The Seeds of Writing

There will be days in which the writing just doesn’t flow so well. There are times when the fountain of the mind, normally gushing with creative juices, are nearly all dried up. When some sort of dam, thick and wide, blocks much of the creativity. No matter. Write anyway. Even if it’s only two paragraphs. Heck, only if it’s one sentence! Let those few words you planted upon paper or your computer screen be seeds. Come back later. Water those seeds. If need be discard them and plant new seeds in their place. Trim them and nourish them. In time they will grow into a bouquet of literary beauty. Write! Even if just a little bit. It’s amazing how far how little steps in writing each day can take us. One small sentence can grow into a novel.
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A Question of Timelessness: Writing Science Fiction vs Writing Fantasy

It’s no secret that the subjects I tend to write about are fantasy, science fiction, and Gothic. In this post, I won’t be mentioning Gothic, but I will be focusing on science fiction and fantasy. Which genre of these two do I prefer as a reader and a writer, and why?

First off, it would be foolish to state for a fact that one genre is inherently superior than the other. Both science fiction and fantasy have their own unique flavors as well as their masterpieces and their own flops. There is both good fantasy and good science fiction, as well as what I term the MST3K books (yes, after the popular cult classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 show)  from grade B writers for both. But what are the differences between the two genres? We can’t blame some people for being confused when libraries and bookstores often shelve the two together.

For starters, fantasy appeals to our childlike mindset of our primitive ancestors, in which magic andfantasy monsters lurk all around us. Many of us dream of flying with dragons over snowy white, cloud covered mountains, of casting spells to change the fabric of nature, of having a picnic ], under the moonlight with fairies and wood nymphs, or of going on an epic quest in which one fights goblins and trolls, explores castles, and defeats a great evil to become a champion. Fantasy has the markings of a mythology that refuses to die.

Science fiction appeals to what could be. The dreamer wonders what it would be like to live in a world in which we have robots as companions  or to step into hologram chambers to play virtual games, or to be the first to set foot on Mars, or to blast off into the coldest reaches of space and explore new galaxies while trying to survive in such a cold vacuum.  It could be said that science fiction looks to the future, whereas fantasy looks to a mythic past.

I have enjoyed the science fiction writings of Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clark, Orson Scott Card, and Isaac Asimov, as well as the fantasy writings of Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Brandon Sanderson. However, while both have provided me with out of enjoyment, I would have to say that out of the two genres, as a reader and an author, I prefer fantasy.

To begin with, fantasy is easier to write on many levels. It doesn’t require the same rules science fiction does. Make no mistake. I’m not advocating for sloppily written fantasy in which everything can just change on the whim. Good fantasy has established rules for races, lands, history, and magic systems. Even fantasy has to have elements that make sense, lest it just turn to nonsense (Unless the premise is based on nonsense like Alice in Wonderland, but that’s a whole different story). Books such as Tolkien’s Middle Earth series, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter, all have rules. But they aren’t realistic rules. Contrast that to science fiction. In order to be good science fiction, the stories have to have harder rules that show a potential reality. Reality is an essential key ingredient for good science fiction because they are stories about what could potentially happen. Some may protest over such a generalization and bring up such movies as Star Wars. That being the case, let’s remove the quest for scientific accuracy from the equation. Such stories of outer space adventures don’t rely on hard scientific facts. As such they are termed soft science fiction.

Yet, it would be better to do away with the term soft science fiction. Once a story becomes like Star Wars, it’s no longer science fiction, but an outer space fantasy, or, in some cases, a fantasy on earth with robots and other strange creatures. To elucidate the matter, compare Star Wars to Star Trek. Star Trek throughout the years has tried to show what could happen, and many inventions from that show or now in use. In terms of even harder science fiction, one only need look at movies like Interstellar, which dives incredibly into the waters of science, combing the bottom for what could be and what is. Star Wars in comparison has lots of myth and magic, such as the Force, making it fit fit better into the classification of fantasy than science fiction.

When it comes to writing good science fiction, which actually incorporates scientific concepts instead of turning it into an outer space fantasy fiction, is tricky enough. But that’s not the only problem that science fiction runs into. Science fiction can easily turn into science fact, or, in other terms, it doesn’t take long for science fiction to become reality in which the stories become dated. Star Trek is somewhat illustrative of this point, even though people aren’t exploring the galaxies with warp drive. One only needs to google inventions since Star Trek to see how much of Star Trek has come true. Computers with monitors, as well as Skype (though it was never called that in the show), communicators (cell phones), automatic doors, tablet computers, and even tricorders are all a part of our modern society. While all of these are amazing feats of human engineering, it also kills a little bit of the reverence we had for the gadgets in Star Trek.

Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 also has turned into science fact in many science fictionways. We don’t have firemen burning houses full of books, despite censorship being alive and well, but society now has many of the inventions the book spoke about. Inventions such as Bluetooths and headphones (shells in the book), flatscreen TVs, talking to friends over screens, are no longer confined to the pages of a 1950s dystopian novel. Take 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. It’s still a beautiful book, but it has inevitably lost it’s wonder over the ages now that we have submarines like the book talks about. How long until my own science fiction novels and short stories all become science fact? The list could go on and on, but many writers have accurately predicated, or influenced, the future. Issac Asimov, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clark, and Orson Scott Card have all tried to go for a more realistic type of science fiction, doing their best to see what could be.

Just as many of these aforementioned ideas of these shows, books, and writers have come to pass, as a writer, I struggle to keep my science fiction stories fresh and relevant. Years ago, I had the idea for a science fiction dystopian novel, which I am currently working on, in which man gets bombarded by too much technology – not very original I know. Only recently have I started working on this novel. Imagine my surprise when I found out that some of my ideas are already coming to pass, such ideas as sex robots, self driving cars, and robots working in fast food, just to name a few. Years ago these concepts were fresh in my mind, but I had no idea that they would be invented so fast. Because of this, I have often asked myself if it’s even worth pursuing writing this novel. What’s the point of writing a book warning society of the dangers of being saturated with too much technology when the story is already coming to pass before my eyes? Should I even write a book about people on Mars, or people exploring the moons of Jupiter? How timeless will these books be in the future?

To be perfectly frank, I am somewhat of a Luddite, and I’m a Luddite over the silliest of reasons. I hate the idea of science fiction, something that has given us great stories throughout the years, becoming dated. Science fiction has done much to enlighten our minds of what humanity is capable of. It has inspired scientists, engineers, and inventors throughout history to look at the world in new ways, to see all sorts of possibilities, helping us advance. In numerous ways, science fiction has been a blessing. Yet, the positive generally collaborates and corroborates with the negative, and in this case the yin working with and against the yang has been the realism. Realism is simultaneously good science fictions strength and it’s ultimate killer.

Fantasy on the other hand will always be mythopoeic, appealing to the more primitive man in many respects. I’m not so worried about my fantasy writings becoming dated, as fantasy is far more flexible with the passage of time than science fiction could ever hope to be. Dragons, wizards, banshees, oni, vampires, rusalka, magic talismans and oracles, will always spark a sense of wonder in people. One doesn’t need to have any concern over the fantasy works of Frank Oz, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb, Terry Pratchet, Lewis Carroll, Ursala K LeGuin, or Lloyd Alexander ever becoming dated. There will never be magic wardrobes that take us to lands full of anthropomorphic animals, dwarfs and rings of power, schools for witches and wizards, flat worlds atop a turtle, or magical lands of whimsy and nonsense, too name a few. Spaceships, androids, holograms, and ray guns will inevitably lose some of their wonder as society moves towards the future at a rapid pace.

This isn’t to say that I don’t like science fiction. I like science fiction almost as much as fantasy. But fantasy still wins out just a little more when it comes to old books being timeless and when it comes to writing.

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Lady in Black short story

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Catacombs of Paris. Photo in Public Domain

Due to the intense subject matter and adult themes. This story is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Roger was sitting in his rotting apartment, upon his rotting chair, as his body and mind rotted away.  The cracked grey walls leaked putrid water, and bugs and the occasional rats snatched off food from his kitchen floor under the dim lights. The wiring of the lights were bad, causing them to flicker. But he didn’t care. Come what may, he didn’t care. All he was good for was spending his days at home, slowly wasting away.

It was this day during his despondency that she came, the lady in black. She didn’t bother to ring his doorbell, – it was broken anyway – nor did she take the time to knock on his door. She glided into Roger’s living room, a specter in a dress as dark as night. Her hair was as black as a raven’s feathers and her skin was ghostly white, accentuating her colorless pupils. The lady in black should have scared Roger, but she had the opposite effect. He found her calming, a morphine to sooth his nerves.

“Who are you?” Roger inquired of her in a voice of reverence.

“Who I am does not matter, except that I am your rescuer,” the lady in black comforted him. “Come with me,” she reached out a hand, invitingly. “And we’ll leave behind this world of pain, this prison of sorrow, and you can rest in sweet bliss.”

 Roger took her hand and she whisked him away out of the house, allowing him to pass through the door as though he were a gust of wind. He flew with her through the old city, the rain pouring down like tears from the dead above. He swooshed with her past old puddles and through darkened alleyways. They glided through the city like shadows, until they came to an old dilapidated building that lay wedged in an alley between two taller buildings. A large wooden door on old rusty hinges creaked from the wind and the rain.

“Come with me,” the lady in black embraced Roger.

“What’s down there?” Roger asked.

