“The argument that we should judge a work by the sins of its creator reeks of puritanical righteousness and moral certitude. No work of art exists that wasn’t created by some complicated creature. When forming our literary, cinematic, and artistic canons, it’s important to remember that if you want a canon of saints, you’ll end up with a canon of zero.” Tyler Malone
At her Helping Writers Become Authors blog, K.M. Weiland has shared some marvelous insights for both writers and readers. It’s her latest in a series of posts analyzing the success of Marvel comics and movies, and as a long-time fan of both, I must agree with all of her major points. (Hint: The secret is not the special effects, not the marketing, not the acting, though those elements are outstanding. It’s the writing.)
Bottom line: You’re cheating yourself if you don’t read Weiland’s post. It’s well worth your time as a reader and writer.
I was especially impressed by her second point, that the most engaging, emotionally satisfying stories arise not from pandering to the audience, but from remaining true to one’s vision as author. As Weiland puts it:
Sometimes you’ll hear fans talking about getting the story “we deserve.” To this, I say phooey. The only thing audiences deserve is a good story well-told. They don’t deserve to have all their personal theories or wishes validated.
While there’s no formula for crafting a good story, there is a fundamental principle you can’t ignore, and that comes down to the author being in control of a story they find compelling. In Weiland’s words, the author “must be the story’s single greatest fan.” Yes! Write stories you want to read. And the strange thing is that the most personal works achieve the greatest public appeal.
Of course, there are those other little details in learning and perfecting the craft, such as reading a lot and writing a lot. But without the author’s emotional investment, a work lacks life, lacks purpose. Our job is to make the story real.
The edition pictured above (cool cover, huh?) includes a useful and knowledgeable introduction by Stephen King, who regards Lovecraft as both mentor and muse. In this, King is not alone — he notes other accomplished writers who, in King’s words, “have been touched by Lovecraft and his dreams,” such as Harlan Ellison, Kingsley Amis, Neil Gaiman, Flannery O’Connor, Fred Chappell, and Joyce Carol Oates.
Houellebecq’s compact work uses Lovecraft’s biography as a springboard for a lively introduction to weird fiction, Lovecraft’s unique contributions to that sub-genre, and as a well-argued case for a greater appreciation for Lovecraft as an author. Few can deny Lovecraft’s livid, overflowing imagination, but many dismiss him as a second-rate writer and craftsman. This, declares Houellebecq, is simply wrong. Lovecraft’s style perfectly matches his subject matter and worldview.
In Houellebecq’s view:
Lovecraft has never been rivaled in this. His way of using mathematical concepts, of precisely indicating the topography of each location of a drama, his mythology, his imaginary demoniac library, have all been borrowed; but no one has ever attempted to imitate these passages where he sets aside all stylistic restraint, where adjectives and adverbs pile upon one another to the point of exasperation, and he utters such exclamations of pure delirium such as “Hippopotami should not have human hands and crazy torches…men should not have the heads of crocodiles…” And yet this is the true aim of the work. p. 88
I must admit that though I have long admired Lovecraft’s story-telling abilities and shocking inventiveness, I considered him only a so-so writer. Monsieur Houellebecq has convinced me otherwise.
The sizable volume on the left (also sporting a great cover!) is another recent acquisition. All the HPL works I’ve read over the years were either borrowed from the library or downloaded from the ‘net — Lovecraft’s fiction is in the public domain. I am now the proud owner of The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft — with one glaring exception. Despite its title, it does not include “In the Walls of Eryx,” one of my favorite HPL stories. It’s one of his few sci-fi works, and I cannot understand why it wasn’t included.
As Monsieur Houellebecq would put it, “C’est la vie.”
Kevin Siers is the Pulitzer-Prize winning political cartoonist at the Charlotte Observer. For years, the paper featured a cartoon caption contest. The winner would receive the original black-and-white Siers cartoon with the winner’s submission and name penned in.
Siers picked my submission only three times out of a couple dozen attempts. However, it would be several months after winning that the cartoon would arrive in the mail. So I wasn’t all that motivated to enter very often.
However, when the contest featured the above cartoon of Kirk and Spock, I knew I had to take a stab at it. A week later, the paper published the winning caption — mine! — but I knew better than to hold my breath waiting for the cartoon. Weeks later, the paper announced it was ending the contests, and not long after that, the Observer sold its palatial headquarters and downsized into a rented office building. I figured I’d never see my prize.
So imagine my surprise when, out of the blue, I opened my mailbox almost two years later to discover the original color version with my caption and name added. I emailed my thanks to Mr. Siers, and framed the cartoon. Kirk and Spock now look down over my desk, inspiring and challenging me.
Spock’s words pretty much sum up the fate of print journalism.