Monthly Archives: September 2011

Notes Of A Storyteller: Distraction Is A Good Thing

Even today, I carry on the struggle between two Seans. One Sean is intense and spends all of his time editing The Kingdom: The Quest. The other Sean is playful, lazy and loves spending time with friends and jamming out to Skrillex remixes of the Black Eyed Peas.

Can that other Sean exist if I call myself a writer? If I’m not taking every spare minute I can to devote to The Kingdom Trilogy, and to my craft in general, am I not cheating myself? Am I not showing complete devotion to what I do?

There’s a scene from Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong that illustrates what I’m thinking about. To make a long story short, a playwright is tricked into staying on board a ship with a filmmaker. While the filmmaker keeps the playwright in conversation,the captain sets sail. By the time the playwright realizes what has happened, the ship is about fifty yards away from the harbor. The next few lines of dialogue go something like this…

Filmmaker: I keep telling you, Jack, there’s no money in theater. That’s why you should stick with film.
Playwright: No Carl, it’s not about the money. I love theater.
Filmmaker: No you don’t. If you really loved it, you would’ve jumped.

Those kind of observations stick with me. All through high school, and now in college, I take time out to do other things. I lift weights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I do English and Film Club. I walk into dorm rooms to say hello. I go to Daily Mass.

I joke sometimes about being a hermit writing a novel, but it’s clear that I don’t act like one. Should I be if I want to a good writer? Should I stop doing all of these other things, and cut everyone out of my life and work on my stories? It wasn’t until recently that I decided for sure that the answer is, “No.”

I want to kick myself, because I should have realized it long ago. Writers try to convey life through words. Through stories, we ultimately seek to display the human condition. How on earth can I display the human condition if I don’t experience for myself? No, I don’t want to be a slave to my art. I won’t cut out the other people in my life. How silly of me.

If you writers are nuerotic like me, and you ever feel guilty about not spending every minute on your WiP, stop. You’re experiencing life when you go out with your friends to the local coffeeshop, instead of tinkering with your latest chapter. Ultimately, you’ll have much more to write about than if you spend your whole life hunched over a laptop.

Oh, and read The Oresteia by Aeschylus sometime. It’s a trilogy of tragic plays, and they are more than worth your time. Have a wonderful weekend.

The Storyteller Reports: Banned Books Week, and Stories That Are Worth Telling

Happy Wednesday. As always, for those of you who who aren’t hopelessly addicted yet, I’m back with my weekly storytelling news/commentary, and my storyteller of the week. Read to your heart’s content!

RANT OF THE WEEK: It’s Banned Books Week…

… and I am laughing my rear end off.

All across America, libraries are bravely taking a stand and honoring those books that dared to challenge social norms, scare traditional parents, and anger those stupid Bible-thumping Christian lunatics*. Even to this day, we carry on the valiant fight against ideological oppression, as indicated by a recent scandal in a Missouri library, and a glorious triumph in Massachusetts.

It’s touching, and in fact it would make me cry if it wasn’t for the fact that censorship has no more meaning in 21st-century America. I publish e-books. I know what the Internet’s capable of. You can’t control what’s on there. I can guarantee that with the click of a button, kids can find much more disgusting stories than the toilet passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses. The times they are a-changin’. At least the MPAA still makes sure that no disturbing movies get rated PG-13…

The Joker from The Dark Knight (2008)

… never mind.

All jokes aside, there’s no point to celebrating banned books when most media in the world don’t even know what the term “banned” is. As author Sarah Ockler puts it…

“In a country where the daily news media spotlight more violent, sexualised and sensationalised images than a teenager could ever find in the school library, does anyone truly believe that forcing students to ask parents to check out their books is appropriate? We don’t prepare teens for coping with life’s challenges by hiding information or pretending that the issues explored in books don’t exist. Grief, death, war, sex, heartbreak, loss – these things happen in life. By this time next year, some of these students could be serving on the front lines in Afghanistan. Yet they need mum’s permission to check out a library book?”

