My story, Castaway, is the story of the week over at Phantasmagorium. Like a story written in sand it will disappear quickly. Read it now before it’s gone…
Originally published at the Apex Books Blog. Original post lost after a server crash. Reposting it here for posterity:
Remember when your days seemed to stretch on forever? Everything was new. We were just beginning to fathom the realities of the world around us. Is there any wonder that childhood is such a wonderful setting for our stories? From Stephen King to John Irving to J.D. Salinger to Harper Lee to any number of contemporary young adult authors, a variety of authors who work with a wide range of genres from the fantastic to the mundane – authors love working with childhood as the backdrop for their stories. The fantastic is still believable. The world is still perceived through a veil of innocence. Revelations lie around every corner.
I think about these things as I watch my boys play. I watch them as they grow in their understanding of the world. It’s fascinating. Sometimes it is wonderful and sometimes heartbreaking. I have seen my children find the joy of taking a long hike with me to find a hidden waterfall where they can cool off and splash and play. I have seen them climb up a rocky hillside with me and then look down from the top and see how far they’ve come and seen the glint of pride in their eyes at their feeling of accomplishment. These things make me feel good. But I have also seen them have to accept the death of my grandmother and father-in-law. I have seen my oldest boy cry because of a gravestone placed in the front yard of a neighboring house where a shaggy little black dog used to play. The light and darkness, the duality of this world, are everywhere. And to understand the world is to understand both the light and the shadows which compose our reality. It means we must understand both life and death.
The lines between the light and the dark seem more starkly contrasted in our youth. Right is right and wrong is wrong, and moral relativism is still more or less beyond comprehension (at least mentally – there may be an inherent understanding as evidenced by the child who reaches out and steals a grape in the produce aisle simply because he or she is hungry). Authors utilize this contrast to their advantage time and time again.
In a recent interview with author Jeffrey Ford (The Shadow Year, The Emperor of Ice Cream and Other Stories, etc.) for Fantasy Magazine I asked him why use childhood as a setting. He said:
“…I guess these stories deal with some kind of awakening from childhood. ‘Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking’ stuff. It’s a rich theme, sometimes too rich, but at those points of revelation when you’re a kid, sometimes the effect is so startling the world warps momentarily and things take on the attributes of the fantastic—both light and dark.”
The world does warp with revelations. Our understandings of the world grow and change with our experiences. And, as a bonus – other than the occasional possessed child or “Children of the Corn”-type story – children tend to be universally likeable as protagonists. Yes, childhood is a powerful place for stories.
In no particular order, here is a list of some of my favorite stories about childhood:
Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
The Voyage of the Frog by Gary Paulsen
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake
When I Was Five I Killed Myself by Howard Buten (This one is not very well known but should be!)
The Body by Stephen King
The Turtle Boy by Kealan Patrick Burke
“You Dream” by Ekaterina Sedia (available in Dark Faith)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
And there have been many, many others. In fact, just this week, I read and enjoyed T.J. Weyler’s “The Neighborly Thing to Do” in Issue 26 of Apex Magazine. I found it to be another wonderful example of a childhood story handling larger issues in a striking way. These were just the first few examples to pop into my head. Something Wicked this Way Comes may be my favorite and possibly the best example of a novel detailing both the wonder and darkness to be found while growing up. If you like your stories a little more on the realistic side, When I Was Five I Killed Myself probably stands out in my mind as one of the most brutally honest depictions of a kid’s-eye view of the world I have ever come across.
So, what stories did I miss? What are your favorite stories about childhood?
