So Says…

“According to my principles, every master has his true and certain value. Praise and criticism cannot change any of that. Only the work itself praises and criticizes the master, and therefore I leave to everyone his own value.”  ~Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach

 Leaving the secure seclusion of writing for my own pleasure, reading for mere enjoyment and crafting worlds without the thought of an intrusive, omniscient eye, was perhaps the most self-indulgent thing I’ve ever done. It wasn’t bravery, but vanity. And yet, somewhere inside this mess of a soul, therein rests a quiet voice that insists that I did it for those few who will love what I create and be blessed by it. That being said, that same small voice has a vicious guard dog who fights like hell whenever anything threatens the vital thread of psyche that’s responsible for my work.

I imagine that authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz have similar devices, which lucky for us who are loyal to them, keeps them writing despite the hostility of an ungrateful public. On one hand, you have to reach a certain level to get the startling, abrasive, nasty sort of criticism that extends past the bounds of your creative work and encroaches on your personal space. Stephanie Meyer has certainly gotten more than her fair share. Yet, it’s appalling that we’ve created such a disgraceful culture of criticism that it has now become a respected art form in its own right. Many critics aren’t capable of creating anything worth more than two grains of salt, so they take bits and pieces of the english language and woefully try to string them together in an effort to sound like an authority.

Where is this coming from? Well, I’m not going to get specific, but I will note that someone attempted to be clever by leaving an uncalled for, juvenile, unfounded remark on the jschancellor.com site. Don’t bother looking, the guest book isn’t there anymore. Am I being a coward for taking it down? No, I’m exercising my right to moderate comments and I couldn’t do that the way that it was currently set-up. I’m not a glutton for punishment and the last time I checked, I’m also a human being with real feelings and serious passion for what I do. Only a hobbyist shrugs off a direct hit like that without so much as a deep breath.

Yes, this is part of the territory. Surely, by now, you know that I’m aware of that. I didn’t go into this blindly or without at the very least expecting it. It will get worse. I’ll see more than a few, well-worded, scathing reviews. I’ll have readers and industry critics alike telling me that I should have kept my day job. I have a middle finger for a reason. No, it’s not professional to react to these things. I’m supposed to be graceful, like the southern lady that I am (I was raised down here, afterall…), but every now and then someone has to ask, “Who the hell coddled you as a child and mistakenly gave you the impression that your opinion matters?”

Who better for the job than me?

I suspect that this fine gentleman lives in his parents’ basement and wouldn’t be able to hear me over the sound of his mother calling him and his friends upstairs for brownies. But, in all seriousness dude, get an education, read a little more, expose yourself to a little more culture, get a job, get a girlfriend (that isn’t inflatable), change your underwear, learn some manners, sell some of that shit on Ebay and buy your own car…do SOMETHING, anything at all, instead of sitting in your greasy, pissburnt rollerball chair and trolling the internet for places to display your left-over teenage angst.

So says my guard dog…

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Certain Dark Things

“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”  ~Pablo Neruda

I live in grand ol southern Georgia—complete with the debutantes and junior leaguers, the society women who talk with that low drawl and still smoke in the bathrooms…except now those bathrooms are in country clubs or bars on “girls night out” instead of school. Although I’m from Ohio, I’ve grown up down here and from the very beginning I knew I wasn’t like everyone else.

Sure. Everyone says that right? Well, maybe where you’re from or where you now live, there is diversity. Here…not so much. And so, my dark sense of humor and clumsy, eccentric ways, are not appreciated as much as they are tolerated. You see, being an “author” has its privileges. One of them…now that I’ve officially signed a book deal anyway…is that I’m sort of like a new accessory. Everyone wants an artist to take to social events or have over for dinner parties…or accompany them to fundraisers. Are you wondering where all of this is coming from yet?

For three years running I’ve sent a friend request to a girl I went to school with years ago. We were never close friends, but we were close enough and I wanted to see what she was up to. The first two times she didn’t accept, I figured it was a fluke. By the third time I knew she was ignoring me on purpose and she isn’t one of these people who only “friends” relatives or bosom buddies. About two weeks ago I log on…and low and behold, I have a friend request from her. *gasp* I can’t begin to tell you how badly I wanted to ignore it, but my therapist says I should work on my temper, so I accepted…actually, I’m kidding about the whole therapist thing…no one will have me as a patient. But, I digress…

The world in general has changed around me; everyone has an opinion now and feels empowered and qualified to give it to me; everyone is critical of my every move “because they care” and I get to hear about it, all the time; No one trusts me to know what I’m doing…yet no one will deny that its what has gotten me this far. It’s an interesting paradox. Let me clarify, it’s an irritating and obnoxious paradox. No, this isn’t about any one person, it’s about a great many, well meaning, persons. Why am I wasting a perfectly good blog post on it? Because it can, and likely will if your circumstances are even remotely like mine, happen to you. Would have rocked had someone warned me…

It’s a double edged sword. I have to interact with other people or the book will go nowhere. I have to face the critics and the pain in the ass folks who suddenly know me and the path that is marked for me, better than I do. It comes with good moments, like yesterday when a blessed soul “stumbled upon” this blog and posted it, along with my author page and my publisher’s website. And it comes with bad moments when I feel like all I hear is negativity from absolutely everyone I talk to, about anything and everything that has to do with my writing and my career.

 The truth is, nothing has changed and perhaps I thought it would. I had just as many naysayers before…they’re just different people now. Someone switched the pieces on my chess board, but I’m still playing the same game.

