The OTHER.

I was randomly goofing off last night after dinner with a whiskey tumbler full of rum and my Final Fantasy Record Keeper game grinding through an orb dungeon when a friend who some of you know shared this piece with me. I feel compelled to point it out here and then run off down the street on my own little tangent because I don’t want to comment too heavily on it or attempt to summarize out of respect for the piece as is.

As it happens, Kathryn’s blog is the one I mention on my About page as having been instrumental in bringing about this blog’s existence. Maybe one day I’ll get around to adding a blog roll to my rather Spartan (yup, went there) little site someday to give a more proper and permanent link to it and the works of other friends and random Internet-folk I find amusing or interesting. For now, though, just enjoy it, god damn you!

Anyway, while I enjoyed the piece and the focus of it, I’m always looking at the underlying themes in the stuff I read and what drives a story or article and what I can reach my hand into and rip out, turn inside-out, and scatter around like a lunatic painting on the wall with his own feces, a serial killer furnishing his home with lovely human skin lampshades, or an Elder Thing ripping your sanity to shreds by simply intersecting with your reality at a non-Euclidean angle for a moment.

I’m almost certain this means I am irrevocably insane, and entirely certain that doesn’t bother me.

I’m a horror fan. Stephen King’s It was my initiatory rite into the world of adult literature, and reading it at a time when I was crossing that threshold from childhood to young-adulthood – just like the book’s main cast – pretty much shaped the entire course of my literary wanderings from that point on. There was no point in anything else for me. I had no desire to read about knights and princesses, no room for tales of valor and war, and no use for the teen-angst standards of the day.

I needed the fantastic. I craved the weird and the scary. I lived for Halloween when for just one night I could get away with unleashing the horrors King had wrought upon my psyche onto the rest of the world. It was glorious.

Mind you, I wasn’t one of the creepy goth kids. I didn’t wander around in black t-shirts with black metal bands emblazoned on them crying for attention or inflicting my inner demons on everyone else. I didn’t need to. I got all the horror I needed in my life right there on the pages of It, The Shining, Tommyknockers, and Cujo.

Horror fiction was the release valve on all the daily horrors of being a teenage boy in a tiny mid-west town. It was horror, experienced almost exclusively through King and Lovecraft, that taught me man’s most valuable and detrimental qualities are one and the same.

Fear.

Fear drives us in all things, and I hardly need to go into that particular truth at great length. Fear is an evolutionary advantage that drives not only mankind but every living creature with a brain big enough to process the chemicals necessary to generate fear. Fear tells us, “Hey, moron, run from that thing with blood dripping from its teeth,” and drives us to build shelter against the roaming predators that could snatch our babies in the night and feast on the gloriously soft and un-furred flesh of our awkward bodies.

Even the most innocuous of activities can be tied back to fear in the healthy-for-us sense. We fear starving to death because once upon a time our ancestors’ ancestors’ ancestor starved to death and the surviving members of the species saw how fucking awful, painful, and scary that was and ever since we’ve done whatever we had to to make sure that doesn’t happen to us. It’s lead to some interesting inventions and contrivances along the way.

We fear what others will say about the stretch marks on our asses, or the smell of our various fluids and gases, so we wear pants and bathe – and in doing so prevent frostbite and a wide array of infectious and fungal diseases. Some fear is quite good for you, indeed!

But then there’s the OTHER fear, and I mean that quite literally: Fear of the Other. It’s that fear we have of people and things not like ourselves. Sometimes, if that Other is a slavering monster with bloody fangs and a penchant for human flesh, or a semi-terrestrial entity from the void with tentacles that spread madness with their touch, that fear of The Other is perfectly acceptable and absolutely should be listened to.

More and more in the modern world, though, where flesh-eating monsters are less of a worry than they used to be, fear of The Other is turned on less deserving targets. Constructs of “race” and what that word actually means come to mind as we see most frequently even today, but I wander alone through long nights of weirdness and see other Others moving into the forefront as well.

Take for instance the current trend in cable television programming. Where once channels like History and Discovery were actually about… history, and discoveries, and devoted hours upon hours to documentaries about anything they deemed we might find interesting, now we see an endless string of Shark Weeks capitalizing on our fear of fish with teeth and geologists pretending they know historical truths; preying on our fear of education and common sense.

Capitalizing on an undereducated public, these networks and others have been steadily shifting away from droning documentaries by actual experts in favor of the sensational bullshit of conspiracy theorists and woo-peddlers of all shapes and sizes. We can even expand this into the countless ghost and bigfoot hunting shows which often portray crackpots who spend too much time in the woods as experts in things of entirely unsubstantiated reality.

