Thursday Quotable: Danse Macabre

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“I think that writers are made, not born or created out of dreams of childhood trauma—that becoming a writer (or a painter, actor, director, dancer, and so on) is a direct result of conscious will. Of course there has to be some talent involved, but talent is a dreadfully cheap commodity, cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work and study; a constant process of honing. Talent is a dull knife that will cut nothing unless it is wielded with great force—a force so great the knife is not really cutting at all but bludgeoning and breaking (and after two or three of these gargantuan swipes it may succeed in breaking itself…which may be what happened to such disparate writers as Ross Lockridge and Robert E. Howard). Discipline and constant work are the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed until it becomes sharp enough, hopefully, to cut through even the toughest meat and gristle. No writer, painter, or actor—no artist—is ever handed a sharp knife (although a few are handed almighty big ones; the name we give to the artist with the big knife is “genius”), and we hone with varying degrees of zeal and aptitude.”

― Stephen King, Danse Macabre

Can you write, if you weren’t given the tools? If not born with knife in hand (sorry, Mom…), can you find one, somewhere out there, buried under autumn leaves? Or maybe you have to learn to disarm someone who does have a knife, pry it from their stiff fingers and claim it for your own. See, that’s what happens when you extend a metaphor too far.

In the book, King points out that he’s not a great guitar player, no matter how many years he’s been at it. I can sympathize. I can barely keep a rhythm; perhaps it’s something inherent in the writer’s brain that they can only follow the beat of the sounds inside their own heads? The point is that some people weren’t born with talent, in one area or another. The trick is to find what you’re talented at, plunge your face in, and eat the whole damn thing, heart and all.

The book is great, filled with all the candid, black humor that you’d expect if you’ve read On Writing, a more directly applicable piece of nonfiction for the aspiring author. It’s also a brilliant meditation on the horror genre in film, although I’ve learned that King’s taste in movies and my own deviate beyond his distaste for Kubrick’s The Shining, which I think is one of the greatest films to have been put to celluloid. Put it on your shelf, Constant Reader, and take it down some dark night when the tree branches scratch at the window panes.

via Bookshelf Fantasies

 

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Thursday Quotable: Haunted

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These four provinces also correspond to four prime areas of cultural anxiety in the Western world from the eighteenth century to the present. In other words, these are the monsters of modernity, each commanding a particular area of fear, even while some of its characteristics overlap with others. They are the monster from nature (like King Kong), the created monster (like Frankenstein), the monster from within (like Mr. Hyde), and the monster from the past (like Dracula). From these, virtually all varieties of the monstrous flow.

— Haunted, Leo Braudy

Haunted is a taxonomy of monsters, as well as something of a history of fear. Horror writers take note: this is your field guide for monsters. No, it won’t give you stat blocks for each and every monster from story and folklore, like a DnD Monster Manual, but it will teach you how to understand the dark recesses of human imagination where monsters live, putting them in context of society and religion.

Also discussed, though not entirely monstrous themselves, are the witch, the ghost, and the detective archetypes. I’ve only found one glaring mistake in the book, a reference to Michael Myers’ “hockey mask”, alone enough to scrape at the nerves of any horror movie fan, but I’ll chalk it up to an oversight in editing rather than genuine ignorance. Other than this, Braudy is dead on and keenly insightful.

via Bookshelf Fantasies

Thursday Quotable: Zen in the Art of Writing

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Time enough to think and cut and rewrite tomorrow. But today — explode — fly apart — disintegrate! The other six or seven drafts are going to be pure torture. So why not enjoy the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world who, reading your story, will catch fire too?

— Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury

Here’s hoping day 2 of NaNoWriMo is going well for all you writers out there. I, myself, am elbows deep in ink, and have never been so in love with the craft as I have been this month. Don’t worry. I know it won’t last. But right now, I’m exploding, and I hope you are too.

via Bookshelf Fantasies