How To Hurt An Artist …

Earlier this week I came across a clever cartoon over on Hyperallergic concerning the trite and backhanded comments people dole out to artists. If you’ve been involved in any type of art, be it writing, visual, music, etc, I’m sure you’ve come across people like those in the cartoon. Comments like ‘My five year old could do that!’ or ‘People pay you for this?’

My personal favorite is when someone says to me something along the lines of, ‘Do you know (insert name of trendy author/artist/etc)? He’s awesome and makes a lot of money. You should do stuff like him!’

It’s always a gringe inducing experience when someone says something like that. I remember when I was back in community college and taking my first painting course. We had to do critiques in class of each others’ work and one of the things that drove the instructor (a man I learned a ton about making art from) nuts was when one of the little old ladies in the class would say, ‘Well … it’s interesting.’ The reason it pissed him off was because that phrase really doesn’t say anything at all. It would be fine if it was followed up by some constructive feedback, but by itself it is simply code for ‘I’m uncomfortable with this and can’t put together any real thought.’ Which an insult to the artist and the class as a whole.

Years ago, before I met my wife, I went on a date with this woman who asked me if I felt ‘depressed or angry’ because I was a connoisseur of people like H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger as well making art along similar themes. I seem to remember laughing in her face, and telling her ‘No.’ Art and the themes I chose to work with are a creative/intellectual experiment and a form of escapism. If they made me depressed or angry I don’t think I’d be going to work everyday or going out on dates, let alone making more Art.

I suppose that from the outside the world of the creative person can be alien to some people but such callous remarks that mean next to nothing or are just plain insulting aren’t excusable.

These days I don’t get horribly upset if someone says something trite or belittling to me about my persuit of writing and drawing. I realize not everyone gets it and that some people want to knock people down. But I’m passionate and making the Art that I do, and those type of people aren’t going to get in my way.

The other day I saw this quote from Georgia O’Keefe which I thing sums it  all up very well.

“I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”

Feel free to leave any experiences you’ve had with back handed compliments etc from others in regard to your creative work.

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Scarlet Screams The Phoenix; A Flash Fiction Story

This is a short piece that I wrote about ten years ago. I did a little bit of editing to it and tweaked the ending just a bit, but overall it’s as it was when originally written. The original genesis of the idea came about by trying to put a spin on the same old same old vampire story. Also at the time there was an arsonist in the city I lived in setting fires to abandoned houses/industrial buildings. The outcome was this bit of flash fiction.

I post it here for your amusement, I still like the story although its a little rough around the edges from a ‘writerly’ point of view.

Be forewarned there are certain elements that some may find offensive …

 

SCARLET SCREAMS THE PHOENIX

BY KEVIN HURTACK

2006/2016

With the subtle flick of her wrist the match head came to life with a delectable hiss and a heady aroma.

Celia placed the flickering flame between her bone thin thumb and forefinger letting it burn until it caressed her flesh.

Celia felt nothing.

She let the charred corpse of the match stick descend like Lucifer. It smoldered on a floor covered with crumpled fetish magazines and empty cans of lighter fluid. Celia pulled another match out and lit it while she walked over to a thread bare couch Old VHS tapes and dog-eared paperbacks laid haphazardly on a milk crate that served as her coffee table.

Celia studied the back cover of the movie, The Hunger for a moment before tossing it over shoulder. The movie was useless, it held none of the advice she sought for her condition. Although Celia found David Bowie insanely hot, his character in the movie seemed just as confused and misdirected as her. But then again she shouldn’t have expected to find salvation from a rock star.

What had happened to her was nothing like the Stephen King, Anne Rice, or Richard Mathewson novels, either. No seduction followed by a blood letting. Not a charming man, or affable woman. There was no primal beast like Max Ernst in Nosferatu.

All Celia could remember, when she tried hard, is the fire. All about her. Suffocating, and embracing. Smoke thicker than the night. The anguished screams. The gut-wrenching stench of burnt hair and broiling flesh. The charred bodies surrounding her. Men crying like little boys. Old women begging for a miracle escape. Hysterical mothers clutching the unnervingly still bundles of their babies.