Last week, I published a short story with a lot of nastiness. Torthan the freedom fighter goes on a quest for vengeance, and at every step he leaves a trail of blood and corpses. I didn’t try to make it gratuitous, but I didn’t pull any punches either. Neither did Mel Gibson or Flannery O’Connor, but they convey much more profound things about the human race than any cliche “feel-good” story.

Now that censorship is no longer a problem, let’s focus on celebrating the stories that are truly worth retelling.

*= As a Roman Catholic, I feel compelled to mention that I use this term in sarcasm. For the record, J.R.R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor were both stupid Bible-thumping Christian fanatics. This does not seem to have had a detrimental effect on their literature.

STORYTELLER OF THE WEEK

J.C. Martin, please stand and be recognized.

When I went blog-hunting at the start of this summer, J.C. Martin’s “Fighter Writer” site was one of the first destinations I found. J.C. was my introduction to indie literature. She had a free short story on Smashwords called “A Thousand Tears”. When I finished the last page, I leaned back and blinked a couple of times.

“Whoa,” I said, “I need to step up my game.”

“A Thousand Tears” astounded me. It remains the most memorable short I have read with nameless characters. When J.C. announced a full-length novel called Oracle, I paid attention. You should too. She has her feet in several projects right now- including the most creative blogfest I have ever seen in my life. Find out what she’s up to at her official site.*

Especially considering this Banned Books Week nonsense, it’s a relief to see writers like her practicing their craft. Why celebrate a fight that has been won already when you can celebrate stories like “A Thousand Tears”? There’s a deep literary theme in that story, the progression of which is nothing short of enlightening to witness.

My fellow storytellers, let historians deal with the past. Let us not ignore history, but let us not lose ourselves in it either. Let us join J.C. at the tip of the spear, and write some new meaningful tales for a new generation.

Get “A Thousand Tears” for free from SmashwordsApple or Kobo. And even if you don’t do that, please give her a storyteller’s salute.

*= Some of her projects involve erotica. If you are opposed to this genre, there are references to it on her official website.

Monday Meditations: A Nightmare

This week we descend into the frightening twists and turns of our our own nightmares… as conveyed by a Top 40 artist.

SONG OF THE WEEK

“Day N Nite (Nightmare)” by Kid Cudi

Yes. It’s a Top 40 hit. It also happens to be one of the most haunting, artistic Top 40 hits I have ever heard in my life. Hear the unsettling beats in the background, and the hypnotic lyrics, and tell me that this isn’t a masterpiece. Music video only makes it more spooky.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Here are the lyrics for “Day N Nite”…

“[Kid Cudi:]
Day and night (what, what)
I toss and turn, I keep stressing my mind, mind (what, what)
I look for peace but see I don’t attain (what, what)
What I need for keeps this silly game we play, play
Now look at this (what, what)
Madness the magnet keeps attracting me, me (what, what)
I try to run but see I’m not that fast (what, what)
I think I’m first but surely finish last, last

[Chorus:]
’cause day and night
The lonely stoner seems to free his mind at night
He’s all alone through the day and night
The lonely loner seems to free his mind at night (at, at, at night)
Day and night
The lonely stoner seems to free his mind at night
He’s all alone, some things will never change (never change)
The lonely loner seems to free his mind at night (at, at, at night)

[Kid Cudi:]
Hold the phone (what, what)
The lonely stoner, Mr. Solo Dolo (what, what)
He’s on the move can’t seem to shake the shade (what, what)
Within his dreams he sees the life he made, made
The pain is deep (what, what)
A silent sleeper you won’t hear a peep, peep (what, what)
The girl he wants don’t see no one into (what, what)
It seems the feelings that she had are through, through

[Chorus]

[Kid Cudi:]
Slow-mo (what, what)
When the temple slows up and creates that new, new (what, what)
He seems alive though he is feeling blue (what, what)
The sun is shining man he’s super cool, cool
The lonely nights (what, what)
They fade away he slips into his white Nikes (what, what)
He smokes a clip and then he’s on the way (what, what)
To free his mind in search of,
To free his mind in search of,
To free his mind in search of,

[Chorus]

At, at, at night…”

Notes Of A Storyteller: Would You Date A She-Wolf?

