When I was a kid, my first real interest in stories was horror, specifically Fortean horror, which (apart from a devotion to the lightweight TV form – represented by the prototypical Chris Carter’s X-Files inspiration “Kolchak, the Night Stalker” (1974-75), I pursued in the main through comic books. I favored the denser, more prose-laden double length “digest” comics – about the size of a Reader’s digest (roughly 8″ tall and 5″ wide) but thicker. They were my favorites, because there was more text and there were more stories, so they lasted longer than the standard variety. which felt more like brochures. DC & Marvel weren’t my thing. I read a lot of Golden Key comics which, like the 1950s era comics put out by EC (Entertainment Comics), had rejected the Comic Code Authority “seal” of content safety for children, without which most retailers wouldn’t stock them. No “decency” for me – I wanted it raw and uncensored. [Read more…] about Horror Was My Childhood Doorway to Conscience, Art, and Wonder
I don’t really care for severed heads and people terrified out of their wits or writhing in agony. I don’t cheer or laugh when chainsaws come out like adolescent boys might whoop and shout at explosions in an action film. I don’t particularly enjoy being scared – quite the opposite. And just like it’s a bogus myth a lot of non-literary people have that storytellers who write fantasy have psychedelic minds or are “weird”, it’s not true that people who tell horror stories secretly have actual heads in their freezers and ‘sick’ minds (we’ll address whether the horrible is always attributable to illness another time). But I have to deliberately ponder the question – actually I have to write it – to get at exactly the reasons horror, as a genre, appeals to me. So here goes: [Read more…] about Why Severed Heads Actually Matter
Occasionally I revisit the reasons why I chose New York City as my next home. I had narrowed it down to cities with relatively solid mass transit: NYC, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia, Washington (DC), and Boston. I had considered Los Angeles, but don’t want to spend 900 hours annually in a car while breathing the fumes you can see rolling across the highway. I considered San Francisco – great food, but the hills make walking a chore, there’s the addict culture, small size, and the lack of subways ruled it out. My criteria also included arts, street culture (including street food), and a cutting edge attitude in at least one category of business or art. I dropped Seattle, because of the hills again, and the fact of the electric buses being stuck in traffic twice a day. I love Portland, but it’s got 11% unemployment – a depressed economy. Along with Chicago and Boston, it inhabits my fall back plans. DC and Philly mass transit are “depends on where you want to go”, and the quantity of stuff I like would just be too small a footprint for me. That leaves NYC, Chicago, and Boston. Boston is way up there on my radar, and I might still do that at some point. But there is no rent savings at all, so for now it’s NYC and Chicago, which come down to rent, amenities, and culture, and that’s what I based my decision on. I feel no loyalist impulse toward boosterism, so this is simply a life optimization choice for me, and a personal one. [Read more…] about Why I Chose New York City
When I used to ask the question of writers’ groups why it was that most of the writers expressed, in one form or another, doing just about everything but writing, I was generally greeted with indignation and outrage. The other night, my friend Chuckles and I were discussing how video games do not prepare you to be a Navy Seal, wield a battle axe, or ride horses into battle. In fact, if you’re still playing them several hours a day by the time you hit adolescence, the likelihood of you putting in the concentrated, long-term hard work that one of those disciplines requires starts to plummet. If you’re still doing it at 25, you’re probably an expert at delivering pizza – which is fine – I’ve done six dozen jobs at least, including that, and I’m not knocking it. But you can deliver pizza when you’re 40, which is one reason some of those guys do – you can’t start at 40 and become a ballerina or a concert pianist or fly an F15. You’ve heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule from Outliers – that’s 10,000 hours of actually doing something, not talking about it. Maybe Sun Tzu would say 9,000 hours of planning and only 1,000 hours of war, but he was already a general. [Read more…] about 12 Reasons I am Not a Writer
When I was a boy, I played using the imagination as my primary raw material. I had books, toys, and other things, but the imagination was my Greyhound ticket to the road to anywhere. It got me, like The Saint, out of locked rooms, like Jane Austen out of occupied rooms, and like a cat burglar *into* all kinds of forbidden places. [Read more…] about Journeys in Alternate Reality
When I was a kid, my parents considered me to be useless. I had it drilled into me that I was the guy that, if any ordinary person could tie his shoes or make his way in the world, would still fail. Defining myself as a man required not only a break with the family, but recognizing and overcoming (at quite some cost, and with significant pain) the similar voices that are ready to join the chorus in the world. I always looked at the world in unusual ways, and was never cut out for academia, corporate life, standard religion, etc. I specialized in doing things that were adventurous to try to change my life and the bigger they got, the more helpful or disastrous they were. But sometimes they helped a lot. I had to define who I was, determine what the world was, alter the conception of my relation to the world, and ultimately decide what to do then. [Read more…] about Beyond Being a Real Boy
