Monthly Archives: February 2010

Poor Forgotten Short Stories…

Starting as a comment, this thought grew too long, and I decided to turn it into a short blog.

Mark Rushing commented on the last post, expressing that he’d never much cared for the short story form, where he used to think that it was lazy writing, too wordy for poetry and not digging the way novel writing does. And he’d continued this thinking until reading a short story that I wrote and passed along called Dreamland Crocotta after which he reconsidered his entire standpoint.

First of all, Mark, what a compliment! Thank you very much for that.

Otherwise, I agree, I think there is a prejudice against the short story with many. I’m not sure why the short story is losing popularity rapidly of late either. It’s a question that I don’t think will appear for its final time here. You’d think with our shorter attention spans the short story would be huge, entertaining in small doses, but it’s not. It may be because television shows are easier to watch, considered easier to engage with, but I’m not sure that reading in general is declining as quickly as the short story – so who knows?

There is a sincere history of true brilliance in the short story form. As I’ve said in my last blog, it’s a study of a moment or instance, a situation. More than an image or series of images in a poem, but short of the character and societal study of a novel or novella, the short falls in between. I didn’t realize how much fun and how exciting it can be to write and read short stories until college. I began my writing career with a novel in high school and worked hard on that for years. It wasn’t until my freshman creative writing course that I was really introduced to the writing of it, and now, engaged, writing novels and shorts alike, I’m playing catch up as quickly as I can, a stack of anthologies and collections waiting to be read on my shelves. (Likely this will be my traveling reading – something tells me short excursions into easy, quick stories will be nicer with the rapid changes in traveling abroad. And if you must know, those collections are likely Stephen King’s Just After Sunset, Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things, and the two I’m probably most excited about, Peter Straub’s study on the evolution of the horror story in his two volume collection of American Fantastic Tales).

Advice: Give short stories a chance. Theres a very real, very true brilliance within. I’m saddened that it has taken me so long to discover them myself. They’re fast, they’ll keep your attention, and they’ll leave you as satisfied as much on television. So dig up a collection or grab one of the few literary mags on the rack at your local bookstore – trust me, it’s worth it!

Digging Up Meaning

After a week of digging my feet in to finish a couple books to make room for Peter Straub’s new novel A Dark Matter (If you must know, they were Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Michelle Belanger’s Psychic Vampire Codex, and Ted Dekker’s Sinner), I finally got back to work in the writing world. I opened up my laptop at the campus library and considered working further on a short story that had only half manifested on paper but had enough in my mind to plow ahead, my recent novel in which I’m currently facing a block that I’ve been avoiding, or an older novel that turned me off in the third draft of revision that’s now raising its sleeping head and looking around like a dog after a long winter nap.

I went with the short story and pounded away at the last eight pages or so. The story came to me while laying in bed trying to fall asleep one night – it’s a brief tale, more or less about a college kid who’s very bothered by something very frightening while trying to fall asleep at night, and what this would look like after a one night stand.

What I’ve often learned from poetry and, more recently, short stories, is that you can find an abundance of meaning and humanity by carefully crafting and studying a single event. By watching the water drop fall from the leaf, what can we gain? Is there a beautiful image there? Can we gather something from it? Is this analogous? In describing this motion, is there a comparison made that adds an insight into something else? Something more personal or human? Something beyond us?

That’s what I do in much of my short story writing. I take a situation and I study it, I look at a moment or two (or three or four, depending on the situation and length of the story, how the situation continues to play out, if that adds more insight, depth, or meaning) and see in my description and treatment, if there isn’t something else there too.

In this way, I can write many short stories without knowing what they’re necessarily getting at, which is a very magical experience – perhaps more so even than reading – which allows me to truly listen and pay careful attention to the world in order to glean a careful drop of meaning. The discovery of which is very much a part of the writing and feels from somewhere beyond myself, making the artistic process an almost supernatural one, where I, the writer, act as a medium for something more.

In today’s instance, working my most recent short, in which a main part of the story is in its more graphic sexual nature and what immediately follows, I studied that in contrast with this deep rooted fear of this very deep, dark presence, and how the two counteracted and compared. What comfort the one night stand was able to provide, and where it failed. The similarities between symbols of comfort within sex and symbols of violence –

How did it turn out? I’m still not quite sure. It’s an even harder position to be in, to see how your story ends but are still unsure as to the meaning. How to craft the final few sentences to add a satisfying punch, one not too sweet or too forced, something with meaning but a hint of question, a thought-provoking finish that tries to show but not tell. I don’t mind that the story’s meaning isn’t clear to even me, it can mean that different readers will be able to interpret it very personally as often as it means that the true work of the piece has not yet been crafted as well as it could. Determining which is part of the revision process.

