Guest Post: John Yeoman

How to Bond With Your Readers: The Pain and Glory of Writing

Note from the Editor-in-Chief

We’ve decided republish this beautiful post by our treasured contributor John Yeoman as he unfortunately passed away unexpectedly this year.

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Have you ever shied away from writing a scene in your story because it was too painful?

Because it triggered memories you’d rather forget?

You were thrust back into trauma: a marital breakup, bereavement, personal humiliation or some other horrific event.

Yet, if you dumb down that scene you’ll wreck the storyEven if your experience is totally fictitious, it still hurts.

All great writing is a learning experience for the author.

We force ourselves into new places, dramas we may never have encountered, the minds of strange people whom we might never want to meet but must—somehow—portray.

It hurts.

And so it should.

Unless we force ourselves to feel our characters’ pain, the reader won’t feel it either. They’ll toss our story aside.

“It’s not real,” they’ll say. And they’ll be right.

I discovered this for myself when I depicted a funeral in an historical mystery novel set in the 16th century.

Imagine the scene. A church cemetery at midnight. No moon. Just three mourners holding lanterns. The narrator is burying his beloved wife in secret. She’d committed suicide so could not legally be interred in sacred ground.

Will her soul be saved? He doesn’t know. He prays beside the coffin—and is answered by a mocking owl.

I cried as I wrote that scene. Why? Too many funerals in my recent past perhaps, although their circumstances had been quite different. But had I skipped that episode and dismissed it in a single line—”And so the lass was buried. God rest her soul.”—it would have been a cop out.

I had to depict every graphic moment, even its fragments of noir humour when—in the darkness—the narrator falls into the grave, apologizes to the coffin then bursts into tears. Otherwise, his subsequent nightmares—vital to the story—would not have made sense.

 Face the pain and work through it.

Not only will your story gain strength but you’ll also grow as a person.

Aristotle put his finger on it 2400 years ago. When we live through an experience of fictional tragedy—on the stage or in our minds—we are ‘purged by pity and terror.’

Catharsis. It’s a cleansing experience. An inner confessional by which we are reconciled to ourselves and human nature.

Any author who is not a total hack does not write to change their reader—the attempt would be impertinent—but to change themselves.

Every story we write with feeling is a personal catharsis, a release of tension.

Do it competently and your reader will be changed as well.

Dare we bare our souls? And let it all hang out? And enrich our stories with revelations that will expose our most private feelings to the world?

Yes! Here are three ways to do it without (too much) pain:

1. Accept that people have felt almost all emotions. 

There’s very little you can tell people that they haven’t felt themselves.

The days of readers being ‘shocked’ by revelations in literature ended with the 19thcentury.

Even then, their shock was mostly sham. Privately, Victorian readers lapped up the indiscretions of Madame Bovary, Moll Flanders and Tom Jones.

Write those scenes of pain, scandal or revelation well, and your readers will relate to them. Because chances are they’ve experienced something like it themselves.

Or they know someone who has.

Those scenes are true.

2. Don’t think that scenes of intimate confession will reflect badly upon you.

Readers fall in love with authors who, through their characters and events, disclose their own fallibilities.

UK novelist Sharon Bolton has publicly admitted that she writes her gruesome crime scenes to exorcize the demons in her own soul.

Do we think the worst of her? No. Readers rush to clasp her hand at literary events and her novels are bestsellers.

US crime queen Patricia Cornwell portrays herself in her bitter, tormented heroine Kay Scarpetta.

Few readers would like to meet Scarpetta in the flesh but Cornwell has so many adoring fans, she has to hire bodyguards when she appears in public.

3. Use the painful scenes as opportunities for personal growth.

Creative writing has often been prescribed as therapy for people who are stressed.

Why?

By writing out difficult experiences, we gain control. We structure them. We impose order on random pain.

So we own it.

The secret here is not to wallow in reminiscence—at least, not beyond the first draft.

Go back. Edit it ruthlessly. Crisp up those long tortured descriptions.

Anguish piled upon anguish will bore the reader. Read it again in a few weeks’ time and it will bore you too.

Pack all that trauma into just one eloquent line. Then pain becomes metaphor. (We can handle metaphor.)

And move on.

That’s what our own lives should do, after periods of stress. Creative writing helps us do it.

But ruthless editing is the key. Be your own best friend. Spill it all out. Rein it all in.Then move on.

How to go beyond the pain and glory of writing to bond with your readers

Bare your soul.

Expose your most private feelings to the world.

