Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Eeek! A Spider!: Arachnophobia and Other Strange Fears

Fear is a powerful emotion. If it is allowed to rule us, it can be the driving force in almost everything we do. Unfortunately it seems to have become the weapon of choice among many governments in the world today. When a human being is afraid, they are much more willing to make sacrifices or accept unhealthy changes to avoid whatever it is they find terrifying.

A fear of death or a large natural predator is understandable. After all it is fear that has kept us alive for so long as the world developed and we developed along with it. Some of those fears are remnants of thousands of years of survival  that is so ingrained in us that we can't shake it.

Take arachnophobia for example. I don't like spiders. I don't want them crawling on me or near me. I am disturbed when I see one and it vanishes. I would say my fear of spiders is moderate. My husband on the other hand is absolutely terrified of spiders. If one is spotted near him, he will not rest until it has been disposed of.  He has used everything from shoes to lighters to put an end to the reign of any eight legged menace that dares enter his territory (aka: his visual range).

At times the fear almost seems irrational. To step back and take an objective look would make anyone with a fear of spiders appear as though they have lost their mind. The creature is a mere fraction of our size and weight. We can easily crush them under a boot heel. Most of the time  they are just hanging out on a web or wall, not really hurting anything except the pests caught in their trap. In most places, the spider is not big enough to bring significant harm to a human being. Not to mention the many spiders that are probably lurking in the walls or hidden places in the average home on a daily basis that never do anything to harm us.

Yet many of us still fear the spider as though it was a killer waiting for us to turn our backs so it can creep up our pant legs and get at our throats. The emotion isn't purely learned, either. Our ancestors feared poisonous spiders, and with good reason. My husband and I here in Pennsylvania really have no significant poisonous spider population to worry about, yet we still experience the same unsettling fear.

It is both a physical and mental reaction. Thinking about it makes us nervous, but the fear also causes skin to crawl. My husband often complains of feeling itchy, as if things are creeping up his arms. It's mostly paranoia, but it is still interesting to see how that tiny little arachnid could cause such a powerful reaction that has a real physical impact.

Even looking at it from this perspective, I still would rather not have a spider crawling on me no matter how small it is. And I probably won't be visiting Brazil anytime soon.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Creative Vs. The Necessary

For a very long time I told myself that I was going to finish my first novel, hit the querying hard and finally get my fiction writing career off the ground. Surely it would be that simple.

I finished the first draft of a 96,000 word dark fantasy - which is an accomplishment in itself. It may not sound like much to someone who has never sat down to write out an entire novel, but trust me when I say it is a lot of work. There are days when you want to stop and walk away but you can't. You have to keep the story moving. Procrastination can end a career before it has a chance to begin.

After finishing the first draft, the work is really only just beginning. If you don't have the cash to hire a professional editor, then you're going to have to do it all yourself. That means reading through every chapter not once, not twice, not even three times but as many times as it takes to completely polish and perfect it.

One thing I have learned is that when I think a chapter is ready to go - it's not. I self-published a couple small dog care and training guides a while back (search for Shel Gatto on Amazon if you want to see what I'm talking about -they are quite short). These were relatively basic layouts with many photos. Being someone who is not trained in design of any kind, getting the layout to work was challenging enough. I spent hours resizing all my photos, adding a narrow border and getting them onto each page so they didn't fall off the side or shift the text in an unappealing way.

Then there was the text part. I went through each book a number of times. When I finally stopped finding typos, I thought it was safe to start selling. One of the biggest problems I have found is that the content gets "hot." I don't know why, but I have always associated this with a temperature. A new book is cold. I haven't read it and I don't know what's in it. It is new and exciting - even refreshing. Reading through it makes the words familiar or "warm." Going over the same text a number of times eventually makes it feel "hot" each time I return to it.

When the text becomes hot, it gets much harder to see typos. It's a weird phenomenon but one that is very much there. Waiting a while to go over each chapter again can help, but that means a lot more down time which is not easy to swallow for a new author who's chomping at the bit. It's a matter of being too close to the text while trying to satisfy the drive to finish it.

