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Storytellers

With the publication of The Dig on The Grim Collection, I find myself thinking about storytellers. The Dig was inspired by a storyteller in my own family, my great-uncle Leonard. I can’t say I spent a lot of time with Leonard, but my most vivid memories of him involve the stories he told. I remember him sitting in an aged yet comfortable looking chair in a living room filled with the kind of pictures and knick-knacks one accumulates during a life filled with family. Great-aunt Minnie busy elsewhere in the house. Leonard’s thick head of hair. My dad sitting off to the side and me uncomfortable around unfamiliar people. I don’t remember ever commenting on the tales woven or asking questions, but I certainly remember retelling those stories on the walk to school or on the playground, doing my best to remember the details for my equally young pals.

My favourite story and the one I remember most clearly involved a dream where Leonard saw the location of some buried treasure and upon waking knew where to go. And go he did. Shovel in hand. He dug and struck something deep in the sand but a ghostly hand emerged. He dropped shovel and ran. Some time later he returned but could no longer remember the spot.

That story stuck with me for more than 30 years and eventually became The Dig.

My dad added a lot of background lore to Leonard’s ability to vividly dream. Leonard’s father was the seventh son of the seventh son. That man could put a light-bulb in his mouth and his finger in an outlet and the bulb would light up. He disappeared for years only to return near the end of his life. I never questioned the truth of these tales. One doesn’t do that to stories such as this. I think I knew that even as a young lad. It’s a harder thing to do as an adult– not questioning the tales of storytellers. As an adult, we look for answers to help us understand the why of things, but with a story it is not the why that is important. The best storytellers know this.

There was another story Leonard told where, as a young man, he saw the devil perched on a neighbour’s house. The devil dropped into the shadows and disappeared when it noticed Leonard looking. I’ve got a comic script knocking around in my head based on that one.

Another storyteller from my youth was a neighbourhood friend of my father’s. Joe was his name and, to me, he seemed old even when I was in elementary school. I interviewed him once as part of a school project. We had to talk to an adult about what their childhood was like. I used this black tape recorder my sister had. It was the same tape recorder she and I used to record silly little programs we made up before I was even in school. I also used the tape recorder to record letters to a friend of mine that moved to another city. He did the same in return. I don’t remember the details of Joe’s answers, but I remember he came to the house and we did the recording in the basement. I also remember the quality of the recording was terrible. You could barely hear him on the playback even with the volume at its highest.

Later in life after we left and returned to Sydney, my dad took me to visit Joe. He was still in the same neighbourhood. Same darkly painted house with its immaculately cared for lawn and shrubbery. We sat out in the backyard. Dad and he talked and I listened. Dad was working for Brinks by this time and I remember Joe leaning intently forward and asking with quiet interest: “What does a million dollars look like?”

Stories.

My dad and his brothers would tell stories of their youth, not naughty tales but definitely wild tales about kids fending for themselves and finding things to do as they wandered the city, of their own father and his brother– the aforementioned Leonard– running booze in the countryside and dealing cards at back-room poker games because none of the players trusted each other.

And, Murray, now also gone. The trucker. One summer when we were back on the East Coast visiting I found myself alone in the living room with Murray, and we got to talking about trucking, about what is trucked across country and across borders; about how cargo is tracked; about how truckers are sometimes robbed or even hijacked. It’s all locked away in my brain.

Stories to create other stories.

A general update regarding a farewell and stress

It seems I’m always writing “it’s been a while since my last post” but unfortunately my life has been in a fair bit of turmoil since mid-April. The result has been less writing of comic scripts, short fiction, reviews and blog entries.

The two biggest disturbances were the illness and recent death of a good friend, and increased stresses at work. I don’t want to discuss either in detail here. This blog isn’t intended to be a personal, public diary. Its dual purpose is to be a chronicle of my adventures in writing and a portfolio for my writing. I only mention these two life events here because they have impacted my writing.

I often hear of writers channeling stress and sadness (and other turbulent emotions) into creative projects but I’m not wired that way. Stress and sadness, in particular, knock the creativity right out of me. I focus my efforts on dealing with those emotions, and dealing, for me, doesn’t include writing. I’ve been busy with this sort of emotional wrangling since the end of April. I have recently, however, said good-bye to my dear, departed friend at her memorial service, and stresses at work have lightened due to some positive changes. As such, I can feel my vigor for writing increasing. I have two short fiction projects on hold and a couple comics related items on the go so now it is just a matter of picking a project to finish and attacking it.

For the New Year

The office closed at 3pm today. Today was my first day back since December 24 and while I’ll admit I wasn’t looking forward to going back because my time off was so enjoyable I will also admit that once I sat down at my desk and fired up the computer I was ready to go. There weren’t a lot of people working today so I was productive and as such I feel I will be even more prepared when it’s time to enter the regular work day routine come January 2.

