Saturday, July 16, 2005

Angels of Mercy

My grandmother died yesterday. At around 6pm, she refused her supper. Said she wasn't hungry. She drifted off to sleep and stopped breathing at about 6:15. She was 95. I miss her already.

Granny lived either in her own house or her own apartment until March of this year. All of her medical problems caught up with her all at once. She stayed in a Skilled Nursing Unit for a couple of weeks, then moved to a hospice for the last 4 months of her life.

The point of this post is that I wanted to talk a little bit about hospice workers. I have been around hospice counselors and nurses several times through the years, and I never cease to be awed by the depth of compassion and commitment they have. I can't imagine how hard it must be to go to work every knowing that every single one of your patients is going to die. I do know that the emotional and spiritual support they give their patients and the patients' families is far more precious than any Earthly treasure.

I know I often come across as something akin to a rhinoceros with porcupine quills, but deep, deep, down inside, I do have a heart. Today, my heart is full. It's full of sorrow, of course, but also full of comfort and a deep, abiding appreciation for those women and men who selflessly devote themselves to the emotional health and healing of their patients and their families. The next time you see a hospice worker, please give them a hug. You can tell them it's from me.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Deep Thoughts for Friday Morning

Heard on the radio this morning:

If corn oil comes from corn and peanut oil comes from peanuts, etc., where does baby oil come from?

If a hearse is carrying a body, can it use the HOV lane?

If money doesn't grow on trees, why do banks have branches?

Why are asteroids out in space, but hemorrhoids are...well, you know.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

It Is Finished

"Best Teacher" has gone to its final reward. Time of death 11:14.

It wound up at 4925 words. I submitted it to the Bitten Vampire Short Fiction Contest. They will post the top 5 entries on their site from August 15 through August 31 for voting. You will go vote for me, won't you? Don't make me have to remind you by poking you in the ribs with a sharp stick.

That's pretty arrogant, don't you think? I have no idea what caliber of competition I'm up against here, since this is their first contest. So now I have to sit on sharp nails and fidget for a month. I guess I'd better find some other trouble to get into in the meantime.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Monsters Inside

Holly wrote yesterday about finding the villain inside. As a horror writer, I can identify with her feelings of revulsion and fear when she discovered this monster. I get this feeling a lot. It's not that I like this feeling. I didn't choose to write horror. In fact, I spent a lot of years trying to force myself to write other things. Always, though, those stories would bend into the darkness, and the monsters would rise. Eventually, I was forced to face reality and give myself over to the dark side.

We all carry monsters inside us. Many of us just don't acknowledge them. Let me assure you, ignoring them won't make them go away. These monsters feed and grow in the darkness, gradually, eroding us from the inside. Facing them, exposing them to the light, is our only defense. That is not pleasant or easy. They bite. Bringing my monsters out is painful and often depressing, but it is necessary for my survival.

As a horror writer, I often have to deal with things I would really rather not think about. As I said, though, I have no choice. I must write about these things or face slow, agonizing death at their hands. There are too many of them; I have to get some of them out. In the light, they are usually not as menacing or evil as I feared they would be. Sometimes they vanish in a puff of smoke and ash. Always, though, I have to acknowledge that these things, these oily, evil things, are part of me. They live in my psyche and feed on my dreams.

Holly, I sympathize. It's not pleasant when some black, slimy, reeking slug crawls out and plops onto the keyboard. Knowing this thing was living inside you all these years is dreadful. Looking at it straight on is frightening and sickening. But... can turn this into a real positive. The best villains come out of the deepest reaches of our minds. The best writing is the most painful. Those stories that shriek and moan and rattle their chains in the night are the ones that will reach into your readers' heads and find their brothers and sisters living there. Those are the ones that resonate and stay with a reader the rest of his life. Those are the ones that lift people above themselves and show them glory. That's art.

Art has a price, a heavy price, but it's necessary. Writers often focus almost exclusively on craft, and I'm not denying that's a good thing. Without craft, art is without form and void. On the other hand, craft without art is dead.

PiroEyes and I had a brief discussion about this the other day because of the question I asked her: "Which is more important to you: art or craft?" I say art. Craft is difficult, but learnable. Art is inborn. You either have it or you don't. If you don't, you can't learn it. Craft allows us to communicate with other people. Art gives meaning to that communication. Without art, a story is just words. With art, it's a living being, unique unto itself, with its own message and meaning.

