Goth my Grimm: Go Ahead and Make my Day

artwork by Blender84 c/o Deviantart.com

image by Blender84 c/o pinterest.com

I was looking for some light reading and picked an e-book that boasted a modern gothic spin on my favourite childhood fairy tales. Red Riding Hood as a modern day biker!  Goth my Grimm! What a great concept!  I was severely disappointed to find that it was little more than an adolescent attempt at applying erotica to my favourite childhood fairy tales.  Not only did the book not deliver what it said it would; it was also poorly conceived.

What gets me is that these writers were already riding on the backs of incredible stories and thus in a great position to ride right into another great story.  Gothic fiction is not equivalent to erotica and erotica does not have to be equivalent to cheap and stupid. I am amazed at the use of the term ‘adult’ or ‘mature’ to the two-dimensional story-lines and characters that often make the erotica literature genre.  Intelligence, including emotional intelligence, is way sexier; like all things that take more time … and effort … and imagination to get.

For example, think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula: this is a story where both the erotic and gothic successfully merged but did not beat the story to death.  The story is about a vampire and his human victims, how they strive to exist and survive in the same world and how their natures clash.  The Freudian metaphors in this novel are far from subtle yet the story goes without a single, sexual encounter.  In this novel, the gothic and erotic were better developed because the whole story was better developed.  The erotic scenes or elements actually did something to illustrate or develop the story or characters – not just as a result of oh, somebody hot showing up.

When I read the description of this e-book, I was hoping for a more kick-ass version of the damsel-in-distress archetype of Red Riding Hood, exploring a character who takes a more head-on approach to her path from innocence to maturity, and maybe even a reflection on her own primitive nature.  That could have been very sexy.

Our classic fairy tales do what this fantasy-type fiction should have; compare our strangest and most impossible dreams against what we think we can’t do in our waking life regardless of whether we are emphasizing a specific genre in the telling (erotic, gothic, horror, etc.).  This theory does not work with porn because that is not the purpose of this type of literature.  If I was looking for porn and got a great story, instead, I’d have been just as irritated, right? Yet, this e-book seemed to aim for a hybrid between the two and, I guess, due to lack of focus, it failed.

I firmly believe that even the pulpiest writer is looking to eventually get into his/her ‘own’: the kind of stories that go beyond genre, formula or, in this case, using fiction as a tool.  Because writers are artists, too.

Even as a kid, as much as I liked an entertaining, plot-driven story, it was easy to recognize the difference in the stories that momentarily distracted and the ones I cherished; these stories gave more.  These cherished books weren’t all classics or critically acclaimed but they all showed a writer’s passion. Reading a person’s fiction is like stepping into the back of a person’s head.  Because it’s fiction, I’m not stepping into blood, bones and brains; I’m stepping into the dream of that writer’s best craft: following a clever rabbit down his/her proverbial rabbit-hole.  This is true even in the most formulated genre-fiction, if it is written well.  These are the books that make the genres that other writers chase.

In fact, I think even porn could be literary.  The writer just has to try!  First and foremost, pornographic literature needs to have sex in it.  To give its readership anything else for the sake of a better story would just by annoying.  So, in that case, the best approach would be to start the story right in the act.  Don’t even bother explaining who they are or how they got there.  Cut out the superfluous, I always say.  Dialogue?  Forget that, too.  Let the action speak entirely for itself and develop character and conflict based on how the players physically react to each other and their given environment.  With this concept, a pornographic story can still fulfill its purpose and also provide an incredible stretch for any writer to develop a compelling story with such limitations.

I have heard that the type of erotica that I am criticizing in this blog has made a come-back in the market, bolstering fiction sales where the ‘literary’ kind has not.  I must, therefore, accept that my opinion might not be the popular one.  But, I ask, who cares what way the market is swinging, when, as a writer, you have a choice between making a real connection with your readers or just something you think they’ll buy?  Especially when you are already working off another piece of art?  Even a bad piece of art is better than not trying at all.

