Sunday, April 29, 2012

Influenced by Kurt

I'm also reading Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut.  I had forgotten how much I love his prose, his wit (the dark humor), and the way he constructs sentences.  I read Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five way back in high school (and yes, they did have printed books back then -- on paper, not stone).

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., photo dated April 8, 1992.
Doug Elbinger, Elbinger Studios.

Now that I'm reading him again, I realize -- and I'm going to test this theory, by re-reading Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five just to make sure that the prose is similar -- that he, not Bill (Faulkner) influenced my style of writing.  I write very much like Kurt Vonnegut. Well, my style is like his. I won't say I'm as good a writer, because that would be stupid. 

I suppose that Kurt V has been somewhere in the back of my head, all these years, setting an example, pushing the gallows humor that sort of pops up in my work, but the thing that really got me thinking about it was, while reading Sirens, I kept thinking I would write that sentence exactly like that

Needless to say, I'll be studying his books to see how to improve my own writing. 

I'll leave you with a few quotes.

From Cat's Cradle:
-  Anyone who cannot understand how useful a religion based on lies can be will not understand this book either.
-  Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before... He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.
-  Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are 'It might have been.'

From Slaughterhouse-Five:
-  All this responsibility at such an early age made her a bitchy flibbertigibbet.
-  The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.
-  And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.
-  Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.

And from Sirens of Titan:
The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.

With that said, how can you not enjoy an author who can invent the chronosynclastic infundibulum. I'd urge you to read Sirens of Titan, but just in case you don't, this is from A Child's Cyclopedia of Wonders and Things to Do:

“Just imagine that your Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on Earth, and he knows everything there is to find out, and he is exactly right about everything, and he can prove he is right about everything. Now imagine another little child on some nice world a million light years away, and that little child’s Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on that nice world so far away. And he is just as smart and just as right as your Daddy is. Both Daddies are smart, and both Daddies are right.

Only if they ever met each other they would get into a terrible argument, because they wouldn’t agree on anything. Now, you can say that your Daddy is right and the other little child’s Daddy is wrong, but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.

The reason both Daddies can be right and still get into terrible fights is because there are so many different ways of being right. There are places in the Universe, though, where each Daddy could finally catch on to what the other Daddy was talking about. These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy’s solar watch. We call these places chronosynclastic infundibula.

The Solar System seems to be full of chronosynclastic infundibula. There is one great big one we are sure of that likes to stay between Earth and Mars. We know about that one only because an Earth man and his Earth dog ran right into it.

You might think it would be nice to go to a chronosynclastic infundibulum and see all the different ways to be absolutely right, but it is a very dangerous thing to do. The poor man and his poor dog are scattered far and wide, not just through space, but through time, too.

Chrono (kroh-no) means time. Synclastic (sin-classtick) means curved towards the same side in all directions, like the skin of an orange. Infundibulum (in-fun-dib-u-lum) is what the ancient Romans like Julius Caesar and Nero called a funnel. If you don’t know what a funnel is, get Mommy to show you one."

One Thing Leads...

When I don't feel like writing, I read because just seeing the word in print gets me motivated most days.  It also leads me to other things, like old movies, that I may never have experienced.

Today, still sick, but getting better, I don't particularly feel like writing.  (Well, I am writing right now, but you know what I mean.)  And there's nothing good on TV, not that there ever is, but I do enjoy some shows, like Psych and House.

Anyway, I'm reading a book by Haruki Murakami called After Dark. In the book there's a "love ho", short for love house (which if I understand correctly, are pretty prevalent in Japan and far more up-scale than American pay-by-the-hour motels), called Alphaville.  The protagonist mentions that it is also the name of a movie, a 1965 French (with sub-titles) sci-fi-noir movie.  How could I resist?  I first looked to see if there was a book, and there was, one that outlines the movie and has lots of quotes.  So I pulled that down onto my Kindle.  Then I realized that with today's cable system, it was probably OnDemand.  And it was.  I watched it, twice.  I loved it.  Loved the imagery. Loved the seediness that is film noir.