That's what I believe today, anyway. All opinions subject to change without notice.

Monday, July 11, 2005

gods in Alabama

There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus. I left one back there myself, in Possett. I kicked it under the kudzu and left it to the roaches.

The first paragraph of Joshilyn Jackson's gods in Alabama (Warner Books, 2005) gives a succinct look into the Southern mind. This is the dark side, the side polite people don't talk about in public. Behind the so-sweet-sugar-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth Southern Belle facade lies a cast iron core, cold and dark and hard.

This debut novel tells the story of Arlene Fleet. Ten years ago, Arlene moved to Chicago and has not been home to Possett, Alabama, since. She made a deal with God: she would quit sleeping around, never go back to Possett, and never tell another lie. All God has to do is keep her secret. When Rose Mae Lolley shows up on Arlene's doorstep, though, she knows the deal is off. Now she's headed home with her fiance, who just happens to be black.

gods in Alabama is Southern Gothic at its finest. In the tradition of Faulkner, O'Connor, Welty, and Caldwell, Ms. Jackson takes her readers on a tour through the real heart of the South. In this heart of darkness, family overrides everything else, secrets stay inside the family, and vengeance is a private matter. Real people inhabit the Gothic South. People are both good and bad. Everyone has feet of clay, and the creek's rising.

Arlene's journey through Hell is a typically Southern story with universal meanings. The gods we worship can turn on us, and truth typically lies hidden under the kudzu jungle, way down in the deep green darkness between soil and sky. Getting to the truth has a price, too. Illusions are no longer useful when we see through them. Heroes are not always what they seem to be. Gods are dangerous, but killing them can cost us our souls.

gods in Alabama is a real Must Read for readers of Southern Gothic. For those who are not familiar with the genre, this is a really good place to start. The narrative style is endearing and the characters are real. I know these people. Hell, some of them are in my own family. The story is dark and illuminates many ugly things, so it is not for the easily disturbed. At the same time, it moves quickly and lightly and carries the reader along without effort. I was drawn in immediately and was disappointed to see it end. I hope to see more good things from Ms. Jackson in the future.

Joshilyn Jackson's next novel, Between, Georgia, is due out in 2006. It's going to be a long wait.

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Paperback Writer hit me with this one. I think she left a bruise. Just keep in mind, PBW: payback is not only Hell, it's also fun. Heh heh heh.

1. Imagine it’s 2015. You are visiting the library at a major research university. You go over to a computer terminal (or whatever it is they use in 2015) that gives you immediate access to any book or journal article on any topic you want. What do you look up? In other words, what do you hope somebody will have written in the meantime?

You mean after I check on the status of my 3rd New York Times best-selling novel?

Seriously, I have to agree with PBW on this one. Medical research is a happening field right now, and I expect to see some great things coming in the next few years. Gene replacement therapy for genetically transmitted diseases is probably the one thing I hope for the most. I would love to see the Muscular Dystrophy Association put out of business.

2. What is the strangest thing you’ve ever heard or seen at a conference? No names, please. Refer to “Professor X” or “Ms. Y” if you must. Double credit if you were directly affected. Triple if you then said or did something equally weird.

OK, you found me out. I'm a heretic. I've never been to a writer's conference. I have, however been to some Library Association conferences of various types. Nothing ever happens at these, as you might imagine. Well...nothing ever happens AT the conference. Further, deponent sayeth not.

3. Name a writer, scholar, or otherwise worthy person you admire so much that meeting him or her would probably reduce you to awestruck silence.

Definitely Ray Bradbury. I would probably faint before I ever even got to shake his hand.

4. What are two or three blogs or other Web sites you often read that don’t seem to be on many people’s radar?

The Galactic Equivalent of Boy Scout Technology -- Hilarious.
Llewellyn's Web Tarot -- Free Tarot readings. Frighteningly accurate.
Directory of open access journals -- Over 1600 scholarly journals for free. Some require registration.

PBW beat me to Bartleby, which is one of my personal favorites for quotations and great poetry.

Now, who am I going to pick on? Hmmmm...... You'll have to imagine the devilish grin.

How about:
tambo and Mik.