Then she saw It. It came through the wall of flames cloaked in ash and fire. All Celia remembered was the embrace of an unearthly flame.

Since that fateful night her skin has been one immense burn scar. Cracked and wrinkled like old leather instead of the fair complexion of her former teen age self. Celia found out soon that the sunlight burned horrendously, forcing her to dwell in the night.

She knew she wasn’t dead, she still breathed and pissed. Although she could eat food, something in the bowls of her soul yearned for something more. It sang in her ear, lingered inher memories like echoes in a deep canyon. Celia spent endless nights writhing in agony as It sang to her. Her feverish head filled with heinous images of charred flesh and hot blood. Flesh ripped from a man’s femur. The visceral onslaught made her wretch, but something deep down inside her grew agitated like a chained dog outside a butcher’s shop.

One night when Celia woke she found a box of matches and a can of lighter fluid beside her. A note was scrawled on a pack of cigarettes ‘Scarlet Screams the Phoenix’. She didn’t know why, but it seemed familiar to her.

Celia took the stuff outside, intending toss it in the dumpster. She didn’t know where to go, or who would help her but she couldn’t live like this any more. Before she got a few yards from her door, the deep down writhing sensation hit her like a sledge hammer. She doubled over and fell to her knees.

She sucked air through her clenched teeth as sweat dripped from her furrowed brow. She wondered if this was what death felt like. Perhaps her injuries from the fire had finally caught up to her. Yet something urged her to her stumbling feet. Each foot fall felt forced, as she were a marionette controlled by some ambiguous puppeteer.

Celia staggered across the street to the local seminary school. She watched as her charred hands curled into fists and busted out a back window. She watched in stupefied horror as her body doused the room with lighter fluid. Even more disturbing was the way the stench of the fluid aroused her. A warmth grew between her legs and rushed up her withered body. Her head spun and a soft moan escaped her broiled lips.

Her hips writhed as she flicked her wrist and lit the match. A wave of ecstasy rushed over her, consuming every inch of her scorched body. A primal groan rattled out of her ruined throat as she staggered backward. She leaned against the wall and gasped for breath as the flames danced across the floor and lapped at the walls as teasingly as a lover’s tongue. The fire washed over her, she was no longer dead flesh and bone. She was purified by its pain. Cleansed by its carnage.

As the flames consumed the building, she consumed the dieing. Mortal blood flowing down her parched throat was immaculate.

When she woke up the following afternoon, guilt caught up with Celia. She forced herself to puke up the blood and flesh of the dead until her stomach felt like it had been turned inside out. Yet she knew her resistance wouldn’t stay this strong for much longer. She would be a slave to a diabolical master.

The dark hunger came back that night and it was worse than before. The taste of the dead the other night seemed to intensify its power. Celia attempted to fight it, and tried to keep herself from committing more heinous acts. In the end it grew too strong, and Celia gave into it completely. So much easier to give in. All the pain went away. There was only sheer pleasure, no need for troublesome thoughts or feelings. It put her in such a daze that she barely remembered sneaking into the orphanage where she was raised. The squealing of the children before the smoke snuffed out the air in their lungs was a sadist’s symphony.

The years, decades, and centuries swirled by quickly in a haze of fire, blood and ecstasy. She burned down crack houses and fed on the numb blood of the dead junkies. Brothels were the scenes of firery orgies.

But her frail body could no longer contain the dark hunger that fueled it. It began to crumble into ash and charred chunks. The slightest of touch blew her flesh away like soot. Then she found him, young and strong, laying under the covers of his bed. Safe and secure. Something rose up inside her, spilling out of every crack and hole in her decrepit body. Tendrils of flames surrounded the boy like serpents. Blankets erupted into turbulent waves of fire. His body convulsed and his screams pierced like arrows until the smoke filled his lungs.