© lyw 

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A Creative Burst of Fiction on a Seasoned Baked Potato

I have not written a real bite of fiction in years and I wondered if the ability to make-that-believe had been withered too far.  Everybody, writers or not, should write a little fiction, once in a while.  It’s just good exercise.  However, that can be hard to do if we don’t already practice creativity on a daily basis.  Like physical fitness, the less creative we are, the more inclined we are to be even less.  Why?  Why try something different?  Is that really an efficient use of time?

Ironically, try to stay away from creativity – or fitness – for too long, and sure enough, life will demand that you be more creative – or athletic.  For example, bus charging your way needs you to muster a quick burst of energy.  Or, a boss, partner, or nemesis requires a better, or alternative, way of doing, saying, showing something.  And at these times, we do not want our creativity to hobble out of its dilapidated hobbit-hole and start poking at ideas with a tentative stick.  We want our creativity to spring forth and get its nose and paws into everything; all the while barking, drooling and snarling for the affection and attention of our best ideas.

Can anybody out there describe what it feels like to have a creative breakthrough?  Does it feel something like reinventing the whole world?  A new pair of eyes all of a sudden?  To have awe for something so much that attention and motivation are effortless.  Does the world suddenly seem more awake and colourful, if for a moment?

Imagine doing that every day!  It’d feel great but we’d surely combust.  Getting a great creative buzz, despite how good it feels, can also be very disruptive to a daily life.   Reality needs me to come back to earth, too soon and too fast, and refocus on more daily and routine needs.

However, if we train our creativity regularly, like an athlete trains, we could stay more animated more often and still get our jobs done.  For example, if a couch potato suddenly got up and ran 5K, that potato would be cooked!  Ready for sour cream, chives and a dusting of paprika!  A well-trained athlete, however, might treat a 5K run as a warm-up.  There are creative artists out there that engage themselves this way every day.  (But, I hope that never becomes common-place for them.)

Writing, and reading, fiction is a great tool for flexing creativity.  No matter how short it is, fiction requires pure creativity – even when a writer/reader tries to base fiction entirely on fact.  Fiction requires a new version of how things may seem to the writer/reader and always gives a new pair of goggles to look at the world through by the end of the piece.  I have known this fact since the day I fell in love with fiction.

How great those new pair of googles are depends on the level of passion for the piece and the level in which you let yourself believe in what you write/read.

But how do I start, after being away so long and becoming so creatively conservative and slow?

First, I need to remember some basics.  Fiction is not pulled out of the air.  My stories come from only one source and that is me.  Any research, any fantasy or science fiction and any external inspiration have to first be absorbed by me and my perspective before they can enter a story that I write or interpret through reading.

So, I could write a fiction on anything that I am able to imagine but who wants to write about anything they can imagine?  I should write, or read, about something that I care about, or believe I could/should learn to care about. This provides passion for the story and characters that I am building in my mind.  This makes the experience a lot more personal and challenging to write well.

By comparison, it would be easier to write fiction if the subject didn’t matter to me; that is, if I just wanted to tell an entertaining story.  A writer/reader can still get quite a buzz from this kind of story, too.  Unfortunately, for me, that’s always fallen under the category of why don’t I just write about anything?  And hence, I have never found this type of fiction easier to write.  I think eventually, every writer/reader will wants something more personal and challenging — and still be thoroughly entertained.  A beautiful thing about creativity through fiction is that even if you only set out to spin an entertaining yarn, eventually, your own passion will seep into the story.  Fiction is a great way to learn about yourself; to truly read in between the lines, yours and everybody else’s.

However, there is another important given to writing/reading fiction.  After I pick a subject that I care about or think I can care about, I then need to try to read and write about the subject away from myself – try to accept the subject from the different perspectives, settings and situations that are presented or available.  It seems like an odd thing to do but how else are you going to get new creative perspective on something you care about or think you know all about?  How else is it going to become fiction?

So here is one great example as to why creativity, through fiction, can give us a great burst of energy.  It works on some extreme paradoxes.  I start and base my story entirely on me, I then try to distance it as far away from me as my imagination can take me.  With that distance, so many things can happen.  Down the rabbit hole as they say and – well, you have to try it, to believe it.  Thus, the art of making believe.

