W. P. Johnson

Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Love of Horror

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2009 at 8:06 pm

So much for puns.

I’m a fan of speculative fiction. I think the first book I ever read as a kid was My Teacher is an Alien by Bruce Coville. In fact I read the entire series, could not get enough of it (My Teacher- Flunked The Planet, Glows in the Dark, Fried My Brains). The first serious book I ever read on my own without school forcing me to was John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, something I tore through while I was grounded for two weeks in the middle of SUMMER VACATION of all times, so I couldn’t even see my friends at school before lock down. I was isolated, suffering from cabin fever and it made me burn through a couple hundred pages a day before moving on to other Steinbeck books, followed by Hemingway, and so on.

My stories are speculative. What does that mean exactly? It’s an umbrella word, something that encompasses science fiction, horror, fantasy, bizarro, and whatever other genre I can’t think of right now. Each one of those genres has subcategories. For instance you can break down science fiction as: soft, hard, cyber, time travel, alternative history, military, apocalyptic, and space opera. As of recently, meaning within the last ten years, I’ve noticed certain books that may have been classified as science fiction making their way into the literature section of bookstores, blurring the line between literary fiction and science fiction. Some titles: The Time Traveler’s Wife (time travel), The Plot Against American (a brilliant alternative history book by Philip Roth), Rant (Palahniuk’s first attempt at soft sci fi), Pattern Recognition (Gibson’s cyberpunk), and collections of Philip K Dick, a science fiction writer that died relatively unknown compared to his current popularity. Don’t recognize the name? Yes you do. He wrote Blade Runner, Total Recall (originally a short story titled “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale”), Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.

Genres are slowly becoming gentrified by literary heavyweights, or maybe they’re moving into the classy neighborhoods already occupied by Faulkner and Henry James and at some point writers of high brow literature will practice some “write flight” and develop a new wing of your local bookstore, demanding that Dostoevsky isn’t  sullied by the likes of Philip K Dick.  Imagine Mark Twain staring at Tolkien as he moves his stuff in, hoping that maybe acting like an inconsiderate prick will prompt that hobbit fuck to get the hell off his block.

In talks about writing and the type of stories I’d like to tell, some people roll their eyes, ask sincere questions about whether or not I’ll ever try to write something serious (the answer is “no”, thank you very much LSD). And if there’s anything I’ve learned about writing, one of the most important lessons is that a artist has to be able to defend his work. Otherwise it’s just senseless and lazy. I don’t condone that hippie bullshit of just free forming man, just feeling it man. Things have to have meaning.

A recent workshop intensive prompted me to write a vampire story. I’ve learned a lot from this particular experience, most of which I may divulge into later, such as the value of third person vs first person, the length of a story, showing instead of telling, and the conquest of finding a voice that is unique and yours. But this is about genre, speculative fiction. In particular, it’s about the vampire sub genre of horror (interesting to note- horror, via wikipedia, is given only a paragraph or two. Maybe the sub genres are too big too big to be sub genres).

Within this story the main character Denis has a fear of the dark due to a childhood experience wherein his parents are brutally murdered in front of him by Germaine and Jacob (two vampires, the first a large man, the second only a boy, but thousands of years old). Denis is unaware of this memory because Jacob brainwashes him into forgetting, but darkness sends him into a panic, and the only thing that helps him fall asleep on a pitch black night without any moon is exhausting himself making love to Samantha. His love for her, mostly lust, is also the one thing that helps him face this fear and experience complete darkness. Other things happen, but I won’t go into much else besides to say that Samantha is turned into a vampire by the end of the story. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a home for it once it’s finished (will update for anyone reading).

During my last semester at Temple I wrote my senior thesis paper on The Brief Wondurous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (whom I creeped on while in Boston and scared off- sorry Junot, I was star struck). In reading the numerous interviews with Diaz I came across this piece, something that ended up becoming a huge focus of my paper and states clearly how I feel about science fiction in general:

…if you’re a person writing about a Dominican diasporic experience, to hew too closely to canonical ideal of what literature is would limit you. The conventions of what is canonically known as literature can’t hope to encompass these radical experiences that you undergo when living in a diaspora like the Dominican one. And sometimes the only way to describe these lived moments—the surreality and ir-reality of some of the things that people like myself have experienced—is through lenses like science fiction. The joke is you’re Dominican living in the Dominican Republic in 1974, and you get transported to the U.S. from the campo, where you started out living in an open air house with no electricity, with no bathroom, living in a world that’s extremely closed and sealed in some ways, with no access to education, and almost a sense of living outside of time, though of course you never will live outside of time. It’s the sense you then get, when you’re transported to a place like central New Jersey. I think the narrative that would logically be most useful would be not only space travel—traveling between two planets—but time travel… It’s like having this huge, wonderful, gorgeous, rich, ripe, delicious mango hanging over your desk. But because you’ve been trained that mangoes are not the kind of food that one eats at a desk, you just willfully ignore them. How could you ignore such wonderful interconnections? And that’s why I find science fiction important and useful. (http://www.webdelsol.com/Other_Voices/DiazInt.htm)

For me, it’s always been about what can best drive a story or a character. And often times I find that while it seems as if I am writing about one thing (vampires and shit), I was writing about something completely different the entire time (how something like love, or lust, can inspire us to overcome something terrible). It was a choice to express this idea through speculative elements. Why? Because sometimes, as Diaz said, canonical conventions prevent us from properly expressing how something truly feels. Maybe it would be easy to have Denis overcome some conventional fear but how does this truly express how hard this thing was to overcome? People think they know how someone feels when they understand their experience, but the truth is no one fully understands the experience because they bring their own history with them; they already have a pre set approach. But having your lover become someone that will die if exposed to sunlight when you yourself are terrified of the dark is something I don’t think anyone can say they can relate to. It prompts a response, maybe some form of needed catharsis to an experience that no one can assume anything about. New emotions are experienced, not a memory of something that person already thinks they understand. In short, speculative elements are useful when trying to express an idea conventional literature is unable to.

