Posts Tagged ‘Neil Gaiman’




When I heard that Bryan Fuller was tackling Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for Starz, I did a happy dance. For one thing, I have adored all of Fuller’s work, with literally no complaints. That is rare as fuck. For another, Gaiman is my favorite author. And while Gods isn’t my favorite Gaiman book (that’s Neverwhere, thank you), I was insanely thrilled at the prospect of seeing Shadow Moon and Wednesday and Bilquis come to life.


You could say, if you wanted to be clever, that the premiere (“The Bone Orchard“) made a believer out of me. And, as worship sometimes proves without a doubt, that faith was rewarded when I watched it last night. It was, no exaggeration, flawless—the use of light and color, the brilliance music selection, the razor sharp dialogue, and the astounding performances. I wondered how Bilquis’s scene would be depicted, and holy hell in a handbasket—Yetide Badaki was flawless. Ricky Whittle’s turn as Shadow was nuanced and powerful, even when there was no dialogue. My heart broke for him at the funeral and again at the graveyard. In that garden full of dead people, his best friend’s widow (Betty Gilpin crushed it) was a hurricane of grief that was so raw and yet so real. Betrayal does strange things to a person, and in that frenetic explosion of pain, there was no false note.


Jonathan Tucker’s Low Key was a barely contained tidal wave of mischief and misdirection, a stream-of-consciousness maelstrom, a clever contrast to Shadow’s steady and unwavering nature. There’s an undertone of madness there, as he bends Shadow’s ear in flashbacks, giving advice that plays perfectly into the future.


Not to be outdone is Bruce Langley’s Technology Boy, who is menacing as all hell. There’s an edge to him that I did not expect. But the limits of his power are tested, when Shadow’s nearly hung, but  he’s saved by an unknown force. Given the immense presence of technology in everyday life, what would be strong enough to stand against it? Who, or what, saved Shadow?


My guess is Ian McShane’s Wednesday had a hand in that particular salvation. Wednesday has invested in Shadow and his future, a winding and strange journey so far. McShane, for all his manipulation and bluster, stole every scene he was in. He shapeshifts to fit the situation, but he’s always in control, always in power. McShane’s delivery was always pitch perfect, sly and subtle, but no less powerful for it. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.


Fuller’s distinctive style and attention to detail (“Fuck god and cum hard” etched in the bathroom mirror—McShane mentioning one eye) are in full force. The bar and the ensuing brawl with Mad Sweeney (deliciously played by Pablo Schreiber) was perfectly done, giving a nice glimpse of what happens when Shadow is pushed too far. The overlap of past, present, and well beyond into the Twilight could have been tricky. It easily could’ve felt stilted or disjointed. Instead, the clash of past and present was like the striking of a match: brilliant and unmistakable.


I don’t know about you, but I’m ready and willing to worship next week.

The Bones of a Story: An Alleged Affair and an Author

November 29, 2011 5 comments

Often times, we don’t get the whole picture. We aren’t privileged enough to get even a glimpse. Instead, we stare at the bones of something and try to determine what it is, what it was, and what it means. But meaning a tricky thing, like perspective. It is fluid, and it never falls into a straight line. There is literal meaning and figurative meaning — the first being the chalk outline of something, the second being the soul of it.

I’m looking at the bones of something, hefting them in my hand. Someone has cleaned the off nicely, but left them in a heap. It looks remarkably like a puzzle, and I cannot help but wonder about the authenticity. Something does not have to be true to be authentic, just like a story can be made of lies and be brilliant. The best fiction is stitched together as such, with enough shades and shadows of truth to give it meaning. In the world of a story, things merely have to feel true to be true.

Stories are grey things, a collaborative act in two parts — the first part being the author putting the words on the page; the second part is a interaction between text and reader, specifically the meaning that the active, close reader can draw from the text. Without the author’s vision, the text does not exist — but without the reader’s interpretation, it does not live.

Consider Sylvia Plath much lauded The Bell Jar , which is a loosely based autobiographical work. It is not entirely a work of fiction, neither is it a tale of merely facts. Plath deftly blends the two.

