October 27

The Art of Fear

Why are horror and fear popular subjects in the art world? For centuries, we’ve continued to seek out ways to scare ourselves and we keep coming back for more. Join me as I explore the reasons behind our obsession with fear and how we explore it in our artistic output.

The podcast is available at iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, Amazon, and PodBean. If you prefer, I also have a YouTube channel.

Or you can listen to it right here:

October 26

A Little Creativity

I find myself constantly amazed at the creativity shown by people during this pandemic. Yesterday I watched a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about how people are changing their Halloween plans to make them safer. Some of the adaptations included a long-distance candy dispenser for the trick-or-treaters and drive-through haunted houses.

I think it’s fantastic that people are willing to put in a little effort – and imagination – to keep spirits high in a time when we’re all feeling the pressure.

But the creativity doesn’t stop there. I was talking (online) to a friend who told me that over the past weekend he not only learned how to play bingo via Zoom, but also attended a Zoom-based murder mystery party. I didn’t have a chance to get all the logistics behind it, but I can’t imagine how they set that up. Regardless, it’s still an incredibly creative way to bring people together and interact while still remaining relatively safe.

I know, we hear a lot about people complaining about the lock downs, the social distancing, the mask wearing, but I look at this all as an opportunity. Think about it – we can look at all this as some massive pain in the ass that has turned our lives upside down and created chaos, or we can look at this as an opportunity to try new things, to do things in a different way, and to see just how creative we can be.

Don’t let the situation sour your perspective. Sure, things sort of suck at the moment, but you can still make the best of it. Improve yourself, help others, and most of all, be creative. You may have some hidden talents you didn’t know you had. All you have to do it try something new and see what happens.

RB

October 23

Tough Choices

Choices are a part of our lives, so deeply ingrained that we usually don’t even realize that we’re making them constantly, every day, without hesitation. Most of these are simple choices, like when to pull the eggs out of the pan, or if the water in the kettle is warm enough for tea. We don’t give it much thought, we just let our instinct guide us.

And if you think about it, you probably don’t spend too much time wondering about what you’re having for dinner. Leftovers in the refrigerator or swing by a fast-food place to pick up something? If it’s the latter, then you look at the drive-thru menu for a couple of moments to decide which combo looks interesting, pay your money, then back home.

But there are other decisions to be made. I know that, when writing, I deal with hundreds, maybe thousands, of decisions in each story I create. A lot of them are quick and mindless, like some of the ones I mentioned above. What color car is my protagonist driving? Or is going to drink his coffee black or add creamer? Others will make me pause for a few moments while I consider the possibilities. If my character goes down this path, what happens? Would it be better if they went this other way? Usually, I let the character decide and move on.

Then there are the tough decisions.

The toughest ones are when you know it’s going to change the entire course of your story. I had that happen to me on a yet-to-be-published short story I’ve been working on. I had a basic idea in mind and about three quarters of the way through the story I could see the ending develop. I was excited because I could see the path ahead leading to a solid conclusion.

But then I hesitated. Why? Because my stupid imagination piped up and asked, “what if you killed off this one character?” At first I dismissed the thought. Why try to change anything now when I’m so close to finishing the draft? That would be madness, right? Probably, but I couldn’t help myself.

So I took a few days off from the story so I could give this idea some additional thought. “What if?” is such a powerful question to ask oneself when writing. In fact, it’s a powerful question to ask in life, as well. After some consideration I decided to try that alternative story path. It was sort of a pain in the butt because I had to back up a bit in the narrative and rewrite some sections, but I did what needed to be done. And it was bloody.

And how did it turn out, you ask? Not bad. At least, it feels satisfying to me. It’s not what I was expecting, which in a way is a good thing, but I don’t know if it’s necessary better than what I was shooting for.

When it comes to writing – and art in general – tough decisions are just part of the process. Luckily, they don’t pop up in every story I write. But much like in life, we come to a crossroad and we have to consider the possibilities. In this case, I had to decide what worked best for the story. It wasn’t about what I wanted to do. Sort of like a parent with their child, I had to let my story loose and hope for the best. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t, but I believe we have to take chances as artists. We never know if something will work out unless we try it.

