Tuesday, May 3, 2011

FROM THE MIND AND WISDOM OF ROBERT WALKER

I am privileged to share a guest blog with you from my friend Robert Walker. I first met Robert on Facebook a little over a year ago. Since then I have read and enjoyed his wisdom, insights, humor and books. He is a warm and delightful man as well as a talented author. He shares freely his wisdom, kindness and knowledge with all who wish to partake of his words.
His books are a delight to read full of twists, turns and suspense. Bravo to my friend and thank you for taking the time to join me.


Great FICTION Can Be Stranger & Stronger Than FACT…
or:  Can a Story be More Useful than the Truth?

It slays me every time on the news or talk shows some bozo uses a trite phrase, but in particular this one – "Aww…that's just fiction." or "We're talking fiction here" and always with disdain for fiction and story and storytellers, when in fact there are few things on the planet as powerful as a story example to prove a truth. The same attitude is three-fold in academic circles when your colleagues learn that you not only write fiction but OMG – genre fiction. If it isn’t what they consider to be “literature” (which is in the eye of the beholder) then your colleagues and even your bosses diminish your fiction titles with such phrases as, “Oh, yeah, he’s published a novel, but it’s just genre fiction—one of Rob’s types of books, likely just a fluff-piece mystery.”
I have gotten this sort of response at every college or school I’ve ever worked at rather than gaining support in such circles, and sadly, in a teaching career spanning over 30+ years, I have heard this kind of put-down of my fiction for a long, long time now. Honestly, this attitude toward genre fiction in particular is not unusual. There is an unspoken belief on the part of academics that if they wished to waste their time any one of them could do what I do in terms of writing a horror or suspense novel.
A professor across the corridor from me writes a novel based on the life of Jane Austen and it is given high praise among our peers, and instantly stamped “literature”; I write a fast-paced historical thriller set in Chicago in 1893 and it is just another novel to throw on the stack. Admittedly, I have a large stack, some fifty published works to the single title about Jane Austen, so I am surely looking like the ‘hack’ writer of the department, but I will tell you this: it takes an enormous amount of research, writing, editing, proofing, rewriting, more research, more editing, more writing to craft any novel, and we who write genre fiction, we work like dogs. We work as hard if not harder than the person who labors for ten years over a so-called “literary work of genius” conceived first as a thesis.
In our own way, we successful genre authors are also creating works of genius in the sense that we know our tools and use them with skill unmatched by so many “classics” that are in fact chockfull of boredom, books with what I call a straight line to nowhere like the straight line you find on the monitor hooked to a dead patient. We genre authors know our field, we know what moves people, what prompts a reader to turn pages and even finish the book, no matter its length. We know how to create a real seismograph of action, no straight line dead chapter after chapter of inner monologue or passive descriptions that lose sight of actors and action on the page or ‘stage’ if you will.
I cannot tell you how many so-called “literary classics” are read via Clift Notes and the book itself remains unfinished. This is certainly the case with Moby Dick, most of the works of Dickens, especially Bleak House (what a bleak book). Even my hero and spiritual mentor and guru, Mark Twain’s most famous novel failed to have a proper ending, classic that it is. But then Twain in his day was closer to a ‘genre’ author than he is today in hindsight. Academics love him now but they hated him during his lifetime, and Huckleberry Finn was banned from the outset of its publication not for the word nigger but for the fact his heroes were the uneducated orphan and the runaway slave—the vulgarity of the whole of it, just SHOCKING to the sentiments of the day. Twain, Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Alexander Dumas, Shakespeare,Victor Hugo even wrote the ‘genre’ fiction of their day. Simple as that. These writers wrote for the masses in their own time and not for academics or newscasters who may not have a clue as to what the world of fiction really, truly conveys; people who actually do not know what the word even means.
Getting back to the TV pundits and their flippant use of the word “fiction”. How can they use it as if it was interchangeable with the word LIE. Let me tell you that every honest TRUTH about the human condition and our bondage of the flesh, as well as our mental state is found in Shakespeare’s plays—his “fiction”.  Fiction that predates Sigmund Freud yet is chockfull of psychoanalysis in Hamlet alone. All that we know of the human condition is found in FICTION – which is by many defined as ‘a pack of lies to prove a truth’. It comes from the Spanish word ficciones. Look it up some time.
What do you think?  For me, fiction is art, and good fiction, entertaining fiction is a work of art that has taken perfect shape whether a gem of a short story, a novella, a novel, a film script, or a play. A shapely work of art which the careful author takes pains shaping—many pains over a long-suffering time period but not ten years long-suffering, I would hope! I have taken four months to create a simple, straightforward horror novel, and on and off, I have taken years to complete other novels. Every project dictates its own time, it seems to me.
My most recent ‘horrible’ genre novel is a sequel to my Dr. Abraham Stroud, archeology meets the supernatural trilogy which I penned back in the 90s with a character I enjoy spending time with. Here in what others often consider a “schlocky” horror series, I do my utmost to make it shapely and artistic in its delivery to the reader, which is all we can hope from an author. Below is an excerpt with annotations on what I am thinking/doing at each point of the 300 word excerpt, opening pages of Bayou Wulf. The annotated opening I feel could be eye-opening and instructive of how this art of the novel works in my mind but certainly not everyone else’s.

Excerpted opening of  BAYOU  WULF  by  Robert W. Walker
O N E
Oasis Bayou, Oasis County, Louisiana 3:10 AM, March 14,2011 *
*establish setting, place, time, date immediately or as soon as possible
There came a strange sound to Dr. Abraham Stroud’s ear, but then Stroud’s ear was always to the ground—two grounds in fact.  Where he slept atop the Louisiana bayou earth made one ground. The second came of that pesky steel plate in his head, which ‘grounded’ him in two worlds. It kept him alive in the reality other humans enjoyed, the so-called normal world, yes, but it also kept him attuned and in touch. It acted as his private, built-in, high-frequency radio to the paranormal world.**
** start in the middle of things going on NOW…establish crisis moment of drama as opening; if you can string along a metaphor (groundings in this case), do so.

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