“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.” Stephen Hawking 1942 – 2018
“And I want to tell you, everyone that is dreaming of using the genre of fantasy to tell the stories about the things that are real in the world today – you can do it! This is a door. Kick it open and come in!” – Guillermo Del Toro, accepting an Oscar for The Shape of Water.
By GuillemMedina – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66203883
I say it’s high time Mickey Spillane received proper appreciation for his raw, visual writing. Certain critics turn their noses up at him — still — but his work nevertheless continues to attract new legions of readers every generation. Maybe they see something the so-called critics don’t. From The Passive Voice:
Mickey Spillane was never adored by critics. He famously said that his own father called his work “crud.” For the mystery novelist, none of it mattered.
“I don’t have fans,” he said in a 1981 People magazine interview. “I have customers. I’m a writer. I give ’em what they wanna read.”
He died in 2006 at 88, but his work hasn’t stopped. In the past 12 years, his estate has released nearly 20 of his unpublished and previously uncompleted novels and short stories, some as graphic novels and audio plays, many of them featuring the hard-boiled private eye he created, Mike Hammer.
Mickey Spillane has long been a favorite of mine, and definitely exerted a deep influence on my writing. Few authors can match his mastery of first person pov. Jim Traylor, Spillane’s biographer, said this about Spillane’s rough-and-tumble prose: “It’s not very highbrow, but it’s very real. It’s very Old Testament. It’s eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.”
And riveting. Not only did Spillane produce entertaining tales that still lure enthusiastic readers, but the brash new author who penned I, the Jury grew as an artist. As novelist Max Allan Collins once noted, Spillane made the leap from “brilliant primitive” to “polished professional” over his long career. In 1995, he won the Edgar Allen Poe Grand Master Award for mystery writing, which over the years has also recognized Raymond Chandler, John le Carré, and Elmore Leonard. Pretty good company for a writer so many have dismissed as a hack.
Our need for a new mythos, that is, a narrative that helps us understand our role in society and the universe, has never been more urgent. Declining church membership, the rise of alternate religions, and the increase in visibility and number of those who consider themselves non-deist clearly indicate that the old narratives simply don’t work for us any more.
And the daily news forces us to realize that our institutions no longer inspire confidence, or instill social order. The division and alienation driving people to acts of madness are red flags telling us we’ve lost our way.
Many commentators claim we need a new mythos to unite and inspire — others say we need to stop speeding down the dead-end road we’re on and get back to the basics. How do we reclaim our humanity and sense of purpose? This short essay from Dispatches from the Cusp looks to science fiction as a signpost leading toward that new mythos:
Within the last couple of centuries, science fiction has served humanity as part searchlight, part sentinel, part prophetic voice.
Originally known as “fantastic fiction” and “speculative fiction,” this artistic genre – genre almost seems an understatement in this context – has not simply entertained us for generations or, for that matter, divined our future. In many instances, science fiction has supplied a kind of evolutionary tug. It not only has also pointed the way toward scientific and technological innovation and our role within this expanded conceptual landscape but has also inspired us to reach for this future – not only to reach toward it but also to conceive and to refine the nature and terms of this quest. To put it another way, science fiction now seems to be integrally bound up in scientific and technological progress, an essential facet of the equation. Much of the scientific and technological progress we have achieved arguably would not have been possible without the clarifying effects of science fiction.
I have also been intrigued for a long time with how science fiction has taken on many of properties of religion, not only in terms of helping us divine the future – no pun intended – but also enabling us to identify, improvise and refine the moral and ethical scaffolding to cope within this emerging future.
I think this writer is on to something. We know that fantastic stories engage deeper responses from readers than mundane exposition. And in a world that’s been flattened by globalism and stripped of its mystery by behavioral psychologists, a renewed sense of wonder is a good place to start if we’re to define a mythos that helps us find our way.
Let’s get started …
I have to share this article from Medium, one of the great writing resources on the Internet. While not targeted specifically at writers, this list of Stoic principles for regaining control of one’s life and time is pure gold for us scribbling souls. The article, 9 Stoic Practices That Will Help You Thrive In The Madness Of Modernity, quotes famous Stoic thinkers and provides examples of how these insights from ancient times can benefit us.
You’ll want to read the whole thing, but here are some outstanding selections:
1. Develop An Internal Locus Of Control
“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” — Epictetus
Much of what happens in life is not within our control. The Stoics recognised this undeniable truth, and focused instead on what they could do.
Born a slave, it would seem that Epictetus had no reason to believe he could control anything. He was permanently crippled from a broken leg given to him by his master. Epictetus would live and die in poverty.
But that wasn’t what Epictetus thought. He would say that even while his property and even his body was not within his control, his opinions, desires, and aversions still remained his. That was something that he owned.
You can find dozens of articles stressing that your characters must have agency, that is, the ability to evaluate, decide, and act, but step one for any writer is to develop and exercise their own agency. You want to write, but darn it, there are bills to pay, friends who want you to watch the big game, and those new cat videos on You Tube are so funny! Who’re you fooling? It’s not external things stopping you from writing – it’s you.
Interesting characters with agency affect their own story. As writers, we must take an active role in writing the stories of our lives.
3. Don’t Outsource Your Happiness
“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.” — Marcus Aurelius
Much of what we do stems from our primal need to be liked and accepted by others. Disapproval from our social group had serious repercussions in the past. It would have likely meant exile and eventually death in the wilderness.
That’s still true to some extent today. But how much time and effort do we spend trying to win the approval of others? What is it costing us?
Your PC dings, you check your email, and there it is – another rejection. Yes, it’s a let down. We all know how scary it is to hit that submit button. But a rejection is no excuse for self-pity. First of all, editors reject pieces for all sorts of reasons. Your piece may be similar to a submission they’ve already selected, it may be the wrong length, it may be a fantastic piece of writing whose tone doesn’t fit with the editor’s current theme. Or mood. Or whatever.
More important, it’s self-defeating to put your pride as a writer in the heads of strangers. Yes, we want others to read and appreciate what we’ve put so much of our hearts and time into. But we must accept the fact that not everyone will embrace every piece.
6. Consolidate Your Thoughts In Writing
“No man was ever wise by chance” — Seneca
Of the many things we can do daily, none are as important as looking inward. The act of self-reflection forces us to question ourselves and examine our own assumptions of the world. It’s how the answers to some of the world’s biggest questions have surfaced.
Modern life is abuzz with distractions. There are dazzling time-wasters and cleverly packaged temptations that can quickly lead you astray. Taking the time to gather and organize your thoughts by writing them down is not easy, but the very act of writing forces you to focus and think clearly. That’s the way to find our true selves within the modern whirlpool. Our passion to write is our path to liberation.
The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a literary rock star. Inspired by Margaret Atwood.
Margaret Atwood – 10 Rules of Writing
J.C. Wolfe – My Self-Publishing Experiment
Vian De Bod – How To Describe Characters Without Infodumping
Lionelson Norbert Yong – Build An Amazing Plot!
Andrew McDowell – Count Your Lucky Length
Tim Miller – The Great Myths #26: Sigurd Kills the Monster Fafnir
Jamie Ryder – An Awesome Tale Of Appalachian Folklore
W. J. Quinn – Why writers, and not just stories, need structure
“The United States has become a place where entertainers and professional athletes are mistaken for people of importance.” Robert A. Heinlein