Fiction from “The Drabble”: “Sleep on Needles” by Intrudesite

Slattery’s note:  This is not what most would consider “horror” per se, but the ending has such a chilling quality that might bring it into the realm of horror ultra-lite.

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By intrudesite She was just a baby when they diagnosed her with acute leukemia. She did not understand all the words, she feared the pricks given countless times and drawing blood to see if cells s…

Source: Sleep on Needles

The Dark Language

Working on a play in Hasting's Hardback Café, late evening, October 16, 2015.

Working on a play in Hasting’s Hardback Café, late evening, October 16, 2015.

As I was preparing to go to the local theatre this evening, I was thinking about how I can improve my writing and what distinguishes the great writers of horror.  Of course, the first two that came into my mind as being easily discernible from all others were Poe and Lovecraft.  Obviously, what distinguishes them is their use of language.  Both use very intense, muscular language with a distinctly archaic tone.   Not knowing if there a precise term already exists for this style, I decided to call it “the dark language”, because of its tight connection with the horror genre and with the horrifying in general.   For me, there seems to be something archetypal about this, arising out of the Jungian collective unconscious.   Perhaps it is just that Poe bound the Dark Language so intimately with scenes of horror, terror, and suspense, which is also bound with genres such as the Gothic novel, that the sound of it automatically brings forth societal memories of dread.

I need to finish dressing if I am to dine at my favorite local sushi restaurant before heading to the play.  Somehow, I just have the taste for something raw tonight.

Thoughts?  Comments?

Physical Descriptions and the Atmosphere of the Mind

Relaxing by the front yard firepit on a chilly New Mexico evening circa 2013.

Relaxing by the front yard firepit on a chilly New Mexico evening circa 2013.

I was sitting here writing a short story when it occurred to me that most characters in classic fiction seldom have detailed descriptions of their physical characteristics.  In fact, many have none at all.   If they are described, it is usually in a broad, general way, unless there is some detail the author wants to bring out that reveals something about the character.   While this is a good technique for lean, muscular writing, it also has the benefit of not limiting how the character appears in the reader’s mind.   For example, here is the initial description of Victor Frankenstein when the narrator’s ship rescues him in the arctic in letter 4 (which functions in essence as part of a preface):

“Upon hearing this he appeared satisfied and consented to come on board. Good God! Margaret, if you had seen the man who thus capitulated for his safety, your surprise would have been boundless. His limbs were nearly frozen, and his body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering. I never saw a man in so wretched a condition. We attempted to carry him into the cabin, but as soon as he had quitted the fresh air he fainted. We accordingly brought him back to the deck and restored him to animation by rubbing him with brandy and forcing him to swallow a small quantity. As soon as he showed signs of life we wrapped him up in blankets and placed him near the chimney of the kitchen stove. By slow degrees he recovered and ate a little soup, which restored him wonderfully.

“Two days passed in this manner before he was able to speak, and I often feared that his sufferings had deprived him of understanding. When he had in some measure recovered, I removed him to my own cabin and attended on him as much as my duty would permit. I never saw a more interesting creature: his eyes have generally an expression of wildness, and even madness, but there are moments when, if anyone performs an act of kindness towards him or does him any the most trifling service, his whole countenance is lighted up, as it were, with a beam of benevolence and sweetness that I never saw equalled. But he is generally melancholy and despairing, and sometimes he gnashes his teeth, as if impatient of the weight of woes that oppresses him.”

Very little is said about Frankenstein’s physical state except where it reveals something about his state of mind or gives an idea of the hardships he has suffered in pursuit of his creation.    Because the physical description is so minimal,  the reader may envision Frankenstein in any physical form that he wants or whatever is easiest for him to envision (there is a difference between what we may want to envision and what is easiest or most natural for us to envision).  Frankenstein could be short and dark-haired and dark-complected or tall and blonde and sunburned.  Later on, we learn his family is from Geneva, therefore the reader could envision him as whatever his stereotype of a Swiss man from Geneva happens to be.

Using minimal physical description is therefore an advantage to the author, because it allows the reader to more easily visualize and thus more easily experience the story vicariously, i.e., it allows the reader to more easily immerse himself in the story.  We have all experienced the feeling of being completely immersed in the world of a novel, what Henry James called “the atmosphere of the mind” (see the definition in the Lexicon of Horror) and that is a feeling I want my readers to experience.

