Requiem

“If man were immortal he could be perfectly sure of seeing the day when everything in which he had trusted should betray his trust, and, in short, of coming eventually to hopeless misery.  He would break down, at last, as every good fortune, as every dynasty, as every civilization does.  In place of this we have death.”
~Charles Sanders Peirce

I can vividly remember sitting at the conference room table, on my lunch break, beginning the journal that would eventually serve as my plot book for Fable. About a month later, towards Halloween, I sat down with my laptop and without any thought to when I would finish it or if it would be published or even if anyone other than myself would ever read it, I began to write. I’d realized, through the most sundry conversation in the world, that I had to either step out in faith that I had talent enough to do what my heart wanted, or give up and walk away. No more talking about being a writer, no more saying that one day I’ll get around to it. That was 3 1/2 years ago. On March 30, 2010 I was offered a publishing contract on Fable, which will tentatively launch sometime in November/December of this year.

And just as I embarked on a journey then, walking blindly into unknown territory, I am doing so again as I go through the process of negotiating the contract and beginning a relationship with Rhemalda Publishing. It is the death of one part of my life and the birth of another. And even now, before having stepped farther than two feet down this path, I can assure you that it has brought irrevocable change to who I am as an author.

I once had fears that I would never be able to finish Fable; not that I wasn’t motivated but fears that I was unable (in more romantic moments I would have said unworthy). But, the words never stopped coming and within 12 months I’d finished all three books in the first trilogy. And even though there may have been a point in my writing life where I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would be too thrilled about a contract to care about anything else, I still fear being unable. I’ve grown considerably as an author since I wrote or even revised book one, and of course there will be an editor going through the manuscript and hopefully fixing my adverb abuse (wasn’t aware that I had this problem until recently). All that aside, there is this little part of me that feels like I’m standing on the edge of this huge precipice staring into utter nothingness and everything in me wants to cling to the cliff and not leap off. But, I will leap. I owe the book that much.

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Evergreen

“If in my youth I had realized that the sustaining splendour of beauty of with which I was in love would one day flood back into my heart, there to ignite a flame that would torture me without end, how gladly would I have put out the light in my eyes.”  ~Michelangelo

I hear, from time to time, other authors speak of their old work in hushed tones, often in embarrassment or disdain or both. I’ve grown considerably since I first began to try my hand at this particular art of storytelling, but I realized something tonight that I’d known, yet forgotten all the same; youth is exempt from the fear of mortality and therefore has no concept of future misgivings. For most children there is always the promise of tomorrow and with it, the possibility of everything they long for. The fear of failure, when it comes to their dreams, is as foreign as the reality of income tax and termites.

After sending out a submission and getting unrealistically (and unnecessarily) wrapped up in all the ‘grown-up’ stuff we authors have to deal with, I sat down in my oversized chair and randomly went through a few old files—stuff I hadn’t so much as glanced at in a decade. I flipped absentmindedly through the papers and before long, I found myself stunned by my own past, in awe of a love affair with worlds I’d long since forgotten. I knew I’d written five ‘books’ when I was fourteen or so, in collaboration with my best friend at the time. I’ve read over them now and again for old times’ sake, but what I’d apparently put out of mind was a staggering amount of work—prologues, story sketches, scenes, character and plot maps; pages upon pages of what probably amounts to over 500,000 words or so. This is just prose, not journal entries (which exceed that number by far).

You’re probably asking yourself why you’re still reading this post by now, but give me a second here. My point in bringing this up, is that I want to remind you what it meant to write with such abandon. I clearly, clearly couldn’t have cared less if those words ever saw daylight, let alone publication. As adults, we still write with ourselves in mind (mostly—then editors, our readers, etc), but there is such a tremendous difference. It isn’t merely the lack of experience or lack of quality that would accompany any childhood ramblings that makes these penned worlds what they are. There is something else, something evergreen that literally jumps off of the pages. This girl, who worked free of boundaries, is why I started writing again three years ago. I didn’t merely love to write: I wrote with no concept of what it meant to be an author. I walked through the divide between what is, and what can never be, with no consideration of how it affected me personally.

What I’m saying, is that I didn’t care about voice, or style, or genre; I didn’t have any notion of royalties or advances or contracts. I didn’t fear rejections because frankly, even had I known what they were, I still wouldn’t have given a damn. Put simply, the story was all that mattered. We say this all the time as adults, but do we mean it utterly?

