This post isn’t about writing, but it does touch on Art and, in particular, a form I really enjoy, animation.
Over the years, I’ve struggled to find non-cringe-worthy Christian media content. Some of you out there know what I mean, and probably have your own Cringe List in mind. (I had stopped reading Christian content books for a long time because of this, and movies had an even worse track record).
But, the tide seems to be changing! Today, while watching anime (one of my favorite past times), I spotted a mini-movie. The image was striking: Jesus wearing the crown of thorns, in animation format. It was a preview of a longer movie by Dan Stevers, only 2 minutes long called, Son of Man. I clicked on it out of curiosity. And was pleasantly surprised. So much so, I decided to blog about it.
If you’ve got some time to spare, and are wanting to watch something inspirational (we so need that nowadays), check it out. And encourage someone who’s working just as hard on something he loves as the rest of us are.
Welcome, everyone! It’s time for another interview, this time with horrorwriterMichael Aronovitz. Judging from the reviews of his book,The Witch of the Wood, his works are must-reads for horror lovers. Read on to meet today’s guest!
It’s great to have you with us today. Would you mind starting us off by telling us a little about yourself?
I am a college professor of English and a baseball nut. I love heavy metal music and horror movies.
Where does writing fit into your busy life, and what keeps you motivated/inspired when discouragement sets in?
I write at every available opportunity. At the moment I am only teaching college classes so I have a bit more time, but when I taught in public schools I would write for a couple of hours each morning and all day on the weekends. Often, I would bring pages drafted in the morning to school and revise them on my breaks. In terms of discouragement, I don’t see it that way. Every page and scene is fun to write no matter how much I obsess. Reconstructing the “discouraging” rough work is part of the process.
What’s your writing background?
I have published two novels and two collections.
When it comes to reviews, do you have a thick skin? How do you handle negative feedback?
When I am fortunate enough to have a review of my work appear somewhere I celebrate regardless of the “thumbs up or down.” The fun is being reviewed in the first place. It means people are talking about the work! As for negative feedback, I take it to heart and move on. Hey…it’s still someone talking about the work.
What inspires your stories? What draws you to your preferred genre?
My initial inspiration was Stephen King and his ability to draw characters. In reference to genre, horror is really just my favorite spice. It interests me and keeps me reading (and writing). The supernatural opens up strange timelines, and it makes things more fun. Add a time limitation or two, something at stake, and a gut-wrenching discovery and you have the essence of why horror works for me.
Can you tell us about your books? What other projects are you working on?
Seven Deadly Pleasures and The Voices in Our Heads are collections of stories I published around the horror marketplace starting in 2007. Alice Walks is my first novel, a ghost story, and your featured novel here The Witch of the Wood is my second novel, more a dark apocalyptic journey. My third novel titled Phantom Effect is a serial killer / supernatural piece to be published by Night Shade Books in February of 2016, and my first young adult novel titled Becky’s Kiss comes out through Vinspire Press this coming November.
How did you build your writing support team? Do you have tips and suggestions for other writers?
A great question. I built my “team” begging and pleading to anyone who would listen. I was incredibly fortunate back in 2007 that horror scholar and Lovecraft biographer S.T. Joshi took an interest in my fiction and put my first collection through Hippocampus. Since then I have been lucky enough to have contact with other writers like Alistair Cross and Tamara Thorne, those who not only write wonderful fiction themselves, but have given me exposure on Haunted Nights Live (as well as some blurbs). I also bounce ideas off a couple of independent film directors from Australia named Donna McRae and Ursula Dabrowsky. Locally, I have contact with Ken Bingham, writer, stage producer, editor, and teacher. All these wonderful people are essential to my success. I do not have an agent. I have gotten all of my work published on my own.
What advice would you give to new writers, especially those looking to break into your genre? Advice on marketing and selling?
I’ll answer the latter part first and assure you that I am learning the marketing as I go. The more I explore in this business the more convinced I am that marketing is a major part of the deal. My advice to new horror writers is always to stick with what you love. Trends are fickle.
Hmmm. “Trends are fickle”. I like that statement very much. An excellent reminder to always focus on what drives us.
I am currently building a new website to be nicknamed “The Author’s Graveyard” and readers can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you so much for visiting with us today, and for sharing about your writing experiences. Readers, please let Michael Aronovitz know how much you enjoyed getting to know him by leaving a message below and/or connecting with him via his links. Thanks for reading!
A few weeks ago, you might remember that I had the equivalent of a writer’s meltdown until I made two conclusions, one of which involved meeting a certain person by the name Lise Weil. (You can read about it here). After talking to her and learning about the writing retreat that she runs a few times a year, I decided I would attend the next one. It took place yesterday.
Now, what’s the difference between a workshop and a retreat? After attending both kinds of events, I can say this: a workshop is where you go to tune-up your writing skills while a retreat is where you go to tune-up your creative core (i.e. your Self).