I got home around 3:30 and now find myself in a limbo. The time between when work ended and when the New Year’s Eve party begins is too short to watch a movie and too long to have a nap. It’s too early to get ready, and it’s too late in the day to go anywhere because a lot of the city is shutting down. I have to do something though or I’ll go stir crazy. I don’t do well in these limbo periods. I get restless. To keep my mind and body occupied, I find myself speculating on what 2008 might hold for me in terms of my writing and collaborative projects.

Speculations for 2008:

  1. I will sell a copy of Psychosis. To date, the only issue I’ve sold is the “preview” copy I purchased. Releasing Psychosis for sale online around the holiday season probably wasn’t the best sense of timing since friends, family and acquaintances will have already shelled out considerable dough on Christmas gifts. Oh well, what can I say? I was excited and anxious to get it out there.I will further divide this into the following:
    1. I will sell a copy online to a complete stranger.
    2. I will sell print copies to friends, family and strangers. I’d love to sell 100 copies, but I am pessimistically hoping for 25.
    3. I will see Psychosis on the racks at ComicReaders.
  2. Special Edition will be published online. 3’LL plans to release the first Special Edition stories (including the pirate story I wrote) online in 2008. I believe this is definitely going to happen because so much has been completed in 2007 in terms of artwork. I also strongly believe the response to Special Edition will be strong. 3’LL’s artwork is fantastic, and I’ve got my fingers crossed for some positive feedback on the comedy in my pirate script.
  3. 3’LL and I will collaborate on a project of my making. I’ve shared some ideas with 3’LL and he likes them and wants to collaborate, but it’s up to me to make those ideas into scripts he can develop into kick ass pages.
  4. I will pitch a story idea to Tony Casperite. He did the awesome covers for Psychosis, and I’ve been keeping in touch with him and keeping an eye on his online portfolios. His work is stellar. I’ve got an idea I think would be perfect for his style of art. It’s a one-shot. It’s plotted and I think it’s solid, but I’ve got to develop the balls to sit down, write the script and pitch it to Tony. I’d love for this to happen. If we actually did it and it was successful, it could lead into a series of stand alone one-shots that are all a part of a larger mythos.
  5. I will publish some short fiction. The main reason I switched from writing short fiction to comic scripts is because I thought it would an easier form of writing. Man, was I ever wrong. The good news is that I’ve enjoyed and have fallen in love with the challenge of writing comic scripts and the bigger challenge of creating comics. With that said, I need to fatten up and diversify my portfolio and to do so I’d like to do more short fiction writing in 2008, with the intent to get some works published. I think the skills I’ve learned in writing comic scripts will help me achieve this.
  6. I will branch out. This is related to some of the preceding items, but basically in 2008 I want to expand my writing horizons. I want more diversity in my portfolio in terms of the people I collaborate with and the publications for which I write. I also want to achieve more diversity in the writing I do for myself– for example, keep more active on this here blog and my recently created facebook.com account.

All in all, I don’t think these are lofty aspirations. These aren’t pipe dreams. I think they are attainable. This is easy to say as 2007 is poised to come to an end, and perhaps when 2008 is well underway I’ll look back at this post and chastise myself for my dreamy optimism, but for now I’m content and comfortable to aspire to such things.

Jello Man

Coffee morning. Head hanging low, staring into brown water. Steam rising, crossing the threshold of nostrils and tickling the brain that refuses to wake. Exhale and steam scatters. Peering up from the coffee surface is a reflection– eyes, nose, a bit of forehead and little bit of cheek. A quick exhale, the coffee stirs and the reflection ripples. I do it again and think, “That’s what I would look like if I were made of jello.”

Quiet giggle, a shake of the head and then another small, savouring sip.

Predator

Morning.

Cat, black, female, in front of the patio door. Nose almost pressed to the glass. Crouched so low she is almost one with the rug upon which she sits. Ears laid flat. Tail curled tight to her body and unmoving. The yellow of her eyes almost completely replaced by the blackness of wide pupils. Oh so still. No motion at all to give away her presence. And then the involuntary shuttering of her jaw and a jittery, low yowl issues forth. The bird resting on the patio lattice remains oblivious to the cat’s company. Its head twitches about, looking at everything except the feline hunter only a few feet away.

The cat stutter yowls again and the tail twitches once. She’s every bit the instinctual hunter and yet I know the truth. Months earlier when a mouse was in the house she chased it, cornered it beneath the living room chair and then simply sat down and watched it. A great hunter? Nah. The instincts remains but the predator has grown soft in her domestic life. I don’t mind. In the bed at night, she snuggles in tight behind my legs.