Thoughts?  Comments?

Types of Horror

Grand Guignol poster  from grandguignol.com

Grand Guignol poster
from grandguignol.com

Just now, I finished pasting Stephen King’s famous quotation on the three types of terror into my page on “Thoughts on Horror from the Masters” and I remembered that yesterday I was trying to remember the quotation, but could only recall a vague impression of it.   Thinking on that impression now, I think that it was just as valid and true a one as the one by Mr. King, but simpler, more compact, and easier to remember.  The concept is (I’ll refine this a little for the sake of clarity):

The three most common types of horror are:  suspense (knowing someone runs the risk of decapitation at any moment), terror (seeing him/her being decapitated), and disgust (watching the head roll down the stairs).

I don’t think this idea should replace Mr. King’s by any means, but should probably be viewed as a simplification of his rather lengthy statement.

There are also probably a hundred more different flavors (i.e. variations of the sensation) of horror but these are the three that seem to me to be the most common, at least in movies and other popular media.

Thoughts?  Comments?

Observations on “Baby Shoes” and Hemingway’s Iceberg Principle

Ernest Hemingway Thought I do not know who the creator of this work is, I must ask that you respect their copyright.

Ernest Hemingway
(Though I do not know who the creator of this work is, I must ask that you respect their copyright.)

There is a story that Ernest Hemingway wrote the following to win a bet with other writers that he could write the shortest story:

“For sale:  baby shoes.  Never worn.”

Even a little research on the Internet shows that there is considerable doubt that Hemingway wrote this story, with the earliest reference to it as a Hemingway work not appearing until 1991.  There is also considerable evidence that the story existed in various forms as early as 1910, when Hemingway was 11 and well before his writing career began.   Whatever the facts, it is an extreme example of the lean, muscular writing for which Hemingway was famous.

In an interview with The Paris Review (see The Writer’s Chapbook, 1989, pp. 120-121), Hemingway did say:

“If it is any use to know it,  I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg.  There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.  Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg.  It is the part that doesn’t show.  If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story…First I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader so that after he or she has read something it will become a part of his or her experience and seem actually to have happened.  This is very hard to do and I’ve worked at it very hard.”

So “Baby Shoes” is a good example of Hemingway’s iceberg principle, even if he didn’t write it.

“Baby Shoes” is also a good example of what I like to think of as the Tao of writing (see my earlier posts):  creating a story by a careful, strategic use of what is not said.  No where in the story does it state that a couple had apparently been expecting a baby, that they bought shoes for it, but then something happened to the baby to cause its death, and now the parents want to sell the shoes.    None of that is stated.  It is all implied, but yet we know what happened–or at least we have a good idea of what happened, even if we do not know the concrete facts of the matter.

There are also other facets of the story that we can infer, albeit tenuously.  From the fact that they bought baby shoes we can infer that the parents were probably eager to have the child.  From the fact that the parents want to sell the shoes we can infer that they probably don’t want them around any more as a remainder of a painful experience, but at the same time they may want to see someone else make good use of them or that they are hard up for money.

But one question I have that concerns human psychology is why is it that most people can read these same six words and come away with the same perception of what occurred?  Does it have to do with Jungian Archetypes floating around in each of us or is it that each of us has had the same broad experience(s) so that we can interpret these six words in a very similar way?

In the art of sculpture, those areas of a work that are empty, yet give the work its form, are called “negative space”.  An example is the space between each of your fingers.  If there were no space, there would be no individual fingers.   In that sense, a story like “Baby Shoes” makes maximum use of what might be termed “literary negative space”.

It is not really the words that give this story its power, but how we psychologically connect the ideas behind the words that fuel this extremely brief, but epic and poignant tale.

This is part of the magic of writing:  conjuring worlds out of nothing.

Thoughts?  Comments?

 

Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and the X-files

mod 130419_0008I just finished watching an episode of the X-Files entitled “Chinga” [note to Spanish-speakers out there:  I don’t know who chose the title, so please forgive my language] from Season Five and I  noticed that it was written by Stephen King and Chris Carter (the creator of the X-Files).  The story’s antagonist is a talking doll that can force people to injure or kill themselves in gruesome ways.   Like many, if not most, of King’s stories, there is no explanation of how the came to exist.  All the viewer finds out about it is that a lobsterman pulled it up one night in a lobster trap and his daughter comes to possess it after he meets his own gruesome fate.

