Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Reader (Why I love the Pulps)

Walking down Fenwick Street in my town, I pass the old Enterprise mill, which in my lifetime had once employed hundreds of people, spanning generations of fathers and son, mothers and daughters, weaving cotton into textiles.  I always wondered why General Sherman in his march to the sea spared Augusta, which was home to the Confederate Army’s gunpowder works, armory, arsenal, cannon casting facility, and virtually all of its textiles, all of which were easily stashed on a steamboat to the Savannah river and down to the sea, or on a fast train to Atlanta.  If any place in the south needed burning down it was this place.

The mill is closed now.  It is in what Tibetan’s would call a “bardo”, an in-between place between incarnations.  Sometimes almost a colony of hipster condos, then no, maybe a trendy office building.  Still a mill a hundred years old on the outside, inside undecided.
 I pass the old shotgun houses, now mostly inhabited by poor black families.  A shotgun house is a distinctly southern architecture, before the invention of air conditioners, or even electric fans.  It’s a long narrow, almost barracks like structure, with doors on either end opening onto a hallway that transfixs the house, so that when both doors are opened a strong cross breeze provides a little coolness.  Many of them have inviting little porches.  The hipsters have not yet discovered and gentrified these houses, though someday that will probably happen.
 The shotgun houses were built by the mills for the mill workers.  My maternal grandfather was a cotton mill worker, who later died of lung disease as so many did.  If you worked for a mill, you could get in the door with a grade school education, be trained to do one or two things, might be offered a house within hiking distance, or an electric street trolley ride to the mill and you were pretty much set for life.  Generations passed this way.

In the junk shops around here, on a lucky day you might find a box full of pulp magazines.  Most of them are dated back to the 1950s and 1940s.  They are among the ghosts of these little houses.

The pulp magazines I love were written for these people.  They weren’t for the snooty Harpers or Atlantic Monthly crowd. They were pure escapism, solely to take you someplace else. They were cheap and disposable, like the readers who loved them.  Meant to be rolled up in a jacket pocket, read on a lunch break with an RC Cola and a Moon Pie, or read on a porch in a rocking chair with Charlie McCarthy or the Shadow or a boxing match on the radio along with a sweating glass of ice tea, in the cool of the evening, maybe accompanied by a pipe, and clouds of bugs circling the porch light.  You might lift your head to Halloo to someone passing on the sidewalk, invite them up for a glass and a chat by the radio.  And when they disappeared again down the sidewalk into the urban dark, back to the world of the story.
This is what reading is like when you’re a kid.  Falling into the world of the story.  Books and pulps gave you worlds to be lost in.  People would call your name, call you to supper or a scolding, and you just wouldn’t hear them.  Because you were over there, where you rightly belonged except for a cruel trick of birth; smashing swords on the plains of Mars, swinging an axe into somebody's face in Cimmeria, or bedding a Pirate Queen on Venus. This is where I began, my literary heroes are names to conjure with; Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and others.  They may not have won Nobel prizes, but they knew storycraft.  My short story structure was built on theirs, and the one and only commandment of the great pulp writers was “Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Reader”.  

 The opening scene of the pilot episode of Breaking Bad began with Walter White in only his underwear and a gas mask, flat footing a Winnebago filled with dead bodies, chased by police sirens – that’s the legacy of the pulps.  The Star Wars saga began with a starship being boarded by storm troopers and a towering caped figure in black, a samurai from Hell, with a sword of light and deep-sea diver wheeze – that’s the legacy of the pulps.  Jurassic Park began with an ominous crate furtively unpacked at night with cranes and spotlights and an unseen beast inside that snatches a screaming workman as a park ranger with a bazooka yells “Shoot her!  Shoot her!”  that’s the legacy of the pulps.  Drop the reader in the middle of the action and never let go.  Vincent Gill, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, these are the grown-up children of the pulps.

