Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Viscerality: What is too much?

Dear Knuckers:

Like many of you, I have some stories that are deeply emotional that deal with traumatic experiences. They aren't gory per se, but they are disturbing stories.

For instance, one of my earliest shorts is called Digging. I have never tried to publish this story because I believe it is too visceral, too primal. But when I let people read it the response is consistent -- the story resonates. It disturbs. It has the intended effect, which is to show an ugly underbelly, the snake's belly, the scaly underside beneath the coiled head and body.

Specifically, Digging deals with incest. Oddly enough, that's a story so common among writers that publishers specifically say: No incest, no rape stories.

I say: Why not?

They answer: Too visceral. Too disturbing. Readers want fiction, not reality.

And yet and yet the Digging story got two responses that I remember in particular.

One was from an English teacher and she said this:

Your unapologetic brutality was disturbing.

The other was from an Army Ranger, one of those special force types who is the real shit. He's a Captain now, and he's a cutout Tom Clancy character a lot like Chavez. If you know who Chavez is, then you know what I mean, and you know I mean this guy is no bullshit. When he bought his house, for instance, he made sure he had a clear path of egress to gun down anyone who invaded his stairwell, even aligned the rooms such that he wouldn't be shooting into his daughter's bedroom.

I camp with him once a year or so and he brings a full trauma kit and a well-beaten rucksack and somehow he still convinces me to carry his fucking water for him so he has room for his camp chair.

Yeah, that guy. He read an entire batch of short stories and commented on one story only, one word, and it was Digging and it was this word:


So I ask you my fellow writers and knuckers specifically, is it too visceral to write what is real, what is savage, what is the basest in our skulls just above the spine. Doesn't the blood flow up through the neck and through the primal parts first, before it branches out to the thinking gray-matter that really doesn't matter at all?

I ask this because my current piece, the Marty piece, the one I alluded to here -- Dead Characters -- is primal. It is unapologetic.

It is real. It is savage.

It is visceral. It involves a mightily abusive and dysfunctional family unit. It involves rape and murder and personal treason.

Is that too much? Am I crossing lines here?

What do you consider too much? I don't mean ~gore~, I mean primal emotions. I don't appreciate gratuitous gore and won't write it. I mean primal and savage acts that leave a taste -- literally -- in the back of your throat when you read them.

- Eric

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dead and Resurrected Characters

I think all my characters are zombies, or vampires, or something undead and permanent.

See, I can't let go of them. I wrote this blurb, which I'll post for you to torture your eyes on, back in 2002. That's, like, TEN YEARS AGO. Almost. The date stamp says September 5, 2002.

Man, that's weird. It's like the anniversary date for the birth of this character. I wonder if there's something in this season that puts this shit in my head every year, because I have never forgotten Marty.

What's even weirder is I haven't messed with this story, with Marty, in forever, in YEARS, but last night that little bastard with no warning dove into my worms and started digging and throwing dirt until I had to get up and let him write a stupid outline for the stupid book so he'd shut his stupid mouth and let me stupid sleep.

Which I didn't sleep, of course, not a drop or a wink, not last night. It's like that when you see your next book waiting to be writ.

This guy, Marty, he's a blurb. He's a ghost. He's an undead boy with a big-ass knife and he will not let me forget him.

Queue the scene, stage left, hit the music.

Working Title: The Idear
It could have been something he'd imagined, one of those pipe dreams kids come up with late at night, under the covers with a friend and a flashlight. He'd played it over and over in his head until it seemed real enough. And here he was, holding a knife as big as his arm. The blade alone reached from his elbow to his wrist. Holding it near his face to see that yep, sure enough, it's real all right, real as Jeannie's tits.

"Hey, Sugar, what you got?" That was Gus. He was the leader of this little troop, six boys in all, and they called Marty Jameson Sugar because that's what his mom had called him once.

Marty hated being called Sugar.

Marty stuffed the knife under his shirt. The blade was rusty and it didn't look sharp. He'd take care of that later. "Nothing," Marty answered. "I ain't got nothing."

"Liar!" Gus said. "I saw you put something under your shirt, sugar-boy, let's s—"

"I ain't got nothing!" Marty said. He turned and put his feet under him, running despite the danger of having a blade so close to his heart (his mom would belt him for sure if she caught him running with a knife).

Marty was faster than the other boys—except for Danny, he was the oldest—and Marty sprinted around a stack of old tires, between two stripped-out Volkswagons, and ducked beneath a tower of fifty-gallon oil drums. He clambered inside one of the barrels before Danny rounded the corner behind him. The rest followed, all running past Marty. Silent as a rabbit, Marty waited until he heard Gus scream, "He went over to the crane!" before climbing out of his hole.

Marty drew the knife from his shirt. The blade was wide and long, a true Bowie knife, with a busted fake-ivory handle that had broken halfway down the length of the grip. Marty tucked the knife into his belt so that it both looked and felt like a sword on his hip. He raced home, stopping only once to lift a piece of corrugated tin and claim a beat-up wire grinder brush he spotted. He could use that to clean the blade.


The next day it rained, huge drops that fell straight-down without wind and without thunder. Marty sat in the attic next to the window as if beneath a waterfall, hidden behind clear sheets of water as the rain rolled over the eaves. He sat in a toddler's chair, one he'd found crammed into the corner of the attic when they'd moved in a year ago. The wicker seat was chewed-through, and the sharp corners of the broken straws sometimes poked him, but its legs were strong enough that Marty could lean back as he worked. The overhead light had long ago burned out and never been replaced. So Marty sat near the window. The cascading rain somehow amplified the light here.

Marty's fingers bled from where the wire brush had stabbed him; the wild-haired brush wasn't designed to be held, it was designed to spin on a grinder. He had taken a piece of his jeans (the part left over after his mom had made cut-offs) and used the fabric to pad his hands. It worked well, and during the past few hours, Marty had scraped most of the rust from the blade, and saved the rest of his fingers.

According to his mom's scale, the one she kept hidden beneath the bathroom towels so she didn't have to look at it, the knife weighed over a pound. The weight sat heavy in Marty's lap.

In his pocket was another weight, this one a few ounces he'd lifted from the knife-drawer in the kitchen: a battered and chipped whetstone.

Marty held the knife up in the shimmering light. "You're almost clean," he said. "Then I'll put an edge on you that'll cut through glass."


How about you? Any new or resurrected idears yet?

- Eric

PS. This blurb was used during a blogfest at some point. Just saying.