Saturday, June 04, 2005

Lessons From the Master

I've been reading Ray Bradbury lately. The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles, and Driving Blind, specifically. I am reviewing these for Green Man Review.

Reading Bradbury is often a mistake. I get so caught up in his masterful use of words that I despair of ever creating anything of any worth. This time around, I noticed something I had not been aware of before: Ray Bradbury is a "bad" writer. By that I mean that he breaks every rule of "good" writing known. He uses passive voice, adjectives and adverbs grow over his stories like kudzu, his dialogue is downright stinky, and his science is suspect at its best.

So what is it about Bradbury's writing that appeals to me so much? The biggest thing is the way he uses the English language. Bradbury is a fiction writer with a poet's sensitivity to sound, rhythm, and meaning. He build ethereal castles in the air, heartbreakingly beautiful and breathtakingly rich in meaning. He has a natural sense of symbolism, and evokes his images with clarity and dimensionality. I can taste the air, feel the dust in my face or the grass under my feet. I can see the houses, hear the roar of the rocket's engines on takeoff. He draws me in to the exclusion of all else. When I read Bradbury, I cannot do anything else or tolerate any distraction. What can I say? I'm a sucker for beautiful language.

The other thing that makes Bradbury such a master is his intimate knowledge of people. He knows what drives us, the answers we seek, and how much we will pay for some of them. His stories address questions of wonder and imagination. He explores our feelings about death, both physical and intellectual. Most of all, Bradbury mourns the loss of childhood wonder and the innate loneliness we all feel, our separation from others and the lack of empathy in the world.

Everything I write for the next couple of weeks will carry heavy overtones of Bradbury. He gets into my soul and is hard to get rid of. I can think of worse things that could happen.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

With a Snip-Snip Here...

Here's a bit from "Best Teacher". I like this one. It's fun.

----- [snip]-----

Jennifer woke. It was dark. As dark as night. No, darker. As dark as midnight. No, that’s not it, either, darker. As dark as...Uh-oh.

She was lying on her back with her hands crossed on her breast. Panic welled up in her, and she flung her hands up, only to hit a hard surface covered by silk and some thin padding. It was only a couple of inches over her face.

Her screams were deafening, and her fingernails bent and snapped as she clawed frantically at the coffin lid that trapped her. She tried to kick, as well, but her knees could not bend far enough to give her feet any leverage. The silk and the padding were soon shredded and hanging down into her face as she clawed ineffectually at the lead lining. Her mind gave up its tenuous grasp on reality.

"I always joked that I would be late to my own funeral" was her last rational thought. She had been too late by far. The late Jennifer Morgan lay quietly in her grave. For a time.

#

This time, Jen woke gradually and had time to consider her situation. Though it was still a shock, she realized that this is kind of what she should have expected. After all, if you give yourself to a vampire, you should expect to die and be buried. If you wake up, then that only means that you’re a vampire now, as well. She ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth, feeling the long canines protruding from her gums as confirmation.

But how was she going to get out? She lifted her hands and felt the top of the casket. It was solid, really solid. Well, at least she didn’t have to worry about dying in here. She giggled a little at the thought and heard the hollow echoing sound of it. She sobered quickly as she realized that she was getting hungry. Things would get uncomfortable pretty quickly. She suddenly realized that were fates worse than death. Far worse.

----- [snip]-----

Survey Said ...

Here are the Writers' Blog Survey results through May 31. The number in red is the number of respondents who chose that answer. The percentages in blue are the responses to that answer as a percentage of total responses. This is just the raw data. If you want to see pretty colored charts and read my inane opinions, you can download them here. This is a PDF document, so you will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader, if you don't already have it. I apologize in advance for any mistakes or broken links. Consider this a preliminary draft.

On the todo list: Compile and organize the comments into a usable form and publish them in whole or in part for everyone's edification; I would like to get enough responses from professional writers and non-writers to be able to cross-tabulate the results by type of respondent.

I'm going to leave the survey live for now, probably through June. If there's enough interest, I'll leave it longer.

Comments are always welcome, either as comments on this post, as e-mail (usual spam avoidance measures apply), or using the Feedback form on my Web site.

Date 5/31/05
Number of responses to date 164

1.) Are you a writer?
Full-time Professional 10 6.10%
Part-time Professional 13 7.93%
Aspiring 117 71.34%
Hobbyist 15 9.15%
Not a writer 9 5.49%\
Not answered 0 0.00%

2.) Do you keep a blog?
Yes 115 70.12%
No 49 29.88%
Not answered 1 0.61%

3.) Why do you read writers' blogs?
To get to know them as people 117 71.34%
To get writing and publishing tips 125 76.22%
To get a feel for their writing styles 42 25.61%
To see how they cope with the writing life 139 84.76%
To get/give inspiration/encouragement 112 68.29%
Because they are well-written, thoughtful, witty, and entertaining 118 71.95%
To get their opinions on current events 34 20.73%
To get current or insider publishing news 61 37.20%
Other 7 4.27%
To scope out the competition 5 3.05%
Not answered 0 0.00%

