Last House on the Block

(It’s poetry, so nothing’s right out in the open, but I’m just going to go ahead and say TRIGGER WARNING in all caps before we delve into this one)

crickets quieting footsteps

no one thinks to question the shadows

closed doors leave behind

until the lights paint

red white and blue

across the glass:

through the cracks

the social worker

notices the spider

completing its wrap

where the buds

silently fell.

The Assault on Inquiry

Here’s a question for you: when did we become so opposed to questions? Question society. Question the government. Question the media. Question your parents. Question everything. It’s where the seeds of knowledge are planting—in asking questions.

And yet.

And yet many adults—and I assuredly include teachers in this—are put off by that almighty: “Why?” Have you noticed the infinite capacity children seem to maintain for that investigation? Why is the sky blue? What is the nature of a dream? Why don’t we have tails? When was the world born? How deep is the ocean?

From the deepest inquiry to the most innocuous query, we should relish the spark in youth that teaches them to wonder. I say this, because too often we don’t think—and furthermore don’t care—about these answers. We know—or think we know—some semblance of the answer, so we don’t plum them any deeper with “Whys”. And in turn, we take that obstinacy and apply it to those curious youths, answering them with irritation and distaste, ridicule or dismissal, and actively make them feel stupid for thinking outside the box, for pondering depth, or for not knowing what we take for granted.

There are, none of us, who stand omniscient. Mother may be God in the eyes of a child, but we need to remember that we are not, in fact, deified. Just because you don’t know something or don’t care, doesn’t grant an open-ended excuse to dismiss, exclude, or deride. Admit you don’t know. Children won’t hold it against you, and you may learn something new and exciting yourself—we should always be trying to learn. Don’t dismiss if you do know. Sit down and explain it to them. You never know what will strike a chord that resonates with them throughout the course of their lives.

Because likewise, your negativity rubs off. Children are not the idiots many make them out to be. As I said: they are filled with wonder, and more importantly, they learn. If they can’t learn what they asked of you, then they learn to recognize instead how the pursuit of knowledge annoys and aggravates…and thus they, too, come to avoid it. To walk the path to ignorance, and chastisement of those that bury themselves in the knowledge of the world. It only takes a few experiences to ruin them.

You realize we have libraries for a reason, right? And whatever happened to, “The stars are the limit, kid,” because telling them no is a one-way street, but telling them they should grow up to find out—to be the first to know something, well, that’s a whole hell of a lot more incentive than deprecation, isn’t it?

The Big Literary Questions

I think, for fiction authors, we all have this moment.

Call it the breakdown.

Call it the enough is enough.

Call it bringing straight talk to the people.

Call it what you will, but in all honesty, it’s us taking a very deep breath, breaking the fourth wall, and saying: “The secret to literary success is…”

Specifically, it’s a lot easier when we directly address the questions we are, in turn, pelted with by legion.

  1. How do you find the time?
  2. How do you know if you’re good enough?
  3. What is the hardest part?

Sure, they seem like simple enough questions, but no matter how often they’re answered, still they rise again and again. You’ve long since learned that we writers possess the secrets of alchemists’ ancient knowledge, that we have horded the wisdom of the sages and have access to all those brains the scientists claim to have (and use it to dissect things with—we just do that in writing!).

This is pretty secret stuff, though, so if the words happen to cause an Ark of the Covenant ala Nazi effect on you, just know that I warned you.

  1. Time? What is time? Yorick, do you know what time is? Fine, don’t talk, Yorick. Excuse me while I giggle. Oh, time. If we’re not procrastinating, we’re furiously scribbling off a thousand other details for a thousand other projects, right?
    Don’t get me wrong, the day to day shenanigans of the world are rough. They exhaust us and beat us down with details; god help you if you have a family to manage in addition to your own life.
    Truth? More often than not, you make the “time” you want. It’s not a matter of finding time, it’s a matter of making time. Has every self-help book from here to Timbuktu said the same? Yes. It doesn’t make it any less true. Success or failure, you will never have more or less time than you do right now—life doesn’t stop, and neither should you.
    There was a time we had things known as pens. If you can still find one, get it, and use it where you have spare moments. Oh, don’t look at me like that, I know you have them—minutes that is. Minutes at the dentist’s office. Minutes waiting for a phone call. Minutes spent dreaming of what you’re going to be having for dinner. Write, damn it. And if you ask me this question again while simultaneously playing Farmville or Bejeweled, I will smack you upside your face. With a pen.
  2. We all ask ourselves that question! Of course, what we should be reminding ourselves is that if we can find some way to express a story, we’re already succeeding. But, naturally, you mean good enough for them. The ill-defined them. The mystery people. The grand cabal lurking beyond the boundaries of time and space, waiting to judge your every word.
    Here’s a fact: if you can talk, you can write. Hone your voice, hone your writing. Make it distinct. You hear of so many people defining themselves by others—it’s nonsense, really. Stephen King does not write like Neil Gaiman. Robin Hobb does not write like George R.R. Martin. Mary Roach does not write like Carl Sagan.
    …and, alright, did I just lose track of my thoughts because now I have a host of glorious authors swirling about my head? Maybe. But you? Focus, blast you. The point: each of these people is readable, engaging, and downright enjoyable on their own merits. The more you question yourself, the more you craft a self-fulfilling prophecy. Worry after you’ve created. Worry about grammar and spelling and all the million little things a spellcheck harps at you about all throughout the process (or your mother, if you’re going old school editing on this)—and as you go back, picking away at those, then look at your dialogue and your metaphors, your imagery and rhyme. Do they make sense? Would something work better there? Then make it happen.
    After that? Sit on it a little. Go back. Reread one more time. Does it still work? Then submit it. Don’t keep picking at yourself. The only way you’ll know is if you try.
  3. Beginning. Or maybe I should just say the writing portion of writing. Yes, that’s definitely the trickiest part. There are any number of little ways to make it seem more foreboding than it needs to be—we’re all very good at it, too. (Stupid brains.) The way to work through it is for that first step, don’t think big. Don’t try lassoing the Cosmos—bring it down to what’s around you. In other words: write a scene. Focus on one little dot; the rest will wait, the rest will come. Believe it or not, you have time. If you’re writing a book, chances are you already know how it’s going to go—so write what interests you at the time. You’re not the reader—you don’t have to read the ninth chapter to engage the tenth. Write at your own pace. In doing so, you may even find that where you thought you would begin or end are nothing like where you now actually begin and end; your book could have entirely different shape by the end, when you’re framing and patching it all together, and you know what? That’s okay too. As long as you write.

Most importantly? This soap box I’m standing on it a lie. If you’re listening to me you’re not writing; you’re taking tips instead of developing yourself, and so I’m going to go get a rolled up newspaper now. You have until I get back to start writing.

Write. Don’t make me hit you on the nose.

When there is nothing

Before abyss come the clock-tower.

The little boy by midnight asks—

her look, lost in the candlelight—

the nature of empty books lain dormant,

the moonless night above a bridge

when there is nothing left to lose—

in sedimentary smiles she sighs:

when there is nothing

there is love.