Archive for January, 2012

A Yellow Post-It Note and Things Written There

Today my boss-boss gave me a yellow post it note, written on it was this: Youtube “Oh the places you’ll go” burning man.  Watch it, he commanded.  And since he’s my boss-boss, I had no choice but to do as he bid.

“Oh the Place You’ll Go” is a book written by Dr. Suess.  If you do not know who Dr. Suess is, or was, then I’m sorry to say you live under a rock and suggest coming out from under it.

Dr. Suess is one of the greatest writers ever to have graced this Earth or any other for that matter.  He wrote such classics as “The Cat in the Hat”, “Green Eggs and Ham”, “Horton Hears A Who”, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”, “Hop on Pop”, “There’s A Wocket in My Pocket”, of course, “Oh the Places You’ll Go”, and countless others.

If someone told me Dr. Suess invented imagination I would believe them without hesitance.  He was a remarkable man whose stories remain a childhood staple, stories that evoke wonderment in youth but grow to carry deeper meaning as the reader ages.

It’s difficult to put into words the impact Dr. Suess’ work has had and continues to have on the world or even the ways in which it has influenced a single person such as myself.  His stories were off-kilter, his illustrations were wacky, and while sometimes his words didn’t make a lot of sense, the emotions he wanted to convey in them easily showed through.  He is a writer that I desperately wish I could emulate even though I know I could never hope to grasp even a fraction of his brilliance.

This video is a reading of Dr. Suess’ last book by random people at Burning Man.  If you do not know what Burning Man is, once again, rock – get out from under it.  Think of Burning Man as a Woodstock for artists.  It’s an annual art event out in the Nevada desert that, sadly, I’ve yet to attend despite my actually living in Nevada.  Anyhoo, it’s awesome.

Now check out the video:

“Oh the Place You’ll Go” is perhaps Dr. Suess’ most inspirational book and this video not only beautifully expresses every sentiment in his story, the visuals of Burning Man and the eccentric people that form its community perfectly exemplify the spirit of Dr. Suess.

Hollywood’s attempts to bring Dr. Suess’ work to the big screen has had mixed results.  Cat In the Hat was awful, but The Grinch will always remain a holiday favorite in my heart.  Though I felt luke warm about Horton Hears A Who, I kind of wish I-Hop would bring back their Dr. Suess themed breakfast of Who Cakes with Green Eggs and Ham.

Hollywood’s next Dr. Suess project, however, shows serious promise; “The Lorax” featuring Danny DeVito as the title character himself.  “The Lorax” being my favorite book, and Danny DeVito being one of my favorite actors, you better believe I am overcome with joy and dying of anticipation for this film to hit theaters.

On a final note, Dr. Suess is the very epitome of everything a writer should be.  He effortlessly entertains and, without the reader ever knowing, educates, inspires, and reminds the reader that our reality may be limited, but our imagination is endless.  Or in Dr. Suess’ own words from his book, “Oh the Thinks You Can Think”:

 “Think left and think right and think low and think high.  Oh, the things you can think up, if only you try.”

A few summers ago in a camp far, far away…

A few summers ago I taught Arts&Crafts at a YMCA overnight camp in Pennsylvania.  It was an interesting experience, taught me a lot about myself – things I knew, things I didn’t, and things I wish I had known before going there.  For the most part, I didn’t fit in.  Camp is kind of a place where you need to be a social creature and I…well…am not.

I think I was liked by many of the counselors there, which is good, because I liked most of them.  I also know that I was liked by many of the campers, enough of them flooded my room every day whenever possible.  A lot of them begged me to come back the next year and, while, I promised them I’d try, I haven’t gone back since.  Like I said, I didn’t fit in at camp.  Though if asked, I would definitely do it all over again.

Because it takes me about three months to feel comfortable around a person, and the job was only three months long, I didn’t manage to make a lot of friends.  I ended up spending most of my time in the Arts&Crafts room, which was fine with me.  I was very much in my element in that room and I ended up turning out some great pieces of art.

At least, I thought they were great at the time.

Anyhow, like any good artist, I snapped pictures of my work for prosperity (and possibly my portfolio) before greedy, college-aged counselors hoping to hang them in their dorms snatched them up.  That kind of makes me sound bitter about it, even though, I was actually quite flattered.

In a way, they were sort of responsible for my sudden spark of inspiration so letting them take the art was the least I could do.  You see, it all started with a game.  There was a particular night, every week, when the whole camp would play a game together.  Though the game was meant to be different and somewhat innovative each time, it usually ended up being the same exact thing (a sort of scavenger hunt type game…) only with different themes.