4.) Do you make book publishing decisions based on what you read on a writer's blog?
Yes 118 71.95%
No 49 29.88%
Not answered 1 0.61%

5.) If so, how important is the blog in influencing your decision to buy or not buy that writer's book(s)?
Very important 8 4.88%
Somewhat important 82 50.00%
Neither important nor unimportant 46 28.05%
Somewhat unimportant 17 10.37%
Very unimportant 12 7.32%
Not answered 10 6.10%

6.) As a reader, how important is it to you for writers to blog?
Very important 13 7.93%
Somewhat important 51 31.10%
Neither important nor unimportant 61 37.20%
Somewhat unimportant 37 22.56%
Very unimportant 45 27.44%
Not answered 2 1.22%

7.) As a reader, how important is it to you for writers to blog about:
Their writing process 143 87.20%
Their opinions of other writers' books 43 26.22%
Their personal lives 57 34.76%
Current events 34 20.73%
Publishing news 61 37.20%
Their successes and failures as a writer 123 75.00%
Other 12 7.32%
Not answered 3 1.83%

8.) How important is it for you to feel that the writer is being candid and honest?
Very important 125 76.22%
Somewhat important 31 18.90%
Neither important nor unimportant 4 2.44%
Somewhat unimportant 1 0.61%
Very unimportant 2 1.22%
Not answered 1 0.61%

9.) How important is it for the writer to allow comments or provide a contact e-mail address?
Very important 21 12.80%
Somewhat important 49 29.88%
Neither important nor unimportant 55 33.54%
Somewhat unimportant 16 9.76%
Very unimportant 21 12.80%
Not answered 2 1.22%

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Vampires Bite

They suck, too.

I was going through my piles of unfinished short stories over the weekend, and I was intrigued by how many of them concern vampires. I seem to have an obsession in that area. I've been trying to figure out out why.

Vampires are nightmare monsters. They exert a control over their victims that is irresistable and then drain their victims of their very life essence--their blood. Blood horror is nearly unicersal. When we're bleeding, we can see and feel our very life draining away. A cut on the head is scary in the extreme. It bleeds like it will never stop. Even though the amount of blood loss might be minimal, a little bit goes a long way.

Then there's the whole biting on the neck thing. Our necks are very vulnerable. They're exposed and have a lot of nerves and arteries concentrated in a small area. The neck's vulnerability also plays a big role among animals. Fights for domination are often decided by the loser exposing its (usually his) neck to the victor. By offering their necks to the vampire, its victims are acknowledging the monster's dominance and their own helplessness. And then there's the thought of having a human-sized leech attached to your neck. Ugh.

Vampires live in the night, in the dark. Who's not afraid of the dark? Yeah, I know you don't like to admit it, but you get nervous when you can't see what's going on around you. That's another primal fear that humans share. We are pretty much the most helpless species going. We don't have claws or tough hides or fangs. Our growls are pitiful at best, and damn near anything can outrun us. Our only hope of survival is to see the predator in time to get up a tree ot in a hole or wherever it can't get to us. In the night, we're easy pickings.

So where does the sex come in? This is a pretty nasty creature, we're talking about. Where's the magnetism? I think it has to do with both the danger and the dominance/submission. Mortal danger has long been known as a powerful aphrodisiac. Blood is also associated with menstrual flow, taken to be a sign of fertility, and the rites of passage to manhood in many parts of the world, which often involves bloodletting of some sort. While we don't practice these beliefs in the modern world, the archetypes are still with us, the associations linger. Sex, blood, heat, danger all mix together in our subconscious to form a powerful force.

Yet, for all their powers, vampires remain vulnerable, themselves. They lie helpless through the day, hidden lest they be exposed to the deadly sunlight. They have traditionally been thought to be harmed by religious symbols and can be destroyed by physical violence--stake through the heart, beheading, etc. So, even in the dark of the night, we have weapons to protect us, both physical and spiritual. We can win against even these predators.

For all their animalistic traits, though, vampires retain a lot of human-ness. They look human and mostly act human. They walk and talk. This may be the worst of the horrors about them. They're us. We're them. Our friends, our families, strangers on the street, who might be a night-walking, blood-sucking, life-stealing monster? It might be me, heh heh.

These thoughts courtesy of Jennifer Morgan, star of "Best Teacher". That first night as a monster can be a real killer.

Got Silk?

Corn is tasseling! Good eatin' on the way. I can also see 8 small tomatoes, about the size of my thumb, and about a dozen tiny jalapenos so far. Everything's still blooming, and the pole beans are making a run for the border. If I didn't know better, I'd think they were cousins of kudzu. Broccoli's done. I need to cut them for the compost pile and get something else growing. Right now, I'm thinking a second crop of lima beans. Can't hardly wait for the tomatoes and peppers. Fresh salsa is one of the great joys in life.