© lyw 

image credits:

cat image c/o: http://www.funnycatsite.com/pictures/peeking_out_of_my_boot.htm

baked potato image c/o: http://www.partybluprintsblog.com/party-themes/gilded-baked-potato-bar/

spinning yarn image c/o: http://knaughtyknitter.typepad.com/the_knaughty_knitter/spinning/

Alice in Wonderland rabbit image c/o: http://aliceinwonderland.wikia.com/wiki/File:627x900_1669_White_Rabbit_2d_illustration_alice_in_wonderland_rabbit_fantasy_concept_art_picture_image_digital_art.jpg

Surveying Literary Journals

I was recently asked to survey a Canadian-wide distributed literary journal.  The survey was designed to determine how and how often I read their journal, who I was in terms of their demographic and what I liked and disliked about their journal.

My response reminded me of the various stages and avenues that I take and have taken as a writer who seems destined to always be ‘new.’  The ‘new’ part, though I am not as young as the word makes me sound, is something I have learned to appreciate.  I will always be a student to my art-form.

image c/o Awin Literature

Below is the comments section response that I left with this survey:

Thank you for allowing me to take part in your survey. 

To be honest, I have not been drawn to a literary journal for a long time.   

When I did buy or borrow journals it was to, as advised by the Submission Guidelines, read the journal prior to submission.  Though lucky enough to be published in a few small lit journals as a wee lass, I must admit, I saved these books just to look at my own work, in print, once in a while.  

If I look to enjoy new short fiction and poetry these days, I do searches on the internet and find a wealth of writers who are current, active, connected and free.  Blog-sites have become interesting hubs for writers.  I would rather subscribe to one artist’s journey than to a literary journal.  I find the experience more personal and vital. 

Another great way to connect with new short fiction and poetry, as well as the people who write them, is to join writing groups either locally or virtually, or create your own.  Surprisingly, the last magazine to tickle me with their creative, non-fiction, writing skills was the CFA Magazine for Chartered Financial Analysts.  

If I look for guidelines or instruction on how to improve me as an artist, I look to all art-forms and all kinds of artists to inspire and motivate me.   This is always best when done live and in-person if you can get it that way. 

When I think of writing my own fiction and poetry, I no longer put my hope in literary journals to publish or validate me as a writer.  For me, it is more important to write to write rather than to write to publish.  For that reason, wordpress.com and online self-publishing has helped me continue to write outside the shadow of my solitude and be open to other artists and the public.

Sincerely,

lillian y wong (lyw)

Reading Life of Pi, again

from amazon.ca

It is a pleasure to say that Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi, is one of the few books from a living author that I both enjoyed as entertainment and valued artistically in over a decade.  I am grateful that it was published.  Too often when I walk into a bookstore the fiction tables are full of reprinted classics from dead writers.

It is a good piece of Canadian literature that won its many accolades with humour always at its side.  The truth is, in the aftermath of my English Literature studies, if we are telling stories about humans and it’s not funny in a weird and dark sort of way then my faith in its validity will likely not rise.

I remember warning a friend, who was (is?) an atheist that this book professed to make one believe in God.  She advised me frankly that she had already read the book and though she remained immune, still enjoyed the tale.  The book’s treatment of religion, faith and the literary imagination is athletically academic, really getting the hands, feet and whole body fully immersed in a playground of ideas, twisted and celebrated by the youth and innocence of a boy who just wants to love God and in this ‘… attracting religions the way a dog attracts fleas.’

Quote from Life of Pi, by Yann Martel:

“I’ll be honest about it.  It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics.  Doubt is useful for a while … But we must move on.  To doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

Currently, I am letting my partner read this novel to me.  I didn’t want us to see the film version until he had read the book.  As wonderful as the reviews have been, I already know that the film does not look anything like it did in my mind when I first read it.  I am certain it does not look like it did in yours either, if you read the book prior to seeing the film.  I want this story to look, first, like no other in his mind as well.  Thus is the magic of literature.

I am even particular about the book cover.  I would rather have the older illustrated copy of this book than the reprinted version depicting the film.  Let all book covers be illustrations and leave some part of the space to the reader’s imagination.  Again, as beautiful as the film must be, it cannot compare to the unfolding time, place and happenings that are evoked when we follow the trail of flat, black ink across the off-white pages.