Monday, August 31, 2015

Art and Truth

There are bars on the window of my hotel room.

The room sits on the sixth floor of an older building, and the brass framed windows open large enough to slide through, without a screen to feign the idea of security. Three white bars stretch across only the opening, bolted to stone and porcelain, with a bold-type logo stretched across the bottom reading ‘Guardian Angel.’

The bars make me want to jump more than the inviting cement waiting at the bottom of the six-storey drop.

Not that I want to die, mind you. I actually enjoy my life and am quite happy with the way things go, most of the time. But it’s difficult to fight that urge to leap from a rooftop, to play chicken with a transit train and lose, or to pull the steering wheel and send my car into a tree. I think it’s that adrenaline of oncoming death, that brief moment before tragedy hits where everything seems to hang still, that I’m really aching for. Something beyond the mundane, the trivial conflicts and strife that do more to drag you down rather than make you feel alive.

Of course, it’s not something that I talk to many about. Urges of destruction are rarely a socially acceptable topic to entertain at tea time, and yet these impulses are very real, and very there. It joins the many other dark little secrets of mine that are not tea-time worthy, and despite the fact that I know others face similar demons and entertain morbid thoughts, we all keep them tucked away, out of sight and out of mind.

But things don’t stay buried. Not in the mind and not in the world. And when wild dogs dig up our skeletons, we have no choice but to answer for them. I believe the more frightening option, however, is that these skeletons stay buried, that we harbour them in secret until the day we die, and those we leave behind have no idea what really took place within us.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I am not able to silence the demons for long, or keep these morbid thoughts from bleeding out. Most often these themes and ideas creep out into my art. Stories of war, racism, utter despair, and struggle are those that I’m drawn to write. I want to look into the abyss and see what looks back. I want to know what’s hiding beneath everyone’s tea-time demeanour. I don’t want those secrets to stay secrets.

And today, as I leaned against the bars of my hotel room, looking out over the gloomy downtown Seattle and imagining a moment of free falling, I realized: you can’t lie in art. It is pure truth, and the things you create are a reflection of all you are within, the nice things and the not so nice things. It is impossible to create art without truth. Whether that truth is a well-known and accepted one, like the love between a mother and child, or something not so talked about, like the daily struggle against depression, you cannot make art without a reflection of soul taking place.

And perhaps that’s where I’ve gone wrong for the last little while. It’s difficult as a writer to sometimes share your work with others, as that is a piece of raw, unprotected soul that you are offering to them. It can be crushing to have others dismiss or criticize it, and I believe as we grow older, it makes us more guarded and less willing to show those pieces of ourselves, whether in art or otherwise. Without realizing it, we quietly censor ourselves more and more as life goes on, until we are nothing more than our tea-time demeanour, our polite little masks. For me, it’s become more and more difficult to share and create my work, being so overwhelmed by the opinions and criticisms of others, not necessarily about me or my writing, but about what I’m actually trying to say.

Is my message too dark? Will people be offended if I talk about these subjects? How do I portray this in a way that doesn’t make people think that I’m a monster?

On a walk with my boyfriend the other night, we discussed art and what made something “real” art. He made the point that art wasn’t to be shared, that “real” art was something created by the artist, for the artist. And though I argued vehemently, (“Of course art should be shared! It can’t be locked up in a box and forgotten!”) I think there’s definitely some truth in there. When you become so overwhelmed by what everyone else wants, which is very common when getting into the business side of art, you can’t hear your own inner muse. You can’t find your truth, because it gets mixed up in everyone else’s truths. And when you lose your own truth, you either can’t produce anything, falling prey to the devil’s “writer’s block,” or you lose all love for the craft.

I like to think diversity in art isn’t just about the artists themselves, but what you’re really saying. I like to think that the stories and truths within need to be as individualized as the artists, and we should be mindful of looking over each other’s papers too much. When you have too many people trying to stick their thumbs in the pie, you only get a crust full of holes. Inspiration is great, but there’s always a balance to things, and too much outside influence dilutes your individual style.

So, at least for me, that’s what I need to do: write truthfully. Be honest about what I feel and experience as a human. There are always those out there who feel just the same, who need those stories or that art to make them feel connected to someone else. To make them feel not so alone.

At the end of the day, what keeps me from pulling the steering wheel, from taking a swan dive, from leaping to dark impulses, isn’t some stupid ‘guardian angel’, but the fact I know I’m not alone. I know there are others out there like me, because I’ve shared my art and they’ve shared theirs. I know the world is dark and morbid and so am I, but it’s also full of incredible people, whom I hope to understand and who can understand me.

So I’ll be honest, even when it’s not easy. I’ll try to remember the feeling of art as a child, when it felt like my skin was as thick as steel. Because, let’s face it: I will have zero control over my demise when the time comes. I could die tomorrow, and I couldn’t bear to leave anything left unsaid.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Interview with Carter Roy and Giveaway!

Today on the blog, on the release date for the Glass Gauntlet, I have the privilege of hosting Carter Roy, as well as a giveaway of his awesome new release. Why head to the bookstore when you can win this baby with the click of a button? To celebrate its release I'd like to welcome Mr. Roy to the Underground!

1. Out of the many jobs you've had, which one most influenced your writing?

It is boringly obvious, but my jobs in publishing have most influenced how I write. I started as an editorial assistant and ended up in the position of editorial director at a major publishing house, and along the way I learned from the literally hundreds and hundreds of books I was lucky enough to work on.