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I arrived at the apartment at 11AM, and not long after four other women arrived. With the exception of one (who is a member of my writing group), I didn’t know any of them. However, they were all warm and welcoming.
After some opening chit-chat, we began the day with dream work. We had all been asked to write down our dreams leading up to the event. Each person then shared their dream and then the others had a chance to comment. I am a big believer in the power and messages of dreams, so I was very interested to see where this led. As expected, the activity gave way to some interesting insights and revelations. I had analyzed mine before attending the meeting, but it wasn’t until I listened to the others that I began to see the connection to writing. As my thoughts broke through the little box of interpretations I had built, I was now able to discern issues like, concerns about being a ‘legitimate’ writer and the validity of having a writing blog when I haven’t sold tons of books or ‘made it’. Basically, this dream opened the door to my darkest, deepest insecurities.
Another example: one woman shared her belief that her words and ideas had no value because they were fragments and not part of a whole, realized piece. In my opinion, her words were magic. Each phrase carried so much weight and beauty, and her expression was so pure and raw. And, when read together, the lines did read like a poem (a whole piece). But my real point was this: Why weren’t the words themselves, or her visceral, honest expression, enough? (On the way home that night when I reflected on this conversation, I realized that this is a question that I should be asking myself). As you can see, things were already getting interesting.
The next activity was to write something inspired by a poem. Lise passed around a bag and we each blindly choose one. The underlying expectation was that each person would somehow choose the poem that was ‘right’ for them. I think, for the most part, we all did. Mine was a wonderful poem by Cynthia Rich called Buddahdarma. Lines like, ‘You are not the person that you knew before’, ‘Your being opens like an unseen door’ amongst others connected to my pit of insecurity. In the writing exercise that followed, the poem inspired the creation of a complete, introspective narrative of 1000 words called A Mirror Tells No Lies. Writing on the fly like that, carried by the power of a few choice words, was revelatory. The resulting story was rife with concepts and metaphors that I must unpack, and Lise suggested I analyse the sections of the poem that triggered that creative burst as a means of better understanding why it connected. This was homework I actually looked forward to.
After that, we took a walk. It’s a deep freeze in Montreal right now, so going outside for an hour was no joke. But, after sitting for so long, I admit it was time to be active. So, I bundled up, grabbed my notebook (yes, we had an assignment to) and got walking. The assignment involved ‘being in the moment’, connecting with what’s happening around us and paying attention to ourselves. Once I got used to the cold, I realized how wonderful it was to connect with my body in motion. One of the women attends an African dance school and she spoke of the importance of the body connecting with the mind. I was reminded that we interact with the world through our bodies which affects our mind and soul. In essence, it impacts our creativity. So I walked, and I sensed, and I experienced. Then I found a little café, enjoyed my unctuous peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie and double latte, and completed my assignment. It’s a free-writing piece, no editing, a journal entry of sorts discussing what the day meant to me. Here is a sample:
‘…I’ve been waiting for this retreat. I wasn’t sure what I would get from it or even what I wanted—I just knew I wanted the experience. It’s nice to be around others who don’t have it all together either—I feel normal. Rather than feeling ‘less than’ because one person has done this, or won this, or talks the good talk. I’m not competing—I’m being. I write and I feel excited. I listen and I feel moved. I share and I feel listened to. This is a unique and precious moment.
‘ I am trying to find my voice and my identity within myself and my writing. In the mess that is my life at the moment, it feels wonderful to be focused on 1 thing. There is no contingency planning, nor worrying; the stress of real life is ‘out there’ and I can concentrate on me. I can delve into understanding this thing I like to do, and that makes me feel grounded. Or it could, if only I could bring this ‘quiet’ back with me into the real world. And, I guess, that is the question for me: How to not lose this focus? How to quiet myself and listen to me when the winds around blow so hard and so fast? The winds of children, and husband, and work, and finding time to have a life outside—it’s a whirlwind spinning at breathtaking speed. Either way, however it ends, I’ve had today. And I am grateful for it.’
I now know that I went to the retreat to find my voice. Not only to find it, but to find value and purpose in that voice. And to learn to love it. Our voices are a reflection of our soul, who we are in the deep and shadowy places as much in the bright and sunny ones. That is the mystery behind the Mirror story that I was to analyse and the reason that poem struck a chord so hard that my fingers could do nothing but write a story to illustrate that awakening. I am my writing, and my writing is me. The good, the bad. The beauty, and the horror. And with that acceptance comes a measure of peace.