With the advent of Television, the pulps began to die.  In the late 60's they were revived by fly-by-night paperback publishers looking for public domain stories that didn't require royalties.  John Carter of Mars, Conan, Tarzan and the others were given a new lease on life.  Edgar Rice Burroughs was briefly resurrected by Ace Paperbacks in tiny pocket-sized editions with timeless covers by Frank Frazetta.  Turned out there was gold in them thar pulps. The success of these stories was quickly followed up by pretty much every character ever invented by Robert E Howard.   These were all formula romance novels but written for guys.  And I loved them.
   Don't let any literary Academic types ever talk you into giving up the sword fights, panting maidens in distress (and undress) and zap guns on distant planets.  Love is where you find it.
My advice to aspiring writers isn't so much "write what you know", but rather "write what you love".  I love the pulps.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.... #CultClassicConfessional

For my entire adult life I’ve been an atheist. Indeed, I remember the precise moment I arrived at the conclusion that God doesn’t exist. I was driving back from somewhere, mulling over, as you do, the mysteries of the universe and I got to wondering what it might be like to be dead. Would it be dark, cold, lonely? Or, if I got lucky, maybe all about me would be filled with celestial light. Well, you never know…

Except you do, really. I sort of realised that being dead would be just not existing. Would it be unpleasant at all? No, because it would be exactly like all the aeons of not existing I did before I was born and that wasn’t a painful experience in the least. It was just… nothing.

So, if not existing was all there was outside of my actual lifespan, and if that was the same for all of us which is the logical conclusion, what purpose would there be in clinging to the illusion of an afterlife? Surely the point of all that would be to offer comfort that there is something nice and bearable beyond where we are now, a sort of reward for toeing the line. But if being dead is just the same as not having been born yet, well, I can face the eventuality without needing props and pretty fantasies to soften the blow.

All of the above would have come as something of a surprise to my mother who was convinced I was a most devout little thing. She had no idea where this godliness had come from. It wasn’t a family trait. Throughout my childhood I cruised from one Sunday School to another, trying out Methodism, the United Reformed Church and the local Gospel Hall as I went. I sang jolly little songs about Jesus and sunbeams, did Bible quizzes, went carol singing and learned verses from the New Testament off by heart.

My older sister thought I was quite deluded and told me so often enough. My younger brother preferred to spend his weekends playing football. Me, I put on my best clothes and trotted off to Sunday School. My mother was quite concerned that I might get in with the wrong sort of people and join a cult. I might be brainwashed, might suddenly decide to run off and join a commune in Israel or give all my money to the poor. I was only eleven. I’d barely heard of Israel let alone developed a yearning to relocate there and I had no money, however deserving the poor might appear.

What none of my critics seemed to grasp, though, were the bits of added value that came with all the singing and jubilant praying. Above all else, the things Sunday Schools were best at, in my view, were trips. Especially the annual jaunt to the seaside, usually free to those who attended religiously (sic) all year. Those were pretty damn good, and believe me, I knew what I was talking about. I was a connoisseur of Sunday School trips. The parties and social life generally were also well worth having. What was a spot of Bible-reading when compared to a free Christmas shindig, trips to the cinema, and a chance to hang out with my mates who had also cottoned on to this? My and my best friend, Annette, even started smoking on the Sunday School trip when one of the leaders left twenty Woodbines lying about. Oh, happy days…

I daresay my mother was relieved when, eventually, I outgrew seaside excursions and found other things to do on Sunday afternoons. Puberty, studying for my O levels, a weekend job to fund my growing interest in clothes and alcohol. The Gospel Hall could no longer compete. God and I went our separate ways. 

The last I heard the Gospel Hall had been demolished and they built a branch of Starbucks on the site so I suppose young people still flock there, though for an entirely different sort of spiritual experience.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Time Warp - #RockyHorror #SexualInitiation #CultClassic

Rocky Horror poster

By Lisabet Sarai

Do you think I’m twisted? A polymorphously-perverse seeker of erotic thrills, fascinated by novel and forbidden conjunctions of continuously fluid gender? Do you ever wonder why my characters have so few limits, why they’re always open to sexual experimentation, why they usually allow their salacious fantasies free rein?

Blame it on Dr. Frank N. Furter.

I was twenty four or twenty five years old, a relentlessly over-achieving grad student, when I first saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The first night, I went with my then-boyfriend and his best friend. We returned the night after that, with more friends. When we shelled out a dollar fifty for the third night in a row, to watch Tim Curry purse his painted lips and prance around the screen and to participate in the audience rituals that had grown up around the film, I knew I was hooked.

