Embracing Your Inner Grogg, Zog, and Groot!

There are so many aspects, so many parts to the process.  An idea strikes, giving birth to a story–perhaps it’s a short story that can be crafted in a day; perhaps it’s a novel that will take months, even years to complete.  But here, now, at the outset, that’s not important.  All that matters is the desire, the need, to write.

idea

 

It doesn’t take long for that to change, and for the situation to become more complicated.  I know, for me, if I have written a short story, there is the initial euphoria of finishing it.  A job well done.  But now–where to submit it?  Will anyone want to publish it?  A dozen rejection slips later, a crisis of confidence hits.  Who was I fooling?  It isn’t any good.  Maybe it’s not as polished as I thought–so I go back, edit it some more, and then resubmit to a dozen more magazines.  Eventually, I have so many rejection slips and form letters, I can wallpaper my office with them.  But I keep submitting, keep believing.  It just takes one . . .

rejectionslips

 

And as for the novel . . . multiply the above by a thousand.  Whereas the short story is a sprint, a forty-yard dash, the novel is a marathon, a test of endurance.  At some point, I know, I will question the entire project.  There will come a low point, when energy reserves have been depleted, when ideas hide underneath rocks and behind thick, impenetrable walls, when I ask myself–“Is this story going anywhere?  Where do I take it?  What do I write next?”  Writer’s block, while in the middle of a novel, is a grim feeling.  All the work already put forth now appears for naught, stuck in the middle of a chapter that refuses to cooperate.

index

 

I had to confront this middle-of-the-story crossroads while writing The Eye-Dancers–the point where the novel will either take off and infuse me with a literary second wind, or die on the vine, withering under a sweltering summer sun, thirsting for ideas that never arrive.  For me, and for The Eye-Dancers, this defining moment occurred in chapter 18.

I was slightly more than halfway through the novel, and felt pretty good about what I had so far.  But chapter 18 was a quagmire.  It was a pivotal chapter, and one of the longest in the novel.  I couldn’t seem to get it right–everything I wrote came up flat, like soda left out on the porch all night long.  I wrote a first draft–ugh.  Lifeless and forced.  Reluctantly, bemoaning the wasted effort, I deleted every word of the chapter and began anew.  The second draft proved no better.  I threw my hands up, literally.  Was my concept wrong?  Should I take a step back and rethink the whole thing?  I remember taking a long walk, thinking, figuring, looking at the impasse from all angles.  But nothing came to me.  Nothing sounded right.

crossroads

 

It brought to mind something George Orwell once said:  “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

orwell

 

Later that day, at a total loss, I flipped through some of my old comic books, looking for something, anything.

I found it.

**************

When I was in junior high school and began collecting comic books seriously, I never thought I would buy any issues that weren’t superhero-related.  The Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, and later Batman and Superman were my focus.  But as I learned more about the history of the medium, realizing how rich and layered old comics were, I decided to branch out.  One of the gems I later discovered was what collectors often refer to as “pre-hero Marvels.”

spiderman

 

Prior to The Fantastic Four number 1 (November 1961), Marvel Comics published a small line of adventure and sci-fi comics–certainly not unique in those days.  Even DC, creator of Superman and Batman, incorporated a quality line of non-hero comic books.  But what made the Marvels special were the monsters . . .

ff1

 

With names like Grogg, Groot, and Zog, just to name a few, these larger-than-life creatures jumped off the page.

st83grogg

 

tta13groot

 

I can easily imagine an exuberant ten-year-old in 1960, at the height of the phenomenon, spinning the comics rack at the local corner store, trying to decide which monster-book to plunk his dime on.

jim56zog

 

The stories, with titles such as  “I created Sporr, the Thing That Could Not Die,” were formulaic, silly, and, frankly, ridiculous.  But they were magic, too.

goliath

 

What’s more, they were fun.

tta34

 

*******************

That particular day, seeking something of an escape from the writing process, I opened Tales of Suspense number 29 (February 1962).  Tales of Suspense is the same title that, ten issues and just over one year later, would introduce the world to Iron Man–but I wasn’t thinking of the Golden Avenger as I flipped through the story, laughing and smiling all the way through “The Martian Who Stole a City.”