As his flesh boiled, the dark hunger slipped away from Celia, lingering for a moment like a departing lover, before she crumbled into a pile of ash.

The End.

Why Damn you? Why!?

Funny and crazy man using a computer

 

After reading Prophecy Six’s blog post about why she writes (read it here) I pondered my own reasons. I mean I’m a *gasp* 40+ year old man who has a wife and a two year old running amuck as well as another baby  on the way. On top of that I got a mortgage payment now.

Surely, I should drop the writing and settle into middle age with no greater amibitions or dreams than binge watching Netflix and bitchin’ about the latest football game or election results.

But fuck all that.

The main reason I write today is very similar to the reason I started writing in the first place, to entertain myself and delve into the depths of imagination. I grew up in a boring ass middle of nowhere area where there were few kids my own age and I tended to be ‘shy’ or as the hipsters like to call it ‘introverted’. I never considered myself either and still don’t give a good goddamn about such terms. Regardless, I spent a lot of time creating adventures with action figures in my sandbox out in the old storage shed my parents had in the backyard. Those were my most treasured days, and I look back at them fondly. It allowed me to escape the tedium of my surroundings and I surrounded myself with characters that were vivid and entertaining.

As I got older I began to draw and write stories very much based on similar adventure ideas and was influenced by the fantasy books and movies I saw back in the 1980’s. People like Tolkien, Moorcock, and Alexander fed my imagination. During my adolescence writing allowed me to escape a life of bullies and teachers/parents. In my writing I could overcome the threats and have exciting experiences that were far beyond the banality of growing up in the rural community of my childhood. I had always wanted to get out of there, but as a teenager I lack the means to do so. Writing, and reading, allowed me to get away from it and create my own world and fate. It was a safe place and realm that had limitless possibilities to explore without being under the dominion of parents or school. A place where I was in control.

After I graduated from high school I went off to college a few hours from my child hood home. That’s a time and place which really helped me develop my critical thinking and creativity. I began to create art and write to explore esoteric ideas such as surrealism and dream symbolism as well as get drawn into the idea of automatic writing a la Kerouac and the other Beat writers.  I also got more into the writings and ideas of writers like H.P. Lovecraft and his comrades such as Clark Ashton Smith. The whole idea  of the pulp/weird fiction really appealed to me and had a great influence on my writing at the time. I think in part because the writers themselves were not part of the upper echelon of the literary world, and were delving into ideas that dealt with madness, sorcery, and antediluvian gods which fascinated me. The idea that mankind was nothing more than a mote of dust in the eye of the universe was one of profound interest to me. During this time writing was not an escape from reality, so much as an instrument to explore the possibilities of creativity. It was time surrounded by supportive and encouraging peers that shared my zest for the Arts and is a time that I cherish.

Now that I’m part of the daily capitalistic rat race, writing and making art is still partially an escape like it was in my childhood. Instead of escaping the tedium and the bullies, it allows me to escape the daily bullshit of work and the current social-political malstorm. It is my favorite form of entertainment, a far cry from TV or Netflix/Hulu. A big part of the appeal these days is the act of creation, creating a world that isn’t as fucked up as our own and filling it with characters that I find fascinating and situations that pique my interest.

In a lot of ways I write for myself. I’m not driven by the need to get a book deal or self publish. Those may be secondary goals once something is polished, but if I were never to get a traditional publisher to sign me I would not feel like I was a failure. If only a handful of people read my stuff or download an ebook I would not regret it.

The only thing I would regret or feel was a failure would be if I gave up on writing or sketching/drawing. If I ignored or repressed the ideas that fill my imagination. The amount of time I have for such expeditions of the imagination are not as plentiful these days, which I don’t regret, but still appreciate and make use of them to the fullest extent I can. And I do not see that ever changing.

 

The Last Exit (A flash fiction story)

The Last Exit

by

Kevin Hurtack

Copyright 2016

road_suburbs_12001

I never expected to meet a beauty like her while scrounging around town for supplies. I found her in what used to be a rich folks’ neighborhood. She was slate blue and had curves that would’ve put Marilyn Monroe to shame. Finding a car was rare, but a 1966 Ford Mustang in cherry condition was manna from Heaven.