A more recent novel would be Alice Sebold‘s jarring, stunning, and brilliant The Lovely Bones. It is a work of fiction, yet it is fueled by a personal life experience (which you can read about here). Writing, of course, comes out of a person and not a hat; there can, certainly, be crossover (deliberate or otherwise) between an author and his/her writing. Personally speaking, there are certain parts of myself that have wormed their way into things I’ve written — occasionally without my knowledge or consent. But these are, generally, pieces of things, not the bones or musculature of a story.

What, then, does one make of You Deserve Nothing, by Alexander Maksik? According to, there is talk of an alleged affair between Maksik and a student of his, back when he taught in Paris. (See here for the full article. It is an interesting read.) Again according to, the novel seems to be a roman a clef, based on Maksik’s actual experiences at the American School of Paris. He was, supposedly, dismissed from his teaching post for allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a student.

Now, I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t know the female character (Marie) in Maksik’s novel is a real person, or even a composite of real people. The book has garnered a lot of praise, and judging by a cursory look at it, myself, it is well-written. Jezebel wonders if the book’s acclaim would suffer if the novel has elements grounded in reality (i.e. if the story about the affair is true).

This leaves me feeling squicky, first of all. Second of all, it leaves me a bit at odds with myself. There are a billion ways to look at a novel — a bunch of different lenses of critique, from Feminist to Reader Response to Deconstructionism. Extracting the story from the supposed circumstances, one would presume (as Roland Barthes stated) that the author is effectively dead. That the words on the page are all that matter. Yes, texts act as artifacts for any given time (Dickens would probably write VERY different novels if he lived in present day England — the same goes from Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Mitchell) — but they are also, at their core, STORIES.

But here’s the thing: I don’t know if the novel loses merit, depending on its inspiration or genesis. I am, as I write that, extracting my personal feelings regarding the author. That is not easy to do, because my gut reaction is something akin to: EWWW. (The reaction might be censored, for fear it would only contain curse words and garbled mumbling.) I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it curious that the editor was Sebold, given her literary history. Then again, that could all be coincidence.

Like I said, before, I’m sitting here staring at the bones of something. I cannot tell what it is, just by eyeballing the various parts. I can point to something and say, “I’m fairy certain that is a skull,” but I can’t tell you specifics. I can say that it looks as if it’s made of bone, but I cannot say with certainty that is actually bone.

Authors work very hard to remind people that they are not their stories. I do. I’ve heard other writers talk about this, too. You can write a story about a serial killer, without turning into Darkly Dreaming Dexter (or assuming that Jeff Lindsay hacks people up as a hobby). There is potential, yes, with Maksik’s book that it is unfortunately grounded in personal experience — but I’m not sure that I can say that potential would detract from the praise being given. (Note: For clarity’s sake, that doesn’t mean I think such actions would be conscionable. I do not.)

Does a story have to be real in order to be true? No. It merely has to be believable. Additionally, I think it is dangerous to confuse the author with his/her story. However, personally speaking, I’ve having a tough time wrapping my head around this entire discussion. What do you think about this?

Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things.” ~Neil Gaiman

““Literature is without proofs.” ~Roland Barthes

Owning Who You Are

November 26, 2011 12 comments


The other day, I had the pleasure of reading Deanna Raybourn’s blog post about owning who you are and what you like. So much of life’s difficulties tend to stem from attempting to disown parts of ourselves that seems a little tarnished or unacceptable by some bizarre standard. There’s nothing more horrifying than waking up and realizing that you loathe the direction your life has taken or that you’ve been hiding a part of yourself in the shadows.

It isn’t easy to be exactly who you are, especially in a world where a lot of people scoff and sneer and try to pull at your courage. The truth is that the people who are a poised to tear another down are really just scared or envious. So much of people’s baser actions stem from a well poisoned with fear or the inability to understand something that isn’t familiar.

But I digress. Deanna wrote about the mix of interests that make her who she is and there was so much about that entry that just made me cheer (and not just because we like a lot of the same things, although now I find I need to buy a pair of cowboy boots; I owned a red pair until I was about ten. I miss them).