And really, when the day ends, what differentiates good prose from great? What distinguishes one work and discards another? That single quality, that crucial element that will, without fail, lend validity to your work is its ability to be evergreen. The irony of it, is that it isn’t something that can be forced. It either is, or is not. The choice is up to you and how willing you are to let go of your boundaries. As youth, we gather our materials and ready ourselves to construct mythical kingdoms, great and lofty palaces. Yet somewhere along the way our adulthood steals our confidence, tells us that all we have collected is of no consequence, convinces us that degrees and titles and awards are the only things that will build a future.

To hell with adulthood.

It’s in my blood. Perhaps I am romanticizing this time, but you didn’t spend the last three hours reading what I read. I’m ashamed of how much fear I’ve let slip in over the last year or so. But, the good thing about writing youthfully; there is always tomorrow. And tomorrow, I start fresh…no more fear or doubt (or Dragons if you’ve been reading this blog), only evergreen.

Guest Blogger: Ien Nivens

“You don’t mind putting in long hours, and you like punching people, so let’s combine the two. I’m going to teach you ‘chanting’. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of precision, and doing a whole lot of steps exactly right, but when it works, you can make some pretty awesome stuff.”

Bone Shop

“Awesome would be a nice change,” Marla said.

–from Bone Shop, by T. A. Pratt

Available at http://www.marlamason.net/boneshop/

Foul Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart
By Ien Nivens

Tim Pratt’s Bone Shop is the foul-rag-to-dubious-riches story of a street urchin’s rise through the ranks of sorcerers in the East Coast city of Felsport.  A prequel to Pratt’s Marla Mason series, the hectic urban eclecticism of this introductory novella is wound in prose as frank as baling wire—tarnished here and burnished there—and bound by the spittle of broken promises, dire prophecies and talking jawbones.  I’m going to say this once, maybe twice:  Download it.  Read it.  It’s as free as a dirty needle, and the odds are better than even that it will infect you, leaving you jittery, addicted, and wondering if you’re sick. It’ll be OK.  There’s more where this came from at http://www.marlamason.net

Pratt has peopled Felsport with a cast as intriguing as the magical artifacts they find, finagle and fiddle with in this tale of jiggered hopes and cracked dreams. Jenny Click deserves a novella of her own (but don’t give her a copy; she’d only set fire to it) while Artie Mann’s ideas about sorcery deserve at least a spread in a dirty magazine.  In the end Bone Shop is, oddly enough, a morality tale.  At least, I think so.  I can’t tell you what the moral is exactly, because that part of my memory has been wiped clean by a tincture of lethe water.  But I’m pretty sure that it has something to do with cobbling one’s ambitions together around a vacant heart.

There are problems with the hodge-podge of narrative fabrics and other magics that Pratt has grabbed off the racks at the thrift shops of myth and imagination. Nothing so threadbare that it can’t be mended, but a little backstitching here and there would keep this dream from always threatening to unravel.  In a few places, where the seams are turned needlessly inside-out, a little clipping is all that’s needed.  Let me show you what I mean.

Bone Shop begins with Marla Mason as a sixteen-year-old dropout.  Literate and homeless, she spends a lot of time at the public library, reading to keep warm.  We never learn why she’s on the streets and not in school, but we do come to understand that it’s a matter of preference.  She is mentally tough and determined to improve her circumstances but certainly not by way of a traditional education.  She is not a stickler for rules.  Except, apparently, grammatical ones.

Marla finds Artie—the man who has taken her in, made her his apprentice, given her a semblance of a home and a family—disemboweled.  She must go in search of his murderer.  Whatever sense of loyalty she may (or may not) feel toward the sorcerer has been augmented in advance by a magically binding oath of vengeance called a geas, which takes the form of Artie’s voice screaming in her head until his killer is dead.  Stalking the killer, Marla “[pushes] open a door marked ‘Employee’s Only’ – that stupid apostrophe [makes] her grit her teeth…”

Mind you, apostrophe abuse annoys me, too.  But an author poking his fingers through the fabric of a story with his pet grammatical peeve, while his protagonist is breathing down the neck of a serial killer is enough to make me wince.   (But I wax as pricklish, surely, as Pratt’s sanctimonious angels, who stumble about in bum’s clothing, accusing everyone of…well, of something not quite proper.)  I reluctantly absolve Pratt of the little crimes he commits and move on to Bone Shop’s bigger sins—of omission.

