pictures into the same place, the same space.”
― Clive Barker

“I want to be remembered as an imaginer, someone who used his imagination as a way to journey beyond the limits of self, beyond the limits of flesh and blood, beyond the limits of even perhaps life itself, in order to discover some sense of order in what appears to be a disordered universe. I’m using my imagination to find meaning, both for myself and, I hope, for my readers.”-Clive Barker”

weaveworld

me: “Damn. I overslept this morning.”
other: “Til when? Eight or something?”
me: “Five.”
*cue incredulous stare*

Tis a conversation that I’ve had many times to my amusement. The fact that I tend to (voluntarily, without a gun to my head) get up most days between two and three in the morning, tends to bestow upon me more odd looks than if I had announced I came from planet Romulan or danced naked beneath a grove of Cypress trees. A little understandable considering that some article I came across (and of course, can’t find now) stated that only about three percent of people rose before the sun.

Yet a few days ago, I was speaking with a new friend of mine (a musician) and to my surprise, he didn’t blink at all. Rather, he nodded. “I used to love getting up at 3 am. I used to do some of my best work then.”

me: “Yes! It’s so peaceful. The whole world seems to be asleep except for me.”

Then my friend brought up Jung and his theories on the collective unconscious, which got me thinking…perhaps it wasn’t just the serenity of the hour, but the fact that so many people were in the midst of sleeping which heightened my senses, my creativity. Could I not be tapping into some of their dreams and nightmares?

While some writers believe their stories fully come from within themselves, there are others who believe they are tapping into something “other”. As Isabel Allende said, “I spend ten, twelve hours a day alone in a room writing. I don’t talk to anybody. I don’t answer the telephone. I’m just a medium or an instrument of something that is happening beyond me, voices that talk through me. I’m creating a world that is fiction but that doesn’t belong to me.”

While surely some of my beliefs and life experiences bleed into my work, I’ve always leaned more towards the second camp of thought. As I was discussing with a dear writer friend of mine, as she was trying to explain her process of creating her characters and plots, I mentioned how to me, it felt more like the people and events already existed, had occurred, or was occurring, and I was simply telling their story.

The creator vs the chronicler, if you will.

In any event, it hardly seems accidental that most creative persons prefer either early morning or late night for their endeavors. While I’m sure they exist, I’ve personally never met a scribe who called themselves an afternoon writer. Perhaps due to circumstance one may have to do their writing during the day, but it is during the dark hours that most of us are called to our art.

Girl-Writing-By-Lamplight

“How is it that two of the sweetest women I know, write horror?” A great friend sputtered not so long ago to me.
“And we’re both vegetarians, to boot!” I joked back.

Though my friend was teasing (a writer, herself, she’s well-aware of such fallacies), the stereotypes of writers of certain genres certainly does exist amongst some, perhaps even much, of the general population. No doubt that many who read my stories would envision a female- Carmilla-pale, sheathed in black, dark and broody by nature.

So what did drive me towards horror? Is it the sign of Scorpio placed in the North Node of my chart? The North Node indicating a soul’s purpose in this incarnation? It is said of such people that we are the “truth tellers”. We see through the superficialities of societal masks, and dive deep into the murkiest swamps to discover the hidden treasures beneath. We hear the beauty in Discordia. With the ability to see the wounded child behind the adult’s coldened eyes, it might be little wonder that those with such a placement in our charts are often drawn to becoming healers in the psychiatric fields.

Is it Lilith placed in the fifth house of my chart? Lilith, the first woman, who positioned there, inspires one to create authentically, without self-censorship.

For horror writers must often venture into those uncultivated forests of the mind, those same wilding paths that most avoid. Yet, to explore darkness, to have a love of the fallen and forbidden, does not equate to possessing a gloomy and depressed psyche. Rather, it is the ability and desire to understand, even if not necessarily condoning certain actions.

It is ability to find beauty in the most unexpected of ruins.

While a lot of horror stories deal with twisted, even disturbing subjects, they often are the least cynical or nihilistic. More often than not, good triumphs over evil. And even those with tragic endings often also leave glimmers of hope and of newfound understandings. Who did not pity Frankenstein’s monster- despised and abused from birth- until he allowed himself to be swept away by those waves?

Robert McCammon said in an interview, “There are scenes in all of my books which are over the top in terms of violence, of gore. But that is not the core and crux of the work. The core of the book will always be the human element. I want to tell a human story about a person’s journey through a forbidding or threatening world.”

My current soundtrack:

Goblin’s Suspiria (from Dario Argento’s film of the same name)

Ennio Morricone’s Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (American film title: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin by Lucio Fulci)

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire

Mussorgsky’s Night On The Bare Mountain

Goblin’s Deep Red from Argento’s Profondo Rosso:

Keith Emerson’s Inferno (from Argento film of same name)

Hexentanz’s Mark of the Witch

Hexentanz’s Devil’s Mass

What music are you listening to during your creative endeavors?

“It was always when I first opened my eyes that the desired ideas thronged upon me.”- Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe, amongst other classics

“I woke with a start and witnessed, as from a seat in a theatre, three acts which brought to life an epoch and characters about which I had no documentary information and which I regarded moreover as forbidding.”- Jean Cocteau on the dream which inspired him to write the play, The Nights of the Round Table

“When he lay down to prepare himself for sleep, he no longer sought amusement, but printable and profitable tales.” And his dream producers accommodated him. He noticed they became especially industrious when he was under a tight deadline. When “the bank begins to send letters” his “sleepless Brownies” work overtime, turning out marketable stories…And for the Little People, what shall I say they are but just my Brownies, God bless them! who do one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and fondly suppose I do it for myself. That part which is done while I am sleeping is the Brownies’ part beyond contention; but that which is done when I am up and about is by no means necessarily mine, since all goes to show the Brownies have a hand in it even then.”- Robert Louis Stevenson describing how the dream process and his fairy helpers who he called the Brownies, helped inspire him to write his famous works, including The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde

Whether ideas spring from one’s subconsciousness or from outside Muses, it is at this threshold between physical reality and sleep that epiphanies so often arise.

Why is this so? The hypnagogic state (defined by Merriam-Webster as the period of drowsiness preceding sleep) is the time when lights, flashing colors, geometric shapes, familiar and unfamiliar faces and scenes flow before the near-sleeper’s inner eye.

Author Robert Moss in Dreamgates calls this borderland, The Twilight Zone. He further writes, “Active dreamers tend to spend a lot of time in the twilight zone, even whole nights. In everyday life, the easiest way to embark on conscious dream journeys is to practice maintaining full awareness as dream images rise and fall during twilight states…As you spend more time in the twlight zone, you will discover a notable increase in both your creative activity and psychic awareness. Going with the flow of spontaneous imagery in the twilight zone puts you into the stream of the creative process. It puts you in league with your creative source, mediated by mentors who appear to you in the half-dream state.”

Whether it be for artistic endeavors, strategizing business, or scientific breakthroughs (Einstein stated his theory on the relativity of time came to him immediately upon awakening one morning) one of the best things one can do is to learn to utilize this borderland. To do so, get into bed early, before you are so exhausted that you’re bound to fall asleep right when your head touches the pillow. Try to stay awake and watch the colors, the lights, the shapes and scenes flow before your eyes. You need not do anything but try to stay alert as long as possible until you enter a trance-like state. At some point you will either fall asleep, or consciously enter a lucid dream. But that is a post for another day.

-sources. Robert Moss’s, Dreamgates