Let’s do the time warp again...

Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh...

Don’t dream it. Be it.

For those of you too young to remember, The Rocky Horror Picture is a musical, originally a play, then a cult classic movie released in 1975, that parodies the science fiction and horror films of the thirties and later. It’s clever and funny, irreverent and outrageous, occasionally touching. What resonated most for me, though, were its sexual themes.

The plot follows a newly engaged, virginal couple, Janet and Brad, apparently not long out of high school, who suffer a flat tire on a lonely back road in the Midwest. Through the streaming rain of the dark November night, they glimpse the lights of a Gothic-style mansion which turns out to be inhabited by transvestite mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry) and his peculiar compatriots. Invited in, Brad and Janet are soon enmeshed in Frank’s schemes to create a horny male body builder (Rocky) for his own entertainment (“he’s good for relieving my tension”).

Frank is deliciously androgynous (“I’m not much of a man/by the light of day/but by night I’m one hell of a lover.”) In separate scenes, he seduces both Brad and Janet, who react in very different ways. Brad retreats into terrified infantilism (“Help me, Mommy!”), while Janet embraces her new-found sexual confidence.

The game has been disbanded.
My mind has been expanded.
It’s a gas that Frankie’s landed.
His lust is so sincere.

Frank turns out to be an alien from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy Transylvania. His minions revolt, killing him and his Creature, ejecting the human couple, and blasting off in the mansion-cum-spaceship for their home planet. The ending is actually very dark (unlike most of the horror flicks on which Rocky Horror is based). Brad and Janet are left crawling in the dirt; it’s not clear what will happen to them, but one suspects they’ll never be the same.

I really don’t know why this film had such a strong effect on me, but I can’t deny that it did. I found Brad’s and Janet’s sexual initiations incredibly erotic.

Brad (alarmed): I’ve never....
Frank: Yes... But isn’t it nice?

Despite the camp accent and exaggerated make-up, Tim Curry manages to be sexy in his corset, garter belt and high heels. I didn’t find it difficult to believe he’d be “one hell of a lover”. In some sense, he’s the villain, but I couldn’t help but appreciate his “sincere lust”.

Erotic nightmares beyond any measure
And sensual daydreams to treasure forever.

I strongly identified with Janet. My own sexuality was blossoming at that point. I was in a supposedly monogamous relationship with my boyfriend, but often found myself attracted to other men, and women, in my circle. I was constantly aroused. (Honestly, I don’t know how I managed to finish my PhD.) Within a year or so after first seeing Rocky Horror, my boyfriend and I had broken up and I’d entered what I sometimes call my “sex goddess phase”, when I had many lovers and indulged in many experiments.

I think the gender-fluid themes in the movie had a special impact. I hadn’t had any same-sex experiences at that point, but I knew I desired women as well as men. Rocky Horror thoroughly blurs gender lines in a way that felt comfortable and right to me.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the film (though I have not watched it for a while). I do know the entire score by heart. And I know Frank has left his mark on many of my stories.

Speaking of stories, in recent years I’ve thought about writing one featuring Janet. I’ve never done any fan fiction, and strictly speaking I don’t think this would qualify, but I’d love to explore what her life was like after that fateful night in the mansion. Having been touched by alien lust, would she ever be able to find satisfaction? Would she wander the world, burning through partners, perhaps kindling in them the same unquenchable longing she feels herself?

I have too many other projects on my plate to work on this idea right now, but here’s a flasher to give you a taste of my imaginings.

Floor Show
By Lisabet Sarai

Another city. Another bar. Another crowd of beautiful young people, ripe for the picking. She crosses one shapely leg over the other, baring some thigh above her seamed hold-ups (the classic look, still). That cute couple in the corner —her mouth waters. He resembles Brad, though. Better find someone else.

She’s sixty but looks thirty, thanks to that night’s immersion in alien lust—the night that corrupted her, defined her, sent her off on this endless quest through the party capitals of the world.

The band plays timeless rock from her youth. Kids gyrate to the beat, randiness palpable. The atmosphere crackles with sexual energy. She could have any of them. Though she yearns, premonitions of disappointment hold her back.