Denis faces his fear of darkness because of his lust for Samantha. And after she becomes a vampire, he stays with her even though they’ll never be able to share a day together ever again. He is willing to sacrifice something, to face an enormous challenge all because of love and sex. And vampires are an element that drive this story due to the mythology that surrounds them, that they’re unable to live during the day time, are immortal, drink blood, are able to hypnotize or, to quote True Blood, glammer people. And there is something about this element that drives the story and helps express certain truths that would’ve been hard to come across in a world that follows all the normal rules. Big deal if someone went through a hardship for his love; we’ve all done that.

Well, this is how that shit felt.


Original Vampire.

Original Vampire.


Beer and Trembling

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Or Beer and Loathing? How long can a person maintain a series of idiotic literary puns that simultaneously relate to the topic at hand, that of literature and writing? Only time will tell.

Writing stinks. It’s lonely, depressing, frustrating, and even during the moments of joy derived from a successful hour in front of a typewriter, it’s quickly followed by a slow growing dread that the work produced was a total fluke never to return again. Every success soon feels like a failure, just another twenty pages of practice for the eventual masterpiece far out of reach. Imagine squinting towards the top of a mountain that seems capable of scaling, especially since you’ve been rock climbing so much lately, but it would be so much easier to just stay inside and drink hot coco or get drunk in the hot tub. Why fail when it’s so much easier to just not try in the first place?

There are so many things I’d rather do. I’d rather watch TV, get drunk, jerk off, write a fucking email, ANYTHING but sit down and try to write fiction. I’d rather wake up having pissed the bed because at least that would give me something that I HAD to deal with in that moment. In chatting with a friend of mine who also writes we discussed how the act of being creative forces us to subjugate all other activities into this category of utter nuisance. I have to do the laundry, I have to shop for food, go to the gym, clean my apartment. Jesus Christ, I’ve gotta stop what I’m doing and eat again? I already ate something this morning! There’s this mountain just waiting for me to scale it- but I need a fucking haircut. How is there even any time to write at all with all these things that need doing? When did I become so busy?

There are so many different answers artists give when asked why they create. They love the act of creation, they want to better understand society or comment on it through their work. Some people want to leave their mark, others use it as compensation for being unable to communicate in the way normal people interact with each other. How many authors were the cool kids in school? Maybe a few, but I bet the rest were total losers and needed some medium to communicate to people they’d never have to meet and possibly face rejection from.

With the exception of rejection letters. But writers are also stubborn. And they’re fucking idiots.

Well… let me explain.

American Typo is the title of this blog, a pun based on American Psycho, setting the tongue in cheek tone of these posts, something I’ve decided to start writing just to get it out of my head. Why American Psycho? Because a person would have to be crazy to ever try and be a writer. There’s no money to be had, rarely any kind of success, and talent can take years and years to develop. Relative to the amount of people trying to write fiction, you are a drop in one awful bucket of miserable sons of bitches. Realizing this, anyone deciding to write is a goddamn fool.

But (always a but after a backhanded insult, isn’t there?) I had an epiphany the other night. It was two in the morning and I had probably been writing for about six or seven hours, burned out, exhausted. The heat prompts a lot of water, and therefore a lot of bathroom breaks, something I always look forward to as it’s like a mini vacation from the blank computer screen. While in the bathroom there appeared a small person in the mirror, out of sight by the door. After ten minutes of searching the apartment, not a single living thing could be found but the story remained in my head, completely terrifying and surreal.

Since then the story hasn’t left my head, and neither has the little man in the mirror with all the creepy ambiguous ideas that he continues to drag around like a bunch of noisy chains. It would be easy to never write about it; there is so much I’d rather do, like clean the bathroom for the first time in months, in fact that’s something I HAVE to do isn’t it? But then he won’t leave. He’ll stick around for weeks and weeks, he’ll fucking jump in the corner of the mirror until I’m old and too blind to see it, but even then I’ll end up assuming he’s lingering in a reflection somewhere in the world. And it isn’t even the fear. It’s the not knowing that is truly haunting. Is he evil? Or is the irony of it all the fact that hes actually trying to save the narrator but is approached with fear and contempt? Is he trying to warn me of something? I have to know, but no one else is able to tell me. It’s buried somewhere deep in my head, the earliest image like a corpse floating to the surface after a flood, and my shovel is waiting for me to just pick it up and start digging.

The truth is, the only thing worst than writing is not writing at all. Maybe its as simple as the fact that more joy exists in writing because it’s less painful than the stress that builds up from never even trying to write in the first place. My creepy guy in the mirror isn’t going to go anywhere until I bother trying to tell his story. And I can give myself as many things to do as possible, pack my day with errands, but he’s still gonna be there, tapping me on the shoulder to start digging, start writing already.

Maybe I approach the typewriter with dread, fear and trembling. But never knowing what could be, what’s left in that flooded graveyard, is much more frightening. So grab a six pack and a shovel. There’s digging to do.