One such theme was Star Wars (as I sing along with the orchestral soundtrack vaguely reminisce of Indiana Jones…)

I did not paint this…

In the game, the kids would go do different areas of camp meant to represent different locations in the Star Wars movies.  To help set the scene, the camp director contracted me to create signs for each place and, even though she’d only meant for me to paint the location names on large sheets of butcher paper, I had a few days to make these signs so I figured I’d go all out.

Tentatively, I made one for the ‘Death Star’, just on black with the yellow lettering in ‘Star Wars’ font.  I didn’t snap a shot of it, but reflecting now, I wish I had.  Then I started on ‘Cloud City’.

 

By this time there was a bit of buzz around camp about what I was working on and a few counselors had stopped by to sing their praises.  Apparently, they did not know I (or anyone) could do that with butcher paper and tempera.  Emboldened, I started on the last one, Tatooine.

 

After the game, a bit of bickering began about the signs and who had claim to them.  I’d given one counselor permission to take them because she and her brother were huge Star Wars fans and I honestly didn’t care where they ended up (maybe I should’ve cared, but I hadn’t everything I did art-wise at this point).  I probably would have just trashed them.  It sorted itself out and apparently my cousin (who worked at the camp several times and had been the one to introduce me to it) walked away with at least one.

Later, the same Star Wars fan asked if I would make a sign for her brother, with his name and his favorite character, “Boba Fett” on it.  Because I’m a nice person (and I didn’t have anything better to do), I obliged.

 

Anyhow, those are samples of my artwork.  I don’t know if I’d call them good but the people at camp seemed to like them.  Feel free to let me know what you think.  Throughout the course of that summer, I was asked by other counselors to paint various things and maybe one day I’ll share those with you.

On Focus

I used to take a lot of art classes when I was working on my degree in art back when I thought it was what I wanted to do with my life, because everyone told me it was what I wanted to do with my life, even though it made me miserable. If you’ve never taken an art class, they involve a lot of still-life drawing (which is when you draw something from life that is…still). My teachers would mock up these crazy still-life models, basically throwing every crazy prop they could get their hands on together until, finally, there was just this big pile of crap on a table. Then, of course, we proceeded to draw the pile of crap.

Every time we did these assignments, right before starting, I would stare and stare and stare at that pile of crap and have a mild panic attack. I never knew where to start. There was so much in front of me, this huge, chaotic mass, that I just could not get myself to focus.

Eventually I quit art, for completely unrelated reasons, but that feeling of not knowing where to start always remained with me, transferring from art to writing.

When it comes to writing, I have an overabundance of ideas. Ideas, for me, are like dust in the attic; it’s everywhere, you find it in the oddest of places, it gets in your mouth and eyes, and eventually you feel like you’re suffocating in it.

Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, ideas are worthless. As my favorite writer, Neil Gaiman puts it in an essay hosted on his journal-blog-thingy, “…the ideas aren’t that important. Really they aren’t. Everyone’s got an idea for a book, a movie, a story, a TV series…”

It’s almost entirely true (I haven’t asked everyone, so I can’t say for certain). Ask everyone you know. They’ll tell you their idea for whatever it is they think would make an incredible story unless, of course, they’re worried you’ll steal it.

The important thing about ideas is what you do with them. Every good writer (and everyone in my book is a good writer, just on different levels in learning the craft) knows that the next step after getting an idea is to develop it. Developing ideas is where the fun stuff comes in (that is, it’s fun if you love the process like a good writer should) like plot, characters, setting, etc. Certain ideas start you off a lot farther in the development process, for instance, maybe you know who all the characters are and what the plot is, you just need to figure out the storyline (the direction where everything is heading), flesh out your characters a little, pick a setting, then start outlining (if you outline, not every writer does…).

This is usually right around where I get stuck. I have the plot, I have the storyline, I know the characters inside and out, I can visualize the setting, and I have a rough outline – no problem; now its time to write.

Just as I’m settling in to my writing position (dressed comfortably in pajamas and slippers, a cup of tea, nearby snacks, music to match the mood of my work, and a new blank word document open on my laptop) I flashback to art class. I have a pile of crap in front of me and I’m staring and staring and staring, trying to figure out how to turn it into art. I don’t know where to start. Before my eyes, my story becomes this huge, chaotic mass and I cannot get myself to focus.

For just this situation, I have a sticky note above my desk with a single sentence written on it: Start with a brick.

The message is an allusion to a scene in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig.

