A Leash On Madness

I’d like to introduce you to Sam Kieth. He’s the creator, and the artist, of the Maxx that came out through Image comics in the ‘90’s. They made an animation series out of it that aired on MTV. Sam Keith’s art wasn’t like any other art form around at that time, when Marvel and Image were creating the next ‘wolverine’ or ‘X-Men,’ Sam Kieth was creating an overweight homeless man with a strange mask that lived in an alleyway and reminisced about the time he used to watch ‘Cheers’ on TV. Maxx was drawn in various styles, ranging from the perfect text-book way of illustrating arms and faces, to the utmost bizarre. Some panels were paintings or even charcoal sketches. In one issue, Maxx went into a girls dream and was drawn with simple lines with no detail. The issue was written and drawn in such a way that a six year old could have picked it up and enjoyed reading it.

After Maxx finished, and the hype surrounding Image Comics died away, Sam Kieth disappeared. He would pop up every now and again with various three issue comics, which were few and far between. Some were brilliant, excellently drawn (with pencil only), had great dialogue and stories. Others, were beyond strange, with obscure illustrations mixed with normal drawings. They were perplexed and the panels were sometimes left with great, big, black spaces that looked like he couldn’t be bothered drawing a full panel.

Recently I bought Sam Keith’s art books. I was astounded by the illustrations. He could paint amazing pictures and his sketches, on napkins and old bits of paper, were better than anything I’d ever seen him do. As well as these amazing pictures, where the most bizarre drawings I’d ever seen from a comic book artist. There were strange monsters, a cross between a mad man’s doodling and a Picasso painting. I felt like his art books reflected what he truly wanted to draw, and it was pure madness. Had he restricted himself for all these years? Had he brought comics out that had to be appealing to the wider reader audience in order to sell? If he did draw the way he wanted, would many people buy it? I think he had himself on a leash the whole time he was drawing the Maxx, or maybe Image had that restriction over him.

Whatever the case may be, it got me thinking about what restrictions I put on myself.  What I often do is write two books at once, a main one that takes up 99% of my energy and writing time, and an alternate book that I write 1% of the time. If I’m writing a Children’s book, I’ll often feel the need to release some of my adult writing needs, so I’ll have an adult book just waiting off to the side. This is also vice versa, if I’m working on an adult book, I’ll have a children’s book in wait, just to lighten the mood of my writing and write something pleasant. I’ve been writing an adult book called ‘Hexagram’ for almost four years. It was a 1% book that I always went to if I wanted to write something adult and crude. Now Hexagram is so scattered and random it would take a good few weeks to get it back in order and finished. Having kept adding to it for so long, no story lines match up and there are characters everywhere, doing whatever. I would just find a random paragraph and add to it.

Hexagram was a book I started writing off one idea. The idea was two guys, one from a rich family, and one from a poor family, who both reject the pressure to conform from their families. They design a game called Hexagram, which is a cross between Jackass and Fight Club. They endeavour to destroy their bodies and minds to the point where God won’t recognise them anymore. It was a strange book idea, where I had no intention of ever trying to get it published or finished. I would just write it now and then when I needed an outlet. But, after seeing what Sam Keith did with the Maxx and then seeing his art book, it made me think of Hexagram again. With Hexagram, I wrote whatever I wanted, no matter how vile and disgusting. No matter how graphic and disturbing, I would write it down. It made me think, maybe I did restrict my other books? Was I backing off the accelerator just that little bit in order to not’ freak’ people out. I’ve written some disgusting things before with short stories and received a strange reaction, and that was for ‘one’ particular scene. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a whole book worth of those scenes.

The leash I put on myself when writing books is so I don’t shock people and make them look at me strangely and think I’m too weird. I’m afraid to expose myself for what I really think and research and write about. The topics I find interesting and useful in my books would make the ‘average’ reader shut the book and burn it. I kind of understand, maybe, how Sam Keith must have felt when drawing mainstream comics. There is an invisible leash that you attach to your own neck, in order to keep yourself guarded and hold on to your dignity. Any day the mask could slip, or the leash could break and the books that come out could be too twisted to read, or too graphic. But until then, I’ll just do one scene at a time and if it gets too weird, then the reader will have to hang on for the ride.

Mitchell Tierney

Published in: on May 24, 2011 at 10:05 pm  Comments (2)  

Mind, Body and Spirit

 I am not a Hippy, Religious Nut, or Scientist. Like most people, I fall somewhere in the middle, borrowing my philosophies from many different lines of thought. This suits me, since we’re taught ‘Balance in All Things’, which I feel should apply to ideologies as well.
Despite the launch of my book ‘The Riders War: Battle for Today’ in the middle of last year, my writing has been, on the whole, rather stagnant in the last few years. This has been since the lifestyle change that has shot me from lonely dreamer, to wife, mother and housekeeper. Not that I’m complaining. I love my husband and kids very much and can even manage to find that there is satisfaction to be had in maintaining my little corner of the world, but in the last few months it has become obvious that I am struggling. Struggling to do what needs to be done and not be crushed under the weight of negative emotions.

