There’s something about truly great short stories (OK- that’s rather subjective!) that touches me deeply, and drives me to immediately reread everything. Perhaps it’s because the first time I might read a little bit too quickly, and miss certain important aspects, but I think it might also be due to some other reasons, which include:
- I don’t want to leave the world of the story so soon.
- I want to see the way the story is woven together, to inspect the thread and weave of it.
- The twist has brought about some new understanding of the events in the story, and I want to reread the story after knowing what happens at the end.
- Confusion because I didn’t pay attention enough the first time around and I think I’ve missed something essential.
- Various other whims and reasons.
Stories that I have read in the past few months that have encouraged the rereading instinct in me include the following:
Roald Dahl: ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’, ‘The Butler’, ‘Royal Jelly’
Neil Gaiman: ‘The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains…’, ‘Click-Clack the Rattlebag’, ‘Snow, Glass, Apples’
John Collier: ‘Are You Too Late Or Was I Too Early’, ‘The Touch of Nutmeg Makes It’, ‘Without Benefit Of Galsworthy’, ‘Ah the University’, ‘Back For Christmas’, ‘The Chaser’, ‘Special Delivery’
Ray Bradbury: ‘The Veldt’, ‘Homecoming’, ‘All Summer in a Day’, ‘The Pedestrian’
Joyce Carol Oates: ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’
Shirley Jackson: ‘The Lottery’
Isaac Babel: ‘The Story of My Dovecot’
I just got back on Saturday from a short holiday in Niue, a wonderful Polynesian paradise. We arrived there the day before we left New Zealand, and after a short flight, I returned to New Zealand the day after I left Niue. Back in the land of the tomorrow people, I’m getting back into my regular morning discipline of writing.
Ah Niue…it’s such a bright place of sunshine, coconut trees and blue water. I’ve brought so many memories back here with me. I think the most memorable part of the trip for me though was having my first adventure scuba diving, swimming about in the reef ten metres below the surface among sea snakes and a wondrous plethora of multicoloured tropical fish. I will dive again.
Now, back to the writing, to look deep down below the surface…
It’s easy to make ‘whiplash’ decisions based on prior experiences, and lose the chance to experience new things. It’s easy to stay at home doing what you often do, playing computer games or watching television, and forget to engage with the world.
Perhaps I am naturally anxious, or have tended to be more careful, worrying about trying new things that could be truly life-changing. But when others suggest I try something new, I think I am now becoming more likely to experiment or try new things.
A few weeks ago, when my wife suggested that we take the kids for a walk in the rain, my first impulse was to think: ‘Hey, that’s crazy!’. And yes, it was bitterly cold that day. Wet, and muddy. But I’m glad I chose to ignore my first reaction to the suggestion.
I still remember the day we went walking together in the rain, my wife, the kids and I, huddled together against the cold, drinking coffee as we walked around the central city near the closed shops, and remember our youngest daughter giggling and trying to stomp in muddy puddles. I remember how we hid from the rain under one of the few shopfronts on Cashel Street near the restart mall as we ate our German hotdogs. The cold brought the family closer together.
But if I had chosen to stay at home that Sunday, it wouldn’t have been as memorable. I may not even have been able to recall enough details to be able to pass on the weekend events to my colleagues on a Monday morning.
My Chinese kickboxing coach, Alex Zhao, commented this evening that I can throw quite a good hook to the jaw. I guess this is an important attribute for a fantasy and horror writer. Still, I need to work on my staff and spear – never know when it may come in useful when I’m describing a fight scene in a story, or when I take that time machine back in time and am forced to fight with bandits or gangsters in an open field.
I got a pleasant surprise today. Checking my emails on the computer at 6AM, I saw an email from Flash Frontier, an international online flash fiction magazine. They want to publish my 250 word story, ‘Rubble’, in their June issue! This makes me very excited. It’s a great publication with high editorial standards devoted to short fiction, the June edition is an international edition, and it will be my second publication.
I’m still waiting on replies from work I’ve submitted to other publications. Maybe some of my horror poetry or stories were accepted. Or maybe I’ll get a hook to the jaw. Gotta roll with whatever occurs.
I’m finding it enormously productive to listen to audio-books when driving. Instead of listening to songs I don’t like, ads, or inane comments on current events or rugby, I can ‘read’ some more. And if I can ‘read’ this way, and then in text, it’s even better. I’ve listened to a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories, classic horror, and a couple of Andrei Sapkowski’s ‘Witcher’ novels while travelling from place to place.