Let’s dance.” The girl—or is it a boy?—extends a hand. Lightning bridges the gap to Janet’s fingers. Wild black curls, exaggerated make-up, scarlet lips made for kisses. The brazen creature pulls her into a lewd embrace on the dance floor. Soft breasts, hardness below—Janet melts, eager, hopeful.

Where...?” she gasps, humping his (her?) leg.

Red, red mouth. White teeth. Clever fingers opening her, freeing her, turning her inside out. At last.

If I told you, baby, you wouldn’t believe me.”

* * * *

With a bit of a mind flip
You’re into the time slip,
And nothing
Will ever be the same...

Janet and me—both changed forever.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Tyranny of Above and Beyond

by Annabeth Leong

I can think of so many ways I grew up with the idea that unless I'm going above and beyond I'm not doing enough.

For my entire school career, anything short of an A was a failure. The A thereby possessed no particular meaning or cause for celebration. That, indeed, set a pattern for me. There was no achievement to be happy about, only ways to fall short.

When I became a writer, I read so much about polishing stories to within an inch of their lives. It felt as if I shouldn't dare to bother an editor with my efforts unless I knew I'd already gone far above and beyond. I see the good intention in this advice, but I can also tell you that it utterly paralyzed me and prevented me from getting my work out there.

I remember a lover I had early on who would get angry at me for "selfishness" if I relaxed and soaked pleasure in. In his view, I was supposed to keep my lips, tongue, and hands moving at all times, providing pleasure to him no matter what else was going on.

And later, when I started publishing erotica professionally, there was no amount of promotional effort that felt like enough. If I wasn't on every social network known to man, networking constantly, posting on blogs all over the world, then I deserved any poor sales I might have had.

I don't think I need to describe how destructive this type of thinking can get when it becomes deeply ingrained. While it's certainly a good thing to make an effort, I can't live when I'm overwhelmed by paralysis, guilt, and anxiety. When there aren't any ways to succeed, only ways to fall short, it starts to make sense to avoid trying at all.

Obviously, I haven't been going above and beyond as a writer on this blog lately. I'm appreciative that you've all stuck with me as I flail.

But this is why I'm posting today, on the weekend after missing my scheduled day.

When I can't get that A, my desire is to hide in shame. But I've learned over time that there's a lot of power, not in going above and beyond all the time, but in doing the best I can and letting people see that this is flawed but also beautiful.

So here I am. I don't have the resources at the moment to go above and beyond, but here I am, doing this because you and this writing matter to me. I'll see you in two weeks, still doing the best I can. Fingers crossed that it'll be my scheduled day next time.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Fame as "Recovery"

by Jean Roberta

Most women artists (including sculptors, writers, musicians, dancers, actors, etc.) whose names have come down to us from the past were faced with obstacles that men of the same race and class generally didn’t have to “overcome.” As Canadian politician Charlotte Whitton once famously said: “Women have to be twice as good to go half as far. Luckily, that isn’t difficult.”

Reading the lives of women and other “minority” or “disadvantaged” creators could give the reader the impression that there are two types of talented people: those who just give up and find something else to do, and those who transcend their circumstances. And supposedly, this amazing second group can be considered timeless and studied apart from their era and culture because, after all, they didn’t let any negative thing affect them.

The more I read this type of evaluation, the more I smell the manure.

Let's consider a woman artist of the Renaissance who was mentioned in social media recently.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652?), who lived in Italy in the time of Caravaggio and Galileo, and painted for King Charles I of England, was briefly famous in her lifetime, then largely forgotten until Second Wave Feminism “rediscovered” her work in the 1970s. Since then, art historians have been finding and cataloguing her paintings, many of which were formerly attributed to her father, Orazio Gentileschi, or her various mentors.

Unfortunately, the best known event in her life is a rape trial of 1612, because the whole transcript has been preserved.

Here are the facts of her life, as far as I could find out from various biographical summaries: Artemisia was born in Rome to the painter Orazio and his wife, Prudentia Montone. Apparently no one knows much about Prudentia, except that she died when her only daughter, Artemisia, was twelve.

Young Artemisia showed considerable talent as a visual artist, and her father encouraged her in this, even though she was not taught how to read and write when she was a child. (Apparently she learned these things as an adult.)