RB

 

October 21

A Challenging Read

While I’m a fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, I don’t limit my reading list to those specific genres. I feel that, as a writer, I need to expose myself to a wide variety of ideas and input. Plus, my interests are all over the place, so if you took a peek at the stack of books on my shelves you’d see everything from astronomy and biology to biographies and fiction from almost every genre.

Currently, I’m reading The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and it’s possibly the most challenging book of fiction I’ve read. And this is despite the fact I’ve watched the movie multiple times over the years. It’s one of my favorites.

I’ll post a full review once I’ve finished it. I’m currently a little over halfway through this beast and, while I’m loving the story, it’s so incredibly dense with details and obscurities that it’s taking me a long time to read. And don’t get me wrong – I’m loving the adventure.

Eco is an incredible storyteller, and this medieval monastery murder mystery (alliteration intended!) is well-plotted. But what’s getting me is the almost overwhelming amount of detail he’s incorporated into the story. I’m finding that I have to pause every few pages to look up architectural details he’s described, or to translate some obscure passage from an ancient book of African poetry, or simply to translate some bit of latin. All those years growing up Catholic, you’d think some of that Latin would have stuck in my head. There’s also a great deal of theology and philosophy, so a few passages require a re-read or two to make sure I’m understanding it all.

Of course, it would probably have been easier for me to read it on my Kindle so I could have the footnotes and translations readily available, but no, I bought this one in hardback. It’s a keeper and a fine additional to my unwieldily home library.

I feel like in reading this book, I’m not only being entertained, I’m being educated. My Catholic background helps a bit. I’m familiar with a lot of the ceremony, the prayers, the traditions, so I can easily relate to many aspects of the story. But Eco did so much research into obscure parts of the religion that I find myself both confounded and impressed.

I’m hoping to finish the book by the end of the month, but I don’t want to rush it. This is a book to savor, to enjoy, to relish.

Now, back to it!

RB

 

 

October 14

Old-School Scares

I’ve been a fan of horror movies since I was a kid. Growing up in South Florida, every Saturday morning one of the local television channels showed Creature Features starting at 10:30. And every weekend I’d tune in to watch the old black and white Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy movies. They’d also show the Godzilla flicks, along with some of the other giant monster movies that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Oh, and the occasional Hitchcock film.

I’d lay on the living room floor, wrapped in a blanket and holding one of my stuffed animals, and would peek through my fingers as whenever the creature of the week appeared on screen. Despite my fear, I always came back for more.

Later, in my teen years, the movies evolved. The slow-burning horror and scares became more graphic. There was Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and one of my favorites, Dawn of the Dead. The blood and guts didn’t really bother me, it just added a gross-out factor the the films. Besides, they were sort of fun, mostly because many of them were predictable. Couple having sex? Dead. Young woman in the shower? Dead. Wandering in the woods after dark? Dead. I probably should have watched them with a horror movie bingo card in hand.

At some point another evolution occurred and the genre moved into territory that I just can’t get into: the torture movies. Also often referred to as torture porn. Instead of the victims being killed off quickly – albeit sometimes messily – it was over and done with and the film moved on. Now, however, the victims are slowly tortured, and some of the scenes go on for what seems like forever. To me, that’s not scary, it’s just perverse.

I’m not saying the movies shouldn’t be made. There’s obviously a market for them and it’s still giving these movie-makers the opportunity to be creative. I’m all for that. I mean, I can appreciate the artistry that goes into creating a graphic, bloody death scene. I’m a fan of practical special effects and – when I was a kid – dreamed of working as a special effects artist.

It’s really personal taste. The torture movies just aren’t my thing. I’d rather watch an old Hitchcock movie than Human Centipede. I feel like the best scares are the ones that are partially left to my imagination. Hearing the screams coming from off-camera, the vague sound effects, shadows on the wall hinting at something sinister, is all fuel for my mind. To me, that’s the best kind of scare. What I can come up with in my head is going to be much darker than what I see on screen.

