Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spring is in the air, and so is writing fever!

It's been a while since I've blogged anything. Some of this has to do with my new job, which keeps me very busy. Some of it is because I'm lazy when it comes to blogging as I tend to focus much of my writing on my short stories and novels.

I mentioned last that one of my stories, Hush, Hush, My Love, would be in a forthcoming issue of Shroud Magazine. I am anxiously awaiting that issue, which is the 9th issue by the way. I expect it will probably come out sometime in the Summer. Please, be sure to pick up a copy. If you like it, send me some feedback via my website.

I've begun work on a new novel. Something much different than my normal work. As anyone who knows me or my writing know, I usually write only horror or dark fiction with an occasional science fiction story thrown in for fun. Well, since I've been reading outside of my genre, I've discovered a huge goldmine of fantastic stories and authors. Namely, the Southern Gothic writers. I recently read Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, the first Faulkner story I've ever read. At first, I hated it. I got hung up on Vardaman's POV stream-of-consciousness. The story stuck with me though, like a popcorn kernel caught between your teeth. I worked at it, mulling the story over in my mind until I finally developed an admiration for it (I still don't like Vardaman's POV though). I read Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and now I'm reading The Grapes of Wrath. The first Southern Gothic books that started my love of this sub genre were Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and John Grisham's A Painted House. I look back on each of these novels with a fondness and took something away from each one. The novel I'm currently working on is in this same vein. It's called Lathem's Legacy and I'm using many of the different techniques from the aforementioned authors to create this piece. From Steinbeck's use of dialect, to Faulkner's use of character POV to tell each story, to Lee's and Harper's way of introducing grotesque characters who are realistic, believable, and at the same time, slightly pitiful.

This is a story about Georgia farmers during the early 1950s dealing with one of their family members fighting overseas in the Korean conflict. I am trying to write in such a way that doesn't show southern people in a bad light. I wanted to tell the story of a family that was respectable, such as the family in To Kill a Mockingbird. Through a changing POV for each chapter, I want to give the reader a sense of the characters: the way they think and act, and how they view their family and peers. The overall story arc is centered around how the family deals with the absence of Lathem, the oldest boy of the Whitfield family. There are several subplots, including an illegitimate pregnancy, one person's struggle with living in the shadow of an abusive alcoholic father and town scoundrel, the bond of friendship between a boy and a mentally handicapped man, and the defense of a friend in the face of danger.

When I first set out to write, I never thought I would pen anything outside of horror. If you'd have told me that I would try writing a Southern Gothic novel, I would have scoffed at the idea. Since reading the previously mentioned books, I've grown a deep appreciation for these writers and their stories. I never liked the idea of setting any of my previous stories in the south. I don't know why since I am a southern native. I guess I just felt that the south wasn't an exotic locale for a story. But, since reading several stories about the south, I've learned a lot. Especially, that writing about a place you know makes the work of adding verisimilitude that much easier than making up a location from scratch. Also, combining traits of people you know to create new and varying characters opens up a whole new world of exciting characters to live in my stories.

In addition to the Southern Gothic novels, I've also been reading more dystopias. Aside from Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, I've read Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and begun reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which is simply brilliant. This caused me to begin a short story (maybe it will turn into a novella, time will tell) called Jurisprudence. This is the story of a man who receives a summons from The State to appear in court. He has no idea why he is summoned as he can think of no circumstance when he has broken the law--this sounds much like the premise of Kafka's The Trial, which is in my reading queue, but is not a ripoff, I assure you. Throughout the story, I want to paint the picture of a dystopia where corporations rule the country and people are merely grist for the mill, keeping the cogs of the business machine turning. Through the actions and dialogue, I want the reader to get a sense of what this future world is like. Not until the main character's trial does the real drama unfold. This story, as well as the novel mentioned above, are both still works in progress, but they were born out of ideas that came to me as a result of exposing myself to new worlds through reading various books outside of my usual genre.

I guess this post is just a case in point of my original advice to throw caution to the wind and pick up some books you normally would never have read. You never know how a book will impact you and change your outlook on things. If it weren't for me adhering to this philosophy, I would probably still be churning out bland horror tales.

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