Saturday, January 25, 2014

Working Through WONDERBOOK, Part 2



Author's Note: Reading over this post, I realize that it may not make a lot of sense to the casual reader who doesn't have a copy of Wonderbook: The Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer. So, if you click on that link, you can go get yourself a copy.  Or, don't. It's up to you. But I'm going to be transcribing my handwritten notes for myself (and others who have the book) and I won't be using a lot of context to back it up.

CHAPTER 1: Inspiration and the Creative Life
 This first chapter starts with a good opening sentence:
 “The most miraculous aspect of creativity is the ability to conjure up images, characters, and narrative out of seemingly nothing: to be inspired and for that inspiration to lead to words on a page.”

I knew that, of course, but it’s nice to be reminded. Over time, one starts to take it for granted.


The Importance of Imaginative Play
 I try to do this as often as I can. Kids are great fun for this. There is no doubt that I will be the guy who is always filling kid’s head with stories of roller skating ducks, treasure in the back yard, and the famous former careers of their parents. This was done for me at an early age and I never forgot it.

Sometimes, I can look at a pattern in a floor and still remember what it was like when the spaces between the dark squares suddenly turned into lava.

Rikki Ducornet’s handwritten essay, “The Muse,” is interesting. I’m not sure I agree with all of it. She does make a good point when she says, “the beautiful paradox of art is that what is a private journey is released into the world where it enters into the fabric of other lives.”

I would add the word “private” before lives, because we all bring our own headspace to a text and our reaction to publically released art is always a private one.

Jeff goes on to talk about some writers devaluing their own imaginations and I find that a little strange and alien. But then again, he’s run a lot more writer’s workshops than me, so maybe that really is a thing. I think even the writer who eschews “imagination” for “plot points” and a hard-coded outline of events is still utilizing his creativity, but maybe he or she is simply accessing it differently.

Imaginative Outputs
 If this was a Dungeons and Dragons character, these would be your “stats.” I said that, not Jeff:

Curiosity—I’m still pretty good at this. I tend to react with delight when I learn new things, or find little biographies of folks who were unique in their time, and I’m always throwing that stuff into the Bingo hopper that is my brain and trying to figure out how to use X or Y in a story.

Receptivity—I need to work on this. I tend to close off emotions because I’m, well, a man. Living in Texas. Borne prior to 1970. In America.

It’s not that I don’t “feel” things. I do. I feel them quite intensely. My first defense or reaction is to close off before something gets in and reduces me to tears. I used to not be this way. Over time, it’s become more of a thing. Maybe that’s what Jeff is talking about I need to not be afraid to access that pool.

Passion—not a problem for me. I have it. I’ve had it before, a lot more intensely than I do now. That’s why I’m taking this “workshop.”

Immediacy—you mean, I get to turn off my phone and connect with the people around me? DONE! Okay! Any chance I get to unplug, I usually take it. I’ve been working on this for a while now.

The Scar
 I really like this concept. An old wound that still irritates. This would apply to so many creative people for a variety of reasons. I have two scars. I’ll share one.

My father was largely absent from my life for my first ten years. He didn’t get interested in me until my parents got divorced.

In addition to creating a need for approval from older men my whole life, I sought attention through being entertaining. My father’s side of the family was a handful of tall-tale-telling, affable alcoholics who loved to crack each other up. Consequently, I learned the value of a well-told story, the funnier the better, at an early age.

That’s a big motivator for me, to this day.

More art by Jeremy Zerfoss. That guy
is a beast. A painting beast.
Inputs for Inspiration
 1. Write What Interests You: yes I like this better than “write what you know” too. I do a lot more research and reading for things that interest me. For stuff I know, not so much. Less chances to discover new thing.

2. Write What’s Personal: I find that, unless I’m willfully trying otherwise, I can’t not do that. I go back into my head a lot and find things that resonate from my life, my experiences, etc.

3. Write What’s Uncomfortable: I’m trying to think of a couple of instances where I did this. Maybe one or two stories qualify. I know I have some ideas for stories, as yet undeveloped, that I haven’t written because of how uncomfortable the subject matter is.

4. Write What’s Random: I can’t sustain this for very long. It’s useful to me for a warm-up exercise, but it rarely leads anywhere.

5. Write From External Prompts: I’m doing it right now!

What Is/What If by Karen Lord
This essay really resonated with me. I like knowing that there are still blank spots on the map. I’m very comfortable with mystery, both in practicum and also in my process.

The Strangeness of Imagination
I don’t really have anything to add, here. Jeff’s anecdotes are a lot like mine. Who knows what is going to trigger the imagination? It’s random and mysterious. I’m always content to let it happen. Cathy calls it my “little vacation” when she finds me staring off into space, working something out.

Writer’s Block
Good advice and also practical. There are some fascinating examples, here. Now I want to read Joe Gould’s Secret. It’s probably terrible. Or, worse, horrible, like when you watch the VHS tape in “The Ring” and then five days later, you die. Or in this case, can’t ever write again. Hmm. Now I don’t want to read the book.

Writing Challenge
There's an interesting picture in the book, about which we are asked to write a story. Here's mine.
The Hubris Fish spread his leathern wings, a dazzling display of presenting behavior. Despite my stoic demeanor, I was somewhat impressed.
            “You see,” the fish continued, “I’m not the kind of Whimsical with nothing to offer, save my appearance. I possess a variety of useful—nay, essential!—skills that would greatly enhance your burgeoning enterprise.”
            “Whimsicals” was the somewhat disingenuous catch-all term for the multitude of strange and curiously amalgamated life forms that cam came swimming, flopping, and flying out of the gateway that opened over Dover five years ago. The Forteans were the first to use that term during the Tenniel Hearings and the public liked it enough to fold it into their daily patois. The phantasmagoria of unusual creatures that fell under that aegis didn’t seem to mind being grouped together thusly, even as the term was beginning to take on a slight pejorative tinge.
            The Hubris Fish’s coral-colored spots seemed to intensify against his pale orange fish flesh as he explained to me in great detail is penchant for storytelling, engaging in mesmerizing conversation and relating witty anecdotes. This was all true, provided you were fascinated with the life and times of a Hubris Fish.
            “I’m really keen to talk about our side of the gate,” he said. “After all, no one really understands what or where it is we cam from. But I can explain it to your readers as such...”
            “I’m sorry,” I said, cutting him off. “But the gateway is old news. Five years hence, I’m afraid. I’m more interested in capturing the stories of our day—today—what’s happening out there, right now. The East Dover Examiner stands as a mirror to the times we live in.” I paused, seeing that the Hubris Fish’s color had now dimmed considerably. “Surely you understand.”
            The Hubris Fish folded his wings. “Of course,” he said, hopping on his tail towards the door, his expression unreadable. “Best of luck filling he position. I’ll collect my hat and see myself out.”
            He shut the door behind him. “Whimsicals,” I muttered, wondering who or what the next interview would bring.
            “Whimsicals,” Lord Barleycorn, the bright red parrot who lived on my shoulder, repeated in his croaky parrot voice.
            “Yes. Rather.” I gave Lord Barleycorn a biscuit from the dish on my desk. He ate it quickly, messily, forcing me to stand up and brush the crumbs from my jacket. “Next!” I bellowed, sitting back down.
            “This’ll be good,” croaked Lord Barleycorn.
            “Quiet, you,” I said.
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