So, without further ado, here is what I know – and I say that knowing full well that I may know different things tomorrow, because part of the beauty of being your own person is the ability to change one’s mind.

  1. I am not just one thing. No one is. I love reading as much as I love watching movies (from Casablanca to The Green Lantern). I believe in singing and singing loudly, even if I haven’t practiced in a long time and can’t hit all the notes. There is never a bad day for a song or musical number – and I may not have any formal dance training, but dancing around the kitchen will cure any bad mood, especially if the kitchen smell like pasta sauce. Speaking of pasta sauce, I think that jarred sauce is an abomination, and it makes me want to cry. If ANYONE ever wants to learn how to make marinara sauce from scratch, email me. It is easy, and it will be a balm to your soul. There are few problems that cannot be tackled with a good friend, a cup of coffee, and a slice of cheesecake. I love high heels and yoga pants with equal passion, and I’m just as likely to go fishing than I am to apply my eyeliner perfectly. I love Scrabble and champagne, but I can’t stand beer, except the occasional Corona with lime. I think that pretending to be someone else can be amusing and liberating, and I’m not afraid to adopt a different accent in public. If you run into a woman who looks like me, but who is suddenly British, just call me Moneypenny. I might even answer. Once, I wanted to be an actress (and a Bond Girl); there might even be headshots floating around out there. I never followed through on it, but I still consider it. I don’t think it’s ever too late for a new dream or the resurrection of an old one. I believe in the power of laughter, red lipstick, and smiling at strangers. I believe in being nice, until there’s a reason not to be – in which case, RUN. I won’t abide anyone hurting someone I love. If I love you, it’s usually for keeps, and I’ve got your back even when I don’t agree with you – and let’s face it, no one agrees all the time.
  2. Stay true. This is often the hardest thing to do in life. Deanna mentioned that it is monumentally more difficult to stand up to one’s friends, because they hold a place of esteem in our lives. This is true. I am easily swayed, if I’m made to feel foolish. It took me YEARS to say, “I’m a writer” out loud without looking like I was either going to bolt from a room or throw up on my shoes. It took me even more time to hold fast to that identity in the barrage of follow-up statement/questions that feel more like a wrecking ball crossed with an inquisition. Everything I write takes me one step closer to the writer I want to be. I hope to hell I never stop learning about the craft AND the industry, because the best writers can always see the opportunity for growth and change. The same goes for people, actually. The day I cease to be able to see another perspective is the day I lose my ruby slippers and my toes curl up. Did I mention my affinity for movie quotes and references? I’ll also quote from Shakespeare on command.
  3. I am what I am. (Anyone who can name what song that’s from is automatically AWESOME.) I am a geek who occasionally dresses like Audrey Hepburn or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I read comic books, will kick your ass at video games, and I own a killer pair of leather pants. I draw, but not well enough to do anything with it, and I will bait my own fishing hook even if I have to use a live minnow. I still think it’s gross, but I push past it. I am stronger than I think I am, but weaker than I want to be, sometimes. I believe that love is never wrong, even if it’s slanted, and that broken hearts are just milestones. I think that everyone is entitled to their opinions, but ultimately, you run your own life – because you’re the one who’s in it. I think that everyone person should know how to change a tire and make at least one decent meal. I think that there is power in a good story and that poems will steal your breath if you let them. And I don’t care how old I get, I will always love birthday and Christmas with equal verocity, because it’s important to hang on to that piece of ourselves that still dwells in delightful possibility.

There’s nothing admirable about fitting in, falling in line, or pretending to be normal. You know who’s normal? No one. That’s a lie they tell you in middle school to make you feel awkward when you dress differently or want to dye your hair. Fall in love whenever you can. Believe in magic. Stop to look at sunsets. And remember: there’s never going to be another YOU, so grab hold of that, and rock the hell of it.

“I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.”
~Audrey Hepburn

““I can believe things that are true and things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.” ~Neil Gaiman

“That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.”
~Joan Didion

Sally Owens: All I want is a normal life.
Aunt Frances: My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage!

~Practical Magic

What Cannot Be Taught Can Still Be Learned

November 7, 2011 10 comments

The past couple of weeks have been rather difficult. I spent the weekend thinking about it, when I wasn’t writing, running, or cooking. Or, what I like to call the Trifecta of Distraction.