You’ll not only create a story that will live because it’s ‘true,’ you’ll write one that will help you to live.

To get over past traumas.

And move on.

Have you ever read—or written—a story that helped you get over a painful event? Please leave a comment below! Every comment gets a fast, thoughtful response.

About the author: 

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, taught creative writing at a UK university. He was a successful commercial author for 42 years and was a regular, much-loved contributor to WTD. He died unexpectedly in 2016.

 

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Thomas à Kempis Quote

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Rick Jensen: The Writer Must Tell the Truth.

I am a cynic. Not a miserable grouch who doesn’t like anything, but a person who questions things, questions everything. I am passionate about many things but I also have doubt and trepidation about many things. The way I view being a cynic is not as a critic, but as someone who looks for the truth.

All great works of art tell the truth, this doesn’t just mean non-fiction, documentary or a true story but in a work of fiction also, a painting or a song the truth is there. This is a universal truth, something meaningful to others.

You need to ask yourself, what speaks to you? When you read a good book or story or article is it good because of the words used, the poetic structure, and the fully formed characters? If truth is there all of that matters, but it is beyond the writing on a technical or creative level and in the message and how that message is relayed to the reader.

I have always loved writing, when in school we had “story writing time” which was often when the teacher didn’t know what else to do, I loved it. When the teacher asked what we’d like to do I was always straight in there asking to write. I’ve always been creative in many ways, being a writer was one of my dreams, I make music, I take photos, paint and make films but as I grew older writing got pushed to the background. I eventually found a career in social care and as a once voracious reader of fiction found my reading habits turned to sociology, psychology and journals in my field and all related to my work. I grew up loving horror, movies and books and I wanted to do that, create horror stories but over time that dream faded, I eventually wrote my first book which was non-fiction about my career working with people with learning disabilities.

During the process I had more self-doubt than I had for years, I wondered is this good enough? Can I really tell these stories? Does anyone care what I have to say? But I knew I had to write it, whether I published it or not, it must be finished.

I did finish, and publish. What I learned the most was that the book had to tell the truth, my truth, the truth about my work, it had to be honest and that lead me to realise that all art, particularly writing must be honest.

As a natural cynic I’m very hard to argue with. Cynicism can protect us from what’s real, things should be questioned but often the cynic won’t take on what they need due to over-questioning, this comes close to narcissism, to an egocentric way of not having to deal with something they don’t like the idea of, I’m right and you’re wrong. The cynic criticises, which is valuable but the cynic can miss what is truly important. But ultimately, the cynic looks for truth, if the cynic has eyes open, they will be the first to see the truth.

This penchant has lead me to be highly critical, particularly of people. The inspiration for my writing has been people, the people I have worked with, the people I know and anyone I encounter or observe in my day to day experience and I try to write about the truth of experience and what I see.

What has made me good at my job is an ability to read people, I analyse behaviour whether it be a person with Autism presenting behaviours that challenge us, or whether it be managing a staff team I employ the same skills. Life is essentially just behaviour analysis, every day in every interaction we are assessing each other’s behaviour, finding ways to communicate, creating and resolving conflict. Some people do this very naturally, other’s need to work harder at it, the writer see’s this, the writer can articulate this continuous cycle of interactions and problem solving, and put this into a story so the rest of us can also understand it. This is the truth I’m talking about, the truth of the world, the reality of how people behave and interact, how people want and need, how people love and hate. You can relate this truth through a fantasy about dragons, or a horror about demons or a comedy of errors or a romance. Sometimes the truth of things can be better related through fiction, abstracting concepts and putting them into an epic poem or a historic saga may help people to see what you’re saying.

Many people can be disdainful of what might be “low art” or “trashy” but honestly, I enjoy Transformers as much as I like Stanley Kubrick films, I like pulp horror and detective novels as much as I like Thomas Pynchon, they offer different things but what always appeals in any work of art is that universal truth about ourselves, our behaviour, the human condition. George Orwell’s animal farm may feature animals as it’s protagonists but it’s considered a classic because it tells the reality of how humans behave, which is why it speaks to us. Think about your favourite book and you’ll probably find the same. When writing, this is what I seek to do, and what I hope others see in my work.

I won’t try to offer advice to other writers, I’m still learning myself, but in everything I do I consider the philosophy of it, the values that underpin it and why I do what I do whether it be an impulse or a well thought out process, all writers should assess this in their work, what are you trying to say?