The lady in black swirled gently around him. “Peace, serenity, no more pain. Down there we will live together, always in a tender embrace.”

Her words were sweet, like honey flowing into Roger’s ears. Her hands and fingers, which were now brushing and stroking against his chest, were light like feathers brushing away the worries of his heart. Her lips were red like wine and passion against her white skin. She was strikingly beautiful.

“Follow me and behind this closed door we will make love,” she spoke the words seductively.

Roger desired to follow her, but in his heart he faltered once again. Behind that door lay a vast  mystery, one impenetrable and unfathomable. The lock wasn’t on the door itself, but in Roger’s mind, and the only way that he could remove that lock to find the mysteries that awaited within the building was to turn his own key, thus casting off the shackles of fear.

“It may look scary, but I promise you that it’s not,” the lady in black reassured him. “Trust me. Inside I will give myself wholly to you. We shall become as one.” When Roger continued to stall, the lady in black reached out her hand to him. “Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” said Roger, after much hesitation. “I trust you.”

 This time they didn’t float through the door, but the door swung open, and Roger followed her down a stairway of gold and silver, with silk banners of purple and pink, and paintings of cupids and Aphrodites. Roger found himself at ease even before he reached the bottom of the stairs. When he did reach the bottom, an even greater surprise awaited him.

 What could have been either a ballroom or a spacious bedroom spread out like a sea of pleasure before him. A marble fountain was in the middle, with marble sea nymphs lying around it, their eyes closed and mouths open in a state of ecstasy. Upon the top of the fountain stood Venus, pouring out water from a vase. Huge pillars, likewise carved from marble and tinged a pale pink, held up the ceiling. A huge mural covered the ceiling, one showing the heavens and the gods and goddesses living in merriment, free of pain and sorrow. Near the back of the room were flower beds and trees, miraculously forming a garden underground, without any visible sunlight. The only light that shone was from a large crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Beds, red in color with gold sheets, lined the sidewalls under little alcoves. Aside from the garden, this was the most unique feature of the room’s surroundings. There had to be hundreds of beds spread across both walls within alcoves.

“Come,” said the lady in black, never having let go of Roger’s hand. “I will take away your pain.”

 Roger was lead over to one of the lower alcoves where a bed was waiting for the both of them.

“Lie down,” said the lady in black.

  He did so. And she slipped off her dress. He fell asleep in her arms.

Frigid and dead air hung stale in an almost consuming darkness when Roger awoke upon the bed. Except he didn’t awaken on the bed, at least not the same bed he had crawled into with the lady in black. The bed was hard and it was made of stone. The only light that was now given were by the flicker of small candles. Panicked over this change of surroundings, Roger looked over to ask the lady in black what was going on. Instead he saw the grey face of a skull smiling deviously at him.

Roger screamed but the earth around him swallowed his voice up. He nearly tripped while getting out of the alcove. Though he could hardly see, he could see enough to know that all the alcoves contained stone beds where skeletons slept. He struggled in the darkness, trying to let the little bit of the light from the candles guide him. But he kept tripping. It dawned on him that he’d have to take one of the candles out of the holders on the wall to use. Ignoring the hot wax, he grabbed one of the candles and crouched on the ground to get a look on the ground to what was tripping him. What he saw were numerous pelvic bones, rib cages, arm and leg joints, and skulls frozen in hideous grins. There was an ocean of bones, forming frozen waves of the dead.

Terrified, Roger dropped his candle, the cold bones extinguishing the light. He had to get out. On his hands and knees he struggled up one of the larger hills of bones. When he was over it, he could see four other candles within metal candle holders forming a square around the fountain. But it wasn’t the same fountain as before, with the charming mermaids and the Venus. The fountain was even devoid of water. Instead it was full of skulls. Upon the pedestal where Venus once stood, stood the imposing form of Death, the Grim Reaper, holding aloft in both bony hands high above his head, his scepter, triumphant over the souls he had harvested. Even more horrifying was the stone cold look the Grim Reaper was giving Roger. It was a look that said that Roger’s soul would be cut down under the scythe.

 Roger ran, not caring if he tripped. He had to escape from this prison. He slid down the pile off bones, only to nearly bump into the lady in black.

“Why is it you run?” she asked softly.

“I have to get out of here,” Roger pleaded. “Please let me go.”

“Did I not promise your mind comfort?” the lady in black looked at him. “Did I not promise you an escape from the world of turmoil?”

 Before Roger could answer, he found her lips locked onto his, and try as he might, he couldn’t release them. Suddenly, something warm was wiggling in his mouth, and it wasn’t the lady in black’s tongue. Roger finally released himself, or rather she released him, and he found himself coughing up maggots and worms. Another cough, stronger than the previous ones, released a swarm of flies from his mouth.

“Don’t you love me?” asked the lady in black, brushing her pale white hand against his cheek.