If you have never Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I highly recommend it. It has nothing to do with Zen (unless you count that it’s a book about the writer’s own philosophical inquiries and Zen is Japanese religion based on Eastern philosophy) or motorcycle maintenance (other than the writer is detailing a cross-country roadtrip on motorcycles with his son and two friends and there is brief mention at the importance of maintaining one’s bike). There are plenty of intriguing thoughts throughout the book (that I might talk about in later posts), and is, overall, very good food for thought.

In the particular scene of interest, Pirsig is reflecting on an incident between himself and a student when he was teaching at a college. Pirsig had given the assignment to his class to write a general essay about the college building. The student in the scene is distraught by the prompt’s unspecific nature, she complains that she’s been spending every day sitting outside of the building the essay is to be written on, staring and staring and staring at it, this huge, chaotic mass, and she does not know where to start.

Pirsig advises her to forget about the building. She’s being overwhelmed by its largess. He tells her, focus on a single brick and start writing from there. Though wary at first, the student follows Pirsig’s advice and, from a single brick, starts turning out page after page after page of writing.

In art, I always solved my problem the same way. First, I would take a deep breath. Then I laid down a loose, general sketch. Then I forgot about the still-life, and focused on one piece of it (a single brick); be it the apple in the right-hand corner, the candelabra slightly obscured beneath a scarf, or the wooden letter block at the top.

Transferring this solution to writing. First, I take a deep breath. Then I lay down my loose, general outline. Then forget about the story, erase it entirely from my mind, and focus on one scene (a single brick).

There are still a lot of other things blocking my writing (see “On Fear”), but when I remember to “Start with a brick”, I am at least able to focus and turn out page after page after page of writing.

On Fear

Writer’s Digest recently published an article entitled “10 Ways to Harness Your Fear and Fuel Your Writing”. It’s definitely worth a gander for any writer, either beginning or novice, attempting to break into the industry.

This article offers up tips for recognizing your fears, tracing them to the source, and maintaining and using them to your creative advantage. I did feel, when reading the article, that some things could have been expanded on and that certain aspects of fear weren’t really addressed but overall it proved a helpful resource on fear maintenance.

I think fear is pervasive in any artist’s life. We put so much of ourselves in our work that offering it up for public scrutiny is oft times like singing naked in Times Square. Its not just something you created, its a glimpse into your heart – into your soul. Its why many beginning artists find criticism hard to take; its not the work that the critic doesn’t understand, its the artist, and nothing can be more frustrating than being misunderstood.

I know that my own fear often dictates what I write, what I don’t write, what I show other people, what I tuck away in the farthest reach of my digital world where I hope no one will ever find it. Fear plays a large – perhaps the largest – role in my writing career…or lack thereof.

My most prominent fear is one that, I believe, plagues most unproven writers, and is also one I didn’t feel the aforementioned article adequately addressed. That foreboding question: What if I’m not good enough.

While the article suggests (and rightfully so) that even though your work might be rejected you can learn from the experience and better your writing, I can’t help feeling as if this answer is a cop out. As if they don’t want to get into the real issue.

Every year millions of writers attempt and fail to break into the industry.

This is not necessarily because all of these writers are terrible. Certainly if terrible writing were a barring factor in publication several novels currently on bookstore shelves never would have made it. No, no…the fact is, your writing can be perfectly fine, it’s your story that can fail to capture a publisher’s interest. And therein lies my greatest fear: What if my stories aren’t good enough?

I suppose the article didn’t really mention this aspect of the ‘What if’ fear because there are no simple tricks to quelling it. No tips to maintain it or use it to your advantage. The only way to deal with it is by believing in yourself. You see, the writers that make it are the ones that believe so strongly in their story they’ll cart it around from publisher to publisher until one finally accepts it. Every big time writer has been rejected more than once, but they believed in themselves, and that gave them the courage they needed to send their manuscript to the next publishing house.

I attend writing classes taught by a local scifi/fantasy author, Maxwell Alexander Drake (check out his blog here, he’s awesome), and he put it rather succinctly in one of his first lessons: You have to be your own biggest fan.

So I tell myself every day: Maybe my stories aren’t good, but I believe they are, and if I’m going to one day achieve my dreams, then right now that belief has to be enough.

Because the only real way to overcome all those fears is to keep writing…or keep drawing, or painting, or whatever it is you do.

You Are Here —>

This is a momentous day for me.  My first official blog post on my first official blog.  I feel so nervous and giddy, like a lovestruck schoolgirl.  For years I’ve thought of creating a blog, toyed with ideas of what I’d call it and what I’d blog about, but I have never been able to muster courage, bite the bullet, and create one.  Until now.

