Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"You don't understand...he didn't have a head!"



"It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet." 
- Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

Halloween is my second favorite holiday. I love the fact that for one day, without judgement, I can be anything I want to be*. No matter how bizarre, how garish, how strange or gruesome, this one day allows everyone the freedom to indulge in an alter ego...

...and in stories of things that go bump in the night.

Ghost stories have always fascinated me. I collect them: true, made up, doesn't matter. If there's something in a story that can't be explained, that sends a shiver through me or makes me look over my shoulder while I'm reading it, I'm in! And no story has ever quite affected me like Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow".

"The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the favorite spectre of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman, who had been heard several times of late, patrolling the country; and, it was said, tethered his horse nightly among the graves in the churchyard."  - Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"


I grew up on the Disney version of the Headless Horseman but that made him no less terrifying. Every year I'd insist we watch it and every year I'd go to be with the light on and the sound of hoofs in my ears.  I just knew that "this year" he'd ride to my neighborhood. What would I do when he arrived? Did I expect him to knock? Honestly I don't know. I just know this headless specter on horseback terrified me!

It wasn't until Tim Burton gave us his vision of Sleepy Hollow that I became more enamored with the legend than frightened. Still, the idea of a guy walking around without a head is just so wrong to me. No arms, no fingers, no legs even, fine: but without a head-no thanks! To this day I get a bit creeped out when driving home at night by myself. The thought of having unexpected company riding up behind me on a dark horse with red glowing eyes freaks me out. Am I too old for this type of fear? Possibly. Should I stop indulging in stories that scare me? Probably.

It's foolish really to continue to indulge myself in tales of the strange and unusual. I can't tell you why I do it. Just as I can't tell you why, out of all the genres out there I've chosen horror as my home. It's a strange addiction, this need to write about the dark places of the world. Maybe I do it so that the horrors of reality seem less terrifying. Why write horror and enjoy horror? That question is a blog series in and of itself. I read a fascinating take on the answer at Roland Yeomans' blog yesterday. It's definitely worth the read if you're curious.

Also for the curious, check out the possible roots of the Headless Horseman: the Irish ghost called the Dullahan. And you thought Irving's ghost was scary?! If you ask me, he went easy on us...

And if for some reason you've gone through life without having actually READ "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" GO HERE NOW!! It's a short read but definitely worth the time. 

Oh, and speaking of creepy, I dare you to read Susan Hill's classic "The Woman in Black". You can read it and/or download it HERE for free. I started it several months ago and have not been able to finish it. Maybe I'm a weenie (and no I haven't seen the movie yet) but this story is seriously frightening! Enjoy! (PS: This link takes a moment to open as there are a lot of ads on the side but as far as I can see, the entire story is there without having to download anything.)

Have a wonderful, fun, and safe Halloween! If you're like us, you'll be hanging out at home, watching scary movies and giving out candy. But if you're out and about this evening, pay extra special attention to what could be approaching in your rear view mirror. If it's a headless rider on horseback, don't blame me...

...just drive faster.

"The old country wives, however, who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; and it is a favorite story often told about the neighborhood round the winter evening fire."
- Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"


*Don't you wish every day could be this accommodating?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Location, Location

While in Ireland over a decade ago, I learned the phrase "soft morning". The Irish use it to describe a grey morning with just the slightest hint of rain. The rain floats down like snow flakes and everything is covered in a thin sheen of light. Even the streets are lovely. There is magic in an Irish rain. Somehow, under all those clouds, the sunlight seeps in through the mist, and the roses grow the size of dinner plates. It's like being lost in a Lewis Carroll novel. Did I mind it? Not at all.

Soft mornings are rare in the South. Usually our weather is all or nothing. The wind the past few days has been growling around the house, whipping the chimes into angry gongs. No whimsical breeze; no accompanying swirling mist.

My stories are all set in the South or in Ireland. Some of the Irish ones I'm trying to convert to Southern stories simply because that's where I'm at. I want my worlds to be as authentic as they can be (even if my characters are only using their home as a transition to another world). My struggle is constantly, do I write about what's outside my door or what's inside my head?

Write what you know. We've all been told that and I believe that there is infinite wisdom in that statement. If you don't know something, you can't write about it in a way that will make the setting solidify in your reader's minds. But, you see, I've been to those softly rolling green hills. I've walked in a soft morning mist, hiked several blocks to wander tombstones before the sleeping village (or my classmates) were awake. It may have been almost twelve years ago, but I can still see those places in my mind as if I was there yesterday. And, if ever I need a reference, I have a shopping bag full of photographs I can rummage through.

Write what you know or what your heart knows? I'm going to go with both. We need our worlds to be as real as they can be. I certainly don't want someone in Galway, Ireland to read a scene of mine and say, "No, that's not right at all!" Assimilation is the key to creating place. If your work is based firmly in an historical place and time, you should probably go there, or at least do so much research that a reader will think you've been there. If, however, you're creating a place that could be real, might be touchable, might be fantasy, then an amalgam of places will do.

I suppose that's why all my fantasy worlds are green and blushing with dinner plate sized roses. I write my fantasy worlds from the landscapes of my heart; I write my "real world" locations from where I'm currently planted.

