The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
~ ALBERT EINSTEIN
In my younger days I used to make semi-regular visits to thrift shops. Some of those visits were necessitated by the demands of raising children; there are some things that a regular working family just can’t afford new. But one of the things that I checked regularly was the book section. People seem to have a way of suddenly deciding that they need to clear off a bookshelf. Maybe it’s spring cleaning, maybe someone dies, but whatever the reason, boxes of books show up at thrift stores every day, and I’ve gotten some sweet deals by keeping my eyes open. Take this beauty to the left: First edition, published by Smith, Elder, & Co., 15 Waterloo Place, London in 1907. First edition, naturally. Set me back a whole dime at a little independent thrift store that had formerly been a mom & pop grocery. I chose it to photograph because it was in arm’s reach of my desk. And why is that? Well, if those familiar with former aero-officer Clinton Monroe of Beyond the Rails fame could read this book, they’d recognize a great deal of his training, attitudes, and tactical expertise in these pages. Ten cents. Thrift store. Books are magic.
But every book is a mystery before you open it, and that’s especially true of old books. And not just the content. Every individual used book has a history. Maybe there is a cryptic inscription or notes in the margins written by a previous owner. Perhaps it is stained with tears, or, is that blood? What if you found a heavy, leather-bound tome on a thrift shop shelf? What would it contain?
Now it gets interesting, yes? If you are a writer of fiction, any style, any genre, this is your lucky day. As a gift to you, I’m going to apply a defibrillator to your creative synapses, and you may feel free to take whatever results and run with it.
You hold that book, gravid with age and history, in your hands. With a sense of awe and reverence, you open it. What do you find?
A vanishingly rare first edition of a famous novel?
A book of poetry that seems to carry a much deeper meaning than it first appears?
A scientist’s notes for an invention the likes of which has never been seen?
A map to a ruin lost to history for a thousand years?
A formerly unknown tale penned by a famous author?
A diary containing the deepest secrets of an infamous villain?
The working sketchbook of a great artist?
Or is it something much more wonderful than the few possibilities I’ve listed here? You see, writer, what little it takes to jump-start your creativity? Case in point: I reported Thursday on my birthday loot, including William F. Nolan’s book, How to Write Horror Fiction. The book may be out of print, but for whatever reason, my daughter ordered a used copy. Tucked between the pages when it arrived was a boarding pass for American Airlines Flight 9100 departing from Dallas/Fort Worth on July 9th, 2005, and a receipt from the Terminal C, Gate 22 snack bar. Well, writers, is there a story there?
Now, go forth and conquer!
In Other News . . .
Last week I said I was going to start acting like a “professional” author, whatever the heck that means. I said that every morning was going to be filled with writing projects from whenever I got up, sometimes as early as 6:00 AM, until noon, and that something tangible would be produced, be it manuscript pages, outline sections, character descriptions, something. It is now one week later, and what I have learned, or rather had imposed on that grand vision, is that I’m not that guy. I don’t get the unmitigated pleasure out of The Craft that professional authors apparently do. There are just too many other activities that I enjoy as much as, or (horrors!) more than writing, that I very quickly began to feel that writing was a form of self-inflicted punishment designed to keep me from enjoying the other things I love to do.
Does that mean I’m going to stop writing? Far from it! It means that I need to find the balance. I schedule things I need to do, housework, gardening, and such through notes on the calendar, and I’m now going to attempt to put Writing, as in a day devoted to The Craft, into the cycle, and devote several hours if not the whole day to the process. I’ll have to see how that goes. Does this mean that I view writing as a chore similar to weeding out the flower beds? I think perhaps it does, but a chore in the sense of one that is fulfilling in the doing of it; some people like gardening and the sense of completion that a well-tended patch gives them. I feel the same about writing, and I will figure this out. This may not be the solution, but I think I’m getting close to it.
Other Voices . . .
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been crossing Facebook paths with a most interesting fellow named Bonsart Bokel who produces an in-character steampunk podcast. In celebration of Halloween month, he’s inaugurating a new feature thereon called S.C.P., Secure, Contain, and Protect. I’m not going to try to tell you what you should think of it, but if you’re a fan of the “horrors among us” genre, you should definitely take a look.
If you aren’t busy next weekend, MileHiCon makes its 50th Anniversary appearance in Denver, and they have invited all of their living previous guests of honor.
Here is your chance to see such luminaries as Mario Acevedo, Paolo Bacigalupi, Steven Brust, Liz Danforth, Chaz Kemp, Jane Lindskold, James Van Pelt, Robert E. Vardeman, Carrie Vaughn, Connie Willis, and David Lee Summers gathered in a single venue. The convention will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel – Tech Center in Denver on October 19, 20, and 21. You can get all the details at MileHiCon.org. Who Else Books, Massoglia Books, and Wolfsinger Publishing are all scheduled to be in the dealer’s room. Not to be missed if you’re in town.
Last week Phoebe Darqueling looked at the Snow White story that Disney used for their feature film. This week she compares the Grimm Brothers version with the Disney, noting that the Grimms added some material to pad it out, thus making it the only tale that they actually wrote themselves (they were dedicated collectors). This is a fascinating read for literary historians and writers who want to see how stories develop over their lifespans.
The MovieBabble site specializes in film reviews. Several reviewers post multiple times a day there. As I write this, the movie at the top of the page is Apostle, though it will almost certainly have been superseded by a new review within the hour. Virtually all of their reviews are both fully informative and spoiler-free, which says a lot about the skill of their writers. They also delve into the concepts and philosophy of film making, and is very much worth regular visits for anyone into the contemporary film scene.
The Writers Helping Writers site is a go-to compendium of useful (by which I mean vital) information for authors. The several members hereof get into the grit and detail that isn’t often covered in the Big Successful Writer Telling You How To Do It books. They offer free knowledge on their page, and some of the best comes from their Occupational Thesaurus. They cover every aspect of a profession from knowledge needed and people they have to work with to sources of friction and ways to twist the stereotype. Their latest entry looks at the General Contractor. In the past, they have looked at jobs from Parole Officer to Exotic Dancer. Every serious author should have this bookmarked and on their feed so they see every new entry. I can’t do it justice in this little blurb; just go and see it for yourself!
Sci-fi fans need to pay a similar level of attention to The Firewater Site. Here the owner takes in-depth looks at science-fiction movies and television productions. He’s currently in the midst of an episode-by-episode review of the original Star Trek, including a timeline of real-world events to put each episode in context, and still finds plenty of time to bring in variety, such as yesterday’s post about Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. If sci-fi in films and television is close to your heart, consider following this site. I just discovered it recently, and you can take it from me, it’s quite a ride!
Finally, Richard of Cool San Diego Sights usually posts a portfolio of spectacular photographs of some themed aspect of our beautiful city, but this time he’s outdone himself. He has discovered an interactive crime scene attraction in downtown San Diego called Solve Who! that immerses the visitor in the life of a detective investigating a murder. He has provided a thorough writeup and a number of pictures on his website, so Law & Order fans who find themselves in the San Diego area and would like to spend an hour in the shoes of their favorite detective would do well to include this on their itinerary.
And that’s 30 for this week. I’ve already found some intriguing new titles for my Thursday book roundup, so join me then to work on your TBR lists. Until then, read well, and write better!