I find in my own writing that I like to provide an explanation or background as to how things originate.  This is just my nature.  I like to know the origins of things.  However, I have come to believe of late that, in terms of horror, that is a very nineteenth century  concept.

Lovecraft said in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”:

“A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and protentiousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain — a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only daily safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”

For me, what Lovecraft is saying is that if the laws of nature are negated, then anything is possible and monsters like Cthulhu really could exist and are capable of doing us harm at any moment.  Combine this with his statement that “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” and it becomes apparent that stories like “Chinga” derive much of their horror effect from the fact that the origin of the threat to a story’s protagonist(s) is unknown or that there is no explanation for the threat.

This would mean that one of  things that provides to “Chinga”  the element of horror that it has, is the fact that origin of the doll is unknown.  Therefore, any of us when we are fishing or scuba diving or swimming in any body of water, could discover a doll that would turn his/her life into a nightmare.   That is a scary thought.

Of course, this means that Stephen King would be one of the greatest practitioners of this technique, which I believe he is.

I think I shall try to experiment with this in the near future.

Thoughts?  Comments?

 

Notes on “The Hellbound Heart” Part 2 of 2

Clive Barker, Seattle, 2007 by Steven Friederich

Clive Barker, Seattle, 2007 by Steven Friederich

I finished reading The Hellbound Heart several weeks ago.  As noted previously, it is a truly terrific read.    I suggest reading it after seeing the movie (if you have somehow repeatedly missed your chances of seeing “Hellraiser” over the last twenty or so years).   Reading it beforehand will just spoil the movie, whereas reading it afterwards may enlighten parts of the movie.

I don’t have much to add to what I have previously stated, except that, if you are a student of storytelling, the book warrants a detailed examination for narrative technique as it exhibits some basic techniques of storytelling that Mr. Barker carries out very well.   I could go through the book page by page and expound on each ad nauseam, but instead I will focus now on one that sticks in my mind.

I do not recall if this is in the movie, but toward the end where Kirsty is trapped in the “damp room” by Frank, she slips on a bit of preserved ginger lying on the floor enabling Frank to catch her.  The method by which Barker establishes why that ginger is on the floor fascinates me.

Although I have one or two dictionaries of literary terms, I do not recall the name for this technique and I think of it as simply setting the stage for a future scene.  It shows the foresight, planning, and attention to detail that must go into any good story.

Earlier in the story, after Julia has released Frank from the Cenobite hell and he has regained enough flesh that he can once again eat, he asks Julia for a few of his favorite victuals, including preserved ginger.   At the moment I read this, I thought it was simply a natural but insignificant detail.  Of course, I could not know then that that bit of ginger would  skyrocket the dramatic tension later on in one of the novel’s most important scenes.

Anyway, that’s my post for the day.

I have been very negligent in posting anything over the last months,  my daytime job and personal matters consuming much more of my time than usual.  I have recently come to find out though, that many more people in my home town of Frankfort, KY, were enjoying my postings than I had known or even believed possible and sorely missed it during this hiatus.  For them and all the others who silently enjoy my works, I shall endeavor to pick up the thread.

I have not lost my desire to write fiction, however, and I am currently trying to finish a sci-fi/horror novella that I started sometime back.  The work is going well, but I am having to change some of my original concept to make it more exciting.  I would like to make it as gripping as some have found my “Murder by Plastic” (published at www.everydayfiction.com), but that will be quite difficult for something as long as a novella.  The part I find most challenging is to coordinate the details much as Barker did in the example I give above.  I would expound on the subject, but I do not want to give away the plot or run the risk of some unscrupulous cur stealing my idea and publishing it before I do–particularly as I am so close to finishing it.  After this I have another three or four unfinished works to bring to a close.  I could probably write eight hours a day like Thomas Mann and still not be finished by spring.

Thoughts?  Comments?

Visit “The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 1” but not for the obvious reason.

Edgar Allan Poe, 1848

Edgar Allan Poe, 1848

The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 1.  Yes, this link takes you to a collection of Poe’s works, but the reason I am mentioning it here is because the preface to this particular volume includes fascinating biographical notes and insight into the character of this master of horror that may help you understand the roots of his creative genius and how art sometimes came close to imitating life for Mr. Poe.

