All Posts in “Writing & Publishing”

Liar, Liar, or Inspired?

Michael Dean Clark

This is the third of four entries on “being” a writer. The first can be found here and the second here.

True story: when I applied to graduate school, I was asked why I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. I said it was because I wanted to be a better liar. I got in and four years later I am about to be awarded that degree.

I am, I think understandably, conflicted about this. In essence, people will now refer to me as “Dr. Clark” (a term I think will still indicate respect because I will never be an HMO-funded health care provider) and a university has entrusted me with students to influence because I achieved a dubious goal. I improved my ability to deceive.

Sure, sure, you can parse words and say “it’s not lying, it’s fiction.” But the best fiction carries that one key caveat: people want to believe it. Or, as Malcolm Muggeridge put it, “People do not believe in lies because they have to, but because they want to.”

A note before I continue – I love the lies of fiction, when they point toward a truth worth exploring. Lies expose truth, much as “the shadow proves the sunshine.” But, within me is an existential dilemma. How does one lie ethically without crossing over into James Frey territory or worse, begin to enjoy the lies more than the truth they point to?

Some might call this classical conditioning. Lies are a slippery slope that lead from Thomas Jefferson’s “He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual” to Austin O’Malley’s “Those who think it is permissible to tell white lies soon grow color-blind” to (with apologies to Stephen Swanson) Adolph Hitler’s “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”

Lies, as we’ve all experienced personally, are a cage full of horny rabbits.

How then can one be “possessed by the truth” and a writer of good fiction? Again, I return to the views of people more intelligent than me. Some, like A.A. Milne, point with humor to the work that goes into lies with purpose when he wrote “If one is to be called a liar, one may as well make an effort to deserve the name.” Emerson went the sublime route, saying “Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.” Some, like Clare Boothe Luce, take the pragmatic view: “Lying increases the creative faculties, expands the ego and lessens the frictions of social contacts.” Plato used reverse psychology (before reverse or psychology were in vogue) “They deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth.”

Here’s my thought – fictional lies have limitations in spiritual truth. When they tie into the “greater than me,” they cease to be lies and become reflections of the walls of our caves. The argument could be made that this is transubstantiation of a sort. Inventions become actualities. This, of course, demands that one believe there is truth external of one’s own experience, a concept some consider as dated as high-waisted jeans on men. But I tend to agree with Karl Barth’s idea that “Man can certainly keep on lying…but he cannot make truth falsehood. He can certainly rebel…but he can accomplish nothing which abolishes the choice of God.” And when the presence of discoverable truth combines with the desire to find it, the lies of fiction make sense.

Michael Dean Clark is an author of fiction and nonfiction and is in the final stages of earning a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin. His work is set primarily in his hometown of San Diego and has been known to include pimps in diapers, heroin-addicted pastors who suffer from OCD, and possibly the chupacabra.

Photo Haiku Wednesday 3.31.10

Photo courtesy of Jaymi Spencer Photography.

Directions:

1. Write a haiku inspired by the photo and post it in the comments.

For extra chances to win:

2. Follow @reliefjournal on Twitter

3. Follow @Quo Vadis on Twitter

4. Twitter @reliefjournal with your haiku and #PHW (Photo Haiku Wednesday)

* * *

The good people over at Quo Vadis have generously donated some prizes!!

The weekly winner will receive a Quo Vadis Habana Journal and a bottle of J. Herbin ink!!

Every week Relief will choose a random winner! So play along and tell your friends. See the information below for extra chances to win.

* * *

Winner will be announced via Twitter Thursday afternoons.

We can only ship to U.S. addresses right now.

You may only win once every three months, but you may play along every week for Twitter Super Bonus Points.

* * *

Would you like to have your photo featured on Photo Haiku Wednesday?

Email your photos to Michelle: photohaiku@reliefjournal.com

You’ll get a photo credit link here on the main blog and you’ll also be entered in the drawing for the Quo Vadis Habana journal and bottle of J. Herbin ink the week your photo appears on the blog!

One Story Walk-up

It was December 20th and I was waiting for a flight at Dallas’ Love Field…

If I were your usual high-quality literary writer penning your usual high-quality literary Relief post, I’d continue: December 20—41 years to the day since John Steinbeck died. Later that afternoon, winging west to LAX, I read a quote from Andre Dubus (in Novel Voices) that writing fiction doesn’t change the world, that “Cesar Chavez did more than six John Steinbecks could have done.” And I thought to myself how everything’s connected….

But I’m not your usual high-quality literary writer. (Blame Christopher Fisher for inviting me: he’s why you can’t have nice things.) So, instead, here’s the best I can give you: December 20—41 years to the day since I was born. My wife and son had given me an iPod Touch as a present and I was thumb-typing a list/article for the someday (please, God, soon) return of The Wittenburg Door:

“Ways to Reboot the Christmas Shoes Franchise”

  • The Christmas Hipwaders
  • The Christmas Flip-Flops
  • The Christmas Sensible Pumps
  • The Christmas Pegleg
  • The Christmas Soccer Cleats
  • The Christmas the guy in line behind the kid dials 911 instead of paying for the damn shoes and saves the mother’s life
  • The Christmas Mukluks
  • The Christmas Topsiders
  • The Christmas Birkenstocks
  • and so on…

The subject of dead moms and God returned a few days later. Van Hagar’s, errrr Van Halen’s “Right Now” had cycled through on my iPod, and I hunted down its video online. One of the signs appearing in the glorified Powerpoint presentation reads “Right now God is killing moms and dogs because He has to.” (Provocative verb, but substitute “calling home” or “gathering thereunto His bosom,”—or if you’re Pat Robertson add “because they made a pact with the devil” to the end—and you’ve got much the same thing.) Thankfully, that was the last of dying moms on the trip.