The Average Joe Jack-off has replaced the serious academic as the leading voice in information dissemination across the dial, and disturbingly they often push an actual agenda of resisting the academic establishment or decrying educated people in specialist fields (like archaeologists, historians, physicists, astronomers, and even mathematicians!) as part of an ever-expanding web of conspiracy set in place to do nothing but lie to the common man about everything under the sun to keep them ignorant of the “truth” about the world around them.

What that truth is, however, depends entirely on the woo-peddler of the week. It could be that the universe is a Matrix-like hologram, it could be that aliens abduct everyone nightly and our dreams are hallucinations put there to keep us from knowing about the probes in our asses and the hybridization of humanity, or it could be that a single group of people (take your pick, it’s either the Illuminati – which was a Bavarian flash-in-the-pan for a decade in the 18th century, the Freemasons, or the Knights Templar these days) runs the entire world and all governments are really their puppets.

Regardless, these heroes-of-the-common-man know the truth, and the truth is that anyone who isn’t them is against them. My favorite right now is Scott Wolter. That guy is dumber than the rocks he’s supposed to be an expert on, but he’s now had two shows on History about his Knights Templar wet dreams that are almost entirely built around the premise that the history we’ve all been taught growing up is a lie. This is declared in the actual title sequence for the show. This geologist will save us from our false history, while conveniently ignoring the fact he’s so bad at geology he once misrepresented a rock he sold as a rare Lake Superior Agate (worth thousands) when it was in fact a Brazil Agate worth significantly less and was sued and found in the wrong and thus demonstrates his own lack of expertise in his own field of expertise; so why the fuck should we trust this guy?

Oh, because he’s on TV and he says academics are liars, that’s why.

This particular fear of The Other plays very specifically to The Other being “anyone who could afford to go to college and was successful in obtaining multiple stages of degrees in their field”. To the audience of under-educated and ill-informed individuals who did not go to college for any number of reasons or perhaps simply lack the resources and skills necessary to discern what is credible information and what is the mad raving of an idiot trying to feel important, the educated and well-informed are an Other of such exceeding strangeness that they must, in fact, be hideous monsters perverting the truth in layers of technical language and a vocabulary that expands beyond two-syllable words.

Witness, too, the case of one Michael Cremo. Cremo has made his living selling the notion that one does not have to go to college at all to be an expert in archeology. In fact, if you listen to a Cremo interview and aren’t entirely put off by the fact the man can’t even get through a sentence in an intelligible manner and has the delivery cadence of a four-year-old pushing a wagon full of rocks uphill you’ll soon learn that he actually claims dropping out of college and choosing instead to blindly accept “wisdom traditions” (in Cremo’s case, Hindu mythology) as an equal path to higher education was a GOOD thing!

Sure, we can argue all day about the accessibility of higher learning institutions to the common man, or we could argue about how woefully unprepared the average high school student really is for such higher learning, or we could go on at length about the rising cost of tuition, but those would be actual arguments about education and educational reform that might have some fucking substance. These bottom-feeders running rampant through the pool are arguing nothing more than “academics are wrong, and professors are protecting the party-line of history for the sake of maintaining their tenure in a world run by the NWO”.

Sometimes I wish the NWO really were in charge. Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash would book themselves more airtime than these morons, and at least the “it’s just entertainment” argument would hold water.

“But Clint,” you ask, “what the fuck does this have to do with the article in question?!”

Probably nothing. But I’m a writer. I see a good prompt and I run with it and fear happens to be on of my favorite subjects.

So! Happy Halloween!

I was going to strap a playing card under my sleeve in my usual stand-by “degenerate gambler” costume, but I think this year I’ll just terrify the masses with a stunning intellect and informed opinions. It seems so much more effective, and doesn’t take near as much preparation as the chainsaw-murderer-with-real-chainsaw costume I did in junior high.

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Building The City

I spent the few days since my last post in a near-constant state of distraction, but not for any reason one might have known to look at me.

Sure, I had plenty to do in that time; including considering how this weekend’s little jaunt to a car show might go. But really, the predominant thought in my head was simple; the next post I make on my blog will be #50.

Yeah. All you people I talk to all day and see and spend time with who thought you were so important? Hah! My career (or hopeful one) could hinge on how I spend the 50th post for this blog, so fuck you.

