Sharing Your Art

Sharing your art can be terrifying.  For me it’s been an ongoing struggle, but I have learned that the only remedy for that fear is to, in fact, share your art. I guess you could call it exposure therapy.

 I used to think my art had to be super ingestible and complete before I shared it. But as you can imagine as a novelist, I don’t often have completed, finished work to pass around on a regular basis. My friends and family will ask, ‘how’s your story coming? What have you been writing about?’  It has always been hard to explain what I’m writing about because half the time I’m not even sure.  Writing a novel is a journey, a maze of ideas that come out tiny bits at a time, or all at once in messy piles, and until they’re tidied up, I’m not too inclined to share them.

I was recently talking with a friend about C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and their different approaches to allegory. After a little while, I started sharing my own thoughts on allegory and the pressure I feel to make magnanimous meaning out of the little world I’ve created for my novel. I ended up blabbering on about the different races of elves in my story and their beliefs in the divine.  I want the world to feel authentic, the races to seem developed, and I don’t want to write just to push a message.  So where’s the balance?  How much meaning is enough?  These are just a few questions among a thousand  bouncing around my brain every time I critique my story.

But through talking with my friend it made me realize how much meaning was behind what I had already written, and how there was still so much space for a reader to invent and interpret what they wanted from it.  My hope is to never force it.  I just want the people in my story to expand and grow as naturally as possible.  I used to think I had to agree with my characters, that they in some way needed to reflect me and my beliefs.  As I’ve come to learn, that’s not necessarily true.  Those kinds of worlds usually end up feeling very staged.

But I realized all this from processing through a peice of my story aloud with another person.  Sometimes you just need a friend who will listen. And sometimes you just need to give yourself the space to share your art and hear feedback, even if it ends up being your own.

Talk about your characters, talk about your favorite artists, colors, sounds. Just talk! Create opportunities to let others inside your world.  I’ve learned that more people than I thought feel the same fears and apprehension when talking about their art.

So cut yourself some slack, we’re all still learning.

My Take: “The Island of Dr. Moreau” by H. G. Wells

Title: The Island of Dr. Moreau                                                                  My rating: 4.5

Author: H. G. Wells                                                                                      Amazon.com: 4.1

Genre: Science fiction                                                                                 Goodreads: 3.7

Print length: 104

The story is told by a man named Edward Prendick who is the only remaining survivor of the Lady Vain boat crash. Prendick is picked up by the Ipecacuanha, a trader ship which happens to have a medical passenger on board named Montgomery.

H. G . Wells was an English writer highly regarded as one of the fathers of science fiction. Though he wrote among many other genres, he is best known for his novels
H. G . Wells was an English writer highly regarded as one of the fathers of science fiction. Though he wrote among many other genres, he is best known for his  sci-fi novels “The Time Machine”, “The Invisible Man”, “War of the Worlds”, and “The Island of Doctor Moreau.”
The last of these titles was published in 1896 and continues with Well’s exploration of the ethics and consequences surrounding the use of advanced technology.

Montgomery is a mysterious man with a cargo of strange animals. He takes it upon himself to nurse Prendick back to health with his own equipment and medicine. He has an attendant with him named Mling, an even stranger man than Montgomery, and Pendrick notes that Mling has a repugnance and odd familiarity to him. In a few days time, the Ipecacuanha arrives near an island which Montgomery explains is his destination. The captain insists Montgomery takes his recovered castaway with him. Montgomery refuses, and is received by a small boat from the island. Since neither want to keep Prendick, the captain orders him into a dingy and abandons him miles from the island.

Taking pity, Montgomery orders the small boat who received the cargo from the Ipecacuanha to turn around and rescue Prendick. Prendick accompanies the strange cargo, Montgomery, and a group of strange islanders to the shore of the nearby island.

Another man of medicine inhabits the island. His name is Moreau. He takes a kind of fancy to Prendick, knowing he has studied medicine as well, but keeps him locked out of certain huts on the island. Prendick learns that all of Moreau and Montgomery’s attendants live in a village on the other side of the island, and save for Mling, they do not bother the compound of huts where Moreau and Montgomery work.