I found a few errors after my initial uploads. They were relatively minor, but when you're selling something you want it to be 100% perfect. So I go through the process again, reading and reuploading and waiting for approvals only to find later that I still missed a couple things. I repeated this a few times before I felt that the books truly were ready to go.

Why do I bother explaining all this?  I think it's important to understand just how long, tedious and frustrating the writing process can be. It is not simply a matter of sitting down, typing out the words then presenting it to the world.  For the average person, this endeavor is even more intimidating when you must continue making money in the meantime.

Despite all the heartache, it is totally worth it. There is a unique sense of satisfaction that comes with completing a personal project like this. I believe that every author puts a little piece of themselves into each page. Scattered ideas and concepts are gently gathered and nurtured into something worthwhile and original. It's one of the best feelings a human being can experience.

They say money can't buy happiness. I can fully agree. I am at my happiest when I finish a creative project. The problem is that money does make life much more comfortable. I think the key is to find a way to balance the necessary and the creative until you can push the creative to the forefront and it becomes purely necessary.

Don't forget to savor the emotions and experiences felt as you overcome the obstacles that come between you and your goals. You never know when something might trigger an idea that can be used later. Edgar Allan Poe said it best::

"Sensations are the great things, after all. Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations; they will be worth to you ten guineas a sheet."

The road is long, winding and sometimes it seems to end and you must venture out and find it again on your own. It's not an easy journey but it is one worth taking. You may get started just to see what lies at the other end of the path only to find that there is a lot of breathtaking scenery to admire along the way.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why Hello Internet, It's Been a While

Wow, has it really been three years since I posted anything to this blog? The older I am getting the busier life seems to become. I remember being a teenager in high school thinking that I had too much to do with two jobs, homework and a social life.

I certainly don't go out as much as I used to but I feel like time is in even shorter supply. Paid freelance work is a necessary evil and one I must maneuver my personal projects and work for family members around along with the usual grown up commitments of babysitting my awesome nephew, cooking, cleaning and caring for the pups. I don't mind it - just wish I had more time and energy to tackle it all. 

Hopefully things will change and I will putting more effort in the areas I know I need to. Anyone who has ever trudged through a creative undertaking probably knows what I'm talking about. You want to devote all your time, energy and focus on this one project but that is usually not the work that comes with a paycheck. Since the utility companies aren't too keen on IOUs or a promise of payment when you hit the jackpot and become a bestselling writer, famous musician or celebrated painter, there's always going to be a need to take on mundane jobs to put food on the table. I am thankful to have the work, but now is the time to learn to juggle like a pro.

So I hope to include this blog along with a few other personal endeavors on my list. Who knows, I might even find some interesting tidbits to discuss here beyond my personal scheduling challenges (which I'm sure are not unique to me). So here I go...trying to figure it all out and bring my dust-gathering ideas to life. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Monsters Return

They are there, watching, waiting, and listening.

They have honed their craft well, remaining along the outskirts of reality. The sounds come in illusion form just as sleep and consciousness begin to weave together. During the time when the mind stands on the brink of inner oblivion, prepared for another trip into the depths until the light of day summons it back out again.

The monstrous beast glides up the street, a screeching howl accompanying it. Tendrils of sound reach my window and slide inside, wrapping around my mind as visions of it flying over the pavement precede it. It is an enormous fleeting emotion, a playful tease of the imagination. As it nears, almost upon my house and my open bedroom window, it shifts into reality.

A truck passes by, taking with it the evidence of the beasts' true form.

As I remain wake, working at my daily tasks, the beasts tuck themselves away around the sides of my vision. I see them move sometimes. They are there as a slight twitch of shadow or an odd blur of color just out of view. To look makes them fade away.

They have a mission. They always do. Everyone's monsters exist for a reason. They tie us back to ourselves. No matter how stretched the lines become, they always guide us. They help us sink or feet into old ponds, feel the cool refreshing breeze, and fear the dark things that observe from the shadows we created.