1966_00024_02

Maybe the car was God’s way of apologizing for making my life shit. All those countless days I’d spent barricaded in that dank mountain cabin with only canned cat food for my meals.

After I hot-wired her she roared like a grizzly bear waking up from hibernation. I lit a cigarette and buckled up. As I threw her into gear I caught a glimpse of my gaunt face in the rear view mirror. My toothy grin seemed out of place, I couldn’t recall the last time I’d felt happiness.

With a full tank of gas and a V8 under the hood, I could get outta here. Head up to Denver, things had to be better there. At least that’s what my girl had said on the phone before the cell phones and land lines went dead months ago.

I stomped on the gas pedal and flew past the vacant houses wrapped with yellow caution tape. I raced by the boarded-up buildings plastered with quarantine signs. The Mustang wove through the abandoned barricades and checkpoints with ease. Her engine rumbled as I drove around the National Guards’ trucks that lay scattered and tipped over like discarded toys.

scary_road_wallpaper_2nk84

I headed for the highway, confident that I’d finally caught a break, until a scurrying sound came from the backseat.

My mind reeled in terror when I saw it in the rear view mirror. The fiend’s kidney bean shaped body wasn’t any bigger than a Chihuahua and it crept on spider-like legs. It stared at me with its bulbous black eyes that gleamed with a malicious intelligence that was beyond my understanding. Worst of all was the fiend’s cavernous mouth that was filled with a double row of serrated teeth.

I death-gripped the steering wheel and screamed. After countless days of trying to avoid them, I’d ended up with one as a stow away. I guess God had a sick sense of humor.

The fiend crouched like a cat ready to pounce. I tried to remember what the government had said to do in case of an attack. My muddled memory didn’t offer any answers. My heart pounded in my ears and sweat trickled down my face.

An ear-piercing screech erupted from the fiend as it leapt. I ducked. It landed on the back of my head with the force of a baseball bat. Splotches floated in my vision and my head swam. I struggled to keep the car under control.

The fiend wrapped its legs around my head, and the tiny barbs that covered them burrowed into me like ticks on a hound. Then the fiend wretched, like a cat hacking up a fur ball, and spewed lime-green vomit all over my head.

It reeked like rotted fish guts and I almost upchucked myself. My eyes watered and my nose burned. I wiped my face off and yanked on its legs, but it was like trying to uproot a tree. The fiend hissed like a feral cat and tightened its grip.

My heart pounded like a bass drum and my entire body trembled. My vomit covered head felt numb as did the hand I’d used to wipe my face. Was I poisoned? I remembered a website said the vomit paralyzed people. But there were a lot of rumors online during the early days of the infestation. Maybe that’s why the government shut the internet down.

Whether it was dumb luck or instinct, I jerked the wheel and crashed into a light pole. The crunching metal and shattering glass accompanied the bone-jarring collision. Oblivion flooded my vision.

I woke up with my head on the steering wheel and jabbing pain in my ribs. I was alive, and the fiend was gone. The Chihuahua sized hole in the windshield suggested that it had been ejected violently during the crash.

Laughter sputtered from my lips as I realized I’d avoided getting my brain sucked out by the fiend. A lot of folks hadn’t been as lucky as me thanks to the government messing with that meteor. I didn’t know why I was still alive, but I wasn’t gonna waste my second chance.

Steam billowed from the Mustang’s crumbled hood. A pity to wreck her, but she had saved me. I fumbled with the seat-belt and flung the door open. Nothing was on the tree-lined highway. The car’s flickering headlights revealed the fiend’s splattered carcass a few feet away.

I got out and spit at it. “Goddamn brain-sucking cockroach.”

My triumph was cut short by their screeching. The headlights illuminated more fiends in the trees. The noise of the crash must have caught their attention.

