Played around with some video editing software this morning and made this quick video featuring some of my artwork for fun. Back when I was in college I took a video production class as an elective. This was back in the early 1990’s when video cameras were the size of brief cases and used VHS tapes. Just writing that makes me feel old. It was a fun class, and learned how to edit in an actual editing suite. Still remember a bit but it’s much easier/quicker doing it on my laptop.
The other day while driving home from work, I was listening to an interview with an author. At one point the interviewer asked her if she ‘mined’ her daily life for inspiration. The author’s response was that she did not, and that writing was an alternative reality for her.
As a creative person I could really relate to that idea. For me writing and drawing has always been about escapism. I’ve never really been one to draw upon my daily experiences and the people in my life when it came to sitting down at the keyboard or drawing table. I’ve known plenty of writer friends that will base a character on their ex-spouse or idiot next door neighbor, and subject them to a horrible fate. I understand the idea about doing such things, it can be theraputic I am sure, but I’ve never delved into it.
For me it’s far more appealing to create a world and characters that don’t remind me of the everyday. A world where the fantastic and macabre can occur. Where the rules and rubbish of the real world do not hold sway over it. In a lot of ways it’s like when I was a kid playing with my action figures in the sandbox. It could be whatever I wanted it to be, and could evolve and develop according to my imagination’s whim. The moment something reminds me of the real world, it shatters the illusion of the ‘alternate’ reality.
I think that ‘alternative reality’ is a good label since whenever I’m fully immersed in a good novel, movie/show, art exhibit, play, music, etc, my life filled with working overtime and paying the mortgage and chasing my kids around fades away. Whatever creative piece of art I’m partaking in does seem real and does trasport me to another realm. That’s the power of creativity in all its forms, and that’s what keeps me coming back to it.
This was done with pen&ink, ink&brush, and black gouache.
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.
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.
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?
Last Sunday I watched the 60 Minutes feature on J.J. Abrams and the making of the new Star Wars movie. At one point he said that the Star Wars movies/franchise were like a religion for some people. I’d say that that’s a fair comparison. I know several friends throughout my college years and beyond that are borderline obsessive with Star Wars. I actually knew someone that had the dialogue lines from the original trilogy memorized along with the ability to hum/whistle the soundtracks in the proper order. Yeah … I wish I was making that up but it was true.
After watching the 60 Minutes piece I got to thinking about the whole collector/fan boy psyche. To be honest I never really got into collecting stuff or being an uber fan boy about any movie/book/show. Yeah, I’m a fan of certain authors like Lovecraft, Clive Barker, and etc. I like Terrentino and del Torro as directors for the most part. But I’ve never been obsessive about it. I’d be hard pressed to quote any of them, but I still enjoy their work.
The whole mentality of a collector/fan boy is beyond me. I’ve never had the desire to know every little thing about any book/movie nor its creator. I’ve never spent hours nit-picking the hell out of a movie trailer or the plot or back story of a minor character. My paycheck isn’t spent on paraphernalia or props or ‘rare’ items from any movie/TV series.
Maybe there’s something wrong with me, maybe I should be giddy with excitement over the new Star Wars or go to conventions and pay for VIP tickets so I can get autographs of obscure B-movie actors. Or maybe I should be like my former boss and spend an obscene amount of money on limited editions of novels by my favorite author and not read them. Instead I would just place them on a shelf still in their shrink wrap.
Then again, maybe I shouldn’t. Rent’s due in a couple weeks …
There’s nothing wrong with being an obsessive collector/fan boy. I just don’t get it.
I’m far more invested in my own creative works and imagination. I’d rather spend hours creating and brain storming than being a spectator. I get more excited and filled with anticipation over my own story lines and themes/ideas then I have over any thing else coming to the theaters.
Maybe that makes me my own obsessive fan boy?
I’m not saying that I think I’m better than King or Abrams or whoever. I just find it more rewarding to use my own imagination like a compass to chart the wilderness of my creativity rather than walk the well worn paths of other writers/directors/artists.
So, it has snowed here twice this week and last night was bitterly cold. Personally, I don’t mind the cold and snow. I even enjoy going out to the nearby mountains and snowshoeing in it when it gets deep enough. It’s something I hope to share with my daughter in the future when she’s old enough.
This morning as I sipped my coffee and looked out the window, and reassured my wife that we were indeed no snowed in despite her proclamations to the contrary, the fresh snow got my imagination going.
Some of my favorite works of fiction involve the snow/winter. In particular John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ comes to mind. The isolation and perilous conditions of the setting works brilliantly to amplify the tension of their situation. Another one is Stephen King’s The Shining. Although there are plenty of other aspects to the story that are a threat to the characters, the snow and ungodly cold again enchance the dread and sense of hopeless isolation that helps make the story more terrifying. Jack London often used the theme of ‘man vs nature’ in his stories and novels like Call of the Wild and White Fang are good examples of this. If he’d set the stories in his home of the San Francisco/Oakland area of California it wouldn’t have had the same power as setting them in the Klondike.
In either case if they’d been stuck at a tropical resort or some such the story wouldn’t have the same feel. In a lot of ways the setting/environment of a story is very much a character, often an antagonist, that is sometimes overlooked. But the proper setting/environment of a story can amplify the emotional turmoil and/or the physical threats. A good setting is much more then window dressing.