The strangeness of the islanders and the secrecy surrounding Moreau’s work intoxicates Prendick with curiosity. One day when Moreau leaves a door to one of the huts unlocked. Prendick walks in and witnesses a puma undergoing vivisection by Moreau’s hand. There is blood everywhere and Prendick realizes the poor mutilated puma is the source of the cries of pain he has heard since he arrived at the island. It does not take Prendick long before he connects the strange proportions, odd sauntering, and hairy faces of the islanders with Moreau’s laboratory.  In fear of becoming part of Moreau’s next creation, Prendick takes flight to the other side of the island.

Prendick is pursued by Montgomery and Moreau who carry whips and guns. Prendick comes upon many of Moreau’s Beast People. They invite Prendick into their village of dens and marvel in broken sentences that he is a five-fingered man. They believe he is a creature such as themselves made by Moreau. They invite him to live among them but tell him he must learn and recite the Law:

“Not to go on all-Fours; that is the Law. Are we not men?
Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not men?
Not to eat Flesh or Fish; that is the Law. Are we not men?
Not to claw Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

His is the House of Pain.
His is the Hand that makes.
His is the Hand that wounds.
His is the hand that heals.”

Prendick learns quickly from the sayings of the Law that Moreau taught each man-beast this recitation which would subjugate and control them. It is while he is among the Beast People that Moreau appears and orders they restrain Prendick. Again, Prendick runs for his life. Finally when he is on the brink of exhaustion, he wades out into the water and threatens to drown himself. It is only when Moreau and Montgomery lay their guns on the edge of the water and retreat back into the brush that Prendick is coaxed from the water.

He follows the two unarmed men back to their huts. Here Moreau explains his medical ambitions. He reveals that he does not do vivisection on any human beings, rather his attempts are to transform animals into human forms with more sophisticated minds. The Law is in place to keep the animals from reverting to their animal instincts of hunting and savagery. It is soon clear how unhappy Moreau is with his progress and finds himself mocked by the mere existence of his creations. Prendick realizes that Moreau is driven only by his thirst for discovery and creation, and Montgomery, having been on the island for ten years, does not question Moreau, but in fact finds a strange comfort among some of the Beast People.

Things begin happening that suggest the Beast People are not abiding by the Law. Things that pose a danger to the three human men. The story comes to a climax when Moreau’s current experiment gets loose. He chases the beast out into the island’s thickets, and Montgomery and Prendick are forced to follow. The men are subject to the island at night, when the Beast People revert most to their animal instincts. With Moreau’s creations slipping out from his control, and the declining presence of humanity, Prendick finds himself facing the ethical and moral implications of Moreau’s wretched works, and the catastrophes that ensues will forever maim Prendick’s ability to distinguish between the sophisticated intelligence of humanity and the depravity of animal instinct.

My Take

The thing I found the most fascinating with this story is the element of the Law and the divine regard in which Moreau is held. Though the Beast People have their own society, it is wholly dictated by human guidelines. The animals were constantly battling their own desires and instincts to uphold the Law. As Moreau was their creator and judge they revered him as a god figure. When the Law was broken they went “back to the house of pain.” Their intelligence, or lack thereof, was constantly used for whatever profited Moreau. He harnessed their humanity to guilt and shame them into following the Law, but then used their animal ignorance to corral them together to do his bidding. Upon Moreau’s demise, even Montgomery finds it difficult to accept that Moreau could ever lose what he had worked so hard to build.

Moreau and Montgomery have both been wildly affected by the darkness of their scientific exploration and the dreadful island where they live. Prendick, the outsider with a fresh perspective, struggles to define the line between pity and hatred for the Beast People, seeing them as both victims and monsters. My favorite quote from the book depicts his feelings towards them.

“Now they stumbled in the shackles of humanity, lived in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand; their mock-human existence began in an agony, was one long internal struggle, one long dread of Moreau—and for what? It was the wantonness that stirred me.”

Well’s novel confronts many of the same fears that our modern post-apocalyptic genres do now. Written nearly 120 years ago, “The Island of Dr. Moreau” raises many questions about the science of biomechanical engineering, a practice Wells predicted over a century prior to its commonplace practice today.

I have given this 4.5 stars because of Well’s ability to capture so many timeless truths about humanity while bringing up important ethical questions regarding divine creation, culture, and the reaches of science.

Tahynain’s Enigma: My First Novel and First Epic Fail

Writing is not easy. Its a lot of bumpy roads, windy paths, and in my case, rickety plummets. My first novel was among the latter of these voyages. As a young writer, I had a lot to learn, and fortunately, I had the opportunity to do just that. But no matter how much we may learn from our mistakes, failures still feel like failures. However, I’ve recently been encouraged by the stories of others who failed many times before they ever succeeded.