First is the baffling failure to introduce Somerset—a sorcerer of great historical significance in Felsport, apparently, but who knew?—until Marla needs a new nemesis.  Somerset is brought back from the dead, before we know that he ever lived, to fill in a plot hole in the next to last chapter.  We learn that the democratic structure of the sitting “sorcerer’s council” is a reaction to Somerset’s “reign of terror” while he was alive.  Since this is information that a teacher/sorcerer like Artie Mann might have imparted to his apprentices in memorable detail, its absence from Marla’s early curriculum is regrettable.  It leaves the final levels of the fictional structure top-heavy and out of joint.

While Somerset’s tardy appearance damages Bone Shop’s rickety structure, a lack of sufficient character development with regard to Marla’s one and only love interest, Daniel, saps vitality from the novella’s soul.  The peripheral and superficial treatment of Daniel’s personality prevents two important events from achieving sufficient credibility, or even comprehensibility.  The first of these is what Jenny Click, believing that Daniel must be dead, decides that she must do about it.  (I won’t tell you what that is, because she is one of the most intriguing minor characters I’ve met in recent fiction, and you really should get to know her for yourself.)   Jenny’s action stretches the cables of my suspension-of-disbelief bridge to the snapping point, not because it isn’t possible or likely, but because Daniel has so far been presented as little more than a cute butt with a vague Southernness that we never quite hear, see or feel, and the rare ability to nourish himself on the energies of other people, places and things.  Marla has fallen in love with Daniel, apparently, but how hard and what for?  We just don’t see what she sees in him.  We aren’t given the opportunity.

Pratt is not a prudish writer, but he glides over the intimacies of Marla’s and Daniel’s relationship with an almost juvenile coyness.  Maybe he assumes that telling us about all the wild sex these two teenagers are having is enough to convince us that they mean something to one another.  It’s not.  A little tenderness in these early scenes, an emotional resonance that the reader can tune into, would go a long way toward making the finale as unendurably poignant as it’s meant to be.

Hearts are ripped out of their chests in this story; guts get wrenched, mangled and left steaming.  But not the reader’s heart.  Not the reader’s guts.  And that’s a crying shame.  This improbable structure of bone and magical gewgaw that Pratt has somehow rigged together is surely sturdy enough, complex enough, lifelike enough to support the organ of poignancy he tries, too late, to animate.  We end up surprised by an ending that might have shocked his story to life—and shocked us numb with its bitter beauty.  But owing to a simple lack of preparation early on, that doesn’t happen.  Pratt fumbles for the heartstrings of a strong plot and plucks them hard, only to find that they haven’t been properly tuned.  They could be.  They ought to be.  The independent publishing platform that Pratt employs would allow for it.  Bone Shop has all the claws it needs to rip, wrench and mangle its way to an awesome conclusion. All that’s missing is the tender vitals.

Ien Nivens’ reviews of independently published fiction also appear at http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/

Painting by Cindy Kaplan

Thank you Ien! As always, your presence in and support of The Asylum is always appreciated.  ~J.S.

*If you’d like to write as a guest blogger for Welcome to the Asylum, feel free to email me at batman0762@gmail.com.

You Want a Piece of Me?

Time

Olympic athletes train every day. They wake up at absurd hours because they need more time than a normal human schedule allots. Before the average Olympian has ever won a medal, they have supporters. The public cheers them on because they want them to succeed. When they compete, they are known for either life altering mistakes (broken limbs, public falls, etc.), or dream achieving performances. If I have my facts right, most of them don’t hold full time jobs while engaged in a ‘training’ season.

Writing is no different. Save the public’s basic understanding of what it takes to become a master of our craft. Family members question our absence at holidays or get-togethers. Friends whine about unanswered phone calls, unaddressed emails or short visits. In-laws, acquaintances and neighbors ask why we don’t do something more directly related to gainful employment…or worse, success. I suspect they don’t truly know the definition of the word.

Publishing companies, those few who are willing to accept unsolicited submissions, make the bold requirement, ‘No multiple submissions’ yet with the same tongue, ‘Expect a reply within 6-8 months.’

For each agent, a writer must research all the particular likes and dislikes, the format (there are just as many ways to submit a query as there are stars in the sky), the amount to include (five pages, no pages, query only, full synopsis), and even how to address the agent. This essentially boils down to personal preference. Agent X doesn’t appreciate being addressed by their first name. Agent Y wouldn’t get past the greeting if it didn’t specifically address her by first and last name. Bottom line: you don’t want us to succeed.