Obviously, something needs to be done. Since I can’t walk away from the situation – aside from the fact that I can barely stand to be away from my family for more than a day, they are a source of great joy – all I can do is change myself.
Because what I have realised is that I have been ill in Body, Mind and Spirit (for the sake of this entry, please read ‘Emotions‘ for spirit). It is the Spirit that mostly alerted me to the fact that something was wrong this year. My mood has been volatile and I have found myself depressed and miserable for no apparent reason. Treating this has essentially been about drugging myself to be able to keep functioning – caffeine during the day to stay awake and active, tablets at night to help me sleep, indulging in my taste in junk food to find some sort of pleasure during the day… I have had marginal success with this method, but at best I have been maintaining the status quo, not getting better.
I had what I believe to be a breakthrough yesterday – my Mind is also ill. It’s not so surprising, really, for the different aspects of Self are all connected, but sometimes, you just don’t see it.
What I realised is that I used to devote a lot of mental energy to ‘daydreaming’. I would plot out scenes and dialogues in the shower, doing dishes or when I should have been working. Because I’ve had to devote a lot more attention to my day to day life, and I am exposed to so much less variety in my day, this part of my Mind has almost fallen silent, apart from the occasional outburst. Instead, I find myself dwelling over and over again on aspects of my life I have little or no control over, and I get drawn down into a negative pit of despair, only to emerge when something drags me out of myself. My Mind is impacting on the health of my Spirit.
That leaves the Body and, sadly, that too has been neglected. Too much junkfood, not enough exercise and too many chemicals (all legal and generally used to appropriate guidelines, but drugs or chemicals nonetheless) used to get through my day leave me with little energy and, let’s face it, a little pot belly.
So now to do something about it.
This blog is not about me whinging, it is about the role writing plays in my life and I now mean to use it in a way I have used it before, but with more deliberation.
I need a sustainable change. My Spirit is too weak to carry me through with anything drastic, at least for long. So, I’m going to start with small things I can control. I’m going to start by rediscovering my inner space and directing my thoughts, when I have time to think, to the creation of my fictions. Not necessarily writing them down, just trying to dream the dialogues and scenarios my characters face, like I used to. To help my Body, I mean to start some gentle exercise – a little walking and maybe some Yoga and Tai Chi (disciplines I enjoy, by the way, because simply practising them helps to connect the aspects of Self). Diet can wait.
I am hopeful, that by controlling these aspects of Self, my Spirit will start to recover and I can better tackle other parts of my life. And hey, if I get Riders Part 3 finished, that’s a bonus (for those awaiting the sequel to Riders Part 1, Part 2 is written and merely awaiting an auspicious time to be reworked in the editing and publishing process).
It’s strange to think that I have to teach myself to how to daydream again, but I suppose that is just one of the strange things that happen in this life.
~M A Clarke
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Published in: on May 11, 2011 at 7:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Natural Selection and The Red Typewriter

Right now, I’m hungover. I’ve spent the morning being sick into the bathroom sink and sleeping. My girlfriend was nice enough to make me a coffee and nutella on toast. My brain is a dried out sponge, it feels like I’ve been kicked by a horse, and once every hour I return to bed to lie down until I feel like getting up again. Every time this happens, and I’m totally burnt out and sick, I feel like writing.

I started thinking of the drive that pulls me towards the keyboard to write. Should we call it a gravitational pull? A magnet? Or is it just the love of writing – whatever it may be, do other people get this feeling? Or has it become a habit for me? Like tying your shoe laces or putting your seatbelt on? I sometimes get that feeling like it’s a job, like it has to be done. Turn the computer on, load the story I’m working on, make coffee, sit, type, repeat. Or is it something inherent? Certain people where born for politics, or to become surgeons, you could call this natural selection. But what if it wasn’t? What if I just practised and tried hard to be a writer, could that happen if it wasn’t in me from the beginning? I thought about someone that once said to me, ‘Oh I’ve been into drumming forever, I used to get my mum’s pots and pans out and bang on them when I was three.’ It got me thinking, is the drive to do what you love innate? Do you have to be doing it your whole life, out of instinct, to be any good at it? I thought, ‘No way! I didn’t start writing until about 7 years ago.’ Then I looked a little harder…

My first memory of writing was on an old, red typewriter. I was watching something on TV and wanted to write a ‘proper adult’ book. I think I was about 6 or 7. Mum got the type writer down from the cupboard; I put the paper in crooked and wrote a paragraph. Obviously there were spelling mistakes and the page was covered in inky finger prints, but I remembered being excited. My next memory of writing comes from primary school. A friend of mine was telling me about some movie he watched called ‘Critters.’ Be it serendipity, or not, that day happened to be ‘free writing’ day. We could write about whatever we wanted, as long as we wrote something. I took what my friend told me about the movie and created my own story with the creatures. When I got home I wrote part 2 and always recalled wanting to write part 3.

