Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What's Your Journey?

I want to welcome you to the first inaugural post for the Indie Author How-to Blog. I'm your host L.S. and I hope to bring you authors you haven't discovered yet as well as guidance and advice from those of us who have been there.

I chose my first victim *gentle cough*, blogger, Elissa Malcohn, because she taught me the ropes and always, always had great advice and patience when dealing with my endless barrage of questions.

She is both a writer and a poet with a style that captivates. Let's welcome her to the hot seat. Take it away, Elissa.

On January 19 I gave a talk to the Crystal River Women's Club in central Florida. The attendees generally didn't read science fiction/fantasy, the genre of most of my fiction. Most were not writers, but readers.

Instead of my usual topics dealing with issues of the writing craft and the rapidly-changing publishing industry, I got personal -- because no matter what genre or form one's writing takes, the human condition is something we all share. By acknowledging where we've come from as individuals, we inform both our writing and the ways we and our characters relate to others.

Here's a shortened version of the first part of my talk.

I'm going to start with a disclaimer: Every writer undertakes her own or his own journey. Pick any ten writers and chances are you'll find differences in what they write, how they get organized or whether they are organized at all, what if any writing rituals they have, what their inspirations are, and many other variables.

On the one hand, my journey as a writer is unique to me. On the other hand, I think it's safe to say that for writers, writing is like breathing. We have to do it, the way a musician has to play music or an artist has to create art. It's a passion. It's a driving force in our lives.

So, why writing for me?

At least in part, it has to do with the fact that my mother had been an English teacher. I was exposed to books at an early age, especially those supplied by the Scholastic Book Club. I particularly liked biographies -- some of the earliest books I read were biographies of Thomas Edison, Althea Gibson, and Helen Keller.

I also loved mythology. Among my favorite books were The Greek Gods and other books by Bernard Evslin, Dorothy Evslin, and Ned Hoopes, which contained fantastic psychedelic illustrations by William Hunter. Around this time I also watched movies like Jason and the Argonauts, along with Biblical epics like The Ten Commandments. Their special effects and fantastic imagery held me spellbound.

My mother taught while I grew up during the 1960s and 70s. During that time I served as her assistant and confidante, both of which made a big impression on me. When I was in kindergarten I alphabetized papers for her. Then I graduated to grading multiple-choice tests against an answer sheet. By the time I was eight years old, I was helping my mother correct and grade her students' essays.

As my mother's confidante I listened to her stories from school while my father was out of the house giving piano lessons. My mother came home from her inner-city job with stories about breaking up knife fights, finding used syringes in the stairwell, and watching prostitutes turn tricks in the school's parking lot. Several of her students were frequently in and out of mental and correctional institutions.

For every horror, she also told me a story of triumph -- like the troubled student who returned to school after having her baby, to take her exams and make sure she got her diploma. Or like the three girls -- Muslim, Jewish, and African-American -- who were best friends. During the Six-Day Arab-Israeli war in 1967 those girls said, in effect, "We get along. Why can't the rest of the world?"

The essays I read, submitted by my mother's students, were heartfelt. Most of them talked about peace at a time when the Vietnam War was in full swing. Most of them talked about love. As I corrected grammar, syntax, and spelling -- skills that later transferred to my work as a writer and editor -- I couldn't help but be moved by writing that was as powerful as it was, at times, simple and basic.

So why science fiction?

I've already mentioned the influence that mythology and movie epics had on me. I couldn't get enough of special effects like Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation of flying harpies and sword-wielding skeletons. And with all the troubles in the world, something in me responded very strongly to all the fantastic imagery those movies offered.

Also at a young age, my powers of attention were very well trained, and that ability to pay close attention often helped me pick up snatches of dialogue and other details that helped in my writing. My father was a pianist who spent long hours practicing his craft. I remember sitting very still on our living room couch, mesmerized as he repeated musical phrases over and over until he had mastered them. Music is a strong creative influence in my life.

But what truly started me on the path to writing science fiction was the combination of Star Trek and my almost dying in a car accident when I was seven.

On June 6, 1966, I was hit by a car in front of my house. I was in Coney Island Hospital for ten weeks, the first two weeks in critical condition. Both my legs were broken, my left leg sustaining a compound fracture. My intestines were ruptured. I almost died from peritonitis.

I was discharged from the hospital on August 17, and would spend the next four months on crutches and doing home exercises to continue healing my left leg. My parents had purchased a color TV while I had been in the hospital. We'd had only black and white before then, so the color TV was a wonderful surprise.

In September my friend Carole came to the house and introduced me to Star Trek. I had missed the first two episodes aired. The third episode, called "Where No Man Has Gone Before," introduced a character named Gary Mitchell, who had acquired supernatural powers and was much like a mythological god. In an early scene, Mitchell showed off his new skills by causing himself to die and then to come back to life -- something that, in many respects, had just happened to me. I was hooked.

I was also upset to learn that Mitchell was the villain of the episode, abusing his powers until he was finally defeated. But from then on, I watched Star Trek religiously. For one thing, its state-of-the-art special effects wowed me, especially coming from our new color TV. Even more important, its themes were socially relevant, dealing with issues of war, racism, class divisions, and much of what I saw in the world around me. But on Star Trek, the planet Earth was a utopia, where scourges like hunger and poverty no longer existed.

My mother's work with her students had sensitized me to those scourges. Star Trek, with its mix of social relevance and science fiction mythos, provided me with the perfect counterpoint.

So I'd been thoroughly captured by science fiction as a television viewer, but not yet as a writer. Two events in 1969 changed that.

First, Star Trek was taken off the air. Second, my mother suffered a major heart attack that almost killed her, and that would leave her in very poor health until her death 13 years later. In-between those two events, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.

The loss of Trek took away a television show that in many respects had helped me deal with the world. The near-death of my mother, three years after my own near-death, made me even more self-reliant as an only child. I missed Star Trek so much that I started writing my own episodes, with a character who was my fictional alter-ego. Through that character, the crew of the Enterprise became my extended family, and my essays in grade school took on a science-fictional tone. When I got an assignment to write about what the world would be like "five years from now," I wrote from the perspective of someone in orbit.

There's a saying by Peter Graham that goes, "The golden age of science fiction is twelve." It literally applies to me. I turned twelve in 1970, at a time when the New Wave movement in science fiction was at its height. New Wave focuses on social issues, taboos, and "inner" versus "outer" space. It's why my writing doesn't really deal with spaceships or other planets. It deals much more with psychology and sociology and mythology. It falls into the realm of "soft" science fiction mixed with fantasy.

I went on to describe the role that writing and submitting work has played in my life, along with all the detours I've faced. Those detours often resulted in new opportunities, including creative opportunities. Not only is my writing eclectic -- fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and more, spanning different genres -- but my creative output also includes photography, physical and digital art, and music. Just as important are the "non-creative" avenues in my life that challenged me and developed me as a person. My bottom line: Nothing is wasted. Everything in life is valuable material, including -- and often especially -- the detours.

This, then, is the deeper level of the adage, "Write what you know." It has to do with more than what you've studied or what jobs you've held. It goes beyond the research you've done for a story.

"What you know" includes everything that has made you the person you are and that continues to move you forward. It is your own unique corner of the human condition, and it also joins you to the rest of the universe. Ultimately, it creates the common ground shared by you, your characters, and your readers.

How did you get to this day, this blog, your passion? What is your journey?

Official Website

Purchase Her Works:

Download Books 1 - 5 of her Deviations series (FREE DOWNLOADS)



Post a Comment