By the way, you'll be glad to know that in the alternate reality of Alphaville, spys (the good spys) still drive 1965 Mustangs. And computers, well, it was 1965.

I won't say that I understood the movie.  Someone could probably write a thesis on that movie and still not completely understand all the imagery and messages in it, like spiral staircases, lots of them, which evoke the idea of DNA. But how does DNA relate to the bigger theme. (Maybe I coul figure it out if my head wasn't so stuffed up.) For now, my theory is that it is a work of art.  And French. So maybe we're not meant to understand it.  Most "art" is just meant to provoke thought, which it did.  I'll give you the Wikipedia link as it explains a lot more than the IMDB page: 
I guess what I'm getting to is that it opened up ideas for new stories and new sub-plots in my stories.  It pulled my brain from it's drug shrouded funk (legal stuff for colds) and made me think.  Which is good, for everyone, not just writers.  I'd like to believe that everyone thinks every now and again, although I believe that is probably a futile wish.  But I won't go there.  I could write reams on how little the average American thinks, myself included.

So, go read a book, watch a stimulating (mentally-stimulating) movie, do something that makes you think.  Please.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Better, Well a Bit

I'm not better, was up coughing most of the night, but I think I'm so tired that I'm not fighting my voice anymore, and things are starting to flow again.  The five words are once again turning into fifty.

So, I've been working on re-write of the Voodoo/New Orleans short story, and I realized that I have pictures from the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.

After reading through this post, it seems to have turned into more of a tour guide book than anything on writing, but I love doing research for my stories, and these pictures help put me in the mood.  I thought I'd share them, and one anecdote, with you.

The following is a picture of a new, well kept oven vault.

From Frommers Guide (

In 1789 the city opened St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, right outside the city wall(which no longer exist) on what is now Rampart Street. The "condo crypt" look -- the dead are placed in vaults that look like miniature buildings -- was inspired to a certain extent by the famous Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Crypts were laid out haphazardly in St. Louis No. 1, which quickly filled up. Other cemeteries soon followed and eventually were incorporated into the city proper. Each has designated lanes, making for a more orderly appearance. The rows of tombs look something like a city, where the dead inhabitants peer over the shoulders of the living.

There are two types of these functional crypts: the aforementioned "family vaults" and the "oven crypts" [or oven vaults] -- so called because of their resemblance to bread ovens in a wall. A coffin is slid inside, and the combination of heat and humidity acts like a slow form of cremation. In a year or so, the occupant's bones are pushed to the back, coffin pieces are removed, and another coffin can be inserted. In the larger family vaults (made of whitewashed brick), there are a couple of shelves and the same thing happens. As family members die, the bones are swept into a pit below, and everyone eventually lies jumbled together. The result is sometimes dozens of names, going back generations, on a single spot. It's a very efficient use of cemetery space, far more so than conventional sweeping expanses of graveyard landscaping.

What Frommers doesn't mention is that many of these vaults are "rentals", and not just by other family members.  The poor who can't afford to purchase a family vault can rent an oven vault.  But if the family doesn't keep up the rent, the body can be "evicted".  More likely, since the bodies decay in a short amount of time -- a year and a day -- the remains would be pushed to the back and another body inserted. 

As is evident in the picture above, many of the crypts have fallen into disrepair. A group called Save Our Cemeteries ( has cleaned up the worst of the damage that bruised and often blotted out the beauty of these necropolises.

(All these pictures are from St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, but the cemeteries in/around New Orleans are very much the same.)

I have been infatuated with New Orleans and her cemeteries since my first trip there, way back when, when I was still young enough to enjoy the hype of Bourbon Street.

On one of my trips to New Orleans, the first time I visited the St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 (supposedly where Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen is buried), my friend and I  decided to wait until Sunday to do the tour.  What we didn't know was that it's closed on Sundays. We were leaving the following day.   So, after much hemming and hawing about what to do, because we really wanted to see the cemetery, we hoisted our butts up and over the wrought iron gateway (and yes those arrows are pointy) and, I suppose, we broke in.