What about you? Do you write from where you're from? Where you've been? Where you're going? Or do you pull everything together and create a world that can't be pinned down on a map? If so, do you draw those maps yourself?

Just curious...

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Blustery Day

Good morning dear readers,

How have you all been? I know I've neglected you for the past month and I want to know EVERYTHING! Ok, maybe not everything, but a reasonable amount to know what you've been up to and how life is treating you. I'll start:

- Finished up another term of excruciating school work! Learned that nonfiction writing aka reporter style journalism is NOT for me. I don't mind essays and vignettes (which I plan to write more of) but putting together a story for the sake of reporting an issue or interviewing a subject for newspaper or publication is not my cup of tea. I admire those who do this type of writing and do it well.

- Went to the Country Living Fair at Stone Mountain Park. Wow! If I were to write down all the ideas I gathered from the past two days, I would overload blogger with fabulosity! It was nice to get away from my computer, from school deadlines, and from creating worlds and getting into a world that I have long loved: the world of creative living. (For that story and some photos for the frivolities, wander over to my other blog: Sagewood Manor. PS: I'll be posting some pictures here as well over the next few days.)

- It is COLD!!! The wind has been positively howling around the house since last night and I'm sitting here with a cup of warm chai and my space heater humming happily at 85 degrees. Yes, kids, it does get down below 55 degrees in Georgia! [yeah, yeah, I know: all you Northerners and Canadians think that's pathetic but think about it: when you're used to a constant 70's + nine months out of the year, think how YOU'D feel if the temperature suddenly dropped 20 degrees!]

This little blog has been through a lot in the past few years and I intend to chug it along for years to come. I did a little bit of soul searching when I was away and (as you can see) even changed the look. I'm a writer; I write and that's what I intend to do here. I'm not one of those fabulous bloggers who can spit out 15 ways to edit your manuscript or 9 things to do to get published tomorrow. I wish I was, seriously: I envy you guys who produce such marvels of technical and practical writing wonder. There is so much information I'm still processing from my writing classes and I do wish to share it here but...well...it's just going to have to trickle in.

I hope you don't mind my indulging in some personal writing for a while. Writing for school has left a gaping hole in my writing life and I'm desperate to just spit out some words for the sake of putting them together and seeing where they lead. SO, if you wander by and notice I'm just rambling, forgive this creativity-hungry author and her need to wax eloquent about the mundane (or the not so mundane...you should see what I've been researching lately!)

Have a fabulous Monday, an awesome rest of the week, and, seriously, tell me what YOU'VE been up to!

Cheers,
Jen

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control...

...our intrepid blogger has been detained by a horrendous amount of school work which has culminated in a 10 page term paper and a Powerpoint presentation. Do forgive her absence as she frantically tries to uphold her current g.p.a. while still maintaining the facade of a somewhat normal existence.

All should be repaired by next week.

Most sincerely yours,
B.G.
(Blog Ghost)

Monday, October 8, 2012

What's Your Story?


I love doing Google searches on topics I'm interested in. If I'm doing research for school, I try to be as specific as possible. If I'm doing research for my own interest, however, I like to be just the slightest bit vague. Why? Because you never know what you'll find that can seem irrelevant to your topic yet turn out to be spot on.

Storytelling is, of course, a passion of mine. As a writer and a Creative Writing major, I've chosen to build my life around stringing words together to form imaginary worlds what will tantalize a reader and, hopefully, get him or her thinking.

This morning, I found a great article on the importance of storytelling on a marketing website. It's an older article from adweek.com (July 2008), but I loved the information the author, Simon Kelly, gives. Though he's discussion creating a story for your company, I thought the information was sound for writers creating stories and novels.

In summary, Kelly states that in the growing online market, companies need to seriously think about what their story is: what are they trying to communicate to the consumer, what message are they trying to get across, what narrative does their product tell. In other words, how can your product or service grab the consumer and refuse to let go?

As writers, we face this question every time we sit down to write. What are we trying to communicate to our readers? Is there a deeper meaning behind our humor or horror? What message are we tying to get across? Most importantly, how can our words, our story, grab the reader and refuse to let go?

If you're having trouble finding your footing in your current WIP, ask yourself these questions. Uncover the WHY behind WHAT you're doing and you'll be better prepared to handle errant plots and uncooperative characters. If we the authors don't know what we're trying to say, it's going to be very hard for our readers to interpret our meaning. They'll get bored with us and probably refuse to pick up another of our stories. If, however, we can uncover the deeper message in our work, we are free to write about anything. Through the guise of fiction, we can ponder deep truths, tough issues, or terrifying possibilities. I'm not suggesting we preach; that's not what we're here for. I'm merely offering that we consider our stories, mine them for the wealth of deep content they all carry, and allow ourselves to fashion our stories around something deeper than just "once upon a time..."

After all, all fairy tales communicate some moral truth, even if it's disguised behind three little pigs, witches that cook up little children in a stew, or evil queens who eat the hearts of fair maidens.