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Rick Jensen has worked in the field of Learning Disabilities and Autism for over 15 years as behaviour and service development specialist. His first book “Being a Support Worker” is about this work. Rick also writes for his own blog The Everyday Behaviour Analyst and is working on his next book which is a collection of short pieces about how people behave collected from the blog and unpublished pieces.

https://everydaybehaviour.wordpress.com/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Being-Support-Worker-Learning-Disabilities-ebook/dp/B01IZWKGN0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472491527&sr=8-1&keywords=rick+jensen+being+a+support+worker

 

E. Rachel Hardcastle: Writers As Ghosts

 

 

Over the years, creative writing has been my candle in a world plagued with constant blackouts. I’ve struggled with everyday life and experienced loss, like many of you surely have, and being an introvert, I found writing to be an effective outlet for expressing my thoughts and feelings in a private and personal, but very public way.

The festering question was how can I fully experience life? The idea of merely existing between working, worrying about money or illness and watching the world attack itself through war, frightened me. I needed to explore the outcome of a berserk life like that.

Reading back through my published novels, I see traces of those morals and messages between the lines of every story. Like a journal entry, each paragraph acts as a personal signature, reading, there is blood and tears on these pages. They mean something to me. They can mean something to you. And, it’s been said by several of my loyal readers that there is an unintentional, almost spiritual voice nudging my words, urging people to change for the better, like a lingering ghost.

To me, writing a novel is a chance to explore my own beliefs and musings. I’d like to leave something of worth behind. Through this subconscious mission I type and my words find meaning. My voice is forever recorded. I want to haunt my readers in the best way because, like most authors, I long to be a memorable name upon the shelves; to have something drawing people to me and thrusting them forward as so many writers once did for me.

Now the Halloween season is upon us, take a deep breath as you write and feel a part of you cross over to the world you’re creating. Release a ghost that connects deeply with your reader. Release one that persists and exists as hundreds of characters living hundreds of adventures. Inject some of your memories, struggles and lessons learned into your writing.

You’re a writer for a reason, to be someone’s ghost when they’re on the train to work, in the bath or lying in bed at night. We’ll all be someone’s ghost for real, some day. May as well start early.

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E. Rachael Hardcastle
Author & Editor

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Footprints

This is a flash fiction I wrote in response to a picture prompt in one of our groups. I hope you enjoy it.

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Jamie had followed his footprints since he’d left the road. It’s not like she was a professional tracker but there was a path and once in a while she’d spot where he’d stepped in a wet spot and left a print. The forest here was sothick, overgrown and tangled that if he chose to leave this track he’d need a machete and maybe a chainsaw. The track ended.

Jamie was standing in the middle of a tiny clearing, maybe ten feet across. She looked all around her but all she saw was an impenetrable wall of trees, brambles, and bushes. “Grandpa! Where are you? Grandpa!” Jamie stood and listened for a minute but all she could hear were normal forest noises. She walked to the center of the tiny clearing and found where her Grandpa had stood but couldn’t find any sign of where he’d gone next. “Grandpa?”

A coyote began to howl. Jamie hated coyotes. She’d had a nightmare once where a pack of coyotes was hunting her and she’d been afraid of them every day since. She was frustrated and tears began to well up in her eyes. She stared straight up above her. The sky was beginning to darken. It would be pitch black in a few minutes. “Grandpa? ‘What do I do?” She looked down at the ground and tears streaked down her face.

A twig snapped. Jamie felt the panic swelling up inside her. Someone had followed her and now she was trapped. There was nowhere to run! She could see dark silhouette of a man but couldn’t make out his face. She looked around for a tree branch or something to defend herself. The figure stepped into the clearing.

“Stop!” Jamie yelled. My grandpa will be right back and he’s got a gun!”

The dark figure clicked the flashlight he was carrying and pointed the beam at his face. “It’s me honey.“

“Dad?”

“Yes, Jamie. It’s me. I thought I saw you. What are you doing out here honey?”

“It’s Grandpa. He’s wandered off again Daddy.”

“Jamie? Your Grandpa isn’t out here honey.”

“Yes he is! I followed his footprints!” Jamie ran over to where she’d seen the footprints before. “See Daddy?”

Her dad pointed the flashlight where Jamie was standing. “Honey?”

“But Daddy! They were there! They really were!”

“Jamie, your Grandpa is gone. I know it’s hard, but he is gone.” He put his arm around Jamie and gave her a gentle squeeze. “Let’s get home honey. Mom will be getting worried.”

“I miss him Daddy.”

“I know Jamie. We all do.”

The Writer as Editor

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I recently asked myself a question: can a writer be a good editor?

