Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing is Scary and Other Halloween Thoughts

"The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story." Ursula K. Le Guin

"You can't be afraid to deal with your demons. You've got to go there to be able to write." Lucinda Williams

All Hallow's Eve. Halloween. The night when the evil spirits roam the Earth looking for lost souls. At least that's how my mother explained it to me. My mother, the Irish gypsy. My mother who believed she saw dead people and not just on October 31.

But was this a scary night in our house. Nope. A lot of other nights may have been scary, but Halloween was festive night. Trick or treat! Dad with his cherry bombs left over from the Fourth of July on the front stoop. He didn't set them off, he peddled them to the neighborhood boys who promptly scared other neighborhood kids as they hurried from door to door collecting their treats. Candied apples and popcorn balls were very big when I was a kid.

My first published short story was semi-autobiographical. "Blind Mouths" was about a young girl dealing with her fears. That's pretty much what ALL horror stories are about: the writer's fears. But this young girl grappled with several: her fear of a local woman everyone imagined to be a witch; her fear of swimming under water; her fear of the person who was killing the neighborhood cats.

Horror and Halloween. The word fear fits nicely with each. It also becomes a cuddle-buddy with writing in both the sense of creating a story and then letting those "black marks on wood pulp" suck in life from whatever person reads it. For a writer (at least this one) the latter is far scarier. It's one thing to write a story and quite another to watch it boldly step out the door and walk down the street. And live.

I had an agent once who told me she was in awe of how brave writers are in sharing such private and personal parts of themselves so publicly. That made writing even scarier for me. But hardly enough to make me stop.

Of course, I have stopped several times, allowing real life to interrupt. When I was 19, I came very close to selling a teleplay through an agent in Hollywood. Me. A teenager from a small river town in Indiana who began with a pathetic kid's typewriter where a little metal wheel had to be turned for each letter. EACH LETTER. Yet I was that driven, that dedicated. That naive. And apparently, the Hollywood agency was that understanding.

Judging from the posts at writer and agent Anne Mini's blog, my hard work would be rejected these days. Heck, if my em-dashes aren't perfect, it's File 13 with a har-har-har. Yet in her (and all the other agents' and editors') defense, I think I can safely say, I probably was doing then what I'm doing now: my homework. What Mini has so graciously done on her blog deserves high praise. I hope she helps all us hardworking writers seeking to see our black marks on wood pulp become, like Pinocchio, a real boy.


As some of you may have noticed, I've been reading Dennis Lehane's works. Now that he's about to see the release of MOONLIGHT MILE, the sixth Kenzie/Gennaro book and follow-up to GONE BABY GONE, I've found he's an excellent writer to study. For that study, I've looked at all his interviews for his last book, THE GIVEN DAY (my favorite Lehane book yet!). And time after time, I've watched the interviewer ask: "What's your book about?" And time after time I've watched Lehane nail his 702-page epic down to a sentence. ONE sentence. Such eloquence should stick a cork in all those who are moaning about writing a synopsis. Don't need a synopsis, kids? Don't think again: Think like a best-selling, award-winning, mucho talented author.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Incredibly enjoy your blog and the fluidity of your written words. Your father's leftover cherry bomb stash was a particularly enjoyable bit. Wishing there was more allowance in today's Halloween for a showing of personal character as such, along with more candied apples and popcorn balls.