At age 17, Artemisia produced her first signed painting, Susanna and the Elders. This is based on a Biblical story about a beautiful young woman who is sexually harassed and slandered after she refuses the male “elders” of her community. Notice the body language, which surely didn’t come only from Biblical sources.

No art academy of the time would accept a female student, so Orazio arranged for Artemisia to study landscape painting under his friend, Agostino Tassi. This turned out to be a mistake.

After 18-year-old Artemisia had managed to avoid being alone with her mentor for some time, he cornered her in her bedroom and raped her. Apparently he continued “demanding her favours” and promised to marry her.

Artemisia told her father, Orazio, and he either charged Agostino with “rape” or with “breach of contract” because Agostino had deflowered Artemisia but hadn’t married her. As far as I could tell, this was a private lawsuit, not a criminal case (and I’m not familiar with secular law in Renaissance Italy.)

What seems crystal-clear is that the trial lasted for seven months and was probably more traumatic for Artemisia than the rape(s) itself. The judge ordered her to be examined by midwives and then tortured to make sure she was telling the truth. Agostino Tassi’s supporters testified in court that she was a “voracious whore,” or whatever words in Italian mean the same thing. Orazio responded by launching a separate suit for libel.

Agostino claimed he had not had sex with that woman, but his own associates testified that he had bragged about his “conquest” of Artemisia. He was actually convicted, and this might have had something to do with his track record. (He had formerly been charged with “incest” for getting his wife’s sister pregnant, and also for arranging the murder of his wife.) According to various sources, Agostino spent less than a year in prison and was banned from Rome, but came back a short time later.

During the trial, Artemisia was pregnant. One month after the conviction, she was married to a “family friend,” another painter named Pietro Antonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi, who was conveniently from the city of Florence, where both of them lived for awhile. (Clearly, Artemisia needed to get out of town.) In Florence, she gave birth to a daughter. A few years later, Artemisia was living apart from her husband, and was listed as “head” of a household that included her daughter and two servants. In 1616, she became an official member of the Academy of Design, which meant that a professional body must have changed its rules to accept a woman.

Artemisia lived in a time when painters could only survive through the patronage of rich and/or aristocratic buyers. In Florence, her patron was Grand Duke Cosimo II, who commissioned enough paintings from her that she could survive until his death in 1621.

Artemisia then moved to Genoa with her father. There, she gave birth to another daughter.

Some time between 1626 and 1630, she moved to Naples, probably because it was a larger city where she could more easily find patrons. In 1637, Artemisia was apparently trying to accumulate money for her older daughter’s wedding (and dowry?). She accepted a commission from King Charles of England to produce several paintings for the residence of his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. Artemisia lived in England until 1641, when the English Civil War broke out. She returned to Naples, where she lived until her death in 1652 or 53.

There is no evidence of the cause of Artemisia’s death. Art historian Charles Moffat believes that she might have committed suicide, which could explain this lack of information.

According to several other art historians, the style of painting she preferred didn’t usually coincide with her patrons' taste, and this is a problem that has plagued artists for all time. (Now artists are under pressure to cater to current fashion as distinct from the taste of an individual.)

What stands out for me in this sketchy biography is that Agostino Tassi’s abuse and the resulting public scandal affected the rest of Artemisia’s life, although she was able to find powerful male patrons who admired her talent enough to pay her for her work. Did they also expect other services? If so, we’ll probably never know. Her first daughter seems to have been conceived in rape, and there is no evidence that Agostino Tassi ever provided financial support. So in some sense, Artemisia literally paid for what was done to her at age 18 for many years after that.

Why did she separate from her husband, Pietro Stiattesi? Wives rarely left their husbands in that time. Was she understandably reluctant to have sex with the man she had married for the sake of “appearances,” and did her refusal make him feel cheated? Or did he accuse her of being a “voracious whore?” Did he despise her baby by another man? Did she escape, or did he kick her out?

In what circumstances did she have her second daughter? Apparently she wasn’t married, so her pregnancy probably wasn’t planned. Was the father one of her patrons?

She was undeniably brilliant at what she did, and she did achieve recognition for it, but none of this shows that she “moved on” or “overcame” the long-term aftermath of being violated by a teacher she had reason to trust. Fame doesn’t erase trauma, nor have all famous women been considered respectable. Au contraire.