“No! I don’t love you! I want to be free of you!”

Roger awoke back in his apartment. There were no bones. No tombs. No Grim Reaper statue looking over him. No lady in black. Only a rotting apartment remained, as well as himself, rotting from the inside and the outside.

 Slowly Roger made his way to the blinds. Pulling them open he welcomed the sun. It had sense stopped raining. He absorbed the sunlight as much as he could, inhaling it into his body, into his heart, letting it warm him. He cried. He cried harder than he had ever cried before. Years of suppressed emotion flooded through him. It was like welcoming back an old friend.

 Strengthened from the sunlight, with a newfound sense of resolve kindled within him, he took out his cell phone. He dialed a number. “Hello, I need help,” he said.

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Happy Birthday, Tolkien

“Today is my 126th birthday,” J.R.R. Tolkien might say at his birthday party to crowds of adoring party-goers, if he were still alive today. In my fertile imagination I can conjure

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up an image like something straight out of the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring, in which Tolkien, instead of Bilbo, invites 144 guests, people who were important to him in his own life, and not so important; his own Tooks, Brandybucks, Bracegirdles and so forth. Like his protagonist of The Hobbit, Bilbo, I can visualize Tolkien saying during his speech, “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you as well as you deserve.” Furthermore, I like to think that if this was the case, I would be invited to his birthday, and I would have been one of those he liked.  I also wonder what present he would give me. In truth, nothing he could give me could overshadow the gift that he already gave me, the gift of wanting to be a writer.
I was a boy when I first read The Hobbit, and read is an understatement. It transferred me, as if by some magical power, into a different world. His words were a wave of magic, engulfing me, whisking me away to Middle Earth, into a realm where my imagination could soar as high as a dragon above snowy mountains and vast kingdoms. I followed Bible as he journeyed with the wizard Gandalf and a rag-tag team of dwarves, hiking dangerous  mountains, traversing into gloomy forests, while encountering fearsome trolls, goblins, and flesh eating spiders, as well as more benign creatures such as elves and eagles, all on their journey to confront a fierce dragon. I was enchanted by the song and poetry, of the words of wisdom within the book. I had to read more. It wasn’t long until I was reading all three books of The Lord of the Rings. “Aren’t you young to be reading that?” I was sometimes asked. I was about in the fifth grade, if I remember correctly, or the sixth. Young or not, I was entranced. Tolkien had bound me with a spell more powerful than the dark magic that the Dark Lord Sauron used to create the one ring to bind “to rule them all.” Since then I have read The Hobbit four times, The Lord of the Rings three times, and have since read The Children of Hurin and I have started on the Silmarillion.

I have read other fantasy book since, such as the works of Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, Ursala K. Leguin, and Robin Hobb, just to name a few. These are all wonderful writers, crafting with their magical minds their own worlds full of life, emotion, and lore. But it’s Tolkien who most fantasy writers pay homage to and for good reason. He reinvented fantasy for the modern age. I say reinvent because it would be a falsehood to state that he created fantasy. There were fantasy authors prior to him, such as George McDonald, a Scottish 19th century fantasy writer, who wrote such books as The Princess and the Goblin and Phantastes: A Fairy Romance, just to name a few. Though nearly forgotten, George McDonald was a major influence on J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as Tolkien’s best friend and fellow writer C.S. Lewis. But the greatest influence on Tolkien were the Norse myths, the stories of the vikings. From these tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki, he would take rings of power, dwarves, trolls, magic runes, and even Middle Earth. It was Tolkien who made fantasy into a popular and respectable genre, who introduced the reading audience to epic fantasy on a grand scale.

It was because of Tolkien’s beautiful writing and his epic storytelling that I wanted to be a storyteller in the same vein he was. I wanted to create worlds and lore and mythology with as much magic as he did. I wanted people to experience wonder like I felt when I read his work. In short, I knew I wanted to be an author.

While I have read other fantasy books by other fantasy authors since then, it wasn’t just contemporary fantasy that Tolkien helped kindle my interest in. As previously stated, Tolkien borrowed mythology and made it his own. The man himself was a mythology professor. This in turn encouraged me to read not just Norse mythology, but mythology from all over the world. By filling my mind with all manner of mythology, it has helped improve me as not just a writer, but also as a storyteller.

Tolkien’s mark upon contemporary fantasy literature, as well as upon video game RPGs, tabletop games, fantasy paintings, and movies, can’t be understated. He touched so many people, inspiring them in their storytelling and other art forms, being a mentor to them from beyond the grave. Just as Tolkien was a huge inspiration, bringing joy and wonder to millions of people, I can only hope that my writing does that much for at least a quarter of that amount of people. It doesn’t even have to be half. If I can touch and inspire a few people with my writing, I will consider all the hard work worth it.

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