Sunday, December 28, 2014

Early Influences

Every so often, there's a Facebook meme that asks about the books/films/etc. that "stayed with you" or "changed your life." The memes are slightly different from each other, but they usually cover similar territory, and they've gotten me to think about what the essential "texts" (which I'll use to cover books, movies, TV shows, comics, etc. - things that tell stories) are of my life. The memes haven't often asked about these essentials in terms of being a writer, but, since that's what this blog is about ... here are a few texts which influenced my development early on (maybe I'll discuss later ones another time):

Star Wars (1977)

Yeah, I'm sure I share this one with a lot of geek writers, but it's the truth: this movie opened a whole new way of looking at the world for me. I'm not sure I cared so much about The Force or any of that, or R2D2, etc. I think it was the planet-hopping, gallivanting-through-space thing that did it for me. Also, of course, the idea that a "little guy" (one with seemingly no power) can have a great effect on the whole galaxy was something that appealed to me, a child who felt pretty powerless. Also, like Star Wars, my sci-fi isn't focused on science, but on human (or character) interaction in sci-fi settings.

The Fantastic Four (1961-present)

I encountered these comics in reprints (though I did sometimes buy the then-current issues, too). As with many readers, the chemistry between the characters really appealed to me. They were imperfect and often at each other's throats, but they clearly loved each other and would come to each other's defense. Also, thanks to Jack Kirby, the primary creator of the FF (I believe), there was just a seemingly endless cascade of ideas rolling out issue after issue. It made me want to see what I could dream up for my characters to face. Again, too, my favorite character, The Thing, was ugly and didn't feel he fit into the world (though this aspect was softened as the series went on), which was how I felt back in those days.

Star Blazers (1979, I think)

This was a Japanese cartoon, translated into English and broadcast in America. I think I got the idea of long, continuing, episodic stories from this series. It had two (that I know of) long adventures, so each episode advanced the series a little bit more. Unlike in many shows of the '70s (my childhood), the characters went through changes over the span of the series. That didn't happen to the Six-Million-Dollar Man or Wonder Woman, really. I was also quite fascinated by the spaceships in this series, far more than I ever was by The Enterprise or Millennium Falcon. The main one was a reconditioned battleship, and they had these huge, central guns that could fire enormous bursts of energy, but which left the ships powerless afterwards.

I think these three sources really pushed my ideas forward early on ... I loved my superhero comics, too, and Origins of Marvel Comics and other reprint volumes also seeded my brain. But I'd say most of my early self-drawn comics contained some variations of the above three influences (and comics were what I did before taking up prose).

I wonder how many writers of my generation shared any of these influences?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Words and Music

No, this isn't a post about songwriting, though I've done a little of that in my time. I just had a thought the other day about music.

I've got my little theories about things ... or rules. At one time, and maybe still, I would have said that music was the "highest" form of communication. What I meant by that is that it can communicate to people (and maybe animals - who knows?) on multiple levels at once, some of which are so subtle that we don't realize it. Music is like that to the nth degree: the words (if there are any) give you a bit of information. It can be straightforward or poetic (i.e. the lyrics don't make sense, but they produce a feeling or impression in you anyways), but it's one level. The music itself imparts feeling on some sort of elemental level. Evidence of this fact is that people can enjoy - even be fanatically devoted to - music that's not in their native languages. Following this line of thinking, I put film next on the scale, followed by comics, still images, poetry, then prose. Just my little hierarchy.

Anyhow, I began to wonder if one's favorite songs might reflect on one's writing style. Do the songs you like give any insight into how you write or the types of stories you tell?

I think one could make a case. Many of my favorite songs are what I'd call "epics." They're not short. They tend to follow stories or progress through a series of events or emotions. And this is conveyed not only in the lyrics, but also the music. When I listen to these songs, I feel like I'm going through something, some experience, and coming out the other side changed, charged, cleansed maybe?

Examples: "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Under Pressure" by Queen. "Who Are You?" by The Who. And "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas.

These songs definitely feel like stories to me, and, not only that, they contain a lot of build up, rising, falling ... a crescendo, and a resolution. The joyous highs are pretty fantastic, and the sorrowful lows kind of wistful and sombre. Freddie Mercury goes from "... can't do this to me baby" to "nothing really matters to me" in "Bohemian Rhapsody." "Love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the Night" in "Under Pressure." Big themes about love, loss, struggle, etc. "My heart is like a broken cup. I only feel right on my knees," it says in "Who Are You?" Life's worn him down!

I think my stories are about these things - big issues, things that create struggle for most of us. I usually focus on one narrator character, but his (or her, though I have written mostly from the male viewpoint) conflicts could be ones many of us face ... not so much facing a dirty house or bad traffic, but trying to find meaning and reason in a crazy, often hostile world.

I do wonder - if one is a fan of jazz, might one's stories be or feel more improvisational? If one's into bubblegum pop, might the stories have a prefab/formulaic feel? Would a person into classical prefer to write structured epics with many interrelated parts (characters), working together?

WRITING NOTES: My progress on "Cosmic Ray" has been slow lately, due to finishing up at school and having a tough time with the scene I'm working on. My published book, "Falling Into Fate," sold 32 copies in its first quarter! It's sold some since then, according to Amazon/BookScan, but it looks like it stopped this week. I would love it if people who'd read it would review it ... a sentence would be fine.

Monday, December 15, 2014

By Way of an Introduction

Hello! Thanks for stopping by.

My name's Nathanial Cook. I go by Nat with my friends and family. Some people hear "Matt" when I introduce myself in person, so I end up being called "Matt" by some people - those people - and a few kind souls like to write my name as "Gnat," or to say "Guh-Nat" to my face. Well, enough about that.

I'm a writer. It doesn't matter whether I get paid or not to write - it's just what I do. Other than family (and I include close friends in this group), my writing is what's most important to me in life. Why? What is it about writing that's so compelling for me? I'd say it's about getting the stories, ideas, and worlds I've got inside my mind across to others in an artful, fun way, so that writer and reader both enjoy taking the story's journey together. That work for you? It does for me.

This blog will be about writing - mainly mine, but I might look at others' techniques and word-paintings every now and again. Nothing else will await you here: no politics, no religion, no personal stuff, no "food porn," etc. If you like writing, are interested in writing in general, and in my writing in particular (all the better!), this is one place to go. The other would be my books and short stories. I may talk about those here, too - in fact, I'd bet on it.

Just a little more about your narrator ... hm, what's important to know here? I'm 47, married, with two stepsons. I've been writing since at least 1989, but probably before that. If you count making my own comic books, then it goes back to age seven, maybe. Anyhow, it's been a long time. I became more serious about writing (i.e. believing people might want to read what I wrote) in college. Since then, I have completed and published one novel and one short story, but I've got many works-in-progress.

I'll write about anything, but I tend to concentrate on speculative fiction (sort of like sci-fi, but lighter on the science), fantasy, humor, and occasionally horror. I like Poe, Lovecraft, Jonathan Carroll, and others I'll recall of as soon as I've hit "Publish" on this post.

I want to keep these entries short and "sweet," so I'll stop now, but I hope to update this blog two or three times per week, if I can hack it. Please let me know if you have any questions or topics you'd like to discuss. One thing: please don't tell me what I should have or shouldn't have said. This is my blog, and I plan to post as I see fit. Cool? Yeah ... so let's meet again in a day or two and talk writing!