After her death, some raunchy little anonymous epitaphs surfaced. In one of these, Artemisia is accused of “putting horns” on her husband’s head (i.e. cheating on him). This is how someone remembered her when she was no longer alive to defend herself, not that anything she could say would have changed the minds of those who thought of her as a dirty joke.

Artemisia created some great paintings. In that sense, I would say she went above and beyond expectations. However, it doesn’t follow that she was less vulnerable to the values of her culture than any other woman of the time.


When the Parts are Greater than the Whole

By K D Grace

That the parts of a piece of music, a work of art, a novel or poem can inspire more than the whole won’t likely come as a surprise for those of us who see a story in everything. I was lucky enough to catch two exhibitions in London these past couple of weeks. While they were completely different in nature, what they had in common was that they were prime examples of the parts being greater than the whole. 

The first exhibition was Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greeceat the British Museum. Presently some of Rodin’s most famous works are being exhibited side-by-side with a selection of the Elgin Marbles. Though Rodin never made it to Athens, his work was profoundly inspired by the art from the pediments that had once adorned the Parthenon. 

“No artist will ever surpass Pheidias … The greatest of sculptors, who appeared at the time when the entire human dream could be contained in the pediment of a temple, will never be equalled.” Auguste Rodin

“The entire human dream … contained in the pediment of a temple.” Has there ever been a better description of what we as writers, as storytellers try to do in the pages of our work? And after seeing a photography exhibition at the Museum of Londoncalled London Nights, I couldn’t keep from noticing that theme played out over and over again. 

Rodin’s temple with its pediment of the human dream is his Gates of Hell, a work I knew nothing about before the exhibition. The Gates of Hell, was to be a representation of Dante’s Inferno. Sadly only a small clay replica of that masterpiece was on display. For a better view and more details about Rodin’s Gates of Hell check out the YouTube link. 

The sculpture was commissioned in 1880 for a museum that was never built. But Rodin was so pulled into the effort, so inspired by it, that he continue to work on it on and off until his death in 1917. Many of his most famous sculptures, including The Kiss and The Thinker (who originally represented Dante sitting in the tympanum of the sculpture) were inspired by and taken from his original work.

“None of the drama of Life remained unexplored by this earnest, concentrated worker … Here (in The Gates of Hell) was life, a thousand-fold in every moment, in longing and sorrow, in madness and fear, in loss and gain. Here was desire immeasurable, thirst so great that all the water of the world dried up in it like a single drop.”
Rainer Maria Rilke (Briefly Rodin’s secretary)

The following weekend I found myself at the Museum of London standing before two images that, like Rodin’s Gates of Hell, invited me to dwell on the intriguing details and secrets of the parts, rather than the whole. Since there was no photography allowed, I ended up frantically taking notes on my phone. The images were both temples, of a sort, both attempting to contain the human dream in their “pediments.” One was a photograph from Rut Blees Luxemburg’sLondon: A Modern Project. The image, taken in 1999, is of a London high-rise apartment building in what looks to be a lower middle class neighbourhood. I was pulled in because I could see into people’s windows, into their lives. I wondered about their stories; the bicycle sitting on the balcony of the top floor, the Christmas lights visible in several windows, the dark flat with “shadow monsters” from childhood dreams pressing to the balcony windows seeking entrance. At the center of the photo is a stairwell illuminated in garish florescence, bisecting the building from top to bottom. It’s the only apparent connection to the stories in the apartment framework. This building is a container for the human dream played out in a thousand different ways with a thousand different outcomes. 

The counter to Blees Luxemburg’s high-rise of flats is Lewis Bush’shigh-rise office building. The particular photo that drew me was taken at night when the offices should have been deserted. The image itself is slightly distorted in perspective, a view from below, but not from the ground. The glare of light reflected at certain angles obscures the view in some of the floor to ceiling windows. When I looked closer, I realized there were a few people still inside. And none of them looked particularly happy – though that could have been my imagination, because to me, this was a story waiting to be told. This “pediment” was a perversion of the human dream. There was nothing personal about it and very little human. Perhaps that’s why I was so drawn to the few people who were there. What was written on every face, at least to my observation, was the terrible cost of living that dream. Here are a few of my frenetic notes. 