New Years Resolution #1 can now be checked off!  Woohoo!

I was thinking the best way to kick off my new blog would be to briefly introduce myself and write a little about Dastardly Reads.

I am best described as a twenty-something, underachieving, smartass, slacker.  I am an aspiring writer (and have been for way too long) and a lackadaisical artist.  I have a crap, low-paying, underappreciated job doing computer graphics work.  And I can knit.

As already mentioned, I’ve wanted to start a blog for the longest time.  I thought about blogging on different things, on food, art, philosophy, music, etc., etc.  All topics for which millions of blogs already exist.  Stuck between the fear of creating another overdone blog to fade sadly away into the digital abyss and this deep-seeded longing to get my voice out there and be heard, I started thinking about the one topic I knew for certain a blog didn’t already exist on: Me.

Of course, I’m boring.  No one would want to read about my daily life.  Most days I don’t even want to live my daily life (…and I mean that in a completely non-suicidal way).

However, recently I realized (and it’s so sad it took me as long as it did to come to this conclusion) that there is an aspect of ‘Me’ that is not boring: My stories.  I love telling stories.  I have loved telling stories since I was in grade school when my fifth grade teacher told me I was a writer.  Storytelling is such a part of me, it is so ingrained in the fiber of my being, that I spend every waking and every slumbering hour thinking up stories.  My dreams are literally intricate storylines, of which I or anyone I know beyond my own fictional characters are rarely a part of, typically of the action/adventure or fantasy variety.

I am a storyteller.  And this blog’s main focus will be as host for my stories in their various incarnations: short stories, series of short stories, and possibly comics.  I might also blog about my adventures in novel writing.

Which brings us to…why did I title my blog ‘Dastardly Reads’?  That’s easy.  Because I thought it sounded cool.

Joking.

Sort of.

‘Reads’ is a self-explanatory part of the title but ‘Dastardly’ is, maybe, not so much.  Dastardly is an interesting word.  You don’t hear it often these days unless you’re talking about a cartoon character from the seventies.  The word itself means malicious, treacherous, and cowardly – tying back to an early perception that people who do bad things are cowards.  I chose it for a number of reasons.  I felt a connection to the word.  I thought it aptly fit my own character in regards to my writing.  I’ve always been afraid to pursue a writing career, to put my work out there for professional review and possible publication.  For me, this blog serves as a sort of halfway house.  A way to get my writing out there without fully committing myself to it just yet.

Furthermore, I thought the word fit my style of writing.  I like characters, especially main characters, that are severely flawed.  The type of characters that you root for even though deep inside you’re not really sure you should be.  Characters that make questionable choices and cause you to rethink your own personal morals.  Characters you can’t always count on to make the right decisions in the end but, if you’re really lucky and they feel so compelled, they just might save the day.

Anyhoo, that’s me and my blog in a nutshell.  Expect posts on writing and on art, as well as, of writing and of art.  And sometimes….just sometimes…I might even mention my boring life.

kgbethlehem

"Freedom isn't just a word, but a way of life.."

Serendipity

Was I born a masochist or did society make me this way? I demand unconditional love and complete freedom. That is why I am terrible.

Dean J. Baker - Poetry, and prose poems

Join me on these media sites

TheReporterandTheGirlMINUSTheSuperMan!

Personal blog, interracial relationships, dating, author, BWWM,

Ray Ferrer - Emotion on Canvas

** OFFICIAL Site of Artist Ray Ferrer **

SageDoyle

Fiction & Poetry

Limebird Writers

Let Your Creativity Fly

Shannon A Thompson

You need the world, and the world needs good people.

Unbound Boxes Limping Gods

The writer gives life to a story, the reader keeps it alive.

The Consortium of the Curious

For those bemused by the bizarre and engrossed in the esoteric.

dodging commas

dodging (verb) - to change suddenly, to elude or evade // commas (noun) - a mark indicating a pause or separation

weaklyshortstories

Just another WordPress.com site

Pete Denton

Writer of British Crime Fiction

Chris Martin Writes

Sowing seeds for the Kingdom

Interactive Books where YOU are the hero

Survive the Zombie Apocalypse * Solve a Mystery * Gain Superpowers

hic sunt verba

hic sunt verba/here there are words

have cake with it

One man's crusade to write a play and make it happen

A Comfortable Silence

A great WordPress.com site

Smoke Ring Collisions

Flamma fumo est proxima