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Tags: Childhood, fiction, recommendations
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Let me start off by saying I’m not a huge Terrance Malick fan. Yet, I do understand why so many film buffs love the guy. His cinematography consistently impresses. He captures subtle and natural performances from his actors. He is a skilled technical director. I’m no expert on film, but I know a sure hand when I see it, and he always has that going for him. And I respect him for doing things his own way, for making the movies he wants to make the way he wants to make them. Yet, despite all this, most of his recent movies that I’ve seen have left me cold, and even worse, bored. The Thin Red Line, while brilliant in parts, was a bit too heavy-handed at times and too quiet for a war movie. I found it repetitive. I felt like he was hitting me over the head with the same symbols again and again and again even though I understood the meaning the first time around. As for The New World, I found it a beautiful movie for the first thirty minutes or so, but not terribly emotionally engaging. In fact — and this may be because I was heavily medicated and recovering from a bout of viral meningitis, including two procedures within about 48 hours: a spinal tap and a blood patch — I fell asleep several times throughout the picture. I think I finished it, but I’m not even sure to be completely honest. I never felt like re-watching it. It just didn’t catch my interest enough. Too many shots of insects hovering over water and grey skies. I can see that anytime I want to by visiting the swampy nature preserve less than a mile from my house, and I often do go there to watch nature unfold and reflect on its quiet glory and amazing cyclical nature. But I’d rather experience nature than watch it on film, I guess. Maybe one day I’ll revisit that movie and give it another shot, but I’m in no rush. The thing is, some people praise Malick’s pacing as deliberate and steady, but I’ll call it for what it usually is in my opinion: SLOW. Too slow. The symbols linger a bit too long and repeat a bit too often. “I get it,” I find myself saying more often than not when “experiencing” a Malick movie. “Move on. Get back to the story.”
Malick’s latest, The Tree of Life, has many of the same problems. It is long and drawn-out. The symbolism is a bit heavy-handed at times. There’s repetition of imagery to spare. No, this is not a film for everybody. I could see why some would absolutely hate this film, especially if they go in expecting a traditional film with a traditional narrative. And yet, it worked for me. It worked extremely well. Now, I’m going to examine why.
Perhaps this is because of my faith? I am a Christian, and I must say the film is perhaps the single most touching Christian film I’ve ever seen. While more philosophical than theological, the Christian worldview is definitely there and definitely a huge point of the movie. And the spirituality was handled in a way that is rare on film. It wasn’t judgmental or hindered by poor production values like so many evangelical movies I’ve seen. It didn’t veer towards the dogmatic either. It portrayed Christians living normal lives under ordinary circumstances in an ordinary town. It showed people as flawed, fighting internal demons and corruption, imperfect (with one notable exception I will explain later), yet still wanting to be good, striving towards something better. It showed Christians dealing with doubts and fears and anger over the seemingly unjust nature of the world we live in. They’re not cardboard cut-out Christians, not judgmental wing-nuts, and not the Flanders from the Simpsons. In fact, they look a lot like the real thing. I don’t think you have to be a Christian to enjoy the movie, but it definitely doesn’t hurt because some Bible knowledge may be required for full comprehension. Much of the context in the film derives almost word from word from Biblical verses and situations.
Or perhaps it is because I am a father and a son? I thought this was one of the most realistic depictions of the father-son relationship I have seen in a movie in a very long time. Brad Pitt’s turn as a normal, every-day father worked. It was an honest portrayal of fatherhood. It showed a basically good man who happens to not be the best father at times. He’s not a bad father like from a soap opera or cheap novel. He’s not a stereotypical drunken abuser. He is not hateful, by any means. He’s only a bad father, in fact, because he cares so much in his own way. He wants his boys to succeed, to be ready for the cutthroat business world he inhabits. Basically, he’s a predator in a very modern sense, and he’s trying to teach his boys how to be predators in this modern world to survive. He wants for his boys to achieve the perfection that he always felt he lacks and pushes too hard. The motivations are good and honest for this character. He means well; he just doesn’t always do well. In the end there’s reconciliation, and you realize he isn’t even really a bad father. He is just a human who made some mistakes in his home life while blinded by the false cares and labyrinthine morals of the modern world instead of focusing on the little joys of life and love and grace.
Perhaps it is because of the duality of the theme? I’ve gone into my love of mystics before, and William Blake remains one of my favorite historical mystics and writers. The duality here is Nature vs. Grace. Nature is the natural world, the will to live, the will to survive, to thrive, to conquer, a Nietzsche-infused view towards the natural world. Grace, on the other hand is the will to serve, to love, to accept those unseen things that are felt and known to be true all the same. And this film shows this duality at work inside of all of us. The Father, more times than not, represents Nature. The loving Mother embodies Grace. The children contain both of these elements and deal with that internal struggle. They want to do good but sometimes do bad. At one point, a child even paraphrases a letter from the New Testament on the subject (Romans 7:21-25). This duality and resulting internal struggles — the sometimes selfish cares for this temporary world versus the desire to serve something eternal (call it God or Love) — are strong driving forces in the narrative, and explored well. For the most part, anyway.