So this October I’ll be doing what I usually do, and that’s revisiting some of those classic horror films from past decades, enjoying the building tension, the ambiance, the mystery. And then I’ll use all that to feed my imagination when I sit down to write.

Boo!

RB

 

October 12

New Podcast Episode – The Monetization of Art

We all dream of making money off our art, but how realistic is that dream? In this episode, I talk about how the monetization of art has changed over the centuries and what modern artists can – and should – expect from the market.

The podcast is available at iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, Amazon, and PodBean. If you prefer, I also have a YouTube channel.

Or you can listen to it right here:

October 7

Outrage is Everywhere

I think we can all agree that the world can be a little nuts at times. Or maybe very nuts most of the time. Depends on your perspective.

As a fiction writer, I find it interesting to watch as people get outraged about things and cause a commotion, hoping that they can ‘take down’ whatever it is that’s offending their sensibilities. Just look at the fuss that was made over the Harry Potter books, the Captain Underpants books, and so many classic novels like To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye.

The reason I bring this up is because last week was Banned Books Week here in the US. It’s sponsored by the American Library Association, along with dozens of other literary and literacy organizations. I feel awful that it slipped by me this year without me noticing. In my defense, I’ve been distracted by a lot of other things going on in the world at the moment.

I’ve written about censorship in the past, and even recorded a podcast episode about it, but Banned Books Week always reminds me that there are people in this country, and maybe in other parts of the world, who feel that just because something offends them then everyone should be offended.

It doesn’t work that way.

In fact, I make a point of reading books that get banned. It’s my small act of rebellion against censorship and to support the author. If you’re interested in learning which books are the most targeted, check out this list:

http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10

It breaks them down by year, which is sort of fascinating to see how the tastes of the censors change annually. Books that are near the top of the list one year are absent on later lists. Weird, isn’t it? I think it just goes to show that some people look to be outraged by something. It’s not about the actual quality or content of the books, it’s just chasing whatever hits their radar at the time.

Oh, well. Some people just can’t be reached. But you and I can still support authors, buy books, write reviews and provide ratings, and even tell our friends about them. In my opinion, the more outrage there is over a work of fiction, the more likely I am to buy a copy.

RB

October 5

Where is my Muse?

There are times when I stare at a blank screen and wonder when the words will come. It doesn’t happen often. I’m lucky in that I can always find something to write about. But on occasion, well, my Muse seems to be on vacation.

Personally, I think she just needs to recharge every so often. The way I look at it, our brains run on electricity. All those synapses firing off billions of times every minute, all those thoughts processing, ideas forming, opinions, fears, hopes, dreams. It’s like a mini-universe unfolding.

And all that processing eats up resources. Not necessarily memory. I’m sure I have a few petabytes still available. No, I’m referring to the the actual effort spent thinking about everything. Day to day thinking coupled with creative endeavors can push the brain to the limit. And then what?

Exhaustion.

I think mental exhaustion is more crippling than physical exhaustion. And that’s what it comes down to, the brain is just out of energy. I’ve found the only real cure is a good nap. Or a good night’s sleep. Rest, recuperation, and magically my Muse saunters back into the room, adult beverage in hand, ready to get back to work. Ta-da!

I often wonder if one of the main causes of Writer’s Block is simply due to being mentally tired. I know that when I am, I have a hard time concentrating, keeping the words flowing, even getting the words to make sense. And yes, it can cause frustration and anxiety. The Muse, much like a child, gets cranky and stubborn, refuses to do anything, and pouts.

When I feel she’s getting to that point I know it’s time to take a mental break and rest. Not surprisingly, it’s resulted in my productivity going up. When I take the time to recharge I end up writing more. I used to try and push myself, thinking that any time spent away from the keyboard was just wasted time. But now I know that isn’t true. Taking a little time to recharge the batteries actually makes me a better writer, a more productive writer, and a happier writer.

With that said…time for a nap!

RB