I bought another Neil Gaiman book today: ‘The View From The Cheap Seats’. It’s not a novel, but a collection of non-fiction essays, articles and speeches. Like with the introduction to his short story collections, I find reading his ideas on writing, storytelling and how he put his stories together very inspiring. It also has the text of his speech ‘Do Good Art’, which I think has something to offer any writer. The speech itself is here:
I’ve been following Charlie Brooker’s advice (see the last post), and the month of May has been my most productive and destructive yet: productive, as I’ve made submissions to eight different magazines, ezines and competitions; destructive, in the amount of sentences chiselled away into the dark void in the impossible quest for perfection.
I’ve discovered deadlines in Pacific Standard Time are very forgiving on people from this part of the world, and that setting monthly targets is an excellent idea. I’ve also realised that although I would like to write from 6-7 AM, my current work timetable doesn’t really work in with this. Maybe in a month or so my situation will change.
Tomorrow I’m going to the XCHC to take part in an event called ‘Book Buzz‘. The award-winning Christchurch poet and children’s writer James Norcliffe will be launching his new book ‘Twice Upon a Time’ there. Other writers have book launches at the event too, but I don’t know them yet – check the link for information. There’s also an opportunity to take part in open mic, which I am very keen on. Should be fun.
Until next time,
I received wonderful news last week that the new NZ literary magazine, Alluvia, has decided to publish a few of my poems. This gives me more strength in my convictions that I’m following a good path.
The famous screenwriter Charlie Brooker, creator of ‘Black Mirror’, gave me some advice recently. Well actually he didn’t, but I’m quite happy to take it as if he gave me this advice personally. He made a statement in 2010, which I read last week on the internet, and so it exists timelessly (at least until the Guardian takes it down) as advice for writers everywhere:
“To everyone who has ever emailed to ask me for advice on writing, my answer is: get a deadline. That’s all you really need. Forget about luck. Don’t fret about talent. Just pay someone larger than you to kick your knees until they fold the wrong way if you don’t hand in 800 words by five o’clock. You’ll be amazed at what comes out.”
I am quite willing to make myself meet deadlines however. To those seeking inspiration, I would urge you to find more deadlines. How many deadlines can you make for next month?
If you wish to distract yourself from deadlines, you can watch this:
Yesterday evening I joined a huge audience at the Charles Luney Auditorium at St Margaret’s College to listen to Ian Rankin talk about his writing. It was well worth the ticket price.
He talked about his early writing, how he started out, and how he writes his novels. This is what I took from what he said. He didn’t present the following as advice in his talk, but this is what he does, and I think it is probably good advice anyway (from my own biased perspective anyway):
- Write what you know, and draw from the vivid memories that are in your head.
- Create your own universe.
- Don’t plan until well into the story.
- Avoid writing about topics you don’t know much about, if doing so would make you look foolish. Rankin would not write about court proceedings for this reason, because he doesn’t have a legal background.
- Start with an issue, and follow it. This seems a good idea for crime fiction, but also for writing science-fiction.
Every time I see Giacometti’s sketches it makes me feel as if everything is connected, that there are some threads that tie us all together. Chairs are connected to the floor on which they are placed, but are also in some way connected by lines and threads to the ceilings and to the walls. Maybe there are dust motes we can climb? A bad mood caused by a small incident or comment from another can cause us to view other seemingly benign incidents in a very negative way. Or the hint of a smile can brighten our whole day.
In the last week, I’ve been working on a flash fiction horror story. Don’t want to share too much right now, because it is still in the development stage, but it has a werewolf in it. Not a shiny happy Twilight werewolf though. Something more brutal and unrestrained.
I also submitted a couple of pieces of flash fiction to the NZ National Flash Fiction competition last Sunday. I need to train to compress my meaning when writing in prose, so that when I write a longer piece the language is more precise and accurate too.
Yesterday I joined the Australasian Horror Writers Association. It already seems like a very good decision. Aside from being able to participate in a few competitions without paying a fee, membership gives me a chance to get critiqued by other horror writers, get advice on writing markets for horror and dark fiction, and gives me the ability to read what seems like very high quality horror stories published in their magazine ‘Midnight Echo’. I would really recommend the AHWA to other writers serious about the horror genre (‘deadly’ serious, evil laugh) in New Zealand or Australia.
Also, while I was teaching today, C. Day Lewis’ poem ‘Rest From Loving’ came into my mind unbidden, a gift of memory. Let me share these first few lines:
Rest from loving and be living.
Fallen is fallen past retrieving
The unique flyer dawn’s dove
Arrowing down feathered with fire.
The rest can be found in various places. Such as: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00144940.1948.11481413