When you open the page, you may find yourself a little distance from the top of the article at the beginning of a section entitled “The Death of Edgar Allan Poe”.  While this section is fascinating in its own right, scroll to the top for the entire preface.  The works of Poe, beginning with the story of Hans Pfall, begin a bit down from “The Death…”

28 Totally Relatable Quotes About Books

Detail of Madonna des Kanonikus Georg van der Paele by Jan van Eyck, 1436

Detail of Madonna des Kanonikus Georg van der Paele
by Jan van Eyck, 1436

Purely for your entertainment, here are 28 Totally Relatable Quotes About Books.  I know I can relate to a lot of them.  I’m sure you will find a few for yourself.  One reason I find these interesting is because many of them show me how intensely involved readers will become with a book.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, I believe that people live a vicarious existence through a story.  When we write, we are not just writing a book or a story, we are creating a universe in which people will hopefully want to, not just visit, but dwell.  All of the writer’s art should therefore focus on creating a virtual reality for one’s readers.  To do that, we need a good  grounding in, or at least a good feel for, human psychology, because we have to shape our creations to fit the human psyche.  How do thoughts come into being?  How do they lead from one to another?  How do images form in the mind?  No, I am not saying that we need Ph.D.’s in psychology to be good writers, but I think we need some sort of archetypal insight into human nature if we are to be the great writers we hope to be.  Darn.  I’m rambling again.  🙂

Impressions of Five Writing Styles

I was in the Farmington public library yesterday trying to pull together some ideas for a story, but I could not concentrate long enough to formulate many good thoughts, because I felt more in a mood to receive information rather than to transmit.

Within the last few days I have started reading a collection of Lovecraft stories entitled The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft:  Dreams of Terror and Death (an excellent work; read it if you get the chance), edited by Neil Gaiman.  While wandering through the stacks, I pulled out a copy of Stephen King’s From a Buick 8 and took it back to my seat.  I had started reading it several years ago, but never finished it.  I thought I would review it and maybe start on it again soon.   As I read it, I noticed an interesting difference between King’s style and Lovecraft’s. Lovecraft gives a lot more of the backstory of a work in a few pages than King does.

As it so happens, I had also passed by the John Updike section a little earlier in the library and I have a few of his novels, which I have never read.  I went back and picked up his Rabbit, Run for comparison.  I thought about the differences between these three and a couple of other famous writers and came up with what I consider to be an interesting observation  (though it might bore those of you who are more advanced in the craft of writing than I am):  it is fascinating to see how much information about a work’s backstory or the larger setting of a story an author can put in the first 2-3 pages or so of a work.  For what it’s worth, here are my initial subjective impressions of the five writers under consideration yesterday.

In the first few pages of Rabbit, Run Updike details how Rabbit Angstrom happens to walk upon a basketball game among six kids in an alleyway (circa 1960). He watches and then joins the game, and impresses them with his basketball prowess, having been a high school basketball star about 8-9 years earlier.  He then goes home to where his wife is contemplating cooking dinner.   Updike takes us through this step by step and we don’t learn a lot other than Rabbit was a basketball star in high school several years back  and at 26 he has a middle class life now with a job for which he wears a suit to work.  I know that Updike is a very respected writer with two Pulitzers to his credit, but this story gets off to a very slow start for me and I learn very little about Rabbit Angstrom in the opening pages.  There is also very little emotional pull in these opening pages to draw me into the story.

In the opening chapter of A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway describes the scene from the window of an Italian house used as a hospital as troops pass en route to the Austrian front over the course of about a year.   He also describes how the leaves fall from a nearby tree and how the dust during the summers turns everything bone white, both of which (to me) symbolize the deaths of myriad troops on the front.   In maybe 2-3 pages, Hemingway not only gives us the overall setting of being at the Italo-Austrian front, he also draws us in with considerable emotional impact of the tragedy of the watching thousands of weary troops slogging through rain and mud or trudging through dust and heat on their way to their deaths.