My answer was a resounding ‘yes’ as I believe writing and editing go hand in hand.

So, how do you approach editing as a writer?

First, don’t beat yourself up or call yourself ten grades of idiot just because you need to edit your work. No one, and I repeat, no one writes a perfect first draft. The best work is written and rewritten and edited to within an inch of its’ life. The amount of work can vary at times but in the end, there’s always room for improvement.

Second, take your time when editing. I start off with a read-through and edit whatever I catch on that first pass, which are usually missing words and overly-wordy structures. In this first pass I see what I want to do with the piece and where I need to go with it.

Third, if you want to make sure your work flows well, read it out loud. And when you read it out loud, focus on reading every word and making sure it doesn’t get tangled up when you read it. Because if I can’t read it out loud without getting my tongue tangled up in a knot, a reader will have the same problem when reading it.

A good piece of writing flows well not only with the words themselves and how they are put together, but how well you convey what you’re trying to write about in the first place. For example, we know this piece is about editing but what if I went off on a tangent about how poor writing still gets published? That would be an opinion about what I feel is a lack of editing, but it’s not what I want to talk about here. So, finding those off-topic tangents and editing them out is another form of editing that you must work at, too.

So, how do you know when something is ready to publish or share? For me, it’s when I don’t make any changes after countless read-throughs. But it’s also about listening to my intuition and reaching the point where I know I’ve done the best I can. Because sooner or later, your work must go out into the big, bad world on its’ own. The most you can do is prepare your writing with the best editing you can do, and make sure your work stays true to yourself.

Michele Sayre

Tom Zumwalt: Here We See the Writer in Its Natural Habitat…



Here we see the writer at work. A breakdown of the writing process. Rewind the tape, please:

Arrive home, ready to write.
I’m thirsty, so get water first.
Nope, that’s not what I wanted. Get flavored water. Yes, that’s better.
Cat wants to go outside. Open door. Cat doesn’t want to go outside.
I want something hot to drink. Put tea kettle on.
Cat wants to eat. Other cat wakes up to sounds of other cat eating. Feed other cat.
Now I’m hungry, but I don’t want a full meal. Get low-fat snacks. Hot water’s ready.
Gather snacks, flavored water, and tea. Head downstairs. Turn computer on.
Cat wants to go outside.
Cat doesn’t want to go outside.
Now I have to go to the bathroom.
Those weren’t the snacks I wanted. Go upstairs to get other snacks.

Want coffee instead of tea.
Fix coffee.
Cat wants to eat.
Feed cat.
Cat doesn’t want to eat.
Come back downstairs. Forgot napkin.
Nails need trimming. Can’t type with long nails. Hunt for nail clipper. Trim nails.
Need handkerchief. Find handkerchief.
Need writing music. Find appropriate music.
Start writing.
Time for bed.
 
Keep writing, friends.
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Stuff I Write — Welcome to a place of writing. I hope this will be an interactive blog, where all of us who write, want to write, or have ever thought about writing, can share ideas. Enjoy.

Dan Ellis Crime Fiction: Why Your Character Might Commit a Crime – What Can Social Science Tell Us?

“He was slouched in a worn armchair positioned in the centre of a cluttered dingy living room. The amber streetlight permeated through the yellowed net curtains. The flicker of the TV screen gently illuminated his motionless face. A burnt out cigarette was wedged between his bloody fingers, and his other hand gripped an empty bottle of scotch. For hours he hadn’t moved, contemplating what he had just done.”

If you write crime fiction, there is no doubt you’ve had a character in a similar scenario to this. They have just committed a crime, attacked someone, killed someone perhaps? The reasons why they may have done this are probably tied into specific events in the character’s life or their personality. Or maybe the plot is to blame – the treacherous conditions you have forced them to go through?

But if you are looking to base the characters’ actions in reality. To create a set of circumstances that are believable and grounded in widely accepted theory, social science can help. I want to take you through some basic criminological and sociological explanations (without the jargon!) of conditions that may push your character to do the dirty deed. Just some questions to think about when you are planning a story or building a character.

What sort of person is most, or least likely to murder someone? What sort of background or upbringing makes the ideal recipe for a criminal? Or what in particular about a society creates the ideal environment for criminality?

Are we in control of our actions?

Let’s take the individual. Do you believe that we are rational actors that make our own decisions? Or do you believe in the idea that there are bigger forces in play that push us into certain behaviours?