Ok, not really. I love you all dearly, but I really do have to focus on writing more than I have been and on a blog that’s supposed to be the thing that keeps me writing, the 50th post seems like a mile marker I simply have to take a little more seriously than the usual daily-bullshit post or some half-baked plan to write stories centered around an iPhone game.

I really have been thinking about this one all day, though. I needed the distraction to keep me sane in the midst of such god awful musical selections (Frank Sucknatra and Lynyrd Skynyrd back to back? Seriously?) and wanton displays of redneckery. What else was I going to do but find a dark corner to be antisocial and plot? C’mon. I’m the villain, right?

Somewhere between the backwoods drives (because Google maps decided that was quicker than the straight-shot highway half a mile from my front door), the realization that Ohio’s terrain is abysmally utilized to create the most god-awful roadways known to man, and the knowledge that even the smallest towns around here are more gentrified than anything I’m used to in the Southeast Iowa/Western Illinois stretch of land around the Mighty Mississippi, I hit on this idea that maybe I’d spend a little time talking about home.

Add to that the knowledge I’ve spent ungodly amounts of time building areas for Prophecies of the Pattern lately (just finished the third in two months, starting the fourth as I write this) and considering the entire world-building process as a result, AND compound that with the knowledge I haven’t spoken much of my novel beyond vague references, AND the fact I’ve actually been reading Ana Spoke’s novel because she was gracious enough to provide a free promotional copy incentive this weekend and it’s got me in the novel-talking mood again, AND the fact that this is the most fantastically run-on sentence ever… I figured I’d just meld all that bullshit into one giant fucking post to celebrate the fact that this is indeed the 50th post.

I mean, shit, I’ve barely even started this post and it’s already 500 words before I get to the actual goddamn point! How fortunate for all of you.

So, here’s the thing. I like it here in Ohio. It’s not what I’m used to at all, it’s a completely strange area when compared to what I’m used to, there are a lot more people and only five who aren’t complete fucking strangers. In a way it’s refreshing. It’s a blank slate, and I needed that, but the problem with blank slates is finding a way to fill them up again. To write the story that goes on that slate. To draw the picture and define the data that slate contains.

I don’t have that problem in Southeast Iowa. Thanks to a misspent youth and college career, I know every nook and cranny accessible by car for 50 miles from my hometown of Danville, and can extend that reach up as far as Iowa City. It may be a small chunk of land to some of you who have lived in multiple states and countries throughout your lives, but it was MY chunk of land. From Gulfport, Illinois (where one Rex Gatling and I had many misadventures) to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (where I spent half my childhood with my grandparents), to Iowa City (where college was great to me even though I never attended there) down to Fort Madison (visited only occasionally, on the most wandering of sojourns), that was home.

I love the Mississippi River, even though it’s a muddy brown mess year-round and prone to flooding the fuck out of Burlington’s downtown area every summer. The Old Man River is beautiful in its own way. It’s the defining feature of Midwestern life and once upon a time the steamships running up and down its length were the absolute pinnacle of transportation – because the fucking railroad hadn’t even managed to cross that big fucking bastard yet. I wouldn’t go swimming in it for the life of me, and everything I ever flushed down the toilet wound up there eventually, but if you live in the U.S. and haven’t lived on the Mississippi you haven’t seen a real fucking river. You’ve seen creeks and streams. That river is the only real river in the land, and fuck anyone who thinks their river means a good goddamn next to such a glory as the Mississippi.

But enough about that king of all waterways. One day I might tell you more. If you’re lucky.

Inevitably, there are two camps of people when it comes to the rest of this godforsaken country and how folks think of Iowa: those who confuse us with Idaho, and those who think we’re as flat and boring as Nebraska.

To the former, I can only say fuck you. You don’t deserve Iowa if you think it’s Idaho, and you need to go back to school and learn something about geography.

To the latter, though… well, fuck you too. Iowa isn’t flat at all. Iowa is made up of rolling hills formed sometime in the Devonian Epoch (419-3.2 MILLION YEARS AGO), and most of these are flint and limestone; meaning they used to be undersea. Limestone forms as a result of the mineral deposits left behind by marine life, meaning most of Iowa used to be seabed. Indeed, one can wander up into the hills of the Starr’s Cave Nature Preserve and find rocks with fossilized plants that could only exist on the sea floor. Indeed, the Nature Preserve folks make a very prominent part of their tour about this feature.

