Friday, December 31, 2010

bradbury on writing

The man is a genius and his insight is invaluable, no matter what kind of writing one favors.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

how inspiration strikes

Yesterday I found myself sucked into a fascinating documentary on the author J.R.R. Tolkien. In it, a mention was made of a word coined by the author to describe his vision of the world he was, at the time, creating: Mythopoeia. Now, I am a notorious dictionary verifier. Give me a fascinating new word and I’m all over it like saran wrap on chicken salad. So, as soon as the documentary had run its course, I ran to my laptop and immediately typed in the mysterious new word. Not surprisingly, the best information was found on Wikipedia, which gives the following definition:

“Mythopoeia is a narrative genre in modern literature and film where a fictional mythology is created by the writer of prose or other fiction. This meaning of the word mythopoeia follows its use by J. R. R. Tolkien in the 1930s. The authors in this genre integrate traditional mythological themes and archetypes into fiction.

Mythopoeia is also the act of making (creating) mythologies. Notable mythopoeic authors include Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, William Blake, H. P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, Mervyn Peake and George MacDonald. While many literary works carry mythic themes, only a few approach the dense self-referentiality and purpose of mythopoeia. It is invented mythology that, rather than arising out of centuries of oral tradition, are penned over a short period of time by a single author or small group of collaborators.

As distinguished from fantasy worlds or fictional universes aimed at the evocation of detailed worlds with well-ordered histories, geographies, and laws of nature, mythopoeia aims at imitating and including real-world mythology, specifically created to bring mythology to modern readers, and/or to add credibility and literary depth to fictional worlds in fantasy or science fiction books and movies.

Mythopoeia are almost invariably created entirely by an individual, like the world of Middle-earth.”

Suddenly, I’m more than fascinated. I’m intrigued. Why? Because this definition of a word which, apparently, has been around for decades sums up my own writing process clearly and succinctly. I’ve been working on a series of stories set in a “mythical” place known as Otherwhen, for about ten years now. What started out as an idea to create a round-robin platform for myself and other writers on my now defunct adult literary website, Blue Food, slowly became my own private opus.

The main character, Tristan Desmond, is introduced as a macho and somewhat arrogant male demon slayer in a modern world turned nightmarish reality, in which gods, demons and mythological creatures come crashing into our contemporary world through an event known only as “the Shift.” Desmond’s own life is turned inside out when he is cruelly dispatched by one of his demonic nemesis and fused into the body of his gorgon girlfriend, Scylla.

That story--the first installment of what has become, to me, the Otherwhen saga--recently found itself placed within my very first published anthology, Dimensions of Desire. My editor at Renaissance Books, the acclaimed author M. Christian, has expressed an interest in seeing more. No problem. I’ve got more.

The adventures of Tristan Desmond, as she adjusts to her new life as a mythic creature who gives meaning to the term “stony glare,” have become my favorite form of escape. When I feel like writing, but don’t have any deadline demons drooling into my lap, I return to Otherwhen. Over time, other characters have entered the picture, some briefly, some with more longevity. Her “boyfriend” Ulric is, I am not ashamed to admit, a dyed-in-the-wool Tolkien elf. His “godfather” is the prankish Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, from Shakespearean lore. Her main nemesis is the demonic Lord of Lies himself, Belial.

Among the many other characters she comes into contact with, either as friend or foe, are the Greek god Ares, the Native American folklore figure Coyote, the Arthurian figure Morgan LeFey and many others. Then there are the divergences. The stories that don’t center around Tristan. These just seem to pop up out of nowhere when I find myself fascinated by a particular character or phenomenon, but don’t really have any way to include Tristan in the mix. During these times, she bows out and the story is allowed to run its course, within the framework already created for Otherwhen. It’s proved to be an invaluable exercise in creative writing, because it is something that I can fall into naturally and at a moment’s notice. With the kind of schedule I tend to keep, that can be a god send.

When asked by the very few people who have been given access to this world what I would call it, I’ve always referred to it as “speculative fiction,” because the term “fantasy” just didn’t feel right. These characters, after all, don’t exist in a purely fantasy world. There are no swords, or messianic wizards. No sweeping battlefields between armies of light and darkness. These characters exist in a divergent version of our own world, in which something cataclysmic and unknown has occurred to twist the fabric of reality and refocus it. The general rules of physics still apply, for the most part. Hardships and addictions still infect the fabric of society and the people who live there still have to muddle through as best they can. Magic, where it does exist, has changed to fit the new environment and can be completely unpredictable.