A half dozen of them circled the Mustang and hissed like alley cats. I tore off a shirt sleeve and ran to the end of the car. A fiend jumped onto the hood. I removed the gas cap and shoved the sleeve inside. I pulled out my lighter. They drew closer. I lit the sleeve.

Adrenaline fueled my frantic flight. The screeching of the pursuing fiends filled my ears. The bone rattling explosion threw me to the ground. Scorching heat swept overhead. Debris rained down.

I looked up. The car was a twisted hunk of scorched metal. The trees were torches. Sizzling carcasses littered the asphalt. I howled with laughter. My tears washed my soot-covered face. 

I staggered passed a sign that marked the last exit out of town. I ignored the numbness seeping into my limbs. Maybe it was just shock or perhaps the fiend was venomous after all. Either way, I’d made it out of town and that was more than most had managed.

                                                                  The End.

Say my name … Say It!

 

angry-woman

 

 

Both as a reader and a writer I think that the names of characters can really make or break them. Names seem pretty simple at first glance, but honestly its something that can take a lot of time to come up with a name that fits a character. Personally, when I start writing a story I rarely keep the original name that I come up with for a character. I want something that isn’t generic but isn’t so wildly weird that no one can pronounce it or even I can’t spell right half the time.

One thing that bugs me as a reader about names is in particular in fantasy where the characters have similiar sounding names. One fault I find with Tolkein’s work is that he often did this, a father would have a name and his son’s name would simply have a few letters changed or added on. Now, before you get out your soap box and start preaching to me, I know that Tolkein was fixated on developing a language/culture and studied linguistics and yada yada yada. That’s all well and good, but what’s the excuse for more contemporary writers out there that do the same? I don’t know, I just find it off putting when everyone has similiar sounding names. Seriously, how often do you run into that every day? So, why does everyone in elf-land gotta be that way? It happens in other genres, but I find it mostly in fantasy, which isn’t a knock against the genre – just a bit of a pet peeve is all.

Some times a character’s name doesn’t have to be overly complicated. In fact some of the great villians of all time, in my opinion, have ridiculously simple names. Stephen King’s notorious monster/villian called It. Sweet baby Jesus, that character is scary as shit yet the name is simple. The name fits the character well if you’ve read the book or suffered through the godawful movie.

Another would be The Thing from John Carpenter’s movie of the same title. It’s simple  and primordial and abstract, much like fear the characters experience themselves. The Thing represents the unknown and the undescribable. The very basics of fear itself. The name The Thing resonates with me because of those reasons.

Despite what I said about Tolkein before, he does have some great names in the Lord of the Rings books. In particular Gandalf and Strider and etc. A lot of the characters feel familiar yet ancient like something from myths of our collective past, which was part of Tolkein’s goal.

A good name fits the time period and culture that the story is set in. Buffy is a totally ridiuclous name for a vampire slayer but when you set that story in the ‘valley’ of California and make said slayer a former high school cheerleader then it does work. The name Buffy woudln’t work if it were a fantasy story set in the Roman empire. A good name is all about the context of the story.

So, what about you? Are there some names that really threw you out of the story you read and left you wondering what the author was smoking when she came up with the name? Or are there names that still resonate with  you after reading a story/novel? Feel free to share in the comments below.

 

 

Free Ebook – A Lurker Among The Dead

You can now get a copy of my short story A Lurker Among The Dead for free in ebook format from Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and a few other places online. I have posted the links below. If you enjoy the story, I really appreciate it if you review it where you bought it. Thanks and enjoy.

Missing Corpses.  A stranger lurking outside the morgue.  Bizarre symbols scrawled in blood.

The remote mining town of Silvervalle has seen its share of trouble, but no one ever imagined a body snatcher would come to the Colorado territory. It’s up to the hard-nosed Civil War veteran Sheriff Sean Callahan and the steadfast Deputy Washington to sort through the macabre clues.