The thought that keeps echoing in my mind is, “How dare you?”

Three words. They mean a lot. They say a lot. I’m over here, fuming. I’m ticked off, and I’m flummoxed. Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s this: you don’t toss in the towel when things get tough. No, that’s when you pull on your kickass boots and find an ass to kick.

There are times where life is hard. Unimaginably so. Worse the Sisyphus and his damn boulder. Worse that Tantalus and his inability to eat or drink.

Get mad. Get indignant. Get going. Certainly, don’t give up. Because you know what happens then? Well, divide nothing by nothing, times it by nothing – and you get fuck all. Yeah, that’s right: nothing.

Believe me, there are times when I do not want to get out of bed. There are times where the last thing I want to do is talk to people. There are times I cannot talk about things, simply because I don’t have the words. Or the words hurt too much, like swallowing a bomb encased in broken glass. There are other times where I feel like I can’t take two steps in any direction.

To that, I say: bugger it.

Over the past year, I have seen a lot of things. I have seen people fumble the proverbial ball worse than Ray Finkle. (Laces out!) I have seen professionals act like children. I have seen compassion and dedication burn away like fog in the midday sun. I have seen countless people who SHOULD know better prove that an education doesn’t make you a better human being – or a more qualified one. No, it just means you sat through classes and managed not to fail.

You know what school doesn’t teach people? It doesn’t teach them how to fight. How to see a person in front of you and really see them. It doesn’t teach you how to dig your heels in and say, hell no, not me – not now. It doesn’t teach you how to be strong or how to be brave. It doesn’t teach you wisdom. It teaches you facts and reasoning.

But at the end of the day, no one is looking to be held by facts of logic. No one is looking be soothed and placated by impartiality. No, we’re all looking for courage, passion, and kindness.

So many people seem to missing the last one, although it is the simplest of things.

Nothing, except life, teaches you how to look someone in the eye – and refuse to walk away. It doesn’t matter the circumstances, or who this person is. A friend, a lover, a boss, a doctor, a priest, a stranger – whatever.

Ultimately, you make that choice. You make the choice to be a coward and an asshole. You make the choice to try and snuff out the last candle of hope someone might have. You make the choice to act like a callous person, who is more worthy of Tin Man (person) status than anything else.

It is a choice, and some people choose poorly. Some people fail to see the individual, looking at only the numbers. But numbers change. And there is always hope, always another way. And I’ll be damned if I let anyone tell me – or anyone I love – otherwise.

You can be smart and capable, but still not possess enough kindness to fill a thimble. You can be technically right, but fundamentally wrong.

Don’t let anyone dictate your truth. Don’t let anyone squash your drive or your heart. And the next time someone looks at you, with a mix of pity and boredom, you have my permission to call them a coward and prove them wrong.

And when you do, I want to hear about it.

“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”
Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” ― St. Francis of Assisi

Being Famous Doesn’t Make You Less

August 15, 2011 9 comments

Imagine, for a moment, that you have a child. (If you already have a child, feel free to picture him or her.) Your child is an adult, studying a craft. Let’s say this craft is photography.

You are proud of this accomplishment. In fact, you’re ecstatic. You see, your kid has an opportunity to study as an apprentice to an expert photographer – someone whose work he/she admires greatly. You can vote to show support, but the votes don’t determine who gets the apprenticeship (see the rules and guidelines here). A website goes up. Anyone in the fifty US states can vote to show support. You can vote for more than one person, if you choose to do so.

You, as an excited parent, mention this on your Facebook page. You don’t ask anyone to vote for your child – but you’re clearly beaming. “Look! My kid made this! And, if he/she gets the apprenticeship, it will be a life-changing experience, a rare opportunity.”

That’s all you say/do. You are simply a parent, whose kid is pursuing a dream and learning a skill. Excellent, yes?

Then, imagine that you are well-known. Some might even call you famous. You’re a writer. Shit, you’re Neil Gaiman. You’ve had tea with the Queen. (I don’t know if he really has. I made that up. Moving on.)