I will note here that my one main criticism of this film stems from this point: The Mother was almost too good as the embodiment of Grace. She was too perfect to a point it almost seemed unfair to all the other characters. With the exception of a few voice-over questions and perhaps showing preference for one child over the others, she didn’t seem to have any flaws. I did not sense much in the way of internal struggle. To see her struggle a little more in her actions and be a trifle more imperfect would have perhaps made her character more three-dimensional and believable within the context of this film. Still, the casting and performance for this character works.
But mostly, I think, the movie worked thanks to the imagery and how well it tied to the overall meaning and various themes. This is, by far, the most beautiful work of modern Christian art in any form I have seen in some time. It is epic in scope, covering creation to the end of time. By doing so, it shows us how miniscule we are in the larger schemes of the universe while at the same time showing how much sometimes our smallest actions can affect those around us in the largest ways imaginable. Just because you seem insignificant in the larger scope of the universe or feel that way sometimes doesn’t mean that you don’t matter. The movie really did inspire. It touched my heart. In fact, the birth scene, shown after a long depiction of the creation of the universe, captured all the feelings of perhaps the most significantly spiritual moments of my life to date: the birth of my own boys. That brought back memories and feelings and even a few tears to my eyes. This and other scenes in this film made me stop and consider and appreciate the miracles all around me, not least of which – considering all the variables that led us up to this moment — is the miracle that we exist at all. And despite the suffering at times, our lives are a beautiful miracle. It is such a blessing that we can think, that we can reason, and that we can make films or tell stories despite no real evolutionary purpose or function for doing so that I can think of. If that isn’t effective story-telling, if that isn’t effective and worthwhile as art, I don’t know what is.
In films, like in any other medium, taste is subjective. The film is undeniably slow at times and sometimes disjointed. I’ve read reviews upset with the ending (which I think may possibly be due to misinterpretation – despite the Christian themes and worldview, I don’t think the film was as black-and-white or as dogmatic as some people make it out to be – the “Beach” may have all been in the Grown Man’s mind as a visual metaphor for how he was reconciling his past to his present the way I see it). I’ve read reviews that Sean Penn’s role wasn’t necessary or explained well enough – and understand that point. But even those scenes worked for me. Sean Penn didn’t have much to work with, script-wise, but his weathered face told a subtle story just beneath its surface all its own which I found intriguing.
Ultimately, the film worked for me because it captured emotions. And, despite most of those emotions being fairly universal in nature, it captured them in a unique way. And it felt honest. Much of the story is told in the form of prayers to God. The movie itself feels intimate, like listening in on someone else’s prayers. And it’s amazing how much so many of those prayers sound like they could have been my own at various times in my life.
No, I’m not a huge fan of his movies, but I think Malick really put his heart on the line with this one. And it worked. It was a beautiful prayer.
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It’s time for my annual “best of” list in no particular order. As always, keep in mind not all of these items were released this year. This year just happened to be the year that I first enjoyed them:
2) Pandorum (Pleasant surprise, that one … Maybe I enjoyed it so much because I expected so little.)
5) Insidious (I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending or explanations, but the creepiness factor was strong through the first two acts…)
Honorable Mention: Troll Hunter – a Scandinavian horror-adventure with some great creature design. Not quite enough in the way of character development to make it a truly great movie (plus lots of distracting Blair Witch-style shaky-cam) but still fun.
1) John Fruciante — The Empyrean
2 J Mascis — Several Shades of Why
3) Fleet Foxes — Helplessness Blues
4) Spoon — Transference
5) The National — High Violet
1) The Wind-Up Girl — Paolo Bacigalupi
2) Osama — Lavie Tidhar
3) Middlesex — Jeffrey Eugenides
4) A Confederacy of Dunces — John Kennedy Toole
For Number 5, I’m including two novellas: “One Brown Mouse” by Gary Braunbeck (Apex Publications), and “The Darkened Corner” by Tom Hamilton (Philistine Press).
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Well, it’s been a while since I wrote anything here (and that’s a major understatement). Anyway, still living, still breathing, still writing. My family’s just adjusting to becoming a household with two working parents instead of just one now that Christine’s gone back to full-time. This has had its challenges, but overall, been a great thing. In fact, we probably get to spend more, and better quality, time together now as a family. Previously, I worked through the week, while Christine worked weekends. This allowed us to avoid childcare for the boys while they were young, but we tended to not see too much of each other. And having both the boys at once without a partner could be … overwhelming … at times. Together, I think we’re both less frazzled as parents. We’ve even been able to give each other some much-needed time to ourselves. She’s been able to see movies and visit with her sister minus the kiddies, and I’ve been able to get in a few solo fishing trips and hikes.