TOS29

 

The story was dated, predictable, and by no means a masterpiece.  But it was just the tonic I needed.  It made me feel twelve years old again.  It infused me with optimism, a sense of wonder, and it instilled in me a belief that anything was possible, and that any obstacle to creativity can be hurdled and left far behind in a sun-streaked rearview mirror.

Energized, invigorated, I went back to the book, dared to key in the first word of the revised and revised and revised again chapter 18, which expanded to the first sentence and then the first paragraph.  Two pages later, I paused, pumped a fist.  The logjam had broken.  The mind-block had lifted, disintegrated, like smoke on the wind.

smokeonwind

 

It was a necessary reminder that, no matter what our Amazon sales ranking, no matter what or how many reviews we have, no matter how hard it sometimes is to get our thoughts and visions onto the page, when it’s all said and done, we are doing something we were born to do.  Something we need to do.  Something we love.

Ray Bradbury once wrote, “Zest.  Gusto.  How rarely one hears these words used.  How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them.  Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto. . . . For the first thing a writer should be is–excited.  He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms.”

As I continued to type, the words now pouring out of me like lava, the classic issue of Tales of Suspense number 29 still lay there, in full view, on my desk.

enthusiasms

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Greatest Distance Is Only a Thought Away (Or, A Morning on the Beach)

I have always loved the sea.  From the first time I experienced an ocean beach, I felt drawn to it, its vastness, the steady rhythm of the waves, the sounds and smells and textures.  Growing up in Rochester, New York, hundreds of miles from the Atlantic coast, I didn’t have the chance to visit the sea very often (though Lake Ontario is a pretty fair facsimile!).  And so, whenever my family would take a trip to the coast, I always looked forward to it, counted down the days.  The trips never disappointed.

thesea

 

But there was one trip, one particular experience, that stands out, apart from the rest.

It was midsummer 1994, and my family and I took a two-week expedition to Prince Edward Island, Canada–to this day, the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  We toured the Island, took in the sights, the rich red dirt roads and farms and quaint seaside villages.  But most of all, we went to the beaches.  PEI is famous for its beaches.  We stayed at a hotel right by the shore.

pei

 

One morning, at dawn, I woke up.  I don’t know why.  I just felt an urge to get up early and experience the day.  Everyone else was still asleep.  I quietly let myself out of the hotel and walked down the narrow footpath, through grasses still moist with dew.  Off to the left, a raven, an early riser himself, pecked at something in the grass, ignoring me.  I continued on to the beach, empty at this hour, as the sun began its ascent in the east.

raven

 

I walked along the beach, my feet making patterns in the sand, down to the water’s edge.  A gull flew overhead, calling out, perhaps demanding a scrap of food I didn’t have.  The water was warm as it flowed over my feet and around my ankles–just another of PEI’s many charms.  Despite its northern location, the ocean water surrounding the Island is the warmest anywhere along the Atlantic coast north of Virginia.

peiwarmwater

 

The waves were gentle that morning, the breeze blowing in softly off the water.  I looked out, as far as I could see.  The sky was some nameless variant of pink, the sun rising, slowly, steadily, the start of a new day.  Another gull–or perhaps it was the same one–squawked again, its call echoing, echoing.

pinksunrise

 

I peered at the horizon.  It was hard to tell where the sea ended, and the sky began.  It all appeared to be joined somehow.  Not separate, but whole.  Not two, but one.  That’s when it happened . . .

I suddenly felt something, I wasn’t sure what.  It was a jolt, like a surge of electricity, but it was also airy, gentle, a feather swaying, nearly weightless.  I closed my eyes, opened them, and I saw.

featherinwind

 

I saw, in my mind’s eye–so clearly it was as if I were seeing it directly before me–a distant beach across the water.  It was hours later there.  People were milling about.  And some of them were looking to the west, looking toward me.  Maybe they, too, were feeling something above and beyond themselves.