Did I find an elegant final phrasing today for the story? I believe I did. In tricky situations like this, I take the piece and I save it and I put it in a folder and I look at it a couple days or weeks later. Sometimes I’ll pass it along to a trusted friend or a critical eye and see what meaning we can dig up as readers, to see if the piece reflects the meaning to the best of its ability. Then I’ll make the necessary corrections and adjustments until I’m satisfied that it smoothly does its job, and call it done.

To Trust Our Eyes

Last night I tried to write about the people amidst the paranormal field and their intentions, trying to get a feel for the direction the field is moving – it was an utter failure.

Today on Twitter, @Koogiemyster asked my opinion on reality and people’s perspective. This is a good question, albeit broad, and addresses a really fascinating blend of religion, philosophy, and science all amidst the supernatural.

Reality is defined as the world around us, occurrences that are fact and not simply perception. In philosophy, “existence that is absolute, self-sufficient, or objective, and not subject to human decisions or conventions.” It’s the world beyond our eyes, not necessarily what we see.

Human perception of the world is awfully fragile. Most of our looking at what around us is in memory. The “present” moment of perception is instantaneous. The moment that you read this for the first time, it is gone as quickly as it came. We view the world, as clearly as we ever will, for an instant, and we analyze through memory alone.

Memory is something you can’t trust as far as you can throw. It’s fact that memories are moldable and subject to manipulation, though many don’t think so, trusting inherently. In crime, while witnesses can be the best leads on a case to point the police in the right direction, their testimony is weak in a court of law. All too often two witnesses of one instance will report different memories. The color of the suspect’s shirt, the kind of car he drove. My psychology teacher in high school recounted a memory of his childhood – one of his earliest. He vividly remembered riding his tricycle down a very steep driveway in front of his house in Germany, but later, when he finally got a chance to see pictures of the house, the driveway was flat. Did he make it up? Consciously? No. But the brain constantly does this.

Perhaps most clear of the brain’s inability to clearly handle memory is on a Paranormal Investigation. You’re in a dark room, you hear a strange sound in the hallway adjacent. As soon as the sound goes, your brain fumbles around the memory of it, what exactly did it sound like? Sometimes, by the time you get back to your evidence and hear it again, it may sound completely different from your memory.

Matrixing puts what we know to unknown or jumbled sounds, making noises sound like words. Our brain is an interpreting device. Even direct vision is largely extrapolation, the brain studying the points of light around blind spots and assuming what fits best in between.

So can we trust our memories of what’s happening around us? To a degree, of course. Depending on our focus, our brain records these images and sounds with more detail. Repetition builds stronger memories, molding with more force.

As for the actual nature of reality and our perception of it – the whole concept is a can of worms. In Philosophy it’s called Phenomenology, it touches on Epistemology, it’s an important element of Psychology. I took an intense class on Religious Experience a year ago, studying each of these philosophies in turn and how they relate to the supernatural – at least in terms of religious experience.

It’s a raging debate. You can run in circles all day at the finest phenomenological approach, that we can never trust what we see because everything we experience is experienced through our senses. We have a tree, we see the tree, we interpret the seeing of the tree as seeing a tree. We touch it to verify the tree, but we must first feel the tree, interpret our sense of feeling, and decide that the tree exists.

You can never validate reality by sense because your mind can lie with your senses. The world around us could be an elaborate fraud designed by our brain and our consciousness.

To make progress at all, many in the philosophical community and the scientific community have to put aside a few exceptions. We must assume that we experience the world directly, and we must assume that others also experience the world as directly. Then we seek validation of experience by comparison and documentation.

It cannot be taken completely at face value that we perceive directly, or that we see in the same way that a camera can see. Science has focused rather exclusively on the trusting of our five senses, that our way of perceiving the world through each of these five is the only way in which we can experience. Philosopher William Alston wrote a book called Perceiving God, in which he addresses Mystical Perception versus Direct Perception, how we cannot look at the two in the same way, how our experiences build to beliefs, epistemology, and how with those beliefs we form Doxastic Practices. The practices and beliefs of our day to day lives are built on our senses, and we cannot compare the extra-sensory to basic sensory because the two are radically different and have conflicting belief systems.

I could go deeper but I feel that it would stray from the point. If you’re looking for further reading I highly recommend Alston’s Perceiving God, William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, and Anthony Steinbock’s Phenomenology and Mysticism. The three deal exclusively with religious experiences, but they’re studying perception, reality, and the fringes of the sensory, horizontal world that we experience every day, which is not so different from any other border-pushing discussion for the nature of what may lie Beyond, and how we see that world.