In Quiet Flows the Don (1940), Soviet author Mikhail Sholokhov (winner of the 1965 Nobel prize for literature) describes the lives of Don Cossacks from before the First World War up to the Russian Revolution.  In its first few pages, Sholokhov describes life in a village of Cossacks, describes the relationship between father and son, shows how the son is having an affair with another Cossack’s wife, and shows the history and underlying peccadilloes of the family back for circa 200 years.  While his style is non-emotional, one cannot help but to feel for the family and to be drawn into the story.  It is a hard book to put down.

In From a Buick 8, Stephen King tells the story of a mysterious car that is kept in storage at a Pennsylvania State Troopers’ post.  In his first few pages, King describes the main characters and how they interrelate and how they all fit into the world of that post.  King makes the reader feel as if he were seeing the post from the perspective from one of its members.  You know the same things about all the members of that tight-knit community as if you were one of them.   Though the opening is not on the grand scale of A Farewell to Arms or Quiet Flows the Don, one feels the story on a much more intimate level while on a larger scale than in Rabbit, Run.    In the opening pages of From a Buick 8, King makes the reader feel as if he were part of a small community, while Sholokhov makes the reader feel as if he were part of a village, and Hemingway makes the reader feel a part of an entire battle front.

Dreams of Terror and Death is a collection of short stories, but in it the unfinished tale “The Descendant” stands out as an example of Lovecraft’s ability to an enormous backstory/setting into a few pages.  In these few pages, Lovecraft describes how a young man brings a copy of the dread Necronomicon to an aging scholar and how the scholar begins to relate the history of a millennia-old castle on the Yorkshire coast that hides the entrance to the elder world.  The story, even in its few pages touches on black magic; ancient, forgotten civilizations; other dimensions; and probably a dozen other mysterious subjects that instill the sort of eerie curiosity into a reader that compels a person into the black recesses of an unexplored cave. You sense something dangerous is lurking just out of sight, but you cannot contain the urge to find out what it is.

The instilling of this eerie curiosity that keeps one on the edge of the movie theater seat or turning the pages of the novel is a hallmark of all good horror and of all good horror writers.

Thoughts?  Comments?

Horror and Imagination

"The Pit and the Pendulum" Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1935

“The Pit and the Pendulum”
Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1935

A day or two ago, I finished reading volume 1 of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood.   His style is beautiful; his choice of words is meticulous; his characters are carefully interwoven; and his imagination is mind-boggling.  If you haven’t read this and you call yourself a fan of horror, you should probably be ashamed (I feel ashamed that I have not read him before now).   You are missing out on some terrific stories.  Now I understand why Stephen King called him “the future of horror”.

But of all his praiseworthy attributes, the one that stands out from all the others is his imagination.   I cannot even imagine how he formulates his ideas.   For “Midnight Meat Train”, was he just riding a subway and wonder “where does this go? What’s at the end of the line? Maybe there are cannibals at the end of the line?  Where did they come from?”  How did he associate cannibals with a subway?  [Of course, this is all speculation I am just pulling out of the air.  I have read nothing about Barker’s gifted imagination.  I am using my own imagination and my experience in developing stories to speculate about his methods.]

I heard some place many years ago that genius is not seeing the similarities between apples and oranges (anyone can see the differences), but seeing the similarities between apples and tractors–or in this case, seeing the possible connections between cannibals and subways.

In “In the Hills, the Cities” How did he come up with the concept of giants made of tens of thousands of people functioning together as a single entity?  Was he thinking of the original druid burning men and wonder, “what if they were bigger and could come alive?”

To come up with stories such as these, one must think completely out of the box, out of the established paradigm (per Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).

The more I read of works like this, the more I take to heart the advice I see occasionally from publishers that they do not want to see more werewolf-vampire-zombie (wvz) stories or that wvz stories must be very well done to be published.  I enjoy wvz stories as much as the next reader, but if I were a publisher, I do not know if I could stomach seeing hundreds come across my desk in a month for years on end.

In his work “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, Lovecraft stresses the importance of an element of the supernatural being present in what he then termed “weird fiction” because if anything is possible, then there are no longer any physical laws of reality to shield us from the horrors that may actually be in the universe.  Barker does exactly that.  In his writing, there are no limits to what may happen to any one at any time.  We are all under the threat of horrific annihilation at any moment.