You’re a rather famous author. You do exactly as mentioned above. You don’t tell people to vote for your daughter. You don’t give any incentive to do that. You’re not giving away prizes or any such nonsense.

No, you’re just a parent proud of his daughter. And, slowly, people get rather persnickety. No one, to my knowledge, who has a vested interest in this contest his daughter Holly’s entered in. Holly, by the way, is a milliner. She is talented. I can sew on a button. If I had to make a hat, it would be out of tinfoil or newspaper. I’m not skilled in that direction.

But back to the point. A disturbing number of people are taking issue with that retweet and that FB post, mentioning Holly. It is, to be blunt, ridiculous. Any parent worth his salt would mention such a thing to anyone and everyone. FB, emails, phone calls – that’s the norm. Now, because the particular parent is well-known, this morphs into a problem, somehow.

I don’t know Holly or Neil. But I am completely annoyed on their behalves. (Behalves is an actual word. Who knew?)

Famous or not, a parent is a parent. You can’t simply take away that right to share Kid Facts and Accomplishments, based on occupation. Sure, you can attempt to couch it in terms of justice, but really – it’s just petty. Yes, Neil Gaiman is a famous author. So, what? That means the rest of his life should disappear? I don’t think so.

You don’t stop being YOU when you have a cool job. You don’t stop being YOU when people recognize you on the street. You don’t stop being YOU when you marry someone famous. If you’re on TV, people don’t own the rest of your life. If you write novels, people might (hopefully) adore them. Some of that adoration might spill over into/onto you. That doesn’t control the rest of your life. It doesn’t stamp out who you are. It doesn’t make you any less of a person or a parent.

And I don’t think it’s fair to expect that it should.

When You Judge, Just Wisely or Not at All

June 5, 2011 3 comments

Lately, I’ve seen a large influx of strange articles. Things written by journalists or people supposedly in the know. People who are (in my humble opinion) spouting strange ideas. I find myself increasingly annoyed, because it’s just another example of people fearing what they do not understand. Or what might not suit them. We all view the world through our own lens. It becomes dangerous, however, when we think that only OUR lens is the right one.

Let me explain. No, too much. Let me sum up. Grab some coffee. Go on. I’ll wait. (Pause.)

Okay, first there was the NY Times article about the television series Games of Thrones. The basic gist of the article was that women would only watch the show for the explicit sex scenes AND that it was merely “boy fiction.” Last time I checked, one did not walk into a bookstore or library and peruse the Boy Fiction section. Likewise, I never logged into to search for “Girl Fiction.” I like my books like I like my coffee (no, Eddie – not hot and with a spoon in it, although…): however I feel like drinking it. There are days where I’ll read Neruda’s poetry. Others where I’ll pick up a book by Stephen King. The next day I might reach for something by Holly Black or Neil Gaiman. The important thing is that you really can’t pigeonhole readers, no matter how much someone might WANT to. Harry Potter was, initially, meant for children, but how many adults do you know who read them? Chances are the answer is “a lot.” (Nota Bene: the author of the novels that Game of Thrones is based on comments on the whole debacle here. Interesting read.)

Next up we have Life Coach who claims that romance novels are as addictive as porn. Not crack, mind you – or cigarettes. PORN. Because nothing says “shock value” like religious person pointing a finger at pornography (the author is a LDS). The general premise is that reading romance novels will kill your marriage (if you’re in one), and if you’re not, WHY AREN’T YOU OUTSIDE TRYING TO CATCH A HUSBAND?!? Clearly, there is nothing worse than being single – and *gasp* READING. The author goes on to say that romance novels lead to impossible standards and crazy expectations. Because we women cannot distinguish fiction from reality. So, the next time a man smiles at you in the frozen foods aisle of the grocery store, it should be quite certain that he’s an FBI agent whose partner was just shot, and he’s on the lam until he can clear his name. Giving him a place to stay, surely, is the ONLY option you have.