What do I think about reality? I think I can’t know as much as I think. I think perceptions can be flawed and must be approached critically. I also think we need to trust that we see directly to the degree that we need to chase it down with documentable science, to continue pushing at that border with the technology we presently trust. But I also feel that in our pursuit toward that which rests unseen, by nature of being sometimes seen, we must consider that there are different ways of perception, that our everyday senses may not be enough or all that there is. And in this way I think it’s important to consider not only the supernatural, but reports of Religious Experience, mystical perception, and psychic phenomena.

Advice? Maintain healthy skepticism about experience, staying “scientific,” for we know our pursuits as scientists are not in vain, and do present evidence, but be sure to balance it with staying open to possibility, for there is more here than meets the eye – or for that matter, is interpreted by it.

Thanks for the topic, Koogie, it was fun and I liked the direction it went. A full one-eighty from last night.

Feel free to share comments below on your own thoughts, further questions, or field-furthering perspectives.

And if you have any other questions in mind that you’re interested in my blogging about, feel free to send them to me here, on twitter, facebook, anywhere really –

The Fear of the Finale

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of ABC’s “Lost.”

Starting December 2008 over winter break, home from college, a bit bored at night, I finally decided to rent the first disk of Lost. I watched four episodes that night, went back the next day and grabbed disk two, and the day after drove to the store and bought the first season. I never looked back.

Lost is a revolutionary show, and I am not only a huge fan of the story and everything that goes with that, but for what it’s doing for television.

The evolution of television has gone, in my lifetime, from a time of sitcoms born into the slew of procedural crime dramas. Thanks to shows like Buffy and one of my all-time favorites, The X-Files, shows incorporating heavy mythology (the story arc running under episodes of a show, Mulder’s pursuit of Aliens, etc) became popular, and recently opened the doors for full mythology-based shows like Heroes and Lost. Heroes fell apart when they strayed from trying a radical change in their second season to instead more or less recreate the first season, which turned the show into a soap opera of intertwining characters.

For many, Lost’s plot and mysteries were so complex, tightly weaved, and confusing it seemed as if the writers were just stringing the audience along. But then Lost did something that I’ll forever respect them for and the network for allowing it – they put a finale’ date for the series.

Thank God.

After watching the X-Files, which ran four seasons past the intended finale at the end of the fifth season (in which the makers planned a movie trilogy to finish the story), and instead produced seasons that were far too unsure of themselves in not knowing how to build on their mythology when it could end at any time, dragging their feet, introducing new, expendable plot points – it was horrible, all because the show was getting great numbers of viewers and the network was afraid to pull the plug on a good thing.

Thank God Lost set a date. Not only is the story going to be told as it should, with questions answered (well, MOST anyway – I’m sure they’ll leave a couple open), but the hype for the network is fantastic! The show is generating a ton of support going into its final season. Battlestar Galactica did the same thing, but I don’t (….yet) watch the show so I can’t comment on it, but the same effect was created – lots of hype, and a story that ends when it should.

Obviously I’m a writer and I take the concept of story very seriously. I think television shows are a fantastic medium for telling complex, mysterious, good tales, and I quite enjoy the form, but when good shows are forced to peter out into mediocrity I get angry.

The CW’s “Supernatural”, for example. The creator, Eric Kripke, had his outline for the show planned out roughly through the end of season five, and with their present apocalyptic storyline, it would be the perfect, end-with-a-bang, epic finish this May – but Super is bringing in the best numbers since early in season one and the network doesn’t want this hot item to go yet. It’s still in talks for renewal so we’ll see, but I’m preparing for disappointment. Where do you go from here? Dragging the apocalypse out slowly? Having them go back to normal? No, we need a little bloodshed and tears, a little ground-breaking and sulfur, not some monster-of-the-week.

It should be said that it’s not an issue of faith in the writers. The writers are wonderful – they’re crafting some of my most favorite stories on TV, but I’m of the school that stories are beyond us and are channeled through us – no matter how good the writer, a good story will fizzle if lead too far.

Hats off to the shows and the networks doing this, I hope it’s an upward trend that will continue so that good stories can keep on living –

The Great Gray Beast of February

Thought I might get out of the house today and take some more pictures. The haze outside that kept the sky a flat bright gray darkened over the hours into an overcast we’re not generally used to here in Colorado. They’re calling for flurries later this evening and tomorrow.

After playing with settings and toying with overcast lighting versus normal outdoor lighting, I’d taken upwards of 200 pictures by the time I wandered down the street back home. After endless tweaking and staring at the preview screen in the brightness, sunglasses dangling from my mouth, I’m really overjoyed to see my camera has come through in brilliant fashion, finding color where even my naked eyes couldn’t.