How about you? Can you relate to this experience? Have you attended a writing retreat and what did you get from the experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.🙂
It’s Valentine’s Day! I wasn’t going to write anything for the occasion, as I find it hard to write romance stories; I prefer a good, solid love story. However, this story came to me two days ago only I didn’t have the time or the energy to write it. Honestly, I’d given up on getting it done until something clicked and Poof! I got it out. The inspiration? A few weeks ago, I told my friend, Adrianna Joleigh, that I wanted to write something inspired by one of her paintings. I love trees and nature visuals so I chose this one (which, BTW, she is giving away! Contact her at the link above if you are interested):
Only, I didn’t have a story to go with it. Then, two days ago, on my way to work a story hit me. Only, the story turned out vastly different to what I had originally planned, which is fine since I like this much better. So, I’m happy to present my quickie Valentine’s Day story, Sunshine and Lemonade. I include the next picture with it because, though it’s a little different that the story, it sums it up quite well. And the couple is just so darned adorable. 🙂
Sunshine and Lemons
Arlo watched the children as they spilled out of the cornfield. Their hurried steps were light as spectres’ upon the grass, and, in unison, they hummed children’s songs as they skipped across the lawn towards the oak tree. Bathed in the canopy’s shadow at the base of the tree, the lively spirits sang as they circled the massive trunk. From the porch, Arlo watched them through a thick cloud of pipe smoke, enjoying the magical sights and sounds as much as he loathed them. Until the sun burst through the clouds and dashed the vision to pieces.
Isn’t that how things go in this life? he thought as he reached over to squeeze his wife’s wrinkled hand. Here today and gone tomorrow? He’d always believed that cherishing the people and things he loved, and keeping them close, was the most important thing a man could do. The vision confirmed it.
May glanced up from her magazine, Knitting Today, and smiled at him. Her face was as lined as her hands, but every crease and fold had been carved over the years from being a farmer’s wife as well as a mother of ten. In them, Arlo saw devotion and heart. Love. He lanced over at the old oak tree. Like it, May had stayed rooted by his side, bending and swaying under the press of life’s storms as they came, steadily, one after the other. He squeezed her hand again.
‘What are you thinking about so hard?’ she asked. ‘You know it’ll only hurt your head.’
He smiled at the old, old joke. ‘At least I still have enough sense left in there to think with. How many eighty-five-year-olds do you know who can say that?’
May laughed and went back to her magazine. Then, seeming to notice the growing heat as the day wore on, she made as if to get up. ‘You want some lemonade? I know you like it on a hot day.’
‘Yes, but I’ll get it. You…you just stay here in the sunlight. It always made your hair luminous, like…well, like the sun itself.’
May shook a fistful of hair at him. ‘You mean this straggly, grey stuff? You must need glasses.’
‘I have glasses!’
‘Thicker ones, then. I’m old and dried up, just like the bag of prunes in the cupboard.’
‘Nah,’ he answered from the screen door. You’re as beautiful today as you were when we met.’
She batted her eyes at him. Even after nearly seventy years, those blue eyes still made his heart flutter. ‘And what about these wrinkles?’
Swallowing back the lump rising in his throat, Arlo slowly swept his eyes back over to the tree. ‘They just make you more beautiful.’
A commotion sounded from the house, and startled, Arlo stepped back from the door to let out a stream of spectre-children. Laughing and singing, they pushed past him to traipse along the worn porch slats. Arlo’s gaze followed them as they danced across the grass towards the oak. Its boughs swayed lightly in the wind, in time with their song.
You are my sunshine, My only sunshine–
‘How about that lemonade, hon?’
Sweating, Arlo nodded, wiped his brow and ducked into the house. Inside the kitchen, he pressed his hands together to make them stop shaking, then shook them to get the blood going. Trapped heat made the room almost stifling hot–the windows were still closed, but he refused to open them. Even so, he could still hear the children’s voices loud and clear.
You make me happy when skies are grey–
From the porch, May’s rocking chair creaked in a steady rhythm, like a heartbeat.
What had he come inside for again? Arlo glanced around the kitchen for help. He ignored the piles of dirty dishes and the clotted milk gone sour and still sitting on the counter. Last night’s TV dinner remained half-eaten on the kitchen table, beside a half-empty bottle of whiskey and an empty glass.
‘Lemonade!’ he almost shouted, as he came back to himself. He crossed the black and white tiled floor in two quick steps, picking his way around the dust bunnies and pieces of garbage which always fell to the floor from the over-stuffed wastebasket, and opened the fridge.
The light was burned. A wave of reek from the darkness inside hit him full force in the face.
How could he have forgotten? There were no more lemons.
He ran back to the porch. ‘May! I’m so sorry. I-I can’t make you lemonade.’
She waved a hand at him and smiled, causing every one of her creases and wrinkles to smile as well. ‘Silly man. I’m fine. What do I need lemonade for, anyway?’
Pressure built in his chest. Around the tree, the ghost-children still sang. Their voices piped through the air, accompanying Arlo as he went to his wife and knelt beside her chair.
‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey. You never know, dear, how much I love you—‘ He couldn’t finish the song.
May took his hand in hers and gently squeezed. The children’s voices rose above the rush of the wind and the rustling of the leaves. And releasing his hand, she opened her mouth to do what he could not.
So, I’m excited to start this new series of posts on the Behind the Veil action that went into writing The Purple Morrow. Part of the idea to start this series came from some of the questions I received from the fan club. So much goes into writing a book, and writers draw inspiration and ideas from so many sources I thought it would be enlightening and fun to look at some of those on this blog.
Actually, there is a story behind the title Behind the Veil. When my husband and I were looking for waterfalls to use on Morrow’s cover, I really liked this one image where the cascading water was actually the graceful folds of a curtain. It was so theatrical yet also seemed to hint at something amazing to be revealed upon reading the book. But it was too expensive so we had to nix it. Luckily, the nice people at ForestWander.com let us use theirs for free. It’s gorgeous–check it out!
Alright, now down to business…
First important influence? Movies. I love movies! They are fabulous sources of inspiration. In fact, Erne’s Drop, Nyssa’s cliffside Water Clan settlement, was inspired from the movie Immortals, as was the spirit behind the visceral, wanton destructive power of the Rovers as described in chapter 4.
But aside from providing basic visual ideas, I have a deep respect for directors who use movies to tell great stories with images. Hitchcock is one of my all-time favorites amongst the classic directors and JJ Abrams is a modern favorite. You can tell by watching their work that they love movies and that they think long and hard about each shot they filmed. For example, I love how Hitchcock cropped shots to focus in on something like Henry Fonda’s feet walking upon his arrest in The Wrong Man–so much was said visually speaking in that simple shot.
Or what about that awesome ‘bird of prey’ scene with Anthony Perkins in Psycho?
Hard Candy was one of my favorite modern movies, and in it colour was manipulated in a scene or two to dramatic affect. In Signs,Shyamalan does a great job of showing versus telling in the cellar scene when the flashlight falls and all you get are sounds, voices and flickering lights to infer what’s going on. Fantastic! And in Abram’sSuper 8, that full-screen 3-4 second shot of a keyhole and an adolescent girl’s hand poised to unlock it creates insane build up before we get to see the mystery behind the door. All of these techniques stimulate our senses and imagination, heightening the visual and emotional experience so it becomes something deeper than the act of merely watching.
On a literary note, I found Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man was a great help in terms of leaning to set up a scene. The book consists of numerous short stories but each one packs a punch. I think this is what caught my attention. I wanted to know how he did it in such few pages. Nothing ever felt out of place or unnecessary, and each piece laid the foundation for a killer story. So I studied them as best I could and feel I came out of that experience the richer for it.
To me, learning to visualize a scene and its parts as well as considering the intention behind the scene before I write it helps dictate what elements I choose to use, to manipulate or leave out altogether. Depending on the scene’s purpose, not everything in it is important.
In sum, these resources deepened my understanding of the overall power of images. And to me, writing is most powerful when we translate strong, meaningful images into written form which then results in moving our readers.
Okay, a fun fact on visual inspirations: A huge resource in the writing of Morrow came from my all-time favorite animated series, which I still feel is the best program I’ve seen on TV: Avatar, The Last Air Bender.
In bullets, these are a few points I learned:
1) How to work with a cast of characters. In the series, Aang is the main character but he is surrounded by a great cast. Each one is unique, even Apa (an air bison) and Momo (a flying lemur) bring something special to the team and to the series. I couldn’t image Team Avatar without Toph or Soka or even Zuko (my personal fave). Throughout the series, each one of them–even the animals–has their own story-lines which contribute to the overarching plot. And each of them grows. By the end of the series, they physically look the same but they themselves are barely recognizable.
In the Papilion series, many characters move to and from centre stage, offering readers new perspectives on the happenings in Marathana. Jeru and Kelen are still the main characters, but I wasn’t afraid to let others have their place and their say in the story. As a writer, this makes for much more interesting and dynamic writing, and for the reader, I hope, more fun reading.
2) How to create a great villain. Zuko is my man. He drove me nuts at the beginning with his obsessive antics but when the show reveals his past and the resulting motivational drive, I started to see him with new eyes. He became a ‘person’ and not a cookie-cutter bad guy I didn’t care about. I even felt a twinge of compassion for his sister, Azula, who is as batty as they come, because of the window they provided into the life she led. Through the treatment of these characters I learned how to handle Kelen, my main antagonist in Morrow, who at this point seems to be a crowd favorite.
Thanks for hanging out to hear about a few of the artistic inspirations behind The Purple Morrow! Next time I might look at themes or some of the ways I went about figuring out how to write fight scenes, or how, as a female writer, I got inside the head of two main male characters…who knows? I guess you’ll have to tune in to see. 🙂