…seriously? I cannot fathom why someone would assume that women cannot distinguish a romantic hero from real life people. Especially if the novel’s historical fiction. I’m certainly not going to read a romance book set in Camelot – and then decide that I’m Lady Guinevere. (Hint: that’s called psychosis.) Also, it is supremely offensive for the author to advise a romance reader to “[f]ind a hobby or other activity you could do instead of reading romantic books.” Reading IS my hobby. One of them, anyway. What would be an “appropriate” hobby, anyway? Shuffleboard? A sock-darning circle? Playing bridge? I don’t know. I don’t care. I’ll stick to my books, thank you very much.

Lastly, there is the Wall Street Journal article that rallies against contemporary fiction for teens, citing that it is all simply too dark. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but the teen years are kind of difficult. It’s not all kittens, rainbows, and braiding each other’s hair. Life is not a Disney cartoon. Things happen. They aren’t always pretty. The idea is that there are realistic teen novels out there – novels that *might* be part of the fantasy genre, but still reflect real-life teenage issues (cutting, sexuality, fitting in, sexual abuse, difficult parents etc). Take Cassie Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series or Holly Black’s Tithe. Both novels skillfully tackle a lot of the aforementioned issues. The things teens face every day. Writing about those issues doesn’t make them more pervasive; it validates real life struggles. There’s nothing wrong with that. Consider, also, Speak – the often controversial book about a teenager who is raped. But WHY is the book controversial? Because it deals with an issue people would rather not face or acknowledge, which is twelve shades of wrong. That book gives a voice to something that’s often voiceless. That should be applauded.

What’s even more mind-boggling in that article is the apparent advocacy for book banning, making the comparison to “the parenting trade” labeling it “ ‘judgment’ or “taste.” Really? I don’t think so. For one thing, banning a book point-blank completely circumvents the idea of parenting. It takes AWAY a parent’s right to decide if his/her child should read a certain novel. Also, I’d agree with the idea of judgment, but not with the inclusion of “taste.” Taste indicates a certain preference; judgment isn’t about preference, but instead about appropriateness.

There are many more things about that article I’d like to talk about, but this is already a long enough post. My final point is that I just don’t get it. I don’t understand the tendency toward censorship or book labeling. I don’t get why these things are in print. Yes, they have a stance and a clear-cut angle, but I feel as if controversy is the goal. Not honest, non-inflammatory opinions. It always feels like there’s a pointed finger, a black hat, and a villain. But you have to wonder about a book being a villain – or a tv show being “boy fiction.” As a teenager, for instance, Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet) is usually part of the English curriculum. That’s pretty damn messy, isn’t it? There’ s a fickle man (Romeo) who falls in love with a rival family’s daughter (that has all the making of a mob movie, doesn’t it?). Mercutio and Tybalt fight – and that ends in a bloody mess. Juliet basically cheats on her fiancée with Romeo. And then they both freakin’ DIE. BY SUICIDE.

Pretty? No. But so far, I’ve yet to see anything claiming that Shakespeare shouldn’t be taught in schools because teens might kill themselves. And if that IS out there, for the love of coffee, don’t tell me. I’m already annoyed enough.

My Muse is Feeling Evil

March 12, 2011 4 comments


In the past week, I’ve written four short stories. Each one is a little more bizarre than the last. Writing them, even just the act of getting them down on paper, helped me to evolve as a writer.

How? I stopped censoring myself. I wrote a few things that turned my stomach and made me feel squicky. (Yes, squicky is a technical term. I SWEAR. Don’t question me. Pay no attention to the woman behind the coffeepot. Also, stay away from my coffee.)

I didn’t start out to write something that made me uncomfortable. For instance, I started with an idea – retelling a fairytale. (I blame Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples for that.) I also found use for a bit of imagery I’d jotted down in my notebook.

I started writing, and the characters went off the path. Waaaaay off. And I found myself writing a really disturbing scene. But I wrote it.

There was a time where I would’ve thought, “Oh my GOD – my dad might read this!” Or, “People are going to assume I’m twisted.” (I mean, I am. But not like that.)

This time, it was about the story, and about telling it in the manner it needed to be told. Instead of shying away from the difficult bits.

So this particular story made me feel something. The characters were extremely clear. And I think it might be the best thing I’ve ever written. It’s not the easier thing I’ve ever done. But I think that I got it right – that the words on the page work. That makes me very, very happy.