Speaking of changes, I started that new writing/editing job as mentioned in my last post, and I love it. It’s a complete change of pace, sometimes working with very different forms of writing than I am used to, and every day is something new.
Also, due to all these changes, due to the fact that life’s been busier than ever, I do have some news to relate: I recently stepped down from my post with Fantasy. With the recent merger of Fantasy and Lightspeed, the merging of these workforces, and my increased workload with my day job, I felt it was the right time to step down. I’ll miss working with that crew (they are an amazing bunch of kind and dedicated people), but I really felt I would have been doing everyone a disservice if I stayed on. I was getting a little distracted. I need to devote more of my time and energy elsewhere right now, namely to my day job and family. Also, I was finding myself losing all of my personal writing time, and I missed it.
Speaking of Fantasy, I recently interviewed Nike Sulway: http://www.fantasy-magazine.com/new/new-nonfiction/author-spotlight-nike-sulway/
And I think that’s about it for now. I promise it won’t be quite so long between posts this time. I plan on posting my “Best of…” list for 2011 soon, at the very least. Besides, I may actually have some time to blog again. In the meantime, I hope all of you are well and enjoying the season.
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–from “The Shrine/An Argument” by Fleet Foxes
I love October.
I have a few updates and announcements to make, and they’re all good ones:
- In the mood for a little horror before Halloween? Good news! Issue 8 of Innsmouth Magazine is out now. It includes some great fiction from writers such as W.H. Pugmire, Paul Jessup, Wendy Wagner, and myself among others.Here’s a little mood music for my story, “We Can Watch the White Doves Go.” And yes, the title comes from that song…
- A few recent interviews were posted over at Fantasy Magazine: one with author Nadia Bulkin and the other with artist Bram Leech. Next week, you’ll find my interview with Charles de Lint.
- Southern Fried Shorts is in a horrific mood just in time for Halloween. My last story was a little weird western,”Along the Lonesome Trail,” http://southernfriedshorts.blogspot.com/2011/10/along-lonesome-trail.html.
- My story, “How Did the Catfish Get a Flat Head, You Wonder?,” was recently accepted for the upcoming Fish anthology from Dagan Books. There’s a very cool table of contents for this one. As a special bonus, it’s always fun to work with such an awesome pair of editors. Dagan Books has to be one of the most author-friendly publishers around.
So, yes, October’s been a little hectic so far. There have been some good times: trips to the pumpkin patch; decorating the house with spiderwebs, ghouls, spooky lights, and a tombstone; fishing trips; hiking; and many trips to playgrounds with the boys. There’s been some rough times: specifically the round of colds/sinus infections that went through our household over the last week and a half or so, and the lack of sleep that comes with such illnesses if you have little ones in the house. Now, we’re getting ready for some major changes. My wife is going back to working full-time for the first time in many years now that our littlest is in preschool, and I have a change on the horizon which brings me to my next update…
I now feel completely comfortable calling myself a professional writer.
Last month, I applied for a new position as a Communications Specialist in the Corporate Communications division of the company where I work with my day job. I didn’t apply because I disliked my current job. In fact, I love my current position which allows me to coach and mentor others in a professional capacity to improve the level of customer service we provide. I feel it is rewarding work that allows me to help others grow. I sincerely love my manager and current co-workers. I didn’t apply simply because the Communications Specialist position was a promotion. I applied because it is a writing position, and of course, writing is my passion. I write whether I get paid for it or not. In my new position, I will potentially be writing press releases, speeches, scripts for events, internal presentations, and whatever else might happen to cross my desk. It will be a good mix of different styles for different needs. I’ve met my new manager and coworkers, and I am really excited to start working with them next week.