Well, would you?

I had to find an answer two summers ago. I was tinkering with the second half of The Kingdom: The Quest, looking for a way to ratchet up tension between Arman and his friends. I pondered it for a while. Out of the blue came an idea. What if somebody fell in love with a werewolf?

The idea stunned me, but it fit perfectly. It was just crazy enough to work. So I included it. One of Arman’s friends, during the second half of The Kingdom: The Quest, is smitten by a female werewolf. This werewolf tried to kill everybody just a few chapters before the love affair begins.

I was rejoicing until my inner voice spoke up.

“Hey, Sean, old buddy, old pal. You know that what you have here is a paranormal romance, right?”

“Ummm… no. I guess it is.”

“Have you ever read any paranormal romance?”

“Well, no, but how hard could it be? I mean, the most popular examples are Twilight and True Blood. When I hear people talk about them, I don’t hear any talk about the plot. I hear them talking about sexy vampires.”

“Your point?”

“I’m not going to read them. I’m going to one-up them. I’m going to take a serious examination. Forget those adolescent fantasies! What really would happen if a man and a monster fell in love? What are the ramifications? How would this be looked at from a traditional fantasy perspective? What can I play with here?”

At that point I shoved away my inner voice and got to work. I didn’t have time to read those silly paranormal romances! I had a novel to write!

Guess who’s feeling stupid now. In about a month, The Kingdom: The Quest goes out to the world, and I haven’t done my research. Now I don’t have the time I had those two summers ago. I’m studying at Benedictine College and putting the final touches on The Quest. The only reading I’ll be doing for the next few months will be for literature and Latin class.

Which is a pity, because I’ve realized that there may be much more to the P.R. genre than I thought. Ever since I joined Twitter in May, I’ve run into paranormal authors left and right. Authors like Jami Gold have blown me away with insightful blog posts about writing. As soon as I have adequate free time, I want to read their books and get to know the genre a little better.

For now, though, I must go by gut. After a lot of thinking about my paranormal romance subplot, I made some conclusions. I thought I’d share them because, having read no paranormal romances, I don’t know how most books approach them. This could mean I have different takes on the genre. Consider this an outsider’s comments on paranormal romance (and a preview of how it’s going to look in the second half of The Kingdom: The Quest).

  1. In answer to the titular question, I think I would date a werewolf. If she truly had good left in her, and I thought I could help her, I would. I would not run if a spark developed between us. I would stay by her, even if everyone else persecuted me. The only thing that would make me leave her was her rejection or her ultimate choice to pursue evil.
  2. A werewolf isn’t always monstrous. As a human, there’s no telling what he/she will look like. My werewolf is a beautiful young woman. Even without fur and fangs, it’s easy for a man to forget the dark side of a woman when she’s pretty and she has a smile on her face. It’s easier to fall into paranormal love than the average hero (or heroine) might think.
  3. On the flip side, there has to be something more than erotic appeal. There has to be an emotional connection. Without that, I wind up writing a testosterone-laced fantasy. I don’t believe in that. Therefore, for my romance, I found a connection in pity. Arman’s friend wants to help the female werewolf, who is consumed by guilt (see #4).
  4. I think there must also be some serious examination over whether this sort of love is natural. The operative phrase here, after all, is paranormal romance. That implies a love that is not quite normal. Is it moral? Is it healthy? Is it acceptable? Is it even biologically possible if consummated?
  5. In Arman’s world, werewolves are evil. They are monsters originally created by the Nameless One. They transmit the curse by bite. My werewolf didn’t choose to become one, but she did choose to follow the werewolves that bit her. She’s killed men before. She can’t stop herself from killing if she transforms. The most important theme I try to is explore how she strives for goodness despite this, and how she is tortured by guilt for what she has and has not done. How guilty should she be in the end?
  6. On that note, there has to be anger from the other characters when they find out about the romance. Especially in a fantasy with traditional values like mine, werewolf romance is another phrase for “sleeping with the enemy”. It’s almost a perversion. For at least one character, it is perversion. I find the tension between all the characters to be extremely important.
  7. Most importantly, I could not settle this romance without finding answers to these questions. If I could not find a happy ending that answered these questions, then I had to break up the romance and maybe even kill one or both of the characters off. Justice must be served. If my character winds up giving himself to the Nameless One in order to love this werewolf, he becomes an enemy and he must be stopped. I would cheapen the story if I let him be happy just because he’s in love.
That’s what this ignoramus has to say on the subject. Am I wrong? Am I right? Has somebody already come up with these conclusions? Would you date a werewolf? Tell me what you think.