I don’t want to hear the usual crap I hear from the publishing world about professionalism, courtesy and all of the excuses used for  supposedly ‘streamlining’  the process. We get to read all of the time about one author or another who had the audacity to….fill in the blank with the offense of the week.  I’ve read more than once how it isn’t possible for an agent, NOT to be FOR authors. Really? Step outside of your self-righteous shoes and read your bullshit for what it is. “Don’t submit to anyone else for half a year, wait for me to send you a form rejection.” Really. That’s–FOR authors? Did that sound supportive to you? Oh wait, you didn’t say it like that, did you? But that’s what you meant. There are whole blogs dedicated to educating authors on how to better get along with agents by way of bettering their queries and synopses. How about a blog dedicated to agents on how to respect the amazing amount of time and soul it takes to write a single piece of work? I’d be blacklisted in a NY minute. If I’m not already. Oh and don’t bother telling me that they are being magnanimous enough to spend a few moments of their precious time to ‘help’ us out.

*Sigh* I’d love to see just one agent, make a single dime from selling books without the authors they’ve signed. Wait, books don’t exist without us. So, unless HAL develops literary aspirations, we won’t EVER see that.

Why would I be blacklisted? Free speech right? For everyone but us. I have a big problem with the amount of arrogance it takes to expect every writer to take hours out of their time researching your personal tastes in such depth that a simple slip of the tongue could warrant a rejection slip. Don’t think that possible? Do a little research and then come tell me it’s never happened. I have better things to do—like, I don’t know, bettering my craft, for example. I know, how dare I expect to spend my time actually practicing, actually writing. Will I stoop to this heinous act myself?

Yeah. Because if I ever want to see my work on the shelves of a brick and mortar store, I don’t have a choice in the matter. But let me assure you—should fortune ever smile on me, and I find myself in a position to REALLY say something about this, they’ll get a serious piece of my mind.

Oh, and because I know some smart-ass will either ask or think this. Yes, I would be saying this if I were published or currently signed with an agent. Don’t believe me? Well, nobody’s perfect.

The Etiology and Treatment of ‘Authoritis’

Authoritis is an unfortunate syndrome, which has only recently begun to receive attention from mental health professionals. It has, however, been in existence for ages and was only considered to be more than merely an ‘inconvenience’, with the invention of the Gutenberg press in 1440. With the dawn of the information age, it is now a recognized syndrome (Gore, 1983).

Those suffering the condition in years gone by were told to “take two aspirin and see if the urge passes (source anon).” Despite a history of clinical neglect, it is estimated that more than half of all books found in brick and mortar stores, were penned by someone suffering some form of Authoritis, also called an ‘author’. According to the DSM V-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), American Psychiatric Association (2009), there are five characteristics required to warrant a proper diagnosis of Authoritis.

  1. Adolescent onset
  2. Cyclic anti-social behavior
  3. Cyclic psychosis; to include hallucinations (auditory and visual)
  4. Obsessive behavior; to include insistence of imaginary creatures called, ‘agents’ and ‘publishers’
  5. God complex; consisting of claims that one has ‘created whole worlds,’ and ‘characters’.

Clinical Features of Authoritis

ADOLESCENT ONSET

Clinicians aren’t certain why the syndrome begins in adolescence. It has been recorded in some children, as early as the age of six—though it is usually a less severe form of the syndrome and studies have shown that 78% of children, who demonstrated three or more characteristics of the disorder, would later develop full blown Authoritis (R.L. Stine, 1990). Typically, adolescents will begin by writing in what is called a ‘diary’: Recent research has shown that diaries are ‘gateway’ perpetuators and may serve by their use as an early indicator of the syndrome. Curiously, some adolescents may throw the term around loosely in reference to their identity, though it has been proven that while children showing signs are more likely to develop the syndrome, only 35% of adolescents claiming the diagnosis, ever go on to develop more than the characteristic God complex.

CYCLIC ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOR

This aspect of Authoritis, despite the hallucinations and psychosis, is the single most prevalent symptom reported by the friends and family of those with the syndrome and is typically what prompts interventions and eventual medical treatment. The author will be perfectly social one moment, only to sink into a depressive anti-social trance. This trance will often find the author sitting in one place for extended periods of time, often more than five or six hours straight, sometimes staring at nothing but a blank sheet of paper or computer screen. Phone calls, visits from friends and family, personal hygiene and health are all abandoned in favor of engaging in a trance or a trance-like state. Any attempt to break the author of this behavior has proven to be detrimental to the concerned friend or relative, and in some cases, fatal.