Likewise, another of Lovecraft’s bits of advice is that characters must be ordinary people so that the appearance of the supernatural will be obvious and stronger than if the characters were all super characters.   This makes sense.  Superman is only super when he is on earth;  he would be just another overworked taxpayer on Krypton.  From what I have seen so far in volume 1 of Books of Blood, all of Barker’s characters are quite ordinary people caught up in quite extraordinary and horrible circumstances.  Perhaps his way of characterization is genius in itself.   I think anyone can make up a fantastic character, but to make someone real, to make a genuine person and have their character show through, when it is easier to make up a shallow one or two dimensional stick figure…isn’t that a form of genius in its own right?   In terms of characterization, Barker’s imagination does not tend to the supernatural, but to the perceptive and to the meticulous.  [No, I haven’t read The Hellbound Heart yet but I have read “The Yattering and Jack”, and I feel confident that when I do finally encounter Pinhead (I have seen a few of the Hellraiser series), he will certainly not be two-dimensional even though he is definitely supernatural.]

But I digress.

The upshot of all this is that as writers we should push our imaginations to the limits, exploring new ways of coming up with ideas, and disdain themes and motifs that have been worked to death for decades.  That is a great part of the challenge of writing.  Though I love classic literature such as that by Hemingway and Fitzgerald, their works do not push the limits of the imagination as do the writers of speculative fiction such as Barker and Lovecraft or Bradbury and Asimov.  Writers of speculative fiction are explorers of the imagination.

But of the subgenres of speculative fiction, where does that leave writers of horror?

It leaves us as explorers of the dark arts of the imagination.  Whereas writers of science fiction and fantasy may push into better worlds like Magellan sailing around the globe, we authors of horror push into the dark, threatening, forbidding areas of the imagination, much as the conquistadors pushed into the Central American jungles or intrepid British explorers pushed along the Congo or Amazon in search of wealth or lost cities.  Indeed, it could be said that we are searching for metaphorical lost cities in the recesses of the mind,  seeking long-hidden worlds surrounded by mystery and horror.

If life is a journey, then we, as writers of horror are choosing the most terrifying journey through the imagination that we can, because we love the thrill of being faced with horror on every side.

Thoughts?  Comments?

Recommendation: The Popular Uncanny

I found a fascinating article just now that I highly recommend visiting:  “Winter Chills with Mike Arnzen”.  You can find it at http://nonhorrorreadersurvey.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/winter-chills-with-mike-arnzen/.  It is a fascinating look into how Freud’s concept of the Uncanny can be found in modern horror and in popular culture.    It is worth checking out.

What music inspires you to horror?

Poster from Johannascheezburger.com via Halloween Mike's Horror Everyday on Facebook.

Poster from Johannascheezburger.com via Halloween Mike’s Horror Everyday on Facebook.

For the first time in a long time, I was listening to CDs on the car stereo as I drove back from Farmington (New Mexico) on the 14th, when I started feeling once again the latent but powerful emotions I associate with certain songs.  The songs in question were Puddle of Mudd’s “Spaceship” from Songs in the Key of Love and Hate and “Would?” from Alice in Chains’s Dirt.  When I was not that much younger than I am now, I used to listen to a broad range of music (from classical to hard rock to New Age and more) almost constantly.  Therefore it will not be surprising if I state that others that stir me range from ACDC’s “Back in Black” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to  Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and, for a complete change of pace, to Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” and Michael Gettel’s San Juan Suite, both of which seem to stir not a tumult of emotions, but instead have the opposite effect and cause me to almost drift away on a sea of tranquility.

As I am sure is the case with most people, I find all my favorite songs enjoyable, but there were, and still are, some that stir me deeply and can even now resurrect feelings of intense excitement and passion as if I were reliving my “Glory Days” (which, by the way, is an excellent Springsteen tune that really hits home these days).

Out of those that stir my emotions the most, are a select group that have a certain je ne sais quois, a combination of primal rhythm, deep-toned vocalization, and soul-stirring guitar riffs,  that do not stimulate the intellect as much as they instigate remote, subconscious parts of the mind to coalesce into a riot of images shaping themselves into the essential kernel of some grim tale that I know I can nurture, expand, and carefully, painstakingly mold into a narrative that would enthrall Dante or Milton–had I the time or unswerving diligence to concentrate on its writing.