2. What made you switch from writing for adults to children? What appeals to you about each?

I don't really feel like I made a "switch," exactly—I still write both! But the stuff for younger readers is less thinky and a lot more fun, while the adult stuff assumes a greater sophistication in the reader.

(This is not to slander younger readers; far from it. But part of growing up as a reader is to acquire a readerly sophistication that allows you to switch with ease from a novel by Charlaine Harris to one by Thomas Harris to one by Thomas Pynchon. Writing for adults has a bigger playing field as a result, if that makes sense.)

3. Did you have any trouble switching from short stories to a novel length tale?

Yes and no. Figuring out the pacing of a novel turns out to be really a lot of work. Ideally, there is a page-turning quality to the storytelling, right? But there also needs to be breathing room for exposition and character development and so on, so it can't all be breathless excitement. (Besides which, breathless excitement gets pretty dull after a while, and proper lulls in the storytelling make the more active bits all the more thrilling.) But with a novel, you get all this room to play around in that you don't have in a short story. The reader has settled in for the long haul with a novel, so she gives you more space for your tale. Not so in a short story. There, every line has to count. There are real challenges to each form.

4. When do you write? Do you have any routines or rituals?

I try to write to a schedule, but those can be awfully hard to nail down. (I recently became a father, and suddenly all routines went out the window.)

Ideally, I get up early (five to six am), brew some coffee, read the news, and then turn on Freedom (a program that blocks the internet for a set amount of time). And then I write that day's word count target, which can be anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 words depending on the draft and where I am at in the book. (Later chapters and earlier drafts come faster; revision is where the writing slows to a crawl.)

Between chunks of the story (when I reach the end of a scene, say), I take a break and do other things. It's important to give your brain a break once in a while, and doing something else often shakes things loose. Walks are good for solving story problems.

5. Do you have any difficulties switching from editor mode to writer mode?

I don't think so. If anything, I'm too severe with my edits on later drafts. "When in doubt, cut it out" is my mantra. Each successive revision of The Blood Guard came in shorter than the previous one, because if I feel something is slow or not working well or showing the author's hand too much, I toss it. The first draft was a 100 pages longer than the finished book. The story is all still there, but there's no fat on its bones.

6. What advice do you have for young writers on writing an excellent story?

Never mind writing what you know, or what you think the market wants. Instead, write what you love. Nothing else is worth your time, and anything other than a story you love is going to get mired down in dreary, dead prose. Writing is tough, surely, but it is also fun. When you're clicking along writing the kind of book you want to read, then a certain kind of alchemy happens, and you find little pockets of joy in the writing all over the place. Love it or loathe it, but The Blood Guard is the kind of book I loved when I was eleven. Write what you love. Otherwise, why bother?

7. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you find it easier to plan or go with the flow?

Both. I work up a very detailed outline ... and then I feel free to diverge from it as the story comes together. I'm a firm believer in the liberating power of formal constraint. Outlines? They're safety nets. They allow you to feel secure as you blindly follow inspiration. As a writer, you can attempt bigger feats of daring when you know that even if you fail, you'll have the outline to fall back on.

8. What made you choose Evelyn as your main character's name?

Evelyn because I am fan of the hilarious, cutting novels of Evelyn Waugh; Truelove is because a friend's last name is actually Truelove, which struck me as both wonderful and a kind of curse.

9. What was the most challenging part of writing the Glass Gauntlet?

Making the story stand more-or-less alone but at the same time matter in the larger arc of Ronan's story.

Middle books in a series are always challenges—they can't move the story all the way to the end, but no reader wants to feel as though she is spinning her wheels waiting for the book three to thump down onto the doorstep with the conclusion of the tale. I knew Ronan and his friends couldn't leap right into full-blown action yet, because there is no way they could be ready to go to battle by book two. Instead, they needed to face a contained set of experiences that could dovetail with the larger story—and also set them up for the third book. Did I succeed? Beats me. But I certainly tried my best.

10. What is the best feedback you've received from readers? Got any stories?

I suppose my favorite (?) feedback comes from a few impassioned commentators who see The Blood Guard as having an agenda. (It doesn't. Honest.)

One letter writer accused me of having an anti-science, pro-religion bias, because the bad guys in the series employ cutting-edge technology. Another was sure I was against organized religion because the same bad guys have strange religious underpinnings to their beliefs.

The truth is that I didn't want to malign my villains just because they are true believers. Why shouldn't such people also recognize the power of science and technology? That bad people take advantage of technology doesn't mean I think science is bad; and just because some people commit heinous acts in the name of a religious belief doesn't mean religion is bad, either. It's a very complicated world out there, and I was hoping to make the opponents Ronan faces reflect that a little bit.

Why this has to be an either/or thing for some readers mystifies me. But I do appreciate their passion for their points of view, and I am grateful that they read my book and took the time to write to me.

Wow! Gotta love the last answer there. I definitely didn't see that one coming. Thank you so much Carter Roy for stopping by, and for those of you excited to get your hands on The Glass Gauntlet, I hope you'll enter the contest below! Simply comment that you would like a copy with an email address to contact you, and I will select a winner using a random number generator on Monday, August 24th. The contest is international, so enter quickly! 

Trust me, you'll want this one.