In the most critical cases, this anti-social behavior becomes what is known as a ‘writer’s block’. Hygiene is said to be at a critical low and will typically be accompanied by crying, cussing and screaming fits.

CYCLIC PSYCHOSIS

For those living with an author this may be the most unsettling characteristic of the syndrome. The author is often seen speaking to themselves, sometimes repeating the same sentence in a variety of tones or voices (King, On Writing, 2001). At times, particularly after a lengthy trance-like state, the author will even use more than one voice and appears to be conducting entire conversations between multiple personalities. Any attempt to question the sanity of this action results in a blank look, followed by aggression or the abrupt closure of the psychosis—which will only resume later with greater intensity. Clinicians recommend, in order to minimize the severity of the episode, that the author be left alone.

OBSESSIVE BEHAVIOR

This is reportedly the most curious behavior of authors. Despite habitual assurance that ‘agents’ and ‘publishers’ do not in fact exist and even if they did, they wouldn’t have any desire to see the author’s penned psychotic episodes; those suffering Authoritis press on and insist that their delusions will prove true by the achievement of ‘publication’ or representation by an ‘agent’ or some other ephemeral creature (Critique Circle, 2006). While half of all books are rumored to have been penned by an author, this is believed to be a classic situation of correlation not equaling causation (Miss Snark, 2005). This shared delusion among authors has even held its own against the adversity of being shown without doubt that books are indeed created and placed in brick and mortar stores by monkeys.

*As a side note, the CLC, or Coalition of Literary Chimps, is outraged by the publication of this article and is threatening libel, claiming that this will project their members into the spotlight and out of obscurity where they have remained since leaving NASA (CLC, 2009).

GOD COMPLEX

This is the easiest symptom to identify, merely by the author’s own need to habitually tell others about the worlds they have created (Facebook, 2006-2009). It manifests very early in the syndrome, and is seen by medical professionals as progressive in nature, sometimes leading to multiple worlds, characters and volumes of written or printed material to validate the author’s creative and God-like abilities. It is said, with no uncertainty, that this characteristic is directly related to the psychotic episodes, though some authors have been found to record words amounting to nothing more interesting or ‘creative’ than the phone book (Left Behind Series, Jenkins & LaHaye, 1999).

Causes of Authoritis

With the official, medical, recognition of Authoritis, there has been a concerted effort at identifying its cause. So far, there are several models to consider:

Sociological Model

Most authors are woefully bereft of gainful employment. Some individuals who were discovered by the monkeys and had their books created, make the incorrect assumption that it was because they are authors and thus subsequently they report that this is their livelihood. This has been shown as unfounded time and time again with little or no impact on author’s claims (Harlequin, 1994). Other authors may be so incapacitated by the syndrome as to be unable to do anything else but write, which leads to poverty, eventual hermitism and in the most severe cases, suicide (Hemingway, 1961).

Biological Model

So far, cross-culture and regional studies have shown that while creativity may run in families, there is thus far no evidence that parents suffering the syndrome pass it on to their children (Tolkien Jr., 2007).

Psychological Model

There are a significant number of psycho-social and psychiatric based theories explaining Authoritis, the most notably being: Organized Schizophrenia. There are several more that claim the syndrome is not of any biological origin at all, but due to a lack of attention in early childhood; evidenced by the presence of imaginary friends and need to color on inappropriate things (Sesame Street, 1987).

Treatment of Authoritis

Treatment of Authoritis has proven most elusive. There have been centers created for the practice of group therapy (Also called MFA’s), and many institutions are offering classes in an attempt to help those suffering the syndrome cope with it .They are usually referenced as ‘English’ degrees, though very little evidence may be found relating their existence to effective management and in some cases may even cause the frequency of the psychotic and anti-social behaviors to increase significantly. They have however gone on to serve as more proof that being an author is not actually required to write books, as many non-author students have gone on to be discovered by the monkeys (Harlequin, 2005).

Prognosis

Prognosis of Authoritis is bleak. Medication has shown absolutely no effect whatsoever on the lessening of the syndrome’s most cumbersome manifestations. Authors can expect, however, a normal life-span. Despite this positive revelation, most authors will write for years or even decades before Alzheimer’s sets in or the syndrome mysteriously disappears. There is said to be some correlation between the loss of ‘agent/publication’ delusions and the remission of Authoritis.

This article was written after reading the brilliant ‘Etiology and Treatment of Childhood’ by Jordan W. Smoller, which you can find here: http://www.pshrink.com/humor/Childhood.html