So, as winter arrives at my doorstep I may grudgingly sweep the snow from my car and scrape ice from my windshield but the reward is that my imagination has definitely found a worthy muse. In fact I have a bit of a story idea rattling around my head as I write which I may share here when its complete.
Sean slipped out his office and inched his way toward Dr. Schwartz’s office. As he crept down the dirt street, sticking to the shadows, he breathed deeply through his nose and exhaled slowly through his mouth. The cyclical breathing technique calmed his frazzled nerves and a sense of heightened awareness washed over him. Everything was crystal clear and he could hear everything from the tiniest rustle of the dirt below his feet to the rapid breathing of Joseph a few yards behind him.
Sean used the water barrels and crates that were stacked up outside Anderson’s Dry Goods for cover while searching the shadows across the street for any sign of movement. His ears strained to catch any sounds like the cocking of a rifle. As he peeked out from behind a water trough, he saw a handful of corpses littering Main Street. Their blood stained the ground beneath them, and he could see their bodies were riddled with bullets. Who were these bastards that thought they could come into town and shoot people like dogs? They weren’t going to get away with it. Not as long as he drew breath. Sean swallowed hard, repressing the rage that rose to the surface of his mind. It would only make him reckless. Staying focused was the only way to defeat them.
As he inched his way passed Anderson’s, a bullet buzzed like a bee past his ear. The air rustled his hair as another whizzed by him. He dove behind a water trough as more bullets flew overhead. Sean closed his eyes and sucked some air through his clenched teeth. Panic and fear wouldn’t do him any good, the war had taught him that lesson. He continued his rhythmic breathing until he reached a meditative state.
Sean opened his eyes and peered over the trough, his mind so focused on the two Brothers across the street that he saw nothing in his peripheral vision. One of them attempted to flank him while the other provided cover fire. Everything seemed to move in slow motion, including himself. The shots sounded muffled to his ears, drowned out by the steady rhythm of his heart and breathing. He took cover and waited until there was a break before he leaned out and fired. His mind focused on nothing but the man on the other end of his rifle. Sean worked the lever action and the trigger of his Henry rifle with the cold calculation of a machine. He saw every shot tear through the flanking Brother, who spun around before dropping to the ground. Sean ducked as the remaining Brother return fire, the bullets striking the ground like hail stones all around him.
He reloaded and glanced to his left. Joseph crouched behind a buckboard wagon a few yards away and shouted something incoherent. Sean squeezed his eyes shut and focused on Joseph’s voice.
“Do you think there’s more?”
“Maybe,” Sean said.
Joseph leaned around the corner of the wagon and squeezed the trigger. His shots struck the Brother in the chest, knocking him back against the bank’s front door. He sank to the ground, leaving behind a bloody smudge on it.
Sean headed down the street with Joseph beside him. No doubt those two Brothers were just a diversion meant to slow them down while the rest made their escape. Father Jebediah had a lot of gall to send his men to attack Sivervale, because of what? That key? Because he wanted Ezekiel and Thomas? The reason didn’t matter, this was Sean’s town. They were his people. No one was going to attack them without consequences.
For me Art, in its numerous forms, is an escape from the reality I live in. At its best it allows me to become immersed in the vision of the creative mind from which it originated. For a brief moment I’m in another reality with entirely different set of rules and possibilities. Afterwards, it can influence me as to how perceive my own existence or inspire me to create or even see the world in an entirely new light. Some would say there is only one definite reality, but even the great Albert Einstein is quoted as saying ‘Reality is merely and illusion; albeit a persistent one.’ I believe that creative peoples do create their own reality through their work, and that when you experience their work you are in another reality. How often have you gone to a concert, play, art exhibit, or read a book that has emotionally, mentally, and perhaps even spiritually moved you? Left you with the sensation of ineffable awe? Perhaps influenced the way you approached life afterwards? When you experience something of that magnitude the everyday world does not exist any longer. All the tribulations and matters of your everyday life vanish, and are replaced by the rules and experiences that the creative mind has created in a particular piece of Art. In a sense the magnitude of the impact it has on you is as equal to that of the percieved reality you live in. While you are experiencing that piece of Art you are in another reality that is as valid as the everyday.
When we were children most of us had a strong sense of imagination. Its not uncommon to have had imaginary friends, or to believe that a blanket will protect us from a creature in the closet. Some of us may have even believed that certain stuffed animals or household items had their own personalities. For children the world of imagination is reality, and its only as we grow older that we are dissuade from such things, and have our imaginations subdued by responsibilities and logic. Soon the monster in the closet is dismissed as the play of moonlight and shadows on the wall. Imaginary friends become forgotten. Most of us lose something, and that’s our imaginations.
Our current society would not function if we all behaved like children, but I believe that imagination isn’t something that should be neglected, but rather encouraged. Stories, music, theater, dance, and artwork shake off the rust of ‘maturity’ and allow the audience to escape the mundane and experience an alternate reality, no matter how briefly, and hopefully use a portion of their mind, and perchance soul, in a way that they do not use in the world of adulthood. The viewer does come away with a sense that they’ve been some where that can not be visited by spending frequent flyer miles. A place that can be unsettling at times as well as oddly appealing, and most certainly a place worth making a return journey.