Each of the four stories have gone through my own edits. They’re off to several beta readers for shredding. This is progress. This is a good lesson.

Like Poe did, write what scares you. Write what disturbs you. Write the story as it’s begging to be written, not some user-friendly, whitewashed version of it. Step to the ledge and jump. Let the story write you.

To Read is to Learn: Chasing the Muse

November 8, 2010 3 comments


Whenever I’m feeling uninspired, I read some poetry by Ted Hughes. I may be the only American woman who does that. If I can, I’ll also read something by Pablo Neruda (if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll read the Spanish). And there are occasions that call for the reading of “Instructions” by Neil Gaiman. (If I’m feeling very silly, there are times you can get me to read this out loud with a British accent.)

When I’m reading someone whose work I admire, I feel a bit like I’m peeking behind the scenes. I want to figure out how it works, why it works, and what about it I like best. Sometimes, you just read something and think, “That was amazing,” but you can’t put your finger on why. I like the Why.

If I stop reading, or don’t make the time for it, I stop learning. Each short story, poem, or novel has something to offer. Some bit of magic that I might not have seen before. Sometimes, it’s all a matter of permission. Permission? you might ask. Yes. Permission. Let’s say you encounter something with a unique narrator. This might give you the courage to write your own unique, unreliable narrator. It might be the best way to tell a certain story. And maybe you weren’t comfortable writing it that way, because it seemed odd or out there.

Take Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” or Jean Ryhs’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Each has a unique narrator (Rhys’s novel has multiple perspectives). So does Joan Didion’s Play it as it Lays. I read the latter one just a few years back, for the very first time. And it was a book stopped me in its tracks. I’d never found something quite like that, before. The snippets. The filling the gaps. The questions it left me with. It was enchanting.

When I was applying for graduate programs, I briefly considered getting an MA in Creative Writing. Instead, I got one in English Literature. For me, that was a good decision, because it helped me build upon the skills I already had (getting my BA in English Lit.). It exposed me to a world of books I never would’ve discovered on my own. It introduced me to literary theories I never would’ve read (and a few I wished I hadn’t. I’m looking at you, Edward Said.)

I think it made me a better writer. Sure, it made me a better academic writer, but it also made a better creative writer, too. I have a wealth of material to draw from. I can make references that amuse me and (hopefully) otherwise. I can draw on traditions from the past. I have precursors – both male and female.

When in doubt, read. Read as much as you can. If you don’t read, you can’t write. You won’t know what’s going on in your genre of interest – or in other ones. Even reading a bad novel can teach you something.

What do YOU do when you feel like your muse is hiding?

The Price, Neil Gaiman, and a Project

November 7, 2010 3 comments


I’ve slowly been making my way through Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors, which is (according to the tagline) a collection of short fictions and illusions. Like all things, some illusions are founded in truth or reflect it.

“The Price” is no exception. It is loosely based on an occasion where Gaiman had taken in a stray cat. Being a person who has done that her entire life, that warmed my heart a bit. This was, of course, no ordinary cat. I won’t spoil it for you, if you haven’t read it. (Pssst, Rosebud was a sled.)

But I will tell you about a project. A man named Christopher Salmon wants to make an animated version of this story. Neil Gaiman blogged about this (and no, he is not gaining anything personally from this). And that’s where you come in. Yes, you. And you. And the other you, back against the wall. (What are you wearing? Is that a bowler hat?)

The project is being funded through something called Kickstarter. It’s an amazing thing where artists can get the funding that they cannot get anywhere. It’s where YOU become the backer. You have a hand in something. A few months earlier, Amanda Palmer used it to fund an amazing piano talent’s, Tristan, first record.

You can read Neil’s blog entry here. If you can, donate. Even if it’s five dollars. Even if it’s two. Spread the word around, please. I’d really like to see this get made.

On an entirely unrelated note, does anyone have an idea when Boston Review is going to post the winner of the poetry contest? It was supposed to be on the 1st. I can’t find the winner anywhere. Not that I’m expecting to win. But I’d like to know.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I am in desperate need of more coffee.