But the signs and videos thing came up a couple more times. After “Right Now” I tracked down Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (he flips cue cards with the lyrics throughout the video) and on Palindrome Day (01/02/2010) I checked out “Weird Al” Yankovic’s parody video, “Bob” (all the lyrics in the song/on the cue cards are palindromes: “Was it a car or a cat I saw?”). A day or so after that another Dylan pastiche appeared in a book I got from my folks (mom’s fine, by the way; good on shoes, too), The Stephen King Illustrated Companion. In one of the wax paper sleeves was “The 43rd Dream,” a poem King wrote as a teen, riffing on Dylan’s “115th Dream.”

Toward the end of my California Christmas my family took in Cannery Row. Yes, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is more responsible for its renaissance than any Steinbeck story, but I posed by his statue on the waterfront, nonetheless. Meanwhile, back in Texas, my pre-AP students were (allegedly) reading Steinbeck’s novella The Pearl. And we’ve come the long way round to the idea that “it’s all connected.” (Another “Right Now” slide reads “Right now oysters are being robbed of their sole possession” … hmmmm.)

In his book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster says “There’s only one story … Whenever anyone puts pen to paper or hands to keyboard or fingers to lute string or quill to papyrus. Norse sagas, Samoan creation stories, Gravity’s Rainbow, The Tale of Genji, Hamlet, last year’s graduation speech … On the Road and Road to Rio and ‘The Road not Taken.’ One story.” Pride and Prejudice and Zombies makes his point as well as anything, I suppose. And while Solomon wrote “there’s nothing new under the sun,” it’s true that there’s increasingly more “nothing new” under that sun, influencing, intersecting with all the “nothing new” yet to come. Steinbeck to Dubus for the smart set; Christmas Shoes, Sammy Hagar, “Weird Al,” and Steve King for the rest of us. (Dylan, maybe, bridging the gap.) All of it to all of us via this blog entry. This blog entry to your angry letters to the editor. And so it goes. Circle of Life. Hakuna Matata.

Honor those who’ve influenced you, good or bad. Make the most of the chapters to the story you write. You never know whose chapters they’ll intersect with down the road.

***

Chris Mikesell teaches sophomore English at a public school in Dallas, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Coach’s Midnight Diner 1 & 2; Dragons, Knights & Angels; and Ray Gun Revival. His haiku have appeared here at Relief on numerous occasions.

Photo Haiku Wednesday 3.24.10

Photo courtesy of Michelle Pendergrass.

Directions:

1. Write a haiku inspired by the photo and post it in the comments.

For extra chances to win:

2. Follow @reliefjournal on Twitter

3. Follow @Quo Vadis on Twitter

4. Twitter @reliefjournal with your haiku and #PHW (Photo Haiku Wednesday)

* * *

The good people over at Quo Vadis have generously donated some prizes!!

The weekly winner will receive a Quo Vadis Habana Journal and a bottle of J. Herbin ink!!

Every week Relief will choose a random winner! So play along and tell your friends. See the information below for extra chances to win.

* * *

Winner will be announced via Twitter Thursday afternoons.

We can only ship to U.S. addresses right now.

You may only win once every three months, but you may play along every week for Twitter Super Bonus Points.

* * *

Would you like to have your photo featured on Photo Haiku Wednesday?

Email your photos to Michelle: photohaiku@reliefjournal.com

You’ll get a photo credit link here on the main blog and you’ll also be entered in the drawing for the Quo Vadis Habana journal and bottle of J. Herbin ink the week your photo appears on the blog!

Which One Is Me?

Michael Dean Clark

This is the second of four entries on “being” a writer. The first can be found here.

I had a job interview recently in San Diego and while I was there I got a chance to have dinner with my sister Jeanette. She’s in the middle of reading my first novel length manuscript and spent a good ten minutes before the food came trying to confirm which real people from our past were basis for my characters.

Tommy is totally Rob Machado.

Nope.

Well, Craig is you, isn’t he?

No, I see myself more as Bibs. (I should note that most people who’ve read the book think Craig is my alter, so they may be right. However, it really throws them when I say I identify more with Bibs, a deacon’s daughter turned prostitute and right-hand woman of the local pimp/drug dealer Marley Bob).

Well, what about BT?

She got him right, sort of. By the end of the conversation, I realized I really like this game. As a writer, I freely admit I crib the lives of the people around me. If you know me, I’m probably going to use a part of you. Writers don’t invent, we compile and alter and then graft what we’ve taken onto the pieces of ourselves we put into every person we “create.” We mix and match like the socks we don’t think people will ever see us wearing.

But the conversation of “who” my characters are is really interesting to me because I generally don’t know who I’ve composited until it gets pointed out to me. I think that may be one of the reasons I choose to do something as frustrating and low-paying as write fiction without wizards or vampires. I like the way something so personal only makes sense to me when other people explain its facets as they see them.

I even like when people get my stories “wrong” because explaining my intentions has a similar effect. I guess I could never be Emily Dickinson. I can’t write for myself and my four walls. I need feedback earlier than a posthumous release would allow.

Michael Dean Clark is an author of fiction and nonfiction and is in the final stages of earning a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin. His work is set primarily in his hometown of San Diego and has been known to include pimps in diapers, heroin-addicted pastors who suffer from OCD, and possibly the chupacabra.