In that place sits a well of our own construction, tethered to it dangles a dented water bucket. If we do not draw from it soon, the creatures swimming within will grow and multiply. They will produce even more intense, gruesome beings to overwhelm us when we return. The large will eat the small and grow larger. The misshapen bodies will begin to spill over the bucket's rim, back into the still, rippling pool at the bottom of the well.

My monsters have been stirring and they are calling me back. The water bucket is full and I must draw from it or be overwhelmed by their images, their voices, and their realities.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dear Society,

It seems as though common sense is dead and we each took a turn twisting the knife handle.

Who am I? I’m a nobody. But I am currently observing first hand as someone I know personally is diced, sliced and neatly fed back to the public as a monster. My cousin, David Eberhardt, Jr., is currently being picked apart by the media as some kind of child thief for the alleged “kidnapping” of Kari Smith.

Did he do something wrong? Certainly, I am not arguing that point for a second. What I am arguing is what he did wrong. Both David and Kari are to blame, yet David is being handed that nasty end of the stick no one wants to touch by the media and this girl.

I watched a video interview of Kari and her family. She can’t even look at the camera as she speaks - the true sign of a liar. This girl was on her way to a youth’s home just before departing for Florida. Obviously she had some motivation to get the hell out of Dodge, yet I don’t see any of that mentioned.

I have seen many comments from people I don’t know who, I feel, got it dead on. This was a case of a pair of young, stupid teenagers doing something they shouldn’t. Certainly not the first time in human history, and certainly won't be the last. The difference here is that when they got caught, suddenly Kari is helpless and innocent. Not a girl who got kicked out of school and willingly ran away from home - again.

I won’t vouch for how well Kari and David knew each other. However I can tell you that I know David personally. He is not a violent person. He never has been. I have seen him playing with his nephew. He always seemed to genuinely enjoy spending the holidays with his family. He has certainly caused his share of trouble in his parents’ lives, but then again what teenager hasn’t?

David is a legal adult, but he’s only 19. Isn’t there supposed to be a reason we don’t allow drinking until 21? Oh that’s right, because of maturity. Perhaps David was not thinking like an adult. Perhaps he and Kari were both thinking like ignorant teenagers.

Let’s face facts. The media is hungry for a monster. So what do they do? They get to work building one. Poor little Kari gets off her plane, running to her mothers arms. She was so scared. She was such a brave little victim. She had no desire to run off just before she was to go to a youth’s home. She didn’t want to take a vacation to Florida. There is obviously more here than the news articles are telling.

I don’t know too many kidnappers who allow their victims to keep their cell phones or get on the internet to use social networking websites. Isn’t cutting off communication the number one rule in the kidnapper’s handbook?

I also don’t know too many victims who tell friends in advance that they are heading off across state lines with their kidnapper just before it happens. There is usually an element of surprise in this type of crime. Kari knew the whole time. She chose to go, they got caught and now she’s covering herself, even if it destroys someone else’s life.

I am not saying that David should not face the consequences of his actions. However, what were his actions, really? I don’t believe at any point he intended to or acted on any urges to kidnap Kari. I do believe that she went with him willingly and is now turning her story around. I believe she’s lying to all of us, and the media is urging her along, starved for a good story. As I said, lets’ call it what it is: a couple of teenagers being really, really stupid. See how it loses the media glamour when viewed with a heavy dose of reality?

Kari is just as much at fault. Her age should not change that. David did things that were wrong, but Kari was a willing accomplice, not a victim. Both should be punished, but for the right reasons.

So, all I ask is that we all let go of the knife handle and let common sense live again. Certainly we have much bigger issues to worry about than a couple of dumb teenagers running off on an impromptu vacation. They are both at fault and both should face the consequences they earned so that we can all move on with our lives instead of focusing on destroying one.