“Enter Sandman” by Metallica is an excellent example of this.  Even though the song is about the destruction of a family (according to Wikipedia), something about it compels me to write an intricate novel of espionage, assassination, betrayal, deception, and the inner horrors of the human psyche that paces back and forth in the recesses of my mind like a tiger in a cage, watching for an opportunity to spring forth into the light of day upon an unsuspecting yet willing audience.   I have probably  20,000-30,000 or more words in the current draft of this story and I will probably trash most of these the next time I sit down to tackle this task.    One day I will have to dedicate myself to finishing the story, because this is the only way I know I will be able to rid myself of the tiger’s pacing and of his relentless stare that bores into the back of my neocortex.  As my life stands now, between chores at home and working 50-60 hours per week at my day job, I can find little time during an average week to work on the various short stories, novelettes, and novellas I have started over the past year.

Sad to say, I have two or three good novels that have been waiting over a decade or more for their genesis.  Probably with each of them I associate some tune from my more turbulent past, if not with the entire work, then with at least some scene that plays over and over in my head like a teaser clip from a movie trailer.

For me, this is one of the delicious agonies of being a writer.  I have so many fascinating concepts whirling through my head that I just know instinctively can be great works and that I enjoy revisiting whenever I have a few seconds to daydream but the lack of time in my daily life stymies their creation.

My question to you tonight, is are there musical works that inspire you to create works of horror and terror?

Lovecraft on the Supernatural

H.P. Lovecraft, 1915

H.P. Lovecraft, 1915

 

I was reading Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature” the other day when I came across this line concerning the nature of  the “weird tale”:

“A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and protentiousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain — a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only daily safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”

With me, this idea hit home.  I have always thought that the more realistic I could make a story, the more frightening it would be for the reader, because it could possibly happen. Lovecraft takes the complete opposite approach.  In essence, he says let’s dispense with the chains of our preconceptions of reality then see what could happen.   He is right.  If anything can happen, the horrors that could happen to humanity are limitless and unimaginable.

Now let’s take this line of thought a step or two further philosophically.  Perhaps our concept of reality is really a sort of protective shell, a defense mechanism created by our minds that shields us from being overwhelmed by the thousands of possible ways we could meet our ends.  If a person tried to conceive of all the ways he/she might die at any moment, no matter how miniscule the odds, his/her mind might be overwhelmed and paralyzed by fear or destroyed by paranoia and madness.   The only way the mind could survive would then be to limit the possibilities to only those with the greatest probability of happening at that moment, in essence, wrapping itself in a protective cocoon of denial.

If there are any philosophy majors out there reading this, please feel free to bring up this idea in class.  I would love to hear the arguments for and against this.

Now, let’s go a step even further.   If we start to see our perception of reality as only a concept, as only a protective shell in a much greater universe, as only one alternative among thousands or millions of possibilities, then the possibility of creatures like Cthulhu, Shoggoth, Nylarhotep, the “ancient ones”, and all the other monsters contained in Lovecraft’s vivid imagination becomes very real.

Lovecraft’s world of the “ancient ones” is frightening enough when we think it has no chance of happening, but it becomes truly terrifying if we think it has even the slightest chance of actually happening.

Thoughts?  Comments?

Jorge Oscar Rossi’s “Archetypal Horror: H.P. Lovecraft and Carl Gustav Jung”

Cthulhu

I ran across an interesting article today at http://www.quintadimension.com/article66.html, entitled “Archetypal Horror:  H.P. Lovecraft and Carl Gustav Jung”.  It was written by Jorge Oscar Rossi, an Argentinian writer of science fiction (and fantastic literature in general), and published on December, 8, 2000.  Please note that the article and his autobiography are in Spanish.

I am no master of Spanish, having had only two years in college and some practical, albeit frequent, experience in Texas and Mexico over the last twenty years.   However, Señor Rossi’s article is well-written and relatively easy reading, so that I feel I caught the gist of it, if not all the nuances.

His main point (and anyone with a better knowledge of Spanish than I, including Señor Rossi, may correct me if I am wrong) is that Lovecraft’s ancient gods of the Cthulhu mythos represent archetypal forms of horror in the Jungian sense of “archetype”.

If you have a basic comprehension of Spanish, the article is quite intriguing and worth taking a shot at reading.

If nothing esle, the article will help you view the poster above from another perspective: what is the meaning of the poster if the creature above symbolizes archetypal fears shared by everyone?

Thoughts?  Comments?