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Posts Tagged ‘Neil Gaiman’

What if you were hunted by what you’d created? Because what you created wanted to be free…

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He hurried down the narrow pathway, turning back every few moments to see if it remained empty. The bundle of papers in his hand was hastily wrapped in twine, the pages torn and wrinkled from the rain despite his best efforts to keep them under his coat. His hair flew untamed in the wind as he dashed between alleys, his raincoat flapping in his wake. It didn’t matter to him that his clothes were soaked through, or that his bones rattled with every shallow breath he took. If someone were to catch a glimpse of him now, running through the muddy backwaters of London, they would not know him. They would see some vagrant in a tattered black trench, with eyes that gleamed white beneath a tuff of unkempt curls. Still there was lightness in his step; he flew down the street as though on wings. He felt free… or perhaps he just knew the world better now. He saw it for what it was; what he now knew it had always been. It was the kind of knowing that was both wonderful and terrifying at the same time, and it was the kind that would see him dead. Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw someone, a girl with black hair and calm, welcoming eyes. He realized then how little time there was.

The lightning crashed above him and rent the sky in a flash of light that sought to reveal every shadow. Soon there would be nowhere left to hide. He took a sharp left, weaving between overturned trash bins. The lighting struck the rooftop above him, dropping shingles and broken brick. He leapt out onto the sidewalk, nearly crashing into an old woman holding a white umbrella, the print of a map faded from years of use.

“So sorry,” he panted without stopping.

“You can’t outrun them,” she called after him. He knew that. He had no intention of outrunning anyone. Not anymore.

He pulled the bundle from beneath his coat. The address on the top was barely legible, the ink spreading on the wet paper. He raced up to the post box, stuffing the bundle in as he past. Somewhere down the street a car swerved onto the road, blasting “Stone Cold Crazy” so loud he would have laughed if he weren’t out of breath and numb with fear. He dashed back into the alley just in time to avoid being dragged under the front end of the Bentley.

He continued to run, suddenly forgetting all he’d known about the city, forgetting the names of buildings and streets. He ran until all he could hear was the sound of his own breath, and then he stopped. He doubled over, exhausted. It felt as though his lungs might explode. He had never been the most athletic person, and, after a time, no one had seemed to mind. He nearly wished he had decided to be a gym teacher or a pharmacist… nearly. When he straightened, the girl with dark hair stood silently in front of him, her beautiful face puckered as though she were wrestling with a thought.

“Somehow, I knew you’d come,” he said with a weary smile.

“In the end, I always do,” was all she said.

He heard it then, the purposeful click of fine dress shoes on stone. Even though the rain fell heavily, he could hear them; two sets of footsteps. He looked down the alley. It was empty. When he turned back, the girl was gone, but he knew she wasn’t really. He waited there for what seemed like an eternity, as sheets of rain pelted the rooftops of London and slid down its gritty brick walls, drowning the city… or perhaps only him. He wondered if an unseen city stretched below, if fishponds spanned as far as oceans, if gods walked among men.

He saw them approach, two mismatched figures strolling calmly down the alley, unconcerned by the rain that would surely ruin their crisp black suits. Suddenly he felt the urge to run, to call out to someone for help, but instead he stood, wordlessly, his trench coat wrapped around him like a protective cloak. As the two men stood before him he realized that he knew them, he’d known them nearly all his life and, for a moment, he felt regret.

“Dreadful night, isn’t it?” said one with a crooked smile.

“Quite right you are, Mr. Vandemar,” replied the other. “Dreadful indeed.”

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In my writing, it’s rare for me to complete something that I’ve started. It’s like I’m unable to just sit down and see my story to the end, an inherent predisposition perhaps, a latent defense mechanism? A way of protecting myself from some pre-envisioned failure or inadequacy. Things have changed in the past few days to make me see otherwise.

I’ve recently posted a short story I submitted to an acclaimed writing workshop in Seattle; the opportunity would be life changing. Let me preface this by saying I didn’t get in, and yes, it was horribly devastating. But I mentioned in my last post that even if I didn’t get into the workshop, the experience of actually writing an end to a story was quite revelatory. I always thought I was afraid of how my work would stand up once it was done. On some level, all writers are anxious about this, and I’ve realized that it’s not the entire reason we leave things unfinished. So many of my stories, and my characters, have been with me my entire life. I’ve been writing them for years, and I’m not sure how I would feel if I were to be finished with them. I think I would feel very strange, like a part of myself was missing.