Now, normally, I don’t talk about my day job in great detail. Usually, I don’t feel it is relevant to the kinds of things we discuss here on my blog. I announce this here not to brag, but because I think it’s relevant for many of you who read my blog. This stuff — this writing stuff we do for peanuts as a hobby and a passion — can sometimes pay off in unexpected ways. In fact, my new manager asked me about some of my stories and features during our interview. Southern Fried Weirdness came up. This stuff, which I’ve always done more for my own pleasure than for any potential financial reward, was what put me on the hiring manager’s radar. When I applied for this position, I utilized the skills I’ve learned to create a quick website to use as a writing portfolio. Here’s the link: http://timothymcintyre.wordpress.com/. I mention this because, if you’re a writer and you really want to make it in any professional capacity, I strongly suggest you put something like this together and keep it updated. I made mine a private WordPress site, not publicized, but I kept the address handy and sent it to the hiring manager when applying. I would suggest keeping it personalized for your potential market or employer. In other words, if applying for a certain position, note that position somewhere in your text. Here are the steps I used to create this portfolio:
First, I decided how to organize the portfolio: I wanted a home page which served as a basic summary — this should be the first thing a potential employer/client sees. I made pages to highlight certain skill sets — a page for fiction/poetry/creative writing, a page highlighting nonfiction work, and a page detailing past editing duties. I also created separate pages for an academic overview, a professional overview, and for my official resume. Once I had the layout ready to go, I wrote the content for each page. I did this the same way I would create any other piece. I wrote first drafts in one sitting. I came back and edited this text for clarity. I added to this text if necessary and removed anything unnecessary. I proofed it once for Grammar. I had a separate pair of eyes look over it for anything I might have missed (thank you, Christine!) and then finalized it. I personalized it further by choosing a theme that looked professional and adding a picture. So, more or less, I used the same steps one would take to create an author site for oneself, only I made it a little more stark and professional. You most likely would want to add a contact page or include your contact information. I did not include this detail on this portfolio, only because the hiring manager already had all my contact information on my official corporate application and resume.
Feel free to use my site as a template of sorts if you would like to create your own online writing portfolio. I shared this because I thought it might be helpful to someone out there. Also, I was hoping it might encourage others. There’s more than one way to become a professional writer, after all. So many sites only focus on the path to book publication. I just thought it was important to show that there are other paths worth considering when it comes to making a living doing what you love.
And, I guess that’s it. I think. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to post something here before the end of the month, but just in case, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!🙂
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I’ve had a few friends send me personal messages and emails asking where I’ve been lately. I’ve been around. Yes, I’m reading your blogs and following the various controversies and developments in this crazy world of publishing and genre fiction, but mostly I’m staying busy in the outside world. I saw a commercial the other day where a young woman is talking about how pitiful it is that her parents don’t have more Facebook friends and aren’t keeping up with the internet; the shot keeps cutting to her parents who are out kayaking and riding mountain bikes and stuff like that. Well, I guess I’m with the parents. I love the Internet. I love being plugged in, making connections and friends, having people around the world to talk about writing and books with, but I guess I enjoy playing outside a little more. Especially since the weather’s been so nice. Besides, free time’s kind of at a premium these days between the day job, kids, various writing/editing projects, and, of course, college football. (WAR EAGLE!) I do tend to be a little more active on Facebook and twitter these days due to time constraints. So, if you haven’t already, you may want to friend me on Facebook or follow me on twitter @southernweirdo.
All the same, I guess I’m overdue for some updates on this blog:
*My story “We Are Us” is now available in the beautiful anthology, While the Morning Stars Sing, from ResAliens Press: http://www.amazon.com/While-Morning-Stars-Sing-Spiritually/dp/146372232X.
*Still having fun interviewing very cool people for Fantasy Magazine. Here’s an updated list of most of my recent interviews on my author page over at the ISFDB: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?127936.
* Southern Fried Shorts is continuing to be a great little place to experiment with different styles and themes: http://southernfriedshorts.blogspot.com/.
* On the writing front, in addition to the flash fiction I’m writing for Southern Fried Shorts, I’ve written several short stories and finally completed the first draft of my southern-fried rock-n-roll Orpheus novel. Well, actually, it ended up more of a novella at around 45,000 words. I kept adding to it and subtracting from it. It was a very organic process, not exactly linear as far as how I wrote it. By the time I decided to write “The End” and call the first draft done, I felt like the work said all I wanted it to say, exactly the way I wanted it to say it. We’ll see how it looks in a month or two when I revisit it for a good, solid second draft. It may expand or contract.
*Forthcoming publications include “We Can Watch the White Doves Go” in Innsmouth Free Press (October) and “The Comfort of Shadows” in The Red Penny Papers (December). And, of course, I’ll continue bi-weekly updates to Southern Fried Shorts.
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