Yours Truly,

Shel Gatto

PS - Here you can read a screenshot taken from Kari Smith's MySpace profile where a friend clearly comments about Kari's trip to Florida, something she would not have known about had Kari truly been taken against her will. I added a red outline around the comment for easier viewing.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Art of Writing Fear

The goal of any horror writer is to terrify the reader as much as possible through words. Those who do not read may not understand the influential power of fiction. Upon first glance, they see nothing more than ink on a page - the black and white. However, when correctly strung together these words can combine setting, characters and events in a way that requires no Hollywood special effects to make the audience's blood run cold.

It is my personal opinion that the imagination can create even more detailed and realistic images than anything a film can produce. Give it the right tools and a nudge in the desired direction and those little black and white letters may as well be thousands of tiny, fanged beasts gnawing away at the reader's mind.

As a writer, it can be difficult to find a good balance between providing information and letting the imagination do the work. If you spell it all out and get too detailed, you may delve into the realm of boring or even cheesy. On the other hand, if you leave it all up to the imagination then you are not really writing anything.

Offer the reader a well placed opening at just the right moment. Seduce them with the ominous setting, and maybe some back story. Tease them with just a glimpse of the entire situation. Then give their imagination a push and let it gain momentum!

What fang and claw-bearing beast lurks in the still forest?

While the characters wander dark forests, corridors, streets, or whatever Hell you have placed them in, drag the reader along for the ride. Just as the action creeps around the corner or we are about to view the evil beast, killer, whatever, only allow a glimpse. The description doesn't even have to be visual, it could be something heard, felt or realized.

I believe some miss the importance of imagination. A writer can create excellent fiction with the perfect combination of words and structure. Their grammar and spelling could be flawless. However, without the reader's imagination, it is nothing but words on the page.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Numbing Time and the Missing's Silent Discovery

If you have not noticed by now, I have a love of many things in the way of dark fiction. However, that affection, or perhaps I should call it a morbid curiosity, carries over into real life. I suppose that is to be expected. Still, those horrifying true stories intrigue me. Yes, I share the same desire to unravel the serial killer's brain and figure out why they were so depraved as to commit the acts that they did. However, there is another layer here that often goes unmentioned in the hollow shell of a short news clipping.

When you start getting in depth, you start to consider more than the two parties involved - the guilty and the victim. Yes, perhaps these two are at the epicenter. The guilty must bear the consequences of his or her actions while the victim remains in whatever state they were left in, be it scarred or dead. What about the others, who may only be briefly mentioned in the sea of black and white print?

For example, take the interesting tale of a real life 17th century cold case. The body of a teenage boy was discovered during an ongoing project to unearth long forgotten settlements in Annapolis, Maryland. Further investigation determines that the boy was murdered. His real name may never be known and the guilty party is long dead and currently dealing with whatever otherworldly punishment his or her god sees fit.

On first glance, it is easy to separate yourself. Aside from age and gender, it is difficult to identify with the deceased. Time creates an enormous gap. That can be traversed with a little imagination.

Consider who may have known this young man. Surely he had friends or family. Someone must have missed him. In their world he just one day up and disappeared, never to return. Did they suspect or were they completely blind to the fact foul play was involved? We can only speculate. Once you begin to consider this, it closes the gap slightly. It makes the murder a little more real and less padded by centuries.

I often wonder, when an unidentified body is found, what is the story behind that person's life? Who is missing them? Will they ever know the truth? There are a vast number of remains discovered in past decades that may never be identified and appear to go forgotten by the world.

A little change of perspective can really shift the emotional aspect of a story. Would you feel as concerned for this boy as you would for a boy of the same age and race discovered murdered within the last year or five years? Even ten? Most people would not. Justify it however you want, but on first glance, how would you react if both stories were in the newspaper side by side? My guess is, the modern tale would garner more concern.

Perspective can act like an emotional magnifying glass. It helps readers and writers see history and draw it a little closer. Although this may sound quite dark and depressing, it can be a useful tool in writing.

I am not drawing any conclusions regarding the social state of today or humankind in general. I am merely pointing out the importance of perspective in both fiction and non-fiction. A little creative thought, even in a real life story, can go a long way.