Walt Disney, undoubtedly one of the most inspiring and imaginative entrepreneurs America has ever seen, was once fired from a newspaper who believed he lacked imagination. Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr.Suess), who is one of the best selling children’s author in history, was rejected twenty-seven times before his first novel was published by Vanguard Press. Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s most well-remembered presidents, lost over a half dozen elections before he was nominated president of the United States in 1860. And let’s not forget Thomas Edison who, when asked about his failed attempts at inventing the electric light bulb, said this:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

I conceived the idea for my first novel while I was a sophomore in high school. It was inspired by a short story I read in one of my English classes, written by Stephen Vincent Benét called “By the Waters of Babylon.”  It is a futuristic story chronicling a group of people living after the fall of a powerful civilization. I had never read a post-apocalyptic story before and I was immediately engrossed by the idea.

Its no new idea. For decades people have been anticipating the adverse implications advanced technology will have on our society. But, as a sixteen year old back in 2007— before the main stream post-apocalyptic craze was ushered in by young adult series like “The Maze Runner,” “The Hunger Games,” and “Divergent” series—the idea of an entire culture being entirely ignorant to its predecessors and their mistakes was wildly fascinating.

It wasn’t long after I read that short story by Benét that Tahynain came into being. It was a primitive, yet beautiful land tucked between mountains, hills, and river, thriving as a self-sustaining, secluded society. The story follows a group of multi-generational Rolmanons, people inhabiting the city of Rolmanon who believe they are the only society in all of Tahynain. One child, consumed by curiosity, journeys outside the city’s boundaries on multiple occasions where he finds desolate patches of land, black and copper snakes (power lines), a circular glass trinket with silvery wings (a watch), and heavy sheets of strange material (fallen plane debris). The older generation is forced to tell them the truth and reveals the dark world that came before Rolmanon.

Not long after, scouts find evidence of another city nearby. The leaders of Rolmanon journey to see the new city, Dovynthyre, which they discover carries on the old values from the Dark Ages before the wide-spread wars. Rolmanon leaders decide to go to war with Dovynthyre to preserve and ensure peace and innocence for their younger generation. After a gruesome battle, the Rolmanons overtake Dovythyre, but their victory is short-lived as something much more sinister, something beyond the Rolmanon’s wildest dreams, threatens their entire way of life.

What I left out of the above description, besides the riveting ending, are a number of elements that compromised my story’s potential. For starters, the elder generation once had superpowers, like comic book superpowers, which you see in a five chapter flashback. Flashbacks? Yikes. And once the lions are introduced in present time, to help defend and warn the Rolmanon’s (because yes, the lions talk) against the Corpsetters (zombie-like creatures), the younger generation start getting super powers as well. I forgot to mention in the flashback there’s also a flash-sideways. And no, I had never seen Lost at this point. I couldn’t decide on the narrative type, so my story implements two of them. And if talking animals, super-powers, and time jumps don’t do it for you, perhaps the cyborgs and radioactive canines will.

It would suffice to say I didn’t have much of a direction with my story. I bit off a lot, and I practically choked on it. But I still stand firm on a few things. I had a conviction, that small voice in a writer’s head that tells them there just may be something worth writing about. Warnings against our society’s imminent doom must have been mine. Looking back on it, I’ve actually grown fairly fond of some of the characters, creatures, and plot progressions. Unfortunately, no matter how enthralling the plot, or how believable the character, it’s nearly impossible to write a book that people will want to read without a clear understanding of two things: target audience and genre.

When I started writing this novel, I was moved by a big idea in an exciting world. I never stopped to ask questions. The language I used could be fitting for a young adult novel, but some of the content was not. Philosophical questions about the meaning of life, sinful nature, and the existence of God are probably not the most welcomed components in a young adult fantasy novel. While the post-apocalyptic genre would have been right on for young adults (which I take some mild pride on being among authors who were onto that genre before it went mainstream, however unaware I was of it at the time), I also incorporated some elements of science fiction and high fantasy. So, it got pretty messy.