The Orson Example: I think most people who have read a lot of Orson Scott Card’s work and have also spent time in social media are aware that there are years’ long campaigns going on to punish Card for his opposition to gay marriage (which is forbidden in his religion), comments he’s made in opposition to homosexuality (which is forbidden in his religion), and his participation in conservative organizations (which most prominent people in his religion do). It’s nothing that’s not common among Mormons in general, evangelical Christians, conservatives, and indeed half of the United States – but what really pisses people off is that his books are so good, too. In fact, if he wrote lousy books or was less popular, there wouldn’t be an issue. That’s how common his views are and how good his books are – the backlash underscores both. Let’s be honest about that. [Read more…] about Rescuing Art from Ideology
I have a rather unusual personality – so I am told, continually. A close colleague of mine says it’s all about context. Drop me into most standardized social settings and I stand out quite a bit or quietly observe from a dark corner. Standard social situations do not readily accommodate intense personalities. Put me in a restrictive one, like a corporate office, and I’m really out of place – I’m not a team player, by any stretch. Unleash me in an open, continually out-of-the-box environment with piles of legos and unrestricted freedom to go all Montessori on my surroundings (think TED rather than Walmart), and I tend to thrive and deliver keen insights and a lot of value. This is why I’m a decent entrepreneur and suck at being a cubicle jockey. [Read more…] about The Bizarre Life of Fiction
“The quality of mercy is not strained.” Another story teller said that. I have to decide whether to show mercy on an enemy. A post about ethics? Stock in trade, my friend. What do you think we story tellers do? We aren’t talking about bean dip and Budweiser, even if we are. We tell lots of lies, but some things aren’t. And the transcendent things – that’s our bread and butter. The bread and the butter, the bean dip and the Bud – those are just useful metaphors for what the story teller says is really real about life – meaning. [Read more…] about Mercy and Marigolds
“Written performance” may be the clearest description of what I do, but literary performance is the correct term. When most people hear the phrase “literary performance” they think of public reading of literature, perhaps dramatized. That is not actually what it is, though there can be no objection to the casual use of that phrase in that way.
Literary performance per se does not require reading literature aloud, which is merely a test for its essential quality. Instead, it refers to two things:
- Literature that has the character of speech – in other words, the writing style is that of the spoken word, specifically.
- The act of creation or publication of precisely this type of literature, since to create something with the character of a performance is essentially to ‘perform’ it.
Take for example this reference, which argues that language which is meant only to be read silently and does not have the character of speech is not actually literature at all. Referring to literature itself as an act / action, it offers:
The antithesis of the literary performance is not soundless reading in quiet seclusion; it is language that cannot be read aloud without becoming heavy tongued, tiresome, and incapable of being formed and grasped by the abstractive functions of the brain. The true contrast with the literary performance lies not between oral interpretation and silent reading but between literature whose public reading supplies the breath of life, and language whose utterance is a slow funereal knell. The technical jargon found in scientific and parascientific writing is a prime case of unperformable language. It is engineered writing by cliché and formula that is actually a substitute for literacy. Here is language meant only to be read and never to be spoken. (One thinks also of scholarly papers read at professional meetings!) There is but a short distance from here to computer printouts and the full computerization of language. I do not entirely disparage these developments, for they have their own special advantages, but I think it essential that we not confuse the language of technology and the technologizing of language with the act of literature. A literary performance, then, whether spoken or read silently, always has the character of speech, never of written language, and this is one of the consequences of recognizing that unperformable language is not literature. While the spoken word is not, ipso facto, literature, in the last analysis, reading aloud becomes a real and important test of literature. — Arnold Berleant – The Verbal Presence: An Aesthetics of Literary Performance. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 31 (3) Spring, 1973, 339-346. (emphasis mine)
Observations: “Asher, you write like you talk, and talk like you write.” This is something the two people who both know me personally and who made it a point to read everything I’ve written (yep, just 2), have both said in response. It’s no accident that I refer to the writing in performance terms, using the meme of “Nightly Chops” from Jazz, tying it to both performance in time and a stage, and the concept of a performance portfolio (see the Stories page). I do write expressly as an act of speaking or, as it says on the home page, Asher writes in order to “read to you”. And of course, the vocal readings, mostly of other people’s work, are titled “Read to Me”. Besides the ironic reason to deny being a writer, already expressed in the Maxims (“writers mainly talk about writing rather than actually do it”) and the added irony of how talk is juxtaposed with literature in that observation, this emphasis on literature as performance is yet one more reason to evade that label; I much prefer the term storyteller (again an implicitly vocal term, suggesting the character of a performance), even if the written word is the primary medium for telling the story.