I never really knew that there was a word to describe this sort of writing. I knew that there were other authors who wrote this way, including my favorite living author, Neil Gaiman. There are examples abounding. I just didn’t know there was a name for it. And now that I know, I find myself following links to mysterious websites devoted to the concept of Mythopoeia and its many incarnations. I’ve even discovered something called the Mythopoeic Society, which has its meetings all over the world, but NEXT year, will be meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, just 3 ½ hours away from where I new reside. Hmmm…

It seems I have a LOT more research ahead of me. I’m not sure how far down the rabbit hole I’ll go, but I’ve got my spelunking gear on and am letting curiosity be my guide. Who knows what I’ll find or even if it will amount to anything of interest. I’ve never been one to embrace regimented “societies” or cultish organizations of any kind, so I doubt I’ll delve too deeply in that direction, but the concept still intrigues me and I’d like to know more. That could take a while.

In the meantime, I now have a name for the type of writing I have always enjoyed most. And, it looks like my Mythopoeic scribblings may soon find a place in the published world, as I have decided to take M up on his suggestion. I have made it my New Year’s Resolution to gather together the various threads within the Otherwhen saga and weave them together into a coherent whole. My plan, at the moment, is to document that journey here. We’ll see how that goes. Right now, I’m high on the adrenaline of an exciting new project. As any writer will tell you, however, the reality of the process can be anything but constantly rewarding. I’ve started tell-all projects like this before and not gotten very far.

Ah, but that’s what resolutions are for. Even mythopoeic ones…

Monday, December 27, 2010

by way of introduction

I am a writer. After spending literally half my life pursuing the muse and, in the process, racking up literally thousands of “by lines,” I can confidently lay claim to that title. An old bio of mine sums it up best by pointing out that I have tackled “just about every standard, including children's books, stage plays, travelogues, financial guides, movie, theater, music and restaurant reviews, gossip and advice columns, celebrity interviews, entertainment newsletters, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles on everything from herbology, cooking and pets to humor therapy, general bdsm practices and the sexual habits of the North American yeti.” Still, it barely scratches the surface of my pursuits, which have over the years taken me in some very interesting and often challenging directions.

I start this blog at the behest of a very good friend and fellow scribe M. Christian, who also happens to be the editor of my first short story anthology, Dimensions Of Desire. I’m not really sure where it will lead me, nor am I sure what I will get out of it, except a place to talk about my writing and, if I’m very lucky, make people aware of my published fiction. I’ve blogged before, both privately and publicly, but they’ve all gone by the wayside for one reason or another. Maybe this will be the one that sticks. Maybe not. I’m not all that concerned. Even without a regular blog to turn to, I write every single day. Not because I have so much time to devote to it, but because I find the time to do so, in order to keep my demons in check. They are legion, after all, and I am but one dedicated disciple of the muse. I’m sure somebody, somewhere, can relate.

I think I’ll start by reposting a piece I wrote ten years ago, when I was a sex columnist for the now defunct webzine suspect thoughts: a journal of subversive writing. Though it was written a decade ago, it still sums up my philosophies on life, and writing, perfectly. What can I say? I’m devoted to my pursuits and I’m not all that interested in reinventing the wheel. So, in the interest of inauguration, I give you…

Confessions Of A Flying Monkey

Let me just start out by saying, I’ve never been a friend of Dorothy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that... It’s been said that I will fuck anything that casts a shadow and, with very few exceptions (camels smell bad and baboons creep me out...), that’s absolutely true. I may have chosen a man as my present confrere and bedfellow, but there never was and never will be a yellow brick road in this sensual pilgrim’s life. I’d like to say the reason is simple, but it isn’t. Nothing ever really is. Instead, a little background is in order.

The fact is, I became sexually active at a very young age, thanks to an overzealous and much older male cousin. Far from being scarred by the experience, however, I took what he taught me and ran with it. Maybe that’s why when, at a time when most of my friends were just getting an idea of what sex was all about--while talking about growing up to be firemen, astronauts or superheroes--I was well ahead of the game. I knew what I wanted to be and it had nothing to do with your standard run-of-the-mill male icon. I wanted to be the personification of sex. Not male sex. ALL sex.

I was a voracious reader even then. By the time of my forced sexual awareness, I had already devoured Tolkien, Burroughs, Wells and dabbled in the best science fiction and fantasy of the day. Most of it bored me, as did the superhero comics (spandex and bulging muscles aside) my friends had become addicted to. I couldn’t explain my dissatisfaction, I just knew that something was missing from those chaste morality tales which passed for imaginative entertainment.