Happy Columbus Day!
Jen

**Source Link (Author)ity: The Importance of Storytelling by Simon Kelly


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

An unpopular subject

**rather long post ahead...forgive me in advance**

Censorship and book banning is not the most popular subject one can discuss. There are audiences more receptive to it than others. I'm pretty confident of who I can talk to about it and who I should leave alone concerning it. Some people like being challenged in how they think; others, and I'm sad to say I know many, would rather cling to a preconditioned set of ideals and never once consider something different.

I don't speak out against censorship to tell someone they're wrong. EVERYONE is entitled to their opinion. And THAT'S the key argument against censorship: whether you like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, EVERYONE should be allowed their own opinion: the person writing/saying the challenged material AND the person challenging it.

Oftentimes, however, the person doing the challenging fails to see that what they are failing to do is grant the other part the same respect that they are demanding. "I don't like it!", "Stop saying that!", "That offends me!" are just other ways of saying, "Do it my way", "I don't care what you think", and "I'm right and you're wrong". It's simply not the case with books.

A book is written because the author had something to say. Many times, writers confront hard issues and deep truths through fiction. These issues and truths are rarely popular. I've never been a fan of fiction that left me feeling as if someone stuck a pacifier in my brain and left me to suck on it until I atrophied. I want fiction that challenges the way I think, challenges what I believe. Why? Simple: if you're never challenged at your core, you never really understand why you believe what you believe. It's one thing to say, "I believe the sky is blue because the weather man says it is"; it's quite another to say, "I believe the sky is blue because I've seen it with my own eyes!"

Call it serendipity or rather a subconscious act on my part, but I am busy writing a term paper this week on one of the world's most challenged books: Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury said that his book was not about censorship but it was about the atrophy of human intelligence due to an increasing amount of technology. This I believe. But I also have to hand it to Bradbury: if he wasn't writing a book about the dangers of censorship, his subconscious did one heck of a job of getting that theme past him!

In doing my research, I found a wonderful article by Rodney A. Smolla from the Michigan Law Review, April 2009, entitled "The Life of the Mind and the Life of Meaning: Reflections on Fahrenheit 451".There's a link to the pdf HERE if you're interested. Though this article is reflecting on Bradbury's masterpiece, Smolla also writes compellingly about censorship and the danger of getting too caught up in the constant noise and distraction that technology offers us.

Frighteningly enough, Smolla reiterates the fact that, according to F451, censorship is rarely instigated by the government. It is often initiated by the people and the government follows suit. In F451, the people began to edit out of books anything that may offend anyone. Pretty soon, they were left with nothing but footnotes and it was then that books began being burned. People stopped reading, stopped challenging convention.

The scariest thing about censorship is this: even if someone wishes to ban a book that offends everyone, the banning of that book can cause nothing but harm. Who's to say that the next person who emerges with a challenge isn't challenging something less harsh? They win and the next person, a lesser issue, and so on and so forth and then suddenly anything printed is forbidden?

Do you see the frightening pattern? It is not because I don't take issue with some of what's being printed and published that I'm against censorship; it is the simple fact that I do not want someone telling me what I can and cannot write, can or cannot read.

Writing and reading is an intimate act. The person doing the writing or reading should be allowed the freedom to choose what words they want.

It's that simple.

(Thanks for indulging me in a rather long post this morning. Any thoughts you have on the censorship issue are welcome! I don't usually blog from a soapbox, but there are a couple of issues I feel quite passionate about. Censorship is one of them.)


Monday, October 1, 2012

October is HERE!

photo SOURCE

And you know what that means, right? Halloween is just around the corner. I love ghost stories any time of the year, but there's something about the autumn air that makes them just a bit more spooky. In honor of October and Halloween, I want to do a little shout out to the genre that I love writing most of all: HORROR. Yes, horror. Now, don't cringe too much. Horror literature is far more than just teen slashers and gruesome, deranged, inbred mass murderers. You can thank Hollywood for that misconception of all horror. Stay tuned for posts on horror literature, horror writers, writing in the genre, and a few more treats (and possibly tricks)!

Yesterday kicked off Banned Books Week. I am a HUGE supporter of this celebration of all books challenged and banned and I always enjoying passing the info along. The American Library Association does something special every year for BBW, which is the last week of September/first week of October yearly. Check out their website (HERE) as well as the Banned Books Week website for the current list of challenged titles and titles past. They have virtual read outs, resources for teachers and readers, and other fun stuff to show your support for reading and your disdain for censorship.

Oh, and do yourself a HUGE favor: go pick up a past (or current) banned or challenged title and read it. Educate yourself BEFORE you make a decision for or against censorship. In the past three weeks I've read two books on that list, one which is on the CURRENT list even though it's 30 + years old. If you haven't yet read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee or Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury TRUST me when I say READ THEM! You won't be disappointed. I'll be posting a bit more on Banned Books Week this week and I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts about the issue of book banning and censorship so feel free to comment and/or email me!

It's a stormy day here in metro Atlanta. I hope things are wonderful in your hometown. Have a wonderful Monday, a blissful October first, go pick up a pumpkin spice latte and read a banned book!

Cheers!
Jen

photo SOURCE