I may have been raised in Danville, found all my life’s best and oldest friends there, but Burlington is where I was born and Danville for all it’s quaint smalltown charm can best be considered ancillary to Burlington’s dominance of Des Moines county. My childhood was spent roaming the streets of Danville, but the moment I put my Size 14 shoe to a gas pedal (behind the wheel of my very own ’89 Dodge Dynasty) it was Burlington that consumed my exploratory heart.

I’ve driven every single street in that town of 25,000+. Most of my friends and family moved there at some point. My father is buried there. I went to community college there. I fell in love there more times than I care to count. Burlington, Iowa is to me what Bangor, Maine is to Stephen King: my muse given life in concrete and steel. It is because of this that we come to the real point of this piece.

King is without a doubt my favorite author of all time. I love Robert Jordan for the Wheel of Time, I love Lovecraft for all the madness and cyclopean visions of terror he brought me, and I love Dante and Homer and Ovid and all those who followed them for the richness they brought to my worldview, but King… King was my first foray into adult literature. I was twelve when I bought It on a whim because I knew there was a miniseries based on it running on TV and Tim Curry’s face on the cover was so goddamn captivating that I had to know all about this evil clown peering so dangerously into my little adolescent heart.

A lot of people give King fans shit. They make noises about not liking “horror” or how his just-folks brand of storytelling doesn’t follow all their nice little academic views, but anyone who tells you they don’t like King has never REALLY read King. The man is a master of his craft: storytelling. He doesn’t write to please your sensibilities. He doesn’t write because he’s trying to win awards and praise from every fucking institution under the sun; he writes because he HAS to write. He can’t help himself. The man can announce a retirement and then write more books in one year than he has since his coke-fueled 80s rage.

King builds worlds. Every word of every sentence, every line of dialog, every thought and action his characters take lend themselves toward establishing a world unique unto itself.  So what if he uses patois like it’s going out of style, or if he sometimes uses over-flowery language to establish a scene (“The desert was the apotheosis of all deserts…”). The man gets the job done in a way that frankly no one else can. He builds a world not by telling you everything about the world; not by laying out a whole book of history about the world or a glossary of ideas and terminologies you need to know; he builds a world by grabbing you by the dick and throwing you into it to discover the world as it comes to him.

He takes elements of one story into the next; to the point that he had to eventually tie about a third of his catalog into the Dark Tower series (my favorite of all time. Sorry, ghost of Robert Jordan). Bangor, Maine becomes a backdrop for some of his work, but so too do the entirely fictional realms of Derry, Maine and Castle Rock. Elements that King built from a lifetime loving where he’s from built themselves into everything he’s written. He rarely sets foot outside his comfort  zone, and when he does it’s not quite the same as those Derry/Castle Rock/Bangor novels. Unless it’s Mid-World. Mid-World, though, is everything.

So it’s to King I owe a lot of what my novel has become. I didn’t set out to emulate him at all, and the writing and subject matter should show that fairly well, but I learned a lot about world building from that crazy bastard from Maine.

I had a single image in mind when I set out to write the short story that eventually expanded itself into 95,000+ words (with revisions still in progress I expect this to climb rather than shrink if feedback given is any indication): a man stands alone across the street from a burned-out husk of a church in the pouring rain in a trench coat with a hood drawn over the smooth metal helmet that covers his head and face.

That church was real. A self-proclaimed Satanist put the torch to it a couple years before I wrote the opening scene. The city he lives in is my city. His has no name, but it’s Burlington to a T and blown up to Chicago-proportions. It’s a Burlington that could have existed if the death of the steam ships and rise of the railroad hadn’t made the river town obsolete.

The hills his City rests on, with diametrically opposed income classes positioned on the north hill and south and a downtown area in the flood-prone valley between the two – those are real. Our hero walks a city that never existed, but it’s a city I know like I know my own. It is my own, in more ways than even I want to mention. Every nook and cranny. Every dilapidated building, crumbling storefront, and struggling Mom & Pop shop… I know them because I’ve walked them.

One of the greatest mantras of writerdom is “Write what you know”, so I do. I write my city the way I know my city could have been. I write my city the way I wish my city had been. I write my city and make it mine the way I learned wandering down the streets of Derry when I was twelve.

Is it New York or Chicago with high-rises abound, people crowding every inch of real estate available, and that faceless swirl of life pulsing through the culture to define the way an entire nation thinks and moves? Nah. That shit bores me. Fuck New York. Give me my City any day; where a hero without a name can still do some good in spite of himself, where a woman can step out of the shadows and change the world, and where a dream can still mean something.

Where a writer can be something great.