Just being me

I find that labels are the worst thing in the world for artistic expression – Ornette Coleman

Underground. This is a word my writing mentor used to describe the second novel I’m working on. Initially, he thought I was writing in the crime genre. After reading the last excerpt I sent him (he’s essentially read 80% of the draft), he has removed the crime genre moniker and replaced it with ‘underground.’

I could not be fucking happier. If you have to label my work as a fiction writer, label it underground. I don’t care to put labels on what I do, but apparently, society demands labels on people, places and things in order to bring forth the appropriate reaction to what’s in front of them. So, if I must label my work, then I will label it ‘underground’ just to shut everyone up.

For those who need a little clarity on the definition of underground in this context, here it is courtesy of Urban Dictionary. I had to correct the grammar. I have no idea who submits stuff to Urban Dictionary but I really like this person’s take on ‘underground’:

Underground is about passion. Of course, the word is misused and abused. A true underground artist will create music/art from the heart as opposed to something tailored to a commercial market… Underground artists can have a long career out of the often destructive gaze of mainstream media…

There are people who are good, even great, at following the rules. I’m very competent at being a good citizen. I’m a decent photographer. I’m a decent CrossFitter. I’m a decent dressage rider. I’m decent at a lot of things.

But when it comes to writing — fiction, in particular — I want to be the best I can be. There is still lots of room to grow and develop to do in that regard. Being the best isn’t measured in the number of books I sell — although it would be nice to sell a boatload of books. But that’s not the brass ring for me. It’s about being able to tell the best story I capable of telling. It’s about becoming a really good, and hopefully great, storyteller.

For me, being a storyteller isn’t about understanding the various genres that inhabit the literary world and adhering to their individual conventions. I see conventions as rules. Are they rules? Guidelines, maybe. But they feel like rules to me. While I’m pretty competent at following the rules. It’s been hard to abide by any of the literary genre conventions that have popped up in front of me.

Why should creativity and artistic expression operate within a box of rules or conventions? I’ve proven to myself and to my writing mentor time and again that following my gut instincts has served me well in my development as a writer. My instincts couldn’t give a shit about conventions. When I dive into the art of storytelling, the last thing I give a shit about is genre conventions or genre, for that matter.

The sign says ‘Go right.’ I spray paint the words ‘fuck you’ on the sign and go elsewhere. It’s not a blatant show of rebellion on my part. It’s just I can’t abide by it. My instincts won’t let me. There are people who thrive under conventions/rules. I’m not one of them. I know whatever I create by following conventions will be subpar. It won’t be the best I can do. I’ve tried. It hasn’t happened.

But leave me alone to focus on storytelling with the barest of rules — i.e. make sure the story has a beginning, a middle and an end and loaded with complex, interesting characters — and I will to explore, experiment and discover to me heart’s content. Free to create something I would be proud to have my name attached to.

It seems labels are necessary. For better or for worse. Labelling creativity shouldn’t be necessary. In fact, it’s harmful.

I was talking to a friend yesterday evening. I keep nagging him about going out for coffee and catching up since we seem to see each other every six weeks or so. A little more frequency would be nice. We talked about the label of ‘underground.’ He gets where I’m coming from as an artist, as a writer. In the important ways, we’re very much alike. He likes ‘underground’ as a label applied to me and my writing and the way I look at life. I like to it, too. A lot.

So, if you feel compelled to label me because you don’t know what to make of me or my work, label me underground. I won’t bite your head off for calling me that. I’ll thank you if I’m in a good mood.

Ultimately, underground just means I am being me.

Not a lie

Contrary to all those times you’ve heard a writer confess at a reading that he writes fiction because he is a pathological liar, fiction writing is all about telling the truth — Paul Harding

To be honest, I’ve never heard a writer confess that he/she wrote fiction because he/she is a pathological liar. I don’t write fiction because I’m a pathological liar. I’m pathologically blunt. But I’m not a pathological liar.

I write fiction because in the written word, that is the kind of storytelling I am most comfortable with. I’m interested in creating characters and their lives. I’m interested in their worlds. I’m interested in telling truths that are not solely based on facts and figures. All facts and figures play a part of a story but they are not at the centre of the story. The characters are at the centre of the story.

Whose truth am I telling? The truth that belongs to my characters and no one else. I’m only a conduit. I suppose it sounds mysterious, otherworldly, even flighty. My friends will tell you that I am far from flighty. They just might be generous enough to tell you to run for your life if you ever suggest to me that I’m flighty. I would have to agree. Start running.

I’m just following my instincts. And I’m listening to my characters. At the end of the day, all I have are my instincts, my characters and my heart. I have to trust them. I do trust them.

That is not a lie.

Embracing the voices

People have always heard voices. Sometimes they’re called shamans, sometimes they’re called mad, and sometimes they’re called fiction writers. I always feel lucky that I live in a culture where fiction writing is legal and not seen as pathologyRuth Ozeki

I am a fiction writer.

Yes, I have heard voices — or specifically, I hear the words. Once in awhile, they come to me in my dreams. But that form of communication is rarely used with me. They prefer to come to me in images. Sometimes, the imagery is scattered or disjointed but never random. Most of the time, the imagery is specific and words usually accompany them. But it isn’t uncommon for the imagery or the words to appear without each other. But I always know where they go.

Am I crazy? Give me your definition of ‘crazy’ and I will tell you if you are correct. Normal is so boring. Normal is something everyone is told be so every individual will be easier to handle. Easier to control. That’s why laws exist. That’s why religion exists. I think you need to be brave and a little crazy to be the person you could to be, the person you should be, the person you need to be.

Am I a shaman? Technically, I’m not. But I could be. If I am, does that frighten you? If it does, would knowing that I only access the supernatural and the other-worldly to tell stories, make you feel better? If it still doesn’t, then I’m sorry… we can’t be friends.

Whereas some folks may be riddled with angst and a little fear as a result of hearing voices, I embrace them. It’s easy to play with them. It’s easy to be around them. Sometimes, it’s far more comfortable to be in their presence than being in the presence of actual living breathing human beings.

Let’s be honest, humans are a weird lot. Yeah, we have a brain (sometimes that can be contested), we claim to be intelligent (that’s definitely debatable) and because of that, we have the ability to communicate better than species in the animal kingdom (that’s kinda laughable, to be honest). And we have the ability to access all of our emotions, but we don’t. Okay, some members of humanity seem to issues with that, especially when we’re told to repress them for the sake of not embarrassing others. Yeah, fuck that shit. And now you know one of the reasons I’m more comfortable with the voices or the words I hear in my head than with people.

So, yeah. I’m a fiction writer. It’s the skin I’m most comfortable in, right now. It’s the skin I can call my own. It’s the skin I’m meant to wear. Anybody who says otherwise will get a swift kick in the arse.