Relatives are discovering my dark side. I think most of them knew. Some of them will be in for a shock…some of them will be like most of the junior leaguers I know (no, not all of them–hush) and they’ll smile politely, hand over those coveted invites for the sheer ability to say  that they’ve done so, and then talk about me behind my back to others who would share their view. But, let’s be honest here, those of you who think that you can’t relate to me…what dark things are there in the quiet of your soul at the end of the day, when you’re lying in bed thinking back over your life? What unspeakable horrors have crossed your mind? We aren’t so different, you and I.

This is just more fuel for a fire that will mold me into a better writer, a better human being, and maybe even a better friend/lover/relative. Still, there are certain dark things that I’ve kept all to myself—saved aside as private consolation for days such as this…

The reason I chose this picture…for example…

Wonderland

Don’t worry Jim, if that question comes up, I’ll just confuse them.  ~Dwight Eisenhower

To Press Secretary Jim Hagerty who pleaded with Eisenhower not to answer any press conference questions about the delicate Formosan Strait crisis, March 23, 1955. (Eisenhower was, indeed, asked if using atomic weapons on China was an option. He delivered a long, confusing reply which was effectively indecipherable.)
~http://www.nps.gov/archive/eise/quotes2.htm

 

There is a great deal of danger in saying what you mean. If you do, and you do so in a clear and direct manner, you can’t claim that you were misunderstood when someone speaks ill of what you’ve said.

I usually don’t have this problem—clearly—but I know a great many authors who do and I’ve even found myself tempted at times to obscure my point or my opinions when it comes to crafting fiction. Why? Well, why do we do anything that we do as authors?

Fear

Literary fiction is famous for this, to the point where a good many well-known authors have looked back over their work and admitted when pressed that they hadn’t even known what they meant when they first wrote it—let alone presently. It reminds me of a paper I did when I was a freshman at Columbus State. I’m not fond of cheating, but I’m an expert at procrastination. So, 3am rolls around and I have a literary analysis due at my 7am class.  Instead of plagiarizing (which is closely akin to robbing someone of their soul), I made up a book for my analysis. I made sure my writing as a student was just bad enough to make a  solid “B” and my writing as “Jane Doe Author” was brilliant in comparison. Now, sure, long story short I got an A. What’s interesting, and what brings me back to my point, you should have heard the discussion that got stirred up. Would you  believe it got heated? Students argued over the “meaning” of the passages I’d “selected” for my paper. I’d made the prose complex and controversial to the point of being  impressively vague. It sounded good. It sounded like the voice of a true literary poet.  In reality, it didn’t mean anything at all. I’d crafted the sentences to match the critique I’d written first (for a piece that didn’t exist, do you not see how sly this was…) Of course, had any of them been eager enough to do some searching they would have realized that the “small press somewhere overseas” that I listed in my sources, didn’t actually exist.  Oops.

Yeah, spare me the guilt trip. I know it was wrong. I mention it because it’s a good example of what I’m talking about. If you don’t want to answer someone’s question, second guess them and answer a different question. If you don’t want to be crushed when the critics come rolling out to greet you, then don’t give it everything you’ve got—then you can claim that as an excuse. These are all safety nets. Why can’t we be as bold as the second grader who passes the note in class, “Do you like me, check yes or no”? The simple answer, is that as authors we go through so much rejection that we naturally run to these safe places. If we never pass the note, no one will ever have the chance to  check the wrong box. But listen to me—if you never pass the note, no one will ever check the right box either. If you don’t give it your best, you’ll never know what could have been.

We aren’t exempt from this as genre writers. In fact, we’ve got a much higher bar to meet and because of that, we’re even more prone to overdo it. We complicate our prose and muddle our pacing, all in an effort to make it sound intelligent and deep. Yet, if anything, we need to be the most concise with our words, because the worlds we’re crafting are complex enough and stunning enough on their own. Think back on those stories you were told when you were young. What do you remember most about them? Was it the way they were told, or what they were about? I think you know the answer to that.

Don’t fear being seen. Fear not being seen at all…

Thirty-two “B”

Old age realizes the dreams of youth: look at Dean Swift; in his youth he built an asylum for the insane, in his old age he was himself an inmate.  ~Soren Kierkegaard

A Visit To The Asylum

Once from a big, big building,
When I was small, small,
The queer folk in the windows
Would smile at me and call.

And in the hard wee gardens
Such pleasant men would hoe:
“Sir, may we touch the little girl’s hair!”—
It was so red, you know.

They cut me coloured asters
With shears so sharp and neat,
They brought me grapes and plums and pears
And pretty cakes to eat.

And out of all the windows,
No matter where we went,
The merriest eyes would follow me
And make me compliment.

There were a thousand windows,
All latticed up and down.
And up to all the windows,
When we went back to town,

The queer folk put their faces,
As gentle as could be;
“Come again, little girl!” they called, and I
Called back, “You come see me!”

–Edna St. Vincent Millay

Someone asked me a few days ago, before a friend shared this lovely poem with me, why I gave the blog its title. It’s a good question with a hard answer. Truth is, I’ve had a perverse sort of obsession with asylums for as long as I can remember and it’s only a matter of time before one of my novels takes place in one. preferably an old, dilapidated, haunted one. If I had to guess why, I’d probably say that it has something to do with my fears of old age. I don’t fear it for the usual reasons people fear aging. I fear it because once I lose my faculties or worse, develop Alzheimer’s disease, I won’t be reliving just my past, but that of countless characters. In other words, I really will be the crazy lady in 32B.

Patient exhibits consistent fears of imaginary creatures she calls ‘Moriors’ and ‘Ordakai’ despite hours of intense therapy and medication. Furthermore, she suffers from paranoid delusions that a race of people are trying to steal her soul and that certain male staff members, at some point after birth, had their ‘wings’ removed.