  There comes a moment where you just have to leave it behind and move to the next thing…but you do it really happy. Because whatever you leave behind you has taken on a life of its own

–Neil Gaiman

I’ve spent the better part of my time daydreaming about moving to Seattle for the workshop, and now that it’s not going to happen, I’m more sure than ever that something has to change. It’s time to try and finish things, so that others can finally begin.

 

Sherlock

 

 

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A Stray

Before I begin, I’d like to extend my condolences to writer Neil Gaiman who lost what I can only imagine was a part of himself.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to a friend. Things happen too quickly. Suddenly there isn’t any time left for chasing string, or lying against fur warmed by sunlight. Not five days ago, our cat Artemis was nipping at our toes in bed, batting playfully until we roused to give him attention. Now he lies languidly on our futon, his abdomen swollen with pain, barely eating more than a handful of food a day.

He always had a little temper, a wild streak, and some people called him mean; I maintain that he’s just a good judge of character. He never asks for much, takes care of himself for the most part, enjoying small pleasures like cuddling up next to me while I write or sprawling himself on a chair so that no one else has room to sit. We found him wandering our university campus four years ago, the day before we were going to move into our first apartment. As I’m extremely allergic to cat dander, I’d been intending on buying my boyfriend a hypoallergenic kitten. He was in love with the idea of having a cat to call his own, and I was determined to surprise him with the best house-warming gift ever. But when he brought me to see a little stray kitten swaddled in a blanket, I couldn’t say no. Even if the first thing the kitten did was bite my finger.

We brought him to the vet within the week, and he was diagnosed with feline leukemia, an immune suppressing virus that is common in strays. We were told we’d be lucky if he lived for three years… we got four… and I’m hoping we can get a little luckier.

He’s never had other health issues in the past, and it would seem that further treatment might only prolong his life for a short while. Even then, our finances can’t support that kind of medical commitment. The diagnosis is only an educated guess based on an extremely elevated lymphocyte count in his blood, which leads them to believe he’s developed lymphatic leukemia. We’re still waiting on pathology results to confirm.

The waiting is almost unbearable, knowing that even if the cells are benign, there is little we can do to help him other than making him more comfortable. The vet told us the prognosis isn’t good either way. Needing to do something, I got out of the apartment and walked the streets, wandering into pet stores and shops, looking for something that might be useful. But after reading this post on my phone, I cried a little and walked back home.

Until Monday’s results come, I’ll sit next to him and sing and stroke his head, it seems to sooth him a little. It never did bother him that I have a terrible singing voice.

Artemis

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A blazing fire burns somewhere in the darkness;

From afar it is a beacon, brilliant orange flames licking the night sky.

But closer still the air is thick with the smell of ink and kerosene;

And atop the bed of flames pages curl like blackened wings.

All words turn to ashes and are swept away by the wind.

 

A free verse inspired by Ray Bradbury’s evocative novel and Neil Gaiman’s short story The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury.

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There’s something wonderfully comforting about knowing that Neil Gaiman is still up to form: happy and writing. It’s like knowing that the world still makes sense, and that over night it hasn’t become some dark unrecognizable thing. Everything around me keeps changing, I barely have a grasp on what I already know. I haven’t a clue what to do with myself most days and that truly scares me. I’m not sure what I can do to feel more certain of myself as writer, but at least I know that as long as the world still loves Gaiman, there’s a place for me in it.

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Recently, and by recently I mean my entire life, I’ve been having trouble sitting down and writing something that I consider to be truly meaningful. As a sarcastic misanthrope who prides herself on being able to observe the idiosyncrasies, shortcomings and hypocrisies of modern society, or a ‘writer’ in laymen’s terms, I was frustrated and traumatized by the reality that I could produce anything that sounded vapid, uninspired and worthless.  And yet here I am, now convinced that I’m a part of the same social mechanism I’ve spent the better part of my life attempting to mock with subtle wit. I idolize and pertain to understand great writers such as Gaiman, Vonnegut, Orwell, Salinger and Atwood, but sometimes I feel like I’m all show and no tell, like a fraud in my own skin, like I really don’t know anything at all. And maybe I don’t.

So it turns out that my life up till now has been a sham, I can’t write, I can’t produce a simply story. – Daria

Then, while watching an episode of one of my favorite shows Daria that happened to be airing on TV, I came across the root of my problem. It was the final episode of the second season entitled ‘Write Where it Hurts’ in which Daria is given an extra credit assignment that requires her to write a story with moral dimensions. Though an intelligent and witty character, Daria is unable to write something that she claims is ‘up to her standards’. During a conversation with her friend Jane, the existential problem of all writers emerged.