Asher’s 343rd Maxim: Write like you talk, and talk like you write. Literature is an act of speaking and, writing that way is, effectively, an express act of performance.
Defined: Emo Horror (“emotive horror”) focuses on the horrible in unhappy emotional qualities like sadness, grief, regret, breaking, neglect, misfortune, etc. Plots resolve not so much with triumph (or its failure) over monsters or horrible people, but with overcoming (or not) emotional horror itself.
Origin: In music, Emo is short for emotional hardcore, a style of hardcore punk rock “characterized by melodic musicianship and expressive, often confessional lyrics” [wikipedia]. A breakdown of emo styles of music is [here]. The idea for emo horror is that of a story model based on similar essential features in horror literature, evoked by pushing the superficial elements of monsters and madmen to the background and bringing the horrific elements of anguish to the fore. This allows the genre to become, perhaps, an expressive vehicle for personal truth telling and exploration of painful emotions. Think of emotive horror as horror expressionism and therefore particularly suitable to a kind of literary performance.
Not the Same: Emo Horror differs intrinsically from psychological horror, in that the latter attempts to horrify by disturbing the reader or audience with the deviant psychology or emotional instability of characters, while emo horror makes grappling with universally experienced emotional agonies the point.
Protologisms: Emo Horror is a protologism. A protologism is a neologism that hasn’t caught on yet. For short, I am saying EmoHor – because I like the double entendre.
FYI: I don’t want to get locked into one particular genre, let alone sub-genre, but I felt it was necessary to identify the consistent elements in this type of writing and give it a name.
Asher’s 334th Maxim: There’s a method to my sadness.
Update: Once the term “emo horror” started appearing in alternative dictionaries, Google popped an earlier use of that phrase back into its index. It wasn’t a reference to a genre but, I was delighted to find, a description used in a review of one of Stephen King’s short story collections! Better company we could not be in. In fact, this excerpt from the review, by Sci-Fi Gene, is an excellent summation of Emo Horror as a sub-genre: “While they are undeniably still horror stories, they strike more of a melancholy note than King’s earlier writings: more emo than gothic horror… Many of the stories focus on horrors that have already happened and deal with the grief and denial that follows.”
Hacking Horror: I want to tear apart the horror genre and dig into what makes us do more than cringe. I want to know what makes us weep, and what we do about it.
- gore for its own sake – gore porn
- titillation with ritual or apocalypses or the demonic, which depends on a particular religious bias
- suburban fears about life being disrupted by scary lawn care workers, which depends on a certain classism
- inexplicable horror that makes villains flat and causeless, treating madness or evil as an explanation in itself, which depends on a certain shallowness of social perception
I am interested in:
- violence – its roots in the soul – and responses that are deeper than simply getting a bigger gun than the other guy
- the horror of exploitation by institutions (religion can offer one example) and of meaninglessness – the loss of transcendent meaning that institutions try to replace
- the truly horrible – grief, sadness and breaking – the horrible things we don’t need stories to experience, but which stories can help us understand and know that someone else understands
- monsters, the real kind, or the kind that tell us something real – they don’t just kill us for no reason – all real monsters have reasons, because they’re us – even non-human monsters are icons of ourselves
- Genre Hacking – which might even be looked upon as genre improvement, if one is successful enough
Sadness = Horror: “One might wonder if sadness is the secret impulsion that fuels good narrative conflict. Nothing is more powerful to us than grief and loss — we then look to the storyteller to answer a fundamental question of, can we overcome it, or will it overcome us?” – Chuck Wendig
The genre I’m interested in working in: isn’t really a mainstream bookstore shelf genre (which is an outdated way of classifying literature, and publishing companies will hopefully come to realize this, when the last of the big box stores is dead) – it’s not “horror” per se. The work I’m interested in is: Slipstream, Magic Realism, New Weird, and New Wave Fabulism – it’s sometimes also called Interstitial Fiction. This is the punk rock of literature – indeed some of it has roots in Punk Lit.