The Storyteller Reports: A Great Idea and A Storytelling Legend

Happy Wednesday. You’ve made it through half of the week. You deserve this. Enjoy! I hit across the subject for the Rant of the Week just half an hour, and I am positively thrilled by it!

RANT OF THE WEEK: Could Science Fiction Impact More Than Fiction?

We’re going across the pond for this. I was hunting for news about storytelling, and after the deluge of headlines about reality stars writing bad books, I found an article in The Telegraph about science fiction television being a way to rectify Britain’s lack of scientists, written by Adrian Hon.

This American was intrigued. He read the whole thing, and decided that he was even more intrigued. My country has similar problems with science. Children in public schools across my nation can’t keep up with other nations in math and science test scores. It’s been a source of public debate and embarrassment for years. Nobody seems to have realized that before we get a solution, we need a serious definition of “education”, but that’s for another post.

For now, let me say this. I believe that Mr. Hon makes a brilliant point. In essence, he says that sci-fi shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who are the perfect inspiration for encouraging new scientists, just as the Apollo moon missions inspired kids in the 1960s.

Of course he’s right! Storytelling is a powerful thing. Plato despised it, but even he acknowledged that poetry has a powerful effect on people. It is one of thebest ways to convey the meaning of things. Why do you think myths and propaganda are so powerful?

I am in no way supporting propaganda. But I second Mr. Hon in saying that original, compelling sci-fi stories will get kids’ attention. If kids get hooked on it, at least a few of them must find interest in science. I’m an English undergraduate, myself, but unlike Nathaniel Hawthorne I have profound respect for science and its contributions to our race.

To understand the workings of the world is a noble thing. I hope this idea takes fruit, and manifests in more quality sci-fi both in America and England. Not violent fare like Fringe, but something more acceptable (and just as exciting). It just might light a spark in some student that hundreds of hours of dry, stale classes have failed to provide.

STORYTELLER OF THE WEEK: John Milton

The man you are about to meet might be the most awesome poet of all time.

Say hello to John Milton.

When I first learned about this man in my British Literature class, I was flabbergasted. First off, this guy put undergraduates like me to shame. As a young man, he not only learned Latin, Greek and Hebrew, but wrote poetry in all three languages. He loved Homer, Virgil and Edmund Spenser, and he followed Virgil’s path of writing pastoral poetry (happy, idyllic descriptions) and then moving on to epic poetry.

Johnny Boy was ambitious. He started looking for a suitable subject for an epic poem decidated to England, his native country. He looked at King Arthur, but Spenser touches on that in Book I of The Faerie Queene. So Milton looked for something else.

In the end, he picked the Fall of Man. He went through the rise of Cromwell and all the turmoil that went with it; it’s curious that after all that, he started writing his most famous work, Paradise Lost. I read it, and it’s amazing. His Satan is one of the most fasicnating characters I’ve ever met.