***********************

In The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski travel through the void, whisked to a parallel world through an unexplainable psychic connection with the “ghost girl” who haunts their dreams.  While Marc, ever the rational scientist at heart, attempts to explain their remarkable situation through the principles of logic and quantum mechanics, Mitchell–inquisitive by nature, intuitive, with an imagination constantly in overdrive–believes there is much more to it than the laws of physics can explain.

imagination

 

And yet, he, too, wants a reason, something to grab hold of, something that might begin to explain why this happened, how this happened, and how Monica Tisdale, the “ghost girl,” was able to draw them into her universe.

dreams

 

At novel’s end, when she once again walks in the shadows and secret places of his dreams, Mitchell asks her, point-blank  . . .

“Why did you ever come to me in the first place?  We . . . I . . . don’t even live in your world.”

To which Monica Tisdale answers, “I never really picked you.  I didn’t say to myself, ‘I need to get Mitchell Brant to help me.’  I just called, and you were there.”

But Mitchell needs more than that.  It’s not good enough, doesn’t go far enough . . .

“‘But the distance,’ he said.  He couldn’t even fathom it.  The void.  The gulf.  ‘You and me, we’re so far apart.'”

“‘Are we, Mitchell?’ she said.  ‘Are we really?'”

Later, upon reflection, in his own words, Mitchell states . . .

“Maybe more than anything, I learned that everything’s connected. . . . I’m not sure how I can explain it to make sense.  It’s like, even the things that seem so far away you can’t even imagine . . . even those things are right there with you.  And the people, too.

“Maybe we’re all connected to each other, in ways we can’t even really understand.  And that’s okay, I guess.  Because maybe we don’t need to understand it.

“We just need to believe it.”

allconnected

 

**********************

Standing on that beach along the sandy shores of Canada’s garden province, the sunlight warming the morning air, I felt a part of the whole, as if a million invisible fibers extended from me, in all directions, everywhere, across the expanse of the globe.  I thought of the fish beneath the water, miles offshore, swimming, pursuing, surviving.  I thought of giant squid and crustaceans and blue whales, slicing through the water like living, breathing ocean liners, and blind, glowing creatures with fangs and stings, as yet undiscovered by humankind.

deepseafish

 

Looking across the surface of the waves, their rhythm timeless, eternal, I thought about the continents on the other side.  What were people doing at this moment?  And I realized–everything.  Babies were being born in London, Moscow, Johannesburg, and Rome.  Somewhere in Berlin, there was a car crash; elsewhere, there was an unexpected visitor popping in unannounced, perhaps a long-lost son returning home and bringing smiles to his parents’ faces.  In Ankara, in Casablanca, in Madrid and Paris and Warsaw and every town and village and hamlet in between, life was happening.  People laughed and cried, some shared and felt good; others were alone, in run-down apartments or dark alleyways, thinking of surrendered choices and opportunities now irretrievably lost.

theworld

 

Here I was, standing by myself on a fine Island morning, the sea and the wind and the gulls my only company, and yet–I was everywhere, plugged in, one small cog in an infinite and incomprehensible machine.

The gull squawked again, as if acknowledging my thoughts, and then another gull swooped in low, and then another, and another.

seagulls

 

I watched as, moments later, they flew out over the water, becoming smaller and smaller, until they vanished, like a sea mirage.

seamirage

 

It was then that I heard voices.  Other early risers were coming now, the beckoning of an Island summer day too much to resist.

The spell broken, I turned around and headed back for the hotel.

As I walked, I thought of sandy beaches halfway around the world, fish that swim in the dark, and stars that shine, like diamonds, in the night sky.  I realized, the light from some of those stars, distant beyond imagining, takes millions of years to reach our planet.

Yet reach us it does.

stars

 

Thanks so much reading!

–Mike

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