Kathleen Glasgow, Library Luminary

Kathleen Glasgow (of Girl in Pieces fame) swung by my school to speak about the dark places she’s been and the dark things she’s written.

Glasgow wore a black coat, a shirt reminiscent of prison bars, thick glasses, the kind writers wear. I felt bad for her. The air was insufferable. This time of year, Colorado has a pattern of snow days, but today the sun was out, the streets glaring, and the school hadn’t lowered the thermostat.

When she started, I thought she was about to ask if anyone had read Girl in Pieces. Instead, Glasgow asked, “Have you ever lost someone?”

So many students put up their hands.

“Do you know someone who self harms?”

More hands.

From there, her lecture sought to answer the question: What do you do with pain? With darkness? With feelings that hurt?

As you may not know, I’m a high school teacher, so I had to smile at my colleagues’ faces when Glasgow spoke about low grades, perpetual truancy, her expulsion and GED, drugs, alcohol, an early career at Wienerschnitzel and Jack-in-the-Box. And when she muttered “shit” into the microphone. Not exactly the narrative we impress on students.

Now, while she may not be a model of academia, to the nation of women falling and failing and hiding scars under long sleeves, Kathleen Glasgow is an avatar of hope—a sign that art and literature and the wondrous act of creation can salvage scraps, can save the soul.

But the answer wasn’t only art. It was the act of honesty. Of unwinding and expressing the truth without romance. “I write books for people who think help me help me help me,” Glasgow told us. “But say I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.”

“People tell you—you’ll get over it, you’ll heal. Not true. You go on with the weight of that trauma for the rest of your life. You learn to be with it.”

“If I’m not going to be open about it, who’s going to be open about it?”

Her final piece of advice to the assembled classes, freshmen to senior, was this:

“Do not self-censor. Always believe in the story burning inside you. Write it. Rewrite it. Read as much as you can. Reading assists your sense for story, teaches structure. And never, never be afraid of the things you want to say.”

Formatting Elder Gods

lovecraft_god_dialogue

As a writer, how do you format the dialogue of an elder god?

This was the problem I faced while writing “The Elegy of Entrails,” a Lovecraft lovefest set on an extraterrestrial world.

Quotation marks felt too petty. You don’t say “What’s up?” to Cthulhu and expect “Not much” in return. Sure, the gods in Homer’s The Illiad speak like anyone else, but what about those things beyond existence? Creatures more dream than meat?

Continue reading “Formatting Elder Gods”

Comicpalooza 2018—Writing Unforgettable Characters

I went to a literature panel entitled “Writing Unforgettable Characters” featuring Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Joe Lansdale, Carrie Patel, and Bev Vincent.

Well, Joe Lansdale kind of took over the Q&A in the best way possible. The others had some insights, but Joe exuded this pragmatic writing presence. A manuscript messiah miasma. Predatory parable pheromones.

A few of his best points:

  • The writer gives 50% of the story. The reader brings in the rest.
  • Some think character is giving someone a cane or an eye patch. That if they’re from Mars or were raised by Indians, they’re interesting. Don’t confuse oddity for character. When writing character, you need to think of motive. Why they do stuff. There’s Surface Motive. What they tell themselves is their Motive. And True Motive.
  • Characters must intrigue. They don’t have to be likable, just interesting.
  • When writing, there has to be music in the prose. Otherwise you’re just lining up turd after turd. Hemingway had a masculine poetry. Fitzgerald had a magical poetry. Learn how to combine rhythm, style, and character into the poetry of prose.

Story Ideas

One of my students wrote me a list of story ideas. Here they are:

  • A girl turns into an animal. She becomes vegan when she’s human again.
  • Time freezes then a General of the War moves people so that his side wins.
  • High School Basketball game but they all have telekinesis.
  • In the Civil War era, the battle from the spectators’ perspective. (There’s an additional note in parentheses that “people used to watch the battle.”)
  • Lawyer and Doctors switch bodies for the day.
  • Mom and Dad switch bodies.
  • On Halloween, everyone who dresses up becomes their costume.
  • One day, walls start talking and tell all about what’s going on in jail.
  • Utopian society and there’s a Government meeting about what color the university should be.

On the back of the page is one last idea:

  • All the founding fathers resurrect and go to war.

Filler

We needed filler content for a literary magazine we’re creating, i.e. stuff of no consequence that will be deleted once we publish. So I wrote this.

“The Robot” by Botswana Brokeball

There is a girl who is a robot. She wakes up in the wastelands but doesn’t remember who she is (actually she’s a secret human). All the humans are dead but she doesn’t know until she meets communists called the Rainbow Riders. Their symbol is the rainbow. In my story all robots are rainbow stripe colors. The girl-robot-secret-human is named Eve, the first human. She’s actually the first human cryogenically frozen by Adam to be awakened when the technology has developed to de-freeze cryogenically frozen women. Eve decides to rename herself Even Stevens. After a lot of walking in the dust-broke wastes, her CPU glitches, and her hard drive crashes, and her URL is hacked. She was a robot the whole time! The story ends with a vulture digging a nest into her brain and finding pink gummy brains to its delight and surprise. She was a human the whole time too! In the end I show up in the book to congratulate the reader on finding the secret, then I tip my fedora and walk off the page. I was the monster at the end of the book!

Author Bio

I am from Remdonesia which is a small independent nation-state in the offshore drilling waters of California, America. Don’t be alarmed if I send you intimate details about my body via Facebook. I am only testing the ability of humans to communicate over long distances via Facebook. Shout out to nail clippers. Y’all the real heroes.