Who is the body snatcher? What is his motive for these ghastly crimes? Through the dusty streets and frigid Rocky mountains, Sheriff Callahan and Deputy Washington will stop at nothing to find their man.  But will the trail of clues lead them to the body snatcher or will he slip away like a fleeting shadow?

A Lurker Among The Dead is the first story in a planned series of tales featuring Sean Callahan, the sheriff of  Raven County, Colorado.

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1084263542

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/a-lurker-among-the-dead

Scibd: https://www.scribd.com/book/299287714/A-Lurker-Among-The-Dead-The-Callahan-Files-1

 

The End Is Nigh?

 

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A lot of people talk a lot (perhaps too much) about hooking your reader/viewer very early on in your story so that they’re invested enough to read the whole damn thing. But what about the ending? I think the most disppointing thing is to be emotionally invested in a story only to have it drop the ball at the end. I’m not a fan of happily ever after endings to horror/dark fantasy stories. Save that syrupy goodness for romantic comedies. When it comes to horror/dark fantasy I prefer an ending that isn’t so happy. Whether its an ending where ‘evil’ wins the day or the protagonist pays a heavy price for surviving is what I like.

Stephen King’s early work did this very well, especially Pet Semetary and the novellas in Five Past Midnight. HP Lovecraft’s writings never had a happy ending, the majority of his characters went bat crap crazy.

I think an ending that isn’t all sunshine and bunny rabbits reinforces the terror and horror of the evil. It reminds us that the ideas we have about reality and the control we believe we have over our lives are merely illusions. That we are not superior or important. That we are not at the top of the cosmic food chain. When evil wins in a piece of fiction it is more powerful and impactful to me than the ‘good’ guy winning, again. Evil winning in the end is unsettling and terrifying. But evil winning at the end can become a cliche. Hollywood is to thank for this fact. I don’t know how many slasher flicks I’ve seen where the crazed killer is supposedly killed off at the end by the twiggy damsel in distress, only to rise up from his grave or ‘mysteriously’ not be found when the authorities arrive on the scene.

One of my favorite endings in movies is John Carpenter’s The Thing. The ending essentially is two characters left alive in the ruins of their research base in Antartica. Both are exhausted and paranoid that the other is actually The Thing. They have no way out. There’s no escape. There’s no help coming around the corner. It’s an ambigous ending and its unsettling. My imagination tends wonder about the possibilities of what could happen to them. I’m not just a passive viewer in that ending, it engages my curisoity and imagination. I love that kind of ending, too. I don’t need the movie to hold my hand and explain everything out to me every time.

In a lot of ways, endings are just as important as hooking the reader in the begining. A well written ending can stick with me for a long time and encourage me to return to read/view more of that person’s work.

 

X Marks The Spot …

Middleearthmap

 

Maps have long been a source of fascination for me, especially when it comes to the genre of fantasy. My first experience with fantastical maps was with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. For me Middle-Earth was a far cry from the tedium of where I grew up, but since I lived in a rural area I could relate in some small way to the Mirkwood forest and such.

What I liked best about that map and fantasy maps in particular is that it allows my imagination to wander around that world. It sparks my curiosity about what certain cities, town, or geographical areas are like that the author doesn’t explore in his work.

Of course maps are a way to track where the characters are within a story, and help establish the context of the fictional world that the story takes place in, but for me maps are much more than a plot device.

When I was a teenager I started playing Dungeons & Dragons and other table top ‘pencil and dice’ role playing games. Yes, I am that old. A big part of those games was maps. Not just the glorious full colored maps of stuff like the Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft but a big part of game required players to map out the dungeon or haunted castle they were exploring. I often was the ‘dungeon master’ of the games and would hand draw a map for the campaign I was running at the time. A big part of the fun was simply drawing/designing the map itself. I think a big reason was that making a map of something that existed solely in my imagination made it feel much more tangible. It was no longer merely daydreams and ideas. They were places you could journey to, albeit in an imaginary way, and required the basic use of navigation.

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Rough draft of a hand drawn map for my weird western series of stories/novellas.