Daria: I can come up with all sorts of ideas, but none of them feels true.
Jane: Well, what’s your definition of true?
Daria: Something that says something.
Jane: What, anything?
Daria: No, something… about something

Jane: Let me get this straight: you're telling me you want to write something, not just anything, that says something about something.
Daria: Right.
Jane: Gee. Who'd ever believe you're having trouble communicating.

This is a spiky pit in which many writers find themselves at one point or another, impaled by their own self-inflated moral agenda. When we say that we want to write something meaningful, what do we even mean? How can we write without knowing what we want to write about, or better yet, without knowing why we even want or need to write it? All we know is that we want to say something… about something, but not just anything. Do we want to write something that will change the way people think or something that will turn society on its head as we pat our own backs in triumph exclaiming, “See! See what I did there! I’m better than the lot of you put together!”

My story sucks. Everything I do has already been done. I wanted to write something meaningful, I can’t write anything at all.

I feel that this is a problem that all writers, myself included, have faced or will face when trying to create meaningful works. We sit down with the idea in our head that whatever ends up on that page will be the greatest comment on modern society that has ever been, when really that just means that we are out to prove how much smarter we are compared to the rest of humanity. More often than not, we end up writing nothing at all, either because our attempts at meaning turn into self-opinionated bullshit or our fear of facing possible mediocre writing has left us frozen at the starting line. I’ve often felt discouraged at my own pending ineptitude.

Later in that same episode, Daria has another heart to heart with her mother, after a failed attempt by Helen to get closer to her daughter earlier that day. Once she actually understood Daria’s dilemma, she came up trumps with some extremely good advice.

Helen: Maybe you’re trying too hard, maybe you don’t have to write something meaningful, just something honest.
The easiest thing in the world for you is being honest about what you observe. What’s hard for you is being honest about your wishes, about the way you think things should be, not about the way they are.

We always tend to be critical and cynical about the world around us, but noticing that there are problems with the world isn’t something to feel smug about; everybody knows that humanity isn’t perfect. What’s hard is refraining from smoothing it over with derisive sarcasm, and genuinely saying what you truly feel about it, what you think will make the world a better place. We mustn’t forget that our desire to create meaningful literature stems from an honest aspiration to live in a better world, not a desire to be the best at pointing out the problems with it.  We point and laugh and criticize others, then, without doing anything at all to change things, we close our books, put down our pens and with a satisfying nod say: “All in a days work.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that satire, sarcasm and cynical wit can’t be good tools to use, nor am I saying that making people aware that there are problems or issues isn’t half the battle. I’m saying that writing for the sake of writing something meaningful is honest but ultimately worthless, writing something for the sake of being honest is what makes it meaningful.

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“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things.” – Neil Gaiman

In my opinion Character is the most important aspect of any story. The main character is the person with whom the reader/viewer can identify and follow throughout the course of the narrative. The story’s meaning is created by the character’s reaction to the events of the story and by how the resolution of the conflict influences/reveals the protagonist’s ‘true character’.

But what is ‘true character’? It’s a character’s genuine nature, the essence of who they really are. The true purpose of Story is to reveal ‘true character’ by means of extreme pressure or crisis. The greater the stakes, the more true to character the reaction will be. It’s through this that the reader comes to understand what the writer is trying to say, what the significance of the story is in relation to the greater concepts in life. A writer must never simply tell the reader how to feel.

Usually when creating character, the author will write a character development sheet in order to visualize how that character will react or affect different situations. Story is a world of causality that centers around the actions and reactions between characters. The writer must attempt to know their character’s ‘true nature’ before the story even begins. But how can character be created or revealed without story? If a character is defined by what they say and what they do, then how can we define them before they have done or said anything at all?

I then thought of how we are defined by our actions, and how our lives are given meaning by what we do. What meaning has the story of my life taken? What’s my ‘true character’? I used a typical character development sheet to evaluate my own self-image, my own nature. The experience of self-reflection is one that I would recommend to all writers. Though you don’t attain some greater knowledge of self that reveals the meaning of your life, it does help in understanding how your personality was created by your actions, and visa versa. It’s great source work for any good character. Just because a character is an artificial construct you’ve created, doesn’t mean that the feelings the reader experiences due to their actions aren’t genuine and real.

When writing always keep in mind that a character’s purpose is to reveal the meaning of the story, a writer’s purpose is to tell that story. 

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