Next came high school. Right before someone introduced me to comics, I was sitting in English class and wanted to know when we would be doing creative writing. I had a bad stutter and swallowed my shyness and put my hand up and asked when would we be doing ‘c-c-c-c-creative w-w-w-r-r-riting.’ Everyone laughed and one kid in particular copied the way I said it. The teacher said later in the semester. That was all I remember of that time. Nothing really happened for a few years, I went to Senior College (year 11 and 12). I remember an English test where you had to write a short story about one of the topics listed. I recollect being energized about that and dove right in. I wrote an elaborate story about two elderly guys exchanging old coins through the mail. It was written like correspondence, until one day one of the old men receives the wrong coins and the other has fled after selling the coins. I thought it was great, but I didn’t get a good mark for it and people seemed confused when they read it.

After high school came University. I didn’t know what to do so I just kept going to school. One December, after Uni had finished for the year, I remember thinking ‘It would be really easy to describe an elderly persons house.’ I think I had seen a glass cabinet with china tea sets in it and thought I could successfully describe a house filled with stuff you weren’t allowed to touch. I went to the computer and wrote a paragraph. It turned into a page, and then two. I wrote about an old lady that lived by herself and one day she sees a porcelain doll on her coffee table. She puts it back in the cabinet and wonders how it got there. Then she makes some tea, when she turns around she sees two more dolls on the dining room table. She runs through the kitchen and falls over, hitting her head. When she wakes, she is surrounded by hundreds of porcelain dolls. I really enjoyed creating a story and wanted to write more. When Uni started again I had to put my writing on hold, but I clearly remember thinking ‘I can’t wait for Uni to finish so I can write my story.’

Uni finished and I moved from Darwin to Brisbane. I got really home sick and couldn’t find a job, so I read a lot and stuck around the apartment mostly, until one day I thought of idea for a kids book. A brother and sister who are orphaned and their uncle comes to get them and he runs a ghost and monster eradication business. I started writing immediately. The only laptop I had was an old work one of my Dad’s that crashed all the time and had wires sticking out of it. I finished my book and sent it to Publishers. One day when I returned from my job network, one of my flatmate’s had a letter for me. I wasn’t sure what it was. He stood and watched me open it and saw that it was from a publishing house. He gasped, ‘Did you write a book?’ I was busted. Up until then I had kept it a secret. Writing at night and when no one was home. When I heard the lift come up to our level, I would save what I was writing and slam the computer shut, pretending I wasn’t doing anything. It was the first of many rejection letters to come, but I had a vague idea of what I really enjoyed doing.

I didn’t have a printer so I had to print my books out at the Job Search Network place, secretly. I’d print a few resumes and then ten pages, a few more resumes and cover letters and then ten more pages. My book was 130 pages long, so this took a few trips. I eventually got a job washing dishes in Fortitude Valley. I’d leave work at 3 or 4, come home, cook chicken nuggets and write until I had to go to bed. Then one day, while searching for a better job, I found an ad in the newspaper that wanted ‘Fantasy Writers.’ I called and asked if it was ‘Fantasy as in Adult material, or as in Dragons and swords?’ She said ‘Dragons.’ I sent her a paragraph of my work and she said I was hired as a writer for her book project. It was unpaid, but still, I felt like my work was getting better if someone thought I was worthy enough to get printed. Fast forward several years, not much happened to the book project. We had some meetings and signed some contract stuff, and then it fell through. I was crestfallen, to say the least, but I still wrote. I branched out into Adult Horror and Weird Fiction. Trying to write like my favourite writers and writing comics and TV show scripts. I would send synopsis’s away and sample chapters, but they were always rejected. I remember this day clearly when I had just moved into a new flat and I was walking down the hallway when I got a text message. It was from Sabrina asking if I was still interested in writing because they were about to start Ouroborus Books.

I hate to say I was into writing when I was a kid, because I hated hearing that from people, but there it was. Always lingering, tapping me on the shoulder every now and then wanting me to write something. You could get the urge to write since you were young, or the urge last week, I don’t think it matters, as long as you love to do it. Eventually I want a red type writer tattooed on me somewhere, as part of a bigger motif, to remind me where it started.

Mitchell Tierney

Published in: on May 4, 2011 at 1:50 am  Comments (2)