How I got into Stephen King

I don’t like all Stephen King books but I can’t deny he is a master of the horror genre. And the books of his that I do like, I like because they entertain me as a reader, not a writer. I get transported into that world and I don’t want to leave because there’s something there in the terror that feels like home.

So when I was a kid, my mom went to Pennsylvania for a conference or something and first I got scared because I didn’t hear Pennsylvania, I heard Transylvania and I thought Dracula was going to kill her. I was corrected rather quickly about that before I could realize that if Dracula “killed” her she could turn into a vampire and have a pretty cool life after that.

But then after we dropped her off at the airport my dad said something about how her plane might crash, a possibility that had never popped into my head before even though I had my first plane ride when I was 3, and when we got home he put on The Langoliers.

And I fucking loved it.

I loved the creepy abandoned airport, I love how the characters could pick through other people’s stuff and explore things that seemed ordinary but were really out of the ordinary.

I loved the little girl, I wanted to be her. I loved the tough Australian guy, I wanted to marry him and I was sad when he died. I loved the pilot and his bravery flying the plane through the rip in reality knowing that if he fucked it up they would all die. I even liked the guy who ripped up paper, even though he was also kinda creepy. And I felt kinda bad that he was messed up. But I also loved it when the Langoliers ate him.

I could go on and on about those characters. I think it’s one of the few stories where I like every single character, which doesn’t happen often.

I hot-glued cotton balls to a rock and drew teeth on it. I am not artistic. It was an albino langolier. Whatever.

I thought those monsters were fucking adorable. And if you think about it, knowing that a toothy, round monster thing eats the past is kind of comforting because everything embarrassing or humiliating that ever happened to you is, technically, gone now.

And that’s how I got into Stephen King.

Character Consciousness

This is an example of one of the ways I think up characters:

Me: (recording poems for my audiobook)

Icharus: I want to be a character now.

Me: But you already are.

Icharus: In a book.

Me: …what?

Icharus: I want to be in a book. I didn’t die when I fell. And I love Orpheus.

Me: You do? Ok just hang on a–

Icharus: And I want my book to be like every James Baldwin novel but with more sex.

Me: I don’t know if I can be that brutal.

Icharus: And it’s going to be a trilogy.

Me: Really?

Icharus: Yep.

Me: Well you’ll have to get in line behind Regina, all the Echos, Helen, and everybody else.

Icharus: Did I mention I love Orpheus? And maybe one of the gods too. Apollo could be very metaphorical.

Me: Take a number and get in line!

Icharus: I really, really want a book-trilogy.

Me: You’ll get one just shut up and let me work!

Icharus: I don’t trust you.

Me: It’ll happen! You’re in the queue. I promise!

Icharus: You’re going to have to do a lot of research. Geography is really important.

Me: I know!

Icharus: …maybe Achilles…

Me: Don’t push it.

*

And on and on it went and that is how I made the decision to eventually write a gay romance. A character popped into my head that wouldn’t shut up. But really this character has been in my head since 2012 and didn’t find his voice until day before yesterday. Before that he was a shadowy idea floating around in my brain meat.

It happened during a writing exercise I did back in grad school (see how long ago). The exercise was to look at a book cover and write the synopsis on the back. No influence from the real synopsis or any other information from the book. Just write something based off the cover. You should try it, it’s super fun.

When I read my little blurb the girl sitting at the table directly across from me lit up with a smile and after class she told me I had to write that character, that his voice was so clear to her.

At the time I wasn’t writing fiction but I thought she was super nice to say so, so I put the suggestion away and now almost 7, count em, 7 years later here’s that voice again.

But this time I am writing fiction and I don’t want to tell him to go away. So I guess I’m adding another project to my publication schedule.

*

How do your characters come to you?

Or, if you’re a poet, how do poems happen?

Writing Advice #12

DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF

If you want to make yourself a better writer, in my opinion, one of the best things to do is:

DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF

If you have the thought: I can’t write (insert thing here).

If you have the thought: I don’t want to write (insert thing here).

Take that thought and throw it away. Write that thing. You may not like the thing you’ve written when you’re done, you may not ever publish it or let anyone else read it, but you will be able to learn something through the process of writing it.

If you only write novels, try writing a short story or a poem, see where it gets you.

If you only write poetry try writing fiction, or just a paragraph of prose. See what happens. You can turn it into a poem later if you really, really hate it.

Here’s an example of how this worked for me:

Say you have a problem with endings, I certainly do. I have so much trouble figuring out how to end big writing projects. Whether its a short story or a novel–yes a short story is big for me–I have problems.