 

 

I often make maps while writing my own stories, in particular if it is going to be an ongoing series, or my current weird western novel, or a dark fantasy novella I’m working on, too. I think it helps me stay on track as far as where everything is and what lays between points A and B. A map also helps spark new ideas and plots. Geography and climate plays a big part on the development of cultures in real life and it also applies to fictional worlds. So I think that it’s important to know what/how those are in a fictional world while developing a kingdom, clan, or etc.

My maps tend to be hand drawn. I feel much more comfortable doing it that way. I’ve seen some digitally rendered ones that are impressive but for me pencil and pen is the way to do it. I have messed around with using GIMP (a freeware program similar to Photoshop) to digitally color the maps and do the lettering. I’m fairly pleased with the results and it’s a big time saver for doing that type of work.

So, let me know in the comments below, are you a fan of maps in novels? As a reader do you pay attention to them or do you skip that page? If you’re a writer, do you draw up a map for your own use while working on a project?

 

 

 

 

Guest Blog: Tom G.H. Adams

Today’s blog post is written by Tom Adams. I first met Tom online on the writer’s workshop site Scribophile.com. I’ve enjoyed Tom’s fiction, which delves into the horror/dark fantasy genre as well as his own blog tomghadams.uk  where you can get a free ebook copy of his horror story collection Defiled Earth. I encourage you to check out Tom’s blog, he always has some great content up there.

Don’t Hold Back Your Curiosity

Being a teacher as I am, one of the rewards is witnessing the unbridled curiosity of youngsters when it’s triggered by something I’ve said or a resource I’ve used. Science is my specialism and I couldn’t be luckier in terms of having a subject that lends itself to wonder and speculation. Every day there’s a new breakthrough in scientific research, or a new planet discovered. Sometimes it’s a new idea that turns previous ideas on their heads. So, there’s no shortage of excitement.
It’s usually in my lower school classes that some bright young spark will put up their hand and ask such questions as: What if you were born colour blind and were taught that a colour you saw as grey was really green? You’d never know what colour green was. Or: What if you biotechnologically engineered a clone of yourself? You could steal the Crown Jewels and blame it on the clone. Or you could harvest its organs in case you needed a liver or kidney transplant. Young people overflow with curiosity.

I’m quite a fan of Internet memes. Curiosity sends me drifting from one digital outpost to another, collecting cool or humorous sayings.

image001One of my favourites is the character, Morpheus from the Matrix films. These memes always begin with ‘What if I told you ….’ In fact he never actually says this, either in the blue/red pill scene or elsewhere. But these things sprout legs and start running until they’re light years ahead of the truth. Morpheus memes serve to poke fun at trending fads and fashions. For example, ‘What if I told you that you don’t have to dump ice on your head to donate to charity?’ (Remember the Ice bucket challenge anyone?)

Stephen King’s usual answer to the perennial ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is what if …’ The origins of his vampire novel, Salem’s Lot lie in a dinner conversation he had with friends. The scenario of Dracula returning in the late 20th Century came up. King thought that if Dracula appeared in modern times he would be quickly discovered by the FBI. One friend, however, thought Dracula could go virtually unnoticed in a rural setting. King said: There are so many small towns in Maine, towns which remain so isolated that almost anything could happen there. People could drop out of sight, disappear, perhaps even come back as the living dead. I began to turn the idea over in my mind, and it began to coalesce into a possible novel.
The idea for my first novel, The Psychonaut, began with the premise: What if a sceptical atheist actually possessed a paranormal power, but was in denial about it? I think I experienced something of King’s coalescing when the notion ballooned into a dark fantasy novel.
A skill common to science and storytelling, is that of observation. Sir Isaac Newton is described as someone who saw what everyone saw, yet thought what no one had hitherto thought. The same could be said of authors. One day, when writing in a Carlisle coffee shop (a city in the northern UK kingdom of Middleland), I noticed a woman walking down the middle of the pedestrianised zone with five huskies. She cut a swathe through the crowds as they took the strain on their harnesses and pulled her onward. I thought to myself Those dogs look very obedient, but what if something possessed them, caused them to turn on her? Thankfully, the unsuspecting lady had no idea of the doom I was plotting for her fictional counterpart, but it formed the basis for a chapter in my third novel (as yet incomplete), Mycophoria.