Soul captured in a photo. People still in the high-rise office at night? Why? What are their stories? What’s the guy at the bottom looking at? The one looking out the window, does he see the photographer? Would anyone stuck in the building believe him if he told them?

The one with hair hanging in his face -- what’s he looking at on his screen? He looks frazzled. Woman with head down on desk? Why? And is there a man sitting in the reception area? Why’s he there? What’s he waiting for? 

Is there a guy in a priest collar???

Is that a gym?

Reflecting on the two photographs now, it seems interesting to me that there were no people visible in any of the windows of the flats, as though they might be able to hide in their private world. But there is nothing private about the office high-rise. The photo seems all about being exposed in the darkness.

The enclosures, the containers that hold the stories we long to tell, are high rises, homes, tunnels and caves underground, spaceships, battles being fought, beds being fucked in, and long roads travelled. We write them voyeuristically, as we look into the windows of our experiences and beyond. The stories we pen are the pediments for human dreams. They contain our Gates of Hell, our gods and
goddesses and their epic toying with humanity. They contain our monsters in the dark and our unexplored lives. They will remain always only in the pediments where we can see them, and take them out, and explore them, and be uncomfortable with them, or aroused by them, or frightened by them, or totally pulled in to their tale. Their tale is always our own retold, and yet never quite like we’d planned it, certainly not the way we lived it out. What holds us within the framework are the once upon a times and the happily ever afters, the what ifs and the whys. What keeps us coming back for yet another look is the hope inspired by a dream kept alive when death looms ever larger.

It’s an overwhelming task we take on as writers, as artists. How could we endure it or explore it if all we ever saw was the high-rise or the temple? It’s too much to take in. It’s the secrets in the pediments, in the office at night, in the curtains not quite completely drawn that keep us telling our stories. In our imagination, in our urge to create, we’re drawn to the pediments for the dreams, the vignettes. We’re pulled in by the questions that reveal themselves and startle us into realizing what they might mean. But we linger there because of how they surprise us when they’re suddenly the center of our focus -- those things we didn’t notice before. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Stand Up and Be Counted

By Tim Smith

I’ve been reading the previous posts on this thread while trying to decide what I could contribute. Then I ran across this quote.

“To win without risk is to triumph without glory.”

It was courtesy of the French dramatist Pierre Corneille (1606). There’s a lot of truth buried in that short sentence. Also in a quote I was told early in life — “Nothing worthwhile comes easy.” To get anything you want from life, whether it’s a career, a relationship, or financial security, you have to get out there and pitch for yourself. It’s unlikely that anyone will do it for you.

Gisselle Renarde’s post from a few days ago mentioned critics, the bane of an author’s existence. She also weaved in the selfish attitude some authors seem to have about reviews and sharing blog and Twitter posts. I have never taken anything for granted regarding book publicity, and always send someone a “Thank you” e-mail when they’ve had me as a guest on their blog. I’ve even done the same for friends who were nice enough to post a favorable review on Amazon. Who says nice guys finish last?

I’ve been blessed with generally positive reviews for every one of my books. I don’t write for the critics and when I read reviews, I try not to take the negative comments personally. One encounter with a blogger a few years ago, though, nearly changed my outlook. This woman read one of my romantic mystery/thrillers and trashed it on her site. Naturally I was annoyed, but not so much with her opinion of my prose. What sent me over the edge were her comments that attacked me personally because I’m a man who dared to write a straight romance. How could I do such a thing! The so-called review was bad enough, but then she took the feud a step further and linked her bad write-up to a rave review I had received on Goodreads. I’ve never met this woman, and I don’t know why she was hell-bent on destroying my career.

Good reviews are nice to have, but as I said, I don’t write to impress literary critics. I write for the person in Parma, Ohio or Rugby, North Dakota who wants to escape from life for a little while. I think of fiction writing as being in the entertainment business. If you can pick up one of my books and get transported to someplace exotic, with characters that you like and a plot that holds your interest, then I’ve done my job. I think the nicest compliment one can receive in this business is “I can’t wait to read your next one.” It doesn’t get much better than that.