I Want To Tell you A Story

On Thursday I went to NYC to a Story Slam put on by The Moth.

I went because I wanted to, and because I normally wouldn’t have. I’m not really an adventurous guy. And I’m definitely not  a guy who goes to new places and does new things alone. So in the past I’d see something like this and think, gee that would be cool, and then never go. But just lately I’ve been trying to do some things that are outside my comfort zone. This was one.

And The Moth is fucking awesome! They do a podcast, story slams like this, and a large showcase style shows where people tell stories. They are just stories from life, mostly told by just everyday folks. I’ve been listening to the podcasts and the stories they post on the website voraciously for weeks. I even sent a submission of a story. So the story slam is run much like a poetry slam (I think, having never been to a poetry slam). Each night there is a theme that your story has to touch on in some way. “Skin” was that night’s topic. You put your name in the hat to tell your story, 10 names are picked, and the stories are judged by a randomly picked group of people from the audience. I was actually going to put my name in the hat but I was nearly the last person let in and I really didn’t know how things worked and I was a big chicken-shit, so that didn’t happen. But considering that throughout the day I had to convince myself to go about a dozen times I’m still happy with the outcome.

The stories were great. Even the ones I didn’t like were great because they were just people telling their story in front of hundreds of strangers. They told about things and people in their lives that meant something to them. Some of them were really polished, some of them half drunk and scared shitless, and most of them contained a few laughs. But I really loved it. So I’ll be going back. Next time I’ll get one of the presale tickets so I don’t have to stand for two and a half hours (that’s how you know when a fat man loves something, he’s willing to stand for it). And this time I’m going to put my name in.

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Writing Or Trying to Write: Why Bother? An Essay

[As an experiment I’ve decided to drop some of my essays from my classes here (I’m back in school, again). I think I’ll only post the ones I really like as posts and the rest I’ll just put up as a page. Here’s hoping someone likes them enough to plagiarize them.]

This is from a class this semester called Creative Nonfiction: The Poetic Essay. The assignment was to write a 3 – 4 page essay on some art form I enjoy practicing. The next assignment is to edit this essay down to a single paragraph. I am not looking forward to that. This, however, was a lot of fun.

Boy writing

Boy writing

Writing Or Trying to Write: Why Bother?

An Essay

I want to write. I do write, almost everyone does. The usual things: texts, emails, angry comments on the internet when some idiot is being so fucking wrong about a subject I have some modicum of knowledge about, love letters, nondisclosure agreements, out-of-order signs, resumes, cheat sheets. It’s all writing.

But I want to WRITE! I want to make people feel the way I choose for them to feel. I want to carefully select my words and order them into perfectly crafted sentences and paragraphs. Words, lines, paragraphs, sections, chapters, volumes that work together to subtly influence the reader as he progresses, shifting his emotions and thoughts in gradually increasing ways, slowing, speeding, angry, sad, empathetic, building confusion being wiped away by certainty until finally, finally he reaches a point he must reach because my writing took him there, forced him down the path, DEMANDED he get where to where I led, even if I didn’t know that’s where he would end up.

That’s all I want. The unattainable. I know it’s not possible. The best writers in history never reached that god-like goal with perfect regularity. But I bet they know the feeling. I bet at some point they get  hold of that ideal for a minute or an hour or a day or a month and they feel it. They get to watch as a reader sways to the beat they have written.I know they do! I’ve been that reader, under the thumb of some writer who has decided I will fear or exult or despair or get turned on and he makes it so with his words.

I want to write satire that can make a reader boil with outrage at the excesses of war a hundred years after I write it, the way Mark Twain did in “Comments on the Moro Massacre”. Like Allie Brosh and Kay Redfield Jamison who managed to give me the tiniest glimpse into the utterly bleak world of true clinical depression. Like Stephen King who scared me shitless so many times. Like David Sedaris who perfectly captures the absurdity of life while making me care deeply about someone I couldn’t be more different from. Like Cory Doctorow who creates world that are fantastic and familiar and seem to be just around the corner. Like William Shakespeare who wrote a play that even in sixth grade I wanted nothing more than to be a part of. Like Tennessee Williams who wrote “This Property Is Condemned”, a one act play that will break anyones heart but especially if your daughter plays the main character. Like the Discworld series of books that have never failed to make me laugh out loud but also aren’t afraid to make real statements about the world we live in. Like Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Chester Himes, Tim O’Brien, Neil Gaiman, Madeleine L’Engle and all the rest. I don’t want to be considered one of their peers. I don’t want to be mentioned in the same breath as them. But I want a taste of the good stuff they drank from daily. I want to know I moved someone.

Once I figured all that out I did the logical thing, I didn’t write a word and instead dove head first into researching and learning everything I could about writing. This was the very earliest days of the internet. The vast array of useless shit was not yet to the point where you couldn’t partake of all of it. So I sampled everything. I read everything anyone had to say on the subject of being a professional writer. I bought the books, I joined the forums, I did the exercises. I joined local critique groups that never got beyond setting up a schedule. I lined up long lists of people who could act as beta-readers, should I ever produce any writing. I learned all about publishing. And I didn’t write a thing. It was obvious to everyone that I was not writing and would not be any time soon. That eventually became obvious even to me. But I kept at it, for years. I never really gave up, I just slowly stopped trying all the time wasting bullshit and got on with the rest of my life. But my life didn’t include writing.