The funny thing is that there was an older couple -- well, I probably wouldn't call them older now, they were about my current age even though I don't act it. Anyway, this couple was in the same dilemma we were.  We offered to help them climb over as well, but they slowly backed away from us with that look on their face, the one that people wear when facing a rabid dog.

We didn't harm anything, and realized on the way out (up and over the gate again) that we were breaking-and-entering right across the street from an NOLA police department. 

With that said, I'd highly recommend visiting the New Orleans cities of the dead.  There's so much beauty -- and magic -- there.  It inspired me to write my first (and maybe my first to be published) short story.

Just check the schedule.  You may not be as lucky as we were.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Crappy Prose

Despite my last post, lately I've felt the need to write... something. Unfortunately, when I push myself like that -- and I'm not saying that pushing yourself to write every day doesn't work for lots of others, just not for me -- anyway, when I push myself like that, I tend to write crappy stuff, or at least it feels crappy to me. 

I've been sick this past few days, and stayed home. Understand I have to feel really bad to stay home.  My motto is that if I feel bad, I may as well go to work.  You know, work sucks, so no need to feel good when I go there.  Oh, and if you haven't noticed, I get whiny when I'm sick.  OMG, my life is so hard.  BlahBlahBlah.  I'm even annoying myself with the whining.  I'm starting to remind myself of my ex-husband. 

So all afternoon, in the back of my mind was the thought that I could at least write something.  Yes, write something even though my throat feels like an electric sander remodeled my breathing passages and my nose feels like it weights twenty pounds.  Write something when I feel crappy, sure, that'll work. 

What I ended up with was a synopsis of the story, but no visceral details, no flowery descriptions, no voice (funny, because I've almost lost my voice physically).  It's hard for me to write so succinctly.  If it can be said with five words, I can say it with fifty.  But I ended up with an outline.  He did this...  She did that...  He said...  She did something else... Boring, even to me, and I wrote it.

I know that I can use what I wrote, but I'll need to go back and layer in all the good stuff, all the stuff essential to make an outline a story.

So with that said, I'm going back to writing crappy prose.  Hopefully, in the very near future, I can put a silk dress on this pig.  Actually as bad as I feel about it, make-up and a pair of stilettos may be required.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Not that Person

Every time I take a class or go to a conference, I hear the same thing.  A serious writer writes every day.  It's not true.  And don't let anyone tell you that it is. 

Everyone has their own rhythms.  I did no writing in the past week.  None.  I've thought about it, a lot, but I have done absolutely zero writing. 

Those of us who can't just quit working and write full time, we need down time from writing just like we need down time from work.  Writing is work.  Yes, it's way, way more enjoyable than the work I'm getting paid for, but because that work allows me a good life, a life where I can write, where I have the freedom to do things that many people don't have the time/funds/resources to do, I need to make sure that I do a good job at that job.

And my paying job has been stressful lately.  Two projects are coming due at almost the same time. Yeah! Can things be more complicated?  Why yes, they can.  Now the project manager on one project--and let me say that she is a good project manager, but she doesn't understand technical people or how they work--this project manager has decided that more meetings will make the work get done faster.  I keep seeing Dilbert cartoons in my head.  "And we're going to keep having meetings until we figure out why nothing is getting done around here."

So, instead of writing, this past weekend, I did nothing.  Well, I did a bit of cleaning because you just can't let that stuff go, but I did nothing like writing, not even here on this blog.  I slept late.  I went to a friends house for Easter dinner (that's the meal in the middle of the day for you non-Southerners).  I read, drank wine, and even ate potato chips while watching TV.  I indulged myself. 

Do I feel guilty?  Yes, and no.  Yes, because not being productive means that I'm being lazy, and that imperative, that eleventh commandment has been ingrained in my being from day one.  Thank you, Momma.  But after fifty-two years, I've learned that down time is not just a nicety, it's necessary.

So when people tell you that you're not a serious writer unless you write every day, just tell them that you're not that person.  That you have a life outside of writing, that you write because you want to, because you enjoy it, because you're compelled to do so as a creative outlet.  But not because you have to.

With that said, Happy Belated Easter everyone!!

Zombie Peeps!!