There’s something about a gray February, after the used, hard snowfall of January starts to seep, after the snow tries to melt but is still hindered, too many of the days dropping temperature to keep frozen patches. The tree branches are barren and brown. The grass has yellowed and the weeds are dead.

I focused on those places that reacted like February, where the water reflects, the sidewalk cracks, the color drains. It’s more than just a season waning. It’s a dystopia longing for a Spring refresh,

a world waiting for a surge below its surface to send shoots of blossom, new skin below a scab, a warm breeze from the west, that taste of something sweet on a wind and the way the air tries to tease at your hand, the evenings stretching to make room for more days.

But for now we have February and it’s supposed to snow tonight.

On Reaching the Front-Lines

I’m not sure if it’s the writer in me or the narcissist or the kid with the new toy (though it’s likely all three), but I’m quite excited to get this blog moving and hopefully generate some interest, discussion, idea-sharing and general merriment here.

I posted to twitter that I was interested in public opinion on blog topics – be they questions, queries, general thoughts to respond to or whatnot – and I’m thinking I’ll reply to one tonight. It’s only two thirty in the morning, I’ve a tumbler of cran-grape juice, the interwebz are quiet and I’m decently awake. If you have anything on your mind that you might want to query, please, feel free to share, here or there works fine by me.

Tonight, Mark Rushing (@adaptiveoptics) asks how my thoughts/beliefs in the paranormal may have changed after more rigorous investigation:

I thought this was an interesting question, not only for content, but because it’s been the second time I’ve been asked in two days.

To date, my perspective on the supernatural has not been particularly swayed one way or another. Ghost Hunters Academy was indeed more rigorous than any of my prior experience, which included a smattering of local cases, no personal experiences, and limited training. During much of the show there was heavy, heavy focus on the technical side of things, efficient setups (both botched and butchered, but successful too), and the education of proper procedure, which in many ways detracted from the full-on focus on the spirits. Our experiences and evidence were limited. There’s nothing at all wrong with this – we in fact got some neat evidence for a few cases. But nothing revolutionized my way of thinking.

I’ve always been a believer in the supernatural, it’s a faith that has stuck with me since I was young, coloring my interests, pursuits, and study. I’ve never had a significant personal paranormal experience before age twenty-one, but I’d always dreamt of a career within the field. Of course in the last few years I’d come to terms with the fact that there is no money in monsters – only the select few can cash in on it, let alone make a living. In 2007, I went to college to get a Liberal Arts degree in creative writing, my other sincere passion and best incorporation of the dark into my career, and so scientific pursuit of the supernatural was moved to the back-burner. Though I turned up the heat when I joined a local team, it became a personal curiosity to satisfy, a love still just beyond reach.

If anything then, this remarkable opportunity – a long-shot-turned reality that rocked my world and truly threw my life off the rails – brought me to the hard realization that I’m not only living the dream, but I’m actively at the front of a fluid field that, though at its peak and potentially changing worldwide views on the afterlife, is still living a fragile existence. It’s a pseudo-science that is constantly adapting, constantly changing, and constantly seeking grounding and support in the skeptical, science-minded, horizontal world we live in. It’s brought me to the realization that out of nowhere, I’ve become a part of this on the front-lines. It’s time to snap out of it – to change everything the world had pounded into me. I’m the hippie with his hair buzzed off in a pair of fatigues – my entire outlook is in shock.

I’m in it now.

It’s real now.

Thank god I see a lot of this coming together. My own personal beliefs and pursuits, my writing, my study of not only the supernatural but the thematic darkness (it’s the poet in me), my search for meaning and faith, a brainstorm of discovery. And what better place than a blog to think on it, to share with the community who wants to hear about it and work to sculpt not only the field, but life itself.

I’m not convinced I’ll make a difference, not even a tremor, but I’m a part of it now, and I’m excited to bring my tools to the table, if you’ll have me.

Thanks for the question, Mark. After seeing where this post took me, I’m not sure I could have suggested a better one.

Advice, then: when life hands you radical change, keep your mind open enough to change your perspective in turn and see what you can learn and share.


Furthering Evil Plots to Take Over the Land

Or perhaps, just the internet.

After the Karl front moved forward with the purchasing of his Domain Name ( – not yet functional) and building a quick and dirty flash website ( – decently functional, though still lacking), the next mission to further the takeover was the creation of a blog.

Normally Twitter sufficed, but with further readership, a liiiitle bit more to say (also under construction), and a future career in the sharing of thoughts, words, ideas, and the like, a blog is my next step.

Take it or leave it, subscribe or don’t, add to your bookmarks bar and check in frequently, comment with your own opinions, do whatever you like. I’ll lay the concrete and present the blueprints, you let me know how you like it.