But I don’t have problems ending micro-fiction or ending poems. So I looked at how I wrote the endings to poems, what I was feeling/thinking about when I came to the end of the poem and tried applying that to ending a short story. And then I had the ending. And I was more satisfied with it than I thought I would be.

I just looked at the concept of “the end” in a different way and I gained new insight into how I make endings happen.

If you’re one of those people who thinks: why should I write poetry when I’m only going to be a published novelist or vice versa. Trying something different, if you’re open to it, or looking at something from a different angle will expand your brain.

Writing other things is PRACTICE. If you don’t practice, you don’t grow. If you don’t experiment you won’t ever become a better writer.

So go write. All the things.

DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF

Another example:

I hate writing sonnets and rhyming poems but I still try my hand at writing them. And they are terrible. And I hate figuring out how to calculate meter. Meter hurts my brain. But every so often I do it anyway because I don’t want to limit myself.

Follow up question:

What are some of the things that you hate to write or are opposed to write?

Imaginary Friends

Do you have one?

Did you have one?

If you’re a writer, are your characters your imaginary friends?

Today I binge watched all of Sci Fi’s Happy on Netflix and it made me think a lot about the distinct lack of imaginary friends in my life.

I never made up a taking animal or another human that only I could see and interact with. I’ve always felt slightly less human because of that. I feel like everyone who’s truly creative had an imaginary friend somewhere in their childhood, which cuts me out of the True Creative category.

I did have a stuffed rabbit named Fuzzy in elementary school and later a stuffed frog named Filbert that I had all through high school and college. Filbert was more of an emotional support plushie, a therapeutic tool, while Fuzzy was my BFF.

Somewhere in first grade Fuzzy disappeared. I don’t know if I lost him at school or if my father threw him away because I was too old to be so attached to a stuffed animal or whatever. But with Fuzzy gone I was devastated.

At this point you may be wondering if I had any real friends growing up. The answer is not really. There were a few people but we only interacted at school or through school related activities, I never kept up with them and they never kept up with me once we changed schools.

So in a sense I made my own friends but I used inanimate objects to build my stories and characters upon. I never invented a creature out of thin air, from scratch until I started seriously writing fiction. But I don’t see my characters walking around helping me kill bad guys or cheat at poker. And even though my characters do talk to me it’s only in the context of their stories, they don’t exist in this world with me.

I kinda wish they did, it might make writing easier.

To anyone reading this: what’s your experience with imaginary friends? I’d love to know your thoughts on the subject. And if you’ve seen Happy and if you liked it. I personally thought it was amazing.

Going to Work

Mr. J (opens the door to go to work): Hey there’s a new cat outside!

(We live in an apartment complex with lots of stray cats.)

Me: Yeah.

Mr. J: Yeah!

Me: Yeah (Not the happy, enthusiastic “yeah” but the uncomfortable, defeated “yeah” of a person who all cats know will do anything for them and will ultimately suffer the displeasure of her inside feline overlords because the outside cat made big eyes at her yesterday and she doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to go without paying homage to the outside cat by giving him/her the inside feline overlords’ treats. And once they find out I’m giving an outside cat treats there will be HELL TO PAY!)

Me (again): Yeah.

Aubade for What is Gone

She walks the morning alone.

I want to tell her

serenity

is not some myth-

ical beast she must catch

and kill. Blood

and hearts are not torn and slurped up

on a dare, for bargains

rewards, or love. Fate

doesn’t play well with others

but she does play

with hearts that need breaking.

I want to tell her

Fate will be her best friend

when there is no one

to drink with

but her own weeping

shadow. And when

she walks the morning alone

the concrete crumbles

and the sun

breaks

every

nightmare.

*

This poem first appeared in Lupercalia.

Cat=Food

Disclaimer: Mr. J loves my cats. But he came into my life many years after they did. They were here first. They don’t understand why he’s here now. They hate him. He does not understand why they hate him, or rather he does but he doesn’t care. Also, we are both vulgar people and swear at our pets just as much as they swear at us in cat language. No cat feelings or human feelings were harmed.

We were watching Master Chef.

Me: Describe the spirit of Tiny Rick if he were food.

Mr. J: A really good stew that you crack a raw egg all over at the last minute.

Me: What?

Mr. J: Because he sneezes all over everything.

Me: Okay, what about Leela?

Mr. J: Tiramisu but you dumped the entire jar of cinnamon over it.

Me: Why?

Mr. J: Because the core is good but if you scrape away the top it’s just overwhelming and slightly annoying.

Me: Okay, Titian?

Mr. J: Chocolate pudding. Because she’s a fat piece of shit and slightly runny.

Note: Titain weighs 18.5 lbs. which is big for an American shorthair.