Examples: I like fantasy but not Conan or Harry Potter – urban fantasy. I like sci-fi but not space ships – to me, the future is just one setting and science is an element not the point. I like horror, but not so much werewolves and goblins – meaningful horror – the horrible.
People breaking these genre boundaries and cliches right now include China Miéville (considered very hot at the moment), Neil Gaiman (e.g. Neverwhere), and Stephen King (e.g. Hearts in Atlantis and The Long Walk), as well as a host of other names we all know but who get pigeonholed into a particular shelf space. New authors too: Erin Morgenstern’s new book “The Night Circus” is a nice genre-straddler and, because there are kids in it, her work got saddled with the “young adult fiction” moniker, which is silly. Nothing wrong with YAF, but her stuff isn’t that.
What it Means: I think these boundary pushing literary efforts are the re-emergence of literature as an attempt to understand the human condition beyond the constraints of the previous generation’s marketing categories, academic pretensions, and mannered nostalgia for Victorian classism. In short, it’s a new renaissance, gently thumbing its nose at the “real” literature vs. genre lit dichotomy as well as at the genre vs. genre fences that keep everything neatly in its own box.
Seriously – where would you put Kafka if we didn’t have a shelf for classic lit? I’d accept Absurdism or Surrealist Lit, but not trying to jam him into “horror” because of an insect, unless you’re willing to broaden the horror category to include a lot of other interesting things that currently aren’t there (eg. Steppenwolf?). What about The Trial? The Castle? They convey the horrible, all right. Either expand the categories to be more inclusive, or we’ll need new ones to be more accurate.
All this said: I’m delightfully inconsistent. And I’m aware that, to sell anything, even Amazon cares about genre. So until the industry fully fleshes out more of them, I will strive to exploit the generalities inherent in any category and label my stuff to fit one of them, at the appropriate time. See: Hacking Horror. It’s a bit like calling both pot brownies and those little girls in beige uniforms that knock on the door and sell brownies “brownies”, but I’ll go along if they will.
ref: Genre Hacking
Exactly 30 days ago, I began work on a series of writing goals: [Read more…] about 3 Rabbits from My Hat – Writing Feats
I came across a blog post critiquing the common phrase “I’m spiritual not religious” which is indeed an annoying comment. I usually want to respond “that’s cute” but I don’t have time for the drama it would bring to my table. Even just refusing someone’s “spiritual” advances creates shock and disgust. Recently I declined to bring my baby boy, my dog, to be “blessed” by the local church of the coffee shop on animal day. “No thanks. I already have a religious tradition.” Jeez, you’d think I spit in their hymnals or ripped off their yarmalkas. [Read more…] about Religion, Love, Death, and Other Topics
You know, I’m torn between the perception of fear in psychological terms as damaging and harmful, in Darwinian terms as healthful and helpful – indeed essential for our survival, and in religious terms as a ‘passion’ – a function of Death at work in us (which a Darwinist must deny). I am fascinated by all of these conceptions. And more. I find I must think of fear not merely in terms of what it does to us or where it comes from, but as an adventurous realm in which to travel, a place to let my storytelling mind lie down and rest. On any given night, I am journeying through fear and discovering it as a world, and telling a bit of it.
“A major milepost has been passed when you mature enough to acknowledge what drives you, and you take the wheel and steer it.” – Andrew Stanton: The Clues to a Great Story [Read more…] about Reading Fears: Story & Entrepreneurship