Thankfully, I had some help.  My creative writing professor helped me work through my novel. He read the entirety of my 350 page manuscript, bless his heart, and responded by applauding me for my discipline in finishing it. It was all over the place and we both knew it. He helped me to better understanding readership. He helped me see there are genres for a reason. It helps people determine whether or not they want to be a part of something. But most importantly, it helps you gain your readers’ trust and keep it. Determining who you want to reach and how is just as important as determining what you want to say. It took me a novel to figure this out, but I’m grateful to have learned from my mistakes.  If you want more tips and advice on taking better care of your readers, check out this piece on genre by Kristen Lamb.

Writing within the confines of an audience and genre can actually be very liberating. This time around, I have chosen to focus on writing a young adult, high fantasy novel.  I’m finding my journey of writing and exploration to be much richer.  Boundaries can be a very healthy thing. So, I guess you could say I never really failed at writing a novel, I just found a few ways that didn’t work. Thanks Mr. Edison, you’re quite the inspiration.

Have any of you taken risks and failed at something?  What has it taught you, and where did you allow it to take you?  Please comment and share any thoughts or encouragement through your stories of growth.

If Only I Had Made My Home Among the Cattle

It’s day six of Nashville living, and I am still unemployed.  It’s no surprise since I spent two years looking for employment in the abstract field of writing—a major I literally created since my college didn’t offer it.  But, perhaps that’s why its so difficult.  Having a degree in writing doesn’t exactly prepare me for a job in journalism or teaching.  It’s one of those theoretical, hypothetical, abstract educations that may or may not land me somewhere relevant.

My best friend from Ohio has a degree in early childhood education and has been teaching at a private school since our graduation.  She just told me this morning that she got her dream job, a position as a creative arts program assistant, and is moving to Pittsburgh where she’ll be living near her boyfriend. I am sincerely thrilled for her…I think? Yet, I find a part of me is not so pleased.  And which part is that, you ask?  The selfish part that envies her for finding a job after a brief, one month hunt!

Today I was supposed to hit the ground running looking for jobs.  Unfortunately, that news wasn’t really the most encouraging start to my day.  But, determined to be happy for my friend and helpful to myself, I put on my best business-casual outfit and headed out the door to visit some local bookstores.  After three hours of drop-ins and putting myself out there, I found myself no closer to having a job.  The stores either weren’t hiring or they will be “reviewing” my resume, and by they they mean their paper shredder.

Who knows, maybe working at a bookstore isn’t what I’d really want anyways.  After all, with such an abstract degree with seemingly endless possibilities, I still have no clue what my dream job would even look like.  Maybe being among the livestock isn’t so bad.  Maybe I shouldn’t have individualized and made up my own major.  Maybe being herded along into a specific pen would have made my life a whole lot easier.  I can’t find it in me to regret my decision though.  I still have an unwavering, insatiable proclivity towards words, literature, and make-believe.  You can’t quite find that in nursing school, now can you?

The not-so-unfamiliar struggle of a not-quite professional artist

Being a writer is hard.  What’s even harder than being a writer is trying to be a writer.  Being a writer is about writing.  It’s that simple, isn’t it?  Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.  It seems like if you’re not getting published and putting your work out there than you’re not a writer, and certainly not an author. But I know published and self published authors alike who seem to feel no closer to being a “writer.” We constantly struggle to level the scales of our happiness and passions with that of money and survival. So, what is it in us human beings that makes us feel accomplished when—and sometimes only when—we have a wad of cash to level that balance?

So here I am, two years removed from college with little experience, and a whole heart full of ambition.  My creative writing professor in college taught me many things, my favorite among them is that to become a writer one has to write.  He used to make us write thousands of words a week just because.  He helped me see that just as farmers farm and musicians play instruments, writers write. We have to exercise our writing muscles.  There’s nothing more to it than allowing that sixth sense, that innate ability and love for stories and words, the space and freedom to exist.  When I get discouraged, I often think back on this principle, the simple discipline of just doing it, just going for it, and allow myself the space and courtesy to believe that I could—that I am—a writer.

Ohio had very little to offer my husband and I.  I searched for a job in publishing, journalism, technical writing, even employment in a bookstore.  Nothing.  My husband Drew has a degree in music production and has been doing freelance work producing and writing over the past few years.  We finally got to the point where we outgrew where we were.  We both have thirsted for more fulfilling and challenging artistic communities.  So, we’ve found ourselves in Nashville, Tennessee, bright-eyed and hopeful.

Our story is nothing new, but I hope that by writing it out I can see our progress, and hopefully in some way encourage others who are also struggling to make their passions a solid cornerstone of their lives.