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It was a sad day last year when we said good-buy to Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld books. But every lead balloon has its lustre, and I came across a real doozie when I read a Pratchett tribute by Neil Gaiman. He recalled passing many an hour talking with the master of comedy-fantasy about Brewer’s dictionary of phrase and fable. I’d never heard of the book, but the more I read about it, the more interested I became. I had an Amazon voucher spare, so I took a punt and ordered the latest edition. What a treasure trove it turned out to be. It’s not quite a dictionary and not quite an encyclopaedia, but the result of research spanning decades by a certain Reverend Brewer. Fuelled by his simple curiosity, the book contains a myriad of obscure but linked subjects. For example, I opened the book randomly on an entry about peculiar British place names and their origins in the ancient Celtic, Viking and Saxon languages. One such place was Crackpot. Not an epithet for a lunatic, but old English for Crow’s hole. It got me thinking about the sort of place that would be inhabited by masses of corvids – another story, or at least its title, was born. If you want to see more of my interest in crows, ravens and other obsidian-winged birds, then you need look no further than the January postings on my Facebook page.
Brewer was a man obviously obsessed, yet the fruits of his passion have directly or indirectly enriched the lives of thousands, if not millions.

Curiosity, you see, that’s what I blame it on. The oldest story of all (supposedly) features this most heinous of sins – that of Adam and Eve. The first woman gave in to her curiosity and ate of the tree of life. She wanted to know the difference between good and evil, and in so doing cursed the whole human race – curiosity killed the cat indeed. Maybe every writer is cursed in this respect.

Tom Adams sometimes swims in the clean, fresh rills of wholesome, life-affirming authors. But most of the time he can be found in the gloopy, silt-laden waters of that dark lake called horror. He’s down there with the pike, the rat-tailed maggot and the water louse. They may be scuzzballs but they’re his friends.

Check out Tom’s blog, ‘Writing in Starlight’ at http://tomghadams.uk and receive a free download of horror tales entitled ‘Defiled Earth.’
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/tomghadams/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/moteridgerider

Flash Me!

flasher

 

 

 

No, not that type of flashing. I’m talking about flash fiction, so keep your pants on. Flash fiction, a piece a thousand words or less, has always been a tricky type of writing for me. A lot of the time my ideas go way beyond that word count limit before I get passed page one. But I apparently struck gold a few weeks ago when I managed not only to write a flash fiction piece shy of the 1000 word limit. I wrote it for an upcoming flash fiction contest run by Dark Chapter Press. If I don’t place it there then I’ll submiting it somewhere else or put it up here.

The story is about a man trying to escape from an infested city. Along the way he finds  something that will either be his saving grace or his doom. It has a sci-fi/horror slant to it.

I’m not sure if I’ll write more flash fiction, but I did enjoy writing it. I am pleased that I took on the challenge and conquered it. If nothing else it was a good exercise in sentence structure and word choice. All that grimy and gritty mechanical/technical aspects of writing that always need a good polishing once in awhile.  In some ways it reminded me of the old proverb passed down by art professors when I was in college, ‘Less is more’. Both in writing and painting/drawing/etc its not always easy to know when or how to do more with less.   A stricter budget of words caused me to use potent words rather than diluted ones.  It may not be ‘sexy’ or ‘cool’ but word choice and sentence structure is the equivalent of learning the proper chords and practicing scales for a musician or stretching and strength training is to a professional athlete.

It’s easy to fill a page with copious amounts of ‘purple’ prose and exposition, but the end result would just be a meandering mess that no one would want to read. I think that it’s important to challenge myself as a writer rather than do the same old same old. A major reason for self-expression is to push the boundaries and I can’t do that if I’m always treading the same worn path.