One more little tidbit. Milton wrote the whole poem in his head. I forgot to tell you he was blind when he wrote Paradise Lost. Well, he did up the whole thing and dictated it to friends. Then he revised it (IN HIS HEAD!) to fit a 12-book format for a proper epic poem.

Wow. This storyteller is my hero and my role model. Please salute him this day, and if you ever feel like storytelling is hard work… think of him.

Monday Meditations: Villain

I’m in a villainous mood today. Maybe it’s because my T-shirt is black and has swords on it. Maybe it’s because I hate sunshine. Maybe it’s because Die By The Sword got its first review and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Whatever reason it came, it came, and I want to spread it to you. Get your villain on.

SONG OF THE WEEK

“Palladio” by Escala

Every aspiring James Bond villain wishes they could copyright this as their theme song.

“Son of the Morning” by Oh, Sleeper

Bwahahaha. If you thought Ozzy or Metallica had your playlist of doom taken care of, you better have another thought coming. This is a metal song written from the POV of Satan himself. And it is gut-wrenchingly terrifying.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Kings and pawns, marshal… emperors and fools.”

The Count of Monte Cristo, 2002

“Better to reign in Hell, then to serve in Heaven.”

John Milton (Paradise Lost)

Notes Of A Storyteller: Love Is Not A Victory March, And Neither Is Inspiration

When I started writing The Kingdom: The Quest, I was a teenager, and I had a teenage sort of imagination. What brought me to The Kingdom Trilogy was the scale of it. The plotlines in my head were impossibly huge, and they played in my head every day like fireworks. I had to put it on the page. So I did.

The day I started writing The Kingdom: The Quest, I made a great ceremony out of it. I had my family’s “study room” all to myself: a white-walled, wooden-floored cell packed with bookshelves and a table. There was a computer on that table, and I walked up to it with the gravity of a priest about to sacrifice a ram.

Remember that grandiose music from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring? It played in my head as I sat down and opened up Microsoft Word 2003. I paused to savor the moment. It was almost sacred. Then, almost of their own accord, my fingers fell to the keyboard and I began to write. I did it slowly, basking in the glow of my fantasies, and trying to sound as important as possible.

Want to know a secret? Three years later, I threw away every word I wrote that day, and in doing that I learned one of the most important things I know about writing.

There is neither romance nor glory in writing a novel until you finish it. Until then, you must roll your sleeves up. Write ravenously. Write whenever you can, however you can. Play lines in your head until you can find a napkin to scribble them down. Ceremony and self-importance will only slow you down. You can’t savor anything and risk losing another big thought.

Not until I moved towards that attitude did I begin to craft a real story. I started questioning my plot and my characters. Vertaen, one of Arman’s companions, went from a cliche gruff mentor to a charismatic bodyguard who is insufferably proud of his men. To make that change, I didn’t try to set the mood, or wait for the right inspirational moment to sweep me off my feet. I racked my brains about Vertaen’s character endlessly. I sweated, I grunted and I finally squeezed out something that I was happy with.

Dozens of writers have ranted about the day-to-day punishment of writing, and I’m not adding anything to that now. What I am saying is that they are not ignoring the beauty of writing by any means. In fact, they are being more respectful to it.

You don’t have to put yourself in the right moment to write something wonderful. In fact, if that’s your priority at all, you don’t understand writing. Just do it! You don’t take a deep breath before digging a ditch, do you? Of course not! You jab your shovel in and out of the ground until you have a neat, orderly ditch.

Writing demands the same kind of work. If you hold back anything trying to perfect your piece, you will regret it. You will see something in the final product that you know you could fixed. You’ll have a sentence you wish you had rearranged. A semi-colon where you could have put a period to make your words sound better. In these details, we learn who is a true writer and who is playing pretend.

Ponder that today.