Then a chance encounter via PBS (which coincidentally coincided with my cousin’s prolonged assault on my tender young flesh) introduced me to Joseph Campbell and his revolutionary viewpoints on myth, as outlined in his book, Hero With A Thousand Faces. According to Campbell, all of the elements which appeared in the stories I had been reading had already been explored, much better, centuries before. As a bonus, there hadn’t been censors when those stories had originally been written, something I would discover all on my own.

Through Campbell, I was introduced to the world of ancient myth and the beliefs which accompanied those myths. I was most taken by the tales of the Greeks, with their earthy heroes and their vibrant and sensuous gods. These legends, in turn, introduced me to the concepts of passionate variety in that other strange new world I had been introduced to: SEX. Leda and the Swan, Narcissus, Zeus and Ganymede (Zeus and everybody for that matter!)--bestiality, self-love, homosexuality, polygamy--all these and more were laid out before me like a banquet and my safe, bucolic little world would never be the same again.

Suddenly my strict Catholic upbringing--with its tired rituals, celibate disciples and the sadly forlorn, mutilated god which personified it-- meant very little to me. Suddenly everything I had been experiencing, all the dirty little thoughts which had been running rampant through the fertile fields of my imagination, all the urges I couldn’t explain which had been awakened by the fumblings of a horny juvenile delinquent--suddenly all of it became clear to me. Sex was good! Not only that, with a little experimentation, it could me much, much better!

And so I began my vision quest for sexual enlightenment. I would dedicate myself to becoming as close to the personification of sex as I possibly could (remember, I was still quite young then). Obviously I couldn’t be a god, but why not a disciple? Why couldn’t I dedicate my life to the study and pursuit of fleshly pleasures? And why couldn’t I convert others to the cause? It seemed a simple enough task, so that’s exactly what I did.

I spent the next few years seducing my impressionable young friends, male and female alike, corrupting their minds with tales of deviant behaviors they could barely comprehend and building a secret library of books found at the local landfill with titles like Swingers 76, Sticky Pants and Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask. Those filled in the blanks nicely for the nonbelievers and won over more than a few wavering novices to my cause. I was a very dedicated disciple and, quite frankly, innocence was a very powerful aphrodisiac (still is, if I’m to be completely honest). No one was safe. Not classmates, not the altar boys at our church, not even my best friend’s dad (but that’s another story, for another time).

Graduating from high school and moving away from the small rural town I had been raised in, to enter college, only served to open doors wider for me. In this new environment, I found it much easier to ferret out those with like minds. Or, at least, those who had begun taking the first steps toward discovering the world I had spent so much time exploring. I dallied in the new experiences cultural differences could bring and immersed myself in everything from the bawdy tales of Chaucer and the deliciously cruel writings of the Marquis de Sade to conventional smut and hard-core pornography. I also began writing.

I wrote short stories, poems, essays and the occasional article for the school paper. Not everything I wrote had to do with sex, but the implication was never far away. And as the years passed, my writing matured and diversified. What started out as a way of alleviating the fire which burned in my brain by dumping words onto paper, became a way of life. Like the Marquis de Sade, the overwhelming need to write consumed me. But, unlike the Marquis, I could temper the fire and turn it to other, less carnal, pursuits. I began writing for newspapers, magazines, journals--any that would have me. But I never stopped writing about sex in my spare time. That obsession would never leave me.

A lot of changes have come my way over the last couple of decades. I’ve been an artist, an actor, a model, a Wiccan, a fortune teller, a psychic, a scholar, a civil servant, a drug dealer, a pimp, a slave, a husband, a father, a patron, a teacher and through it all have discovered some of the best sex this world has to offer, on several continents. I’ve worked for movie studios and porn magazines. I’ve interviewed celebrities and drug addicts. I’ve been published and rejected, threatened and praised, reviled and awarded. But through it all my ideals haven’t changed. Neither has my love for quality smut and provocative imagery.

I am completely satisfied with the road I’ve chosen to travel. I still love sex in all its infinite varieties--quick sex and marathon sex, solo sex and group sex, vanilla sex and fetish sex, safe sex and the kind of sex which can get one arrested in several states (you name it, I’ve probably tried it at least once). I may never have become the personification of sex (other, less carnal, distractions have precluded that), but I’ve had a damn good time trying. And though it hasn’t always been easy in this morally conflicted and accusatory time we live in, I take pride in referring to myself as a hedonist. I have challenged the myths of old and written a few of my own. Those ancient epicurean gods would be so proud.

Dorothy, on the other hand? Well, all I can say is, having a song in one’s heart and bouncing blithely over the rainbow may be fine for some, but I’ll take the less evolutionary path, thank you very much. The diversities of sex have given me wings and steered me away from the well-worn paths (yellow brick and otherwise) of the single-minded. I have become a flying monkey and I like it that way. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either.