And so, 25 years later, here I am. I’ve given up on the idea of becoming a Great Author (the caps are there in the pronunciation). I no longer want to be read by millions, or to receive adoring fan mail. All those things were fun to think about but ultimately they got in the way of actually trying to write. They were distractions. So much bullshit that I could just pretend to be doing so that I never had to test myself by really writing. Now that garbage is gone. I write mostly for me. I write what amuses me, or what I love. Sometimes it’s poems, or blog posts, or stream of consciousness rambles, or memoirs of my childhood growing up with three older brothers and three older sisters. Sometime it’s standard genre fiction short stories. Sometimes it’s even angry comments on the internet when some idiot is being so fucking wrong about a subject I have some modicum of knowledge about. I don’t love all of it, or even most of it. But I write it. And maybe if I’m lucky I’ll find that it made someone laugh, or get a little misty-eyed. Maybe for a second someone saw things from a different perspective. Or maybe I just pissed someone off enough that they had to tell me how wrong I am. I’d happily settle for that.

Learning How To Write

I think I may have discovered something abouty writing that no one ever in the history of the entire universe ever knew: it’s easier to write if you know where you’re going.

Okay, I suppose some folks might have known that already. And I know that it’s not true for everyone. Some folks are diametrically opposed, they can’t know the end before they start. Still I consider this discovery the greatest thing since self-toasting individually packaged single slices of bread (oh it’s coming, just you watch).

I used to get and idea and sti right down to write it out. It might be anything from a  title, to a character to a setting to an actual plot point. Most common was titles. I’d get an idea for a title and shortly it would spawn the beginnings of a story idea. So I’d do what you do with beginnings, I’d begin. Then I’d stop because I was just running around in circles, going no where. At that point I’d have so  much written that I didn’t consider it a story idea any more, it was an unfinished story. But, because I couldn’t get anywhere with it, a flawed story. So I’d stop writing. It didn’t occur to me to go back, scrap everything but the idea, and start over after deciding what the end point was. I suppose I considered those stories failures.

At some point I realized that my problem was with endings, but I never really made an effort to devise a solution. So I haven’t made any attempts at fiction in a very long time. Until recently.

But this time, I’m not going to begin a single word of actual story until I know the endgame. And I do, for the story I’m beginning now. It was really fairly simple to find it, too. The only difficulty I had was deciding between the happy ending and the downer ending. I picked the happy ending. Of course, I’m not going to stick to the ending I have decided on if the story goes in other directions. But if it does do that, I’m going to establish what the new ending is before going on. I think being able to see the goal posts that I set will make the writing a lot more fun.

The SFWA

I don’t know exactly when I became aware of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. At a guess it was sometime in my pre-teens or very early teens. But I do remember the the feeling of awe I had when I thought of it. Here was an organization made up entirely of the people whose works I’d spent so many hours devouring. In my mind it was Nirvana.

I imagined a large private library, with bookshelves at least three stories high and those cool rolling ladders to get to all the books. There were display cases along the sides with esoteric paraphernalia, first editions and other prized possessions. And in this rarefied atmosphere the greatest minds in the world, writers of Science fiction and Fantasy, would gather. They’d filter in, taking seats in the overstuffed leather chairs and smoking cigars and pipes. The assembled geniuses would talk amongst themselves, and it would all be brilliant. Witty repartee, learned discussions, heated but polite arguments. Even some hijinks, on occasion. After all, most of my favorite authors had well developed sense of humor. There you’d find Asimov and Saberhagen exchanging bon mots, Heinlein holding forth on some societal ill. There’d be a round table discussion consisting of Arthur C. Clarke, JRR Tolkien, Poul Anderson, Jerry Pournelle, Roger Zelazny, and Anne McCaffrey.

That was what a meeting of the SFWA was in my mind. I never articulated it, really gave it a lot of thought, but it still held a very special place in my head. This was all before I ever gave any thought to doing any writing of my own. I never even considered the idea that I might one day be able to join the august ranks of the SFWA. It never crossed my mind.

When I made an attempt to writye my own fiction I discovered the reality. SFWA really is a sort of hybrid between a social club and a professional organization. It does a lot of things for it’s members and for non members as well. It has a medical fund, offers help with contracts, helps resolve disputes with agents and publishers, holds banquets, and presents the Hugo Award every year. What it isn’t is that fantasy I constructed. Which is just as well, that would have a been a tough crowd.

But recent events have shown it to be even less of a professional organization and not even much of a social club. I’m not going to bother with a recap of those events, you can find the pertinent info here. The result, for me, is that SFWA looks like a haven for curmudgeons (and not terribly amusing ones) who are desperately trying to avoid the future they write about. And that the whole running of the organization is on shaky grounds.

So, if I ever do take another stab at writing fiction (I will take another stab, someday) and by some miraculous chance, qualify for membership, would I join? HELL YEAH! Are you kidding? Me? Join SFWA? In a hot second! The very idea that I might be able to join this organization, even the reality based version I’ve been talking about with all it’s warts and problems, fills me a sort of glee. Because whaever else it might be, it’s still the place I’ve been dreaming for all this time and if the reality doesn’t fit the dream, that’s okay. The reality is still pretty damn cool.

Rudolph

I’m rewriting Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

I never liked the story as it was presented in the song. It seemed like the bullies won. I decided to rewrite it so that it’s still a kids story, still pretty basic, but so that the moral of the story is more palatable.

The story of the story of Rudolph is pretty interesting. It was written by Robert L. May while working for Montgomery Ward and given away for free as a coloring book. The company eventually gave him the rights to it in ’47 and his brother wrote the song in ’49. And the original story was fairly different from the story we all know from the song.

Still it needed rewriting. The difference is that now, both the Reindeer who ostracize him and Rudolph himself are in the wrong, and they all learn a lesson, naturally.

I haven’t written anything in a few years, and this was fun.

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