These are good questions to start with when creating a character or setting up the ‘laws’ of your story. Depending on which one you lean towards will result in different characters and suit different plots. For example, a rational actor that consciously makes their own calculated decisions is very different from an actor that is not in control and has been influenced by various factors that ultimately have made them act irrationally.

An area of criminology called cultural criminology suggests that people get a buzz from committing a crime, there is a certain thrill element. So here, the actor is fully aware of what they are doing and they have proactively planned to do it, or even built a sub-culture around it. Good examples here would be joy riding or graffiti.

Graffiti is an interesting one because many graffiti artists don’t consider it to be a crime in the first place. This is something else to think about in your story’s world – what sorts of crimes are taken seriously? If a certain type of crime is not heavily enforced or does not carry a particularly harsh penalty, are people more likely to do it?

What about a serial killer? An obvious type of criminal for a crime story. This generally tends towards psychological explanations, but sociology has something to say too. It has been found that many serial killers or people that have murdered someone have had a traumatic experience of sorts. Perhaps as a child they were abused or witnessed horrific violence.

These are probably the more popularised theories of crime given the amount of movies and books based on killers. But the question here is, are they making rational decisions – or have they been influenced by external factors that have pushed them to commit the crime?

Does our socio-economic background determine our criminality?

This area of social science asks what influence a person’s environment has on their actions. The example of a murderer’s upbringing I mentioned earlier is an example, but it is more than just childhood experience.

Take a thief. They may be choosing to steal or get a thrill out of it, or maybe they have a starving family and have no choice in the matter. But going deeper than this, if they live in a deprived area where the authorities are less present, it’s probably more likely that there will be more theft going on.

Broken Window theory suggests that if a certain type of crime appears in a certain area and is not dealt with, it will become more commonplace. So if a drug dealer starts dispensing on a particular road and is never approached by authorities, it’s likely that more dealers will start operating in that area – this can then affect the residents growing up in that environment – or your character!

They may have had a poor education, in the academic and social sense. In this case they may not have developed appropriate morals, or the line between good and bad is distorted. They may not comprehend or understand the consequences of their actions. In a similar way, they may not have fully developed their social interaction skills. Here, they may become agitated or violent just because they feel they are not understood, or struggle to get their point across to someone in a collected manner.

What sort of society creates criminality?

When you are deciding on the setting of your story, the country will make a big difference in how crime is represented. Crime in Western countries like Britain or USA will be very different to crime in third world countries like Libya or Niger.

Depending on how the fabric of society is weaved will affect how its citizens perceive and react to crime. The government is probably the most influential institution here. Does the government enforce its laws appropriately? Are they locking people up for no good reason or torturing people? All of this will affect each and every citizen. The better the country governs their society and responds to crime; the less likely crime is to occur (well, that’s the theory).

Similarly, how are the countries citizens treated? Are there extreme policies in place that pressurise people’s everyday lives? For example, austerity measures in Britain which make it difficult for people on low income to get by, coupled tensions and conflict between different groups. Or, if the government are seen to exclude a certain group of people in society, like youths, this could encourage disorder such as riots.

Another example of this, and again a very popularised one, is how the criminal justice system works. Is it fair? Is justice delivered? If a murderer is released without charge how might that impact the victims – it could lead to vigilantism. What about prisons, if your story is set in a prison, how are the inmates’ rights upheld? Are they physically abused? All of these factors will all affect how your characters behave in any given situation. So it’s worth checking out government policies or researching where promises haven’t been kept – anything that might push someone into angst and act irrationally.

So I hope that this has helped to get your creative juices flowing! There is definitely a lot to think about in creating a relatable criminal story, but social science has endless amounts of answers that can help add depth to a crime fiction story.

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Dan is the creator of the Facebook group ‘The Crime Writers Den’, aspiring novelist, and social science student. The group has enabled writers to connect with criminal justice professionals, to help with technical questions, and just to chat about crime in a fun and supportive environment.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/631273680370573/?fref=nf

Karl Taylor: A Tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett and the City Watch

Sir Terry Pratchett was undoubtedly my greatest inspiration. He’s not as well known in the US because he is British but the man was a master of his craft. In his lifetime he sold more than eighty five million books in thirty seven languages. He was best known for his Discworld series which included forty one published works. His style was often called parody but I think it was much more than that. His wit and wisdom were unparalleled. His characters had the feeling of being real people. He had a knack for weaving multiple plotlines together seamlessly.  Finally, beneath all the humor and the silly characters, he knew how to tell compelling stories.

For me, the books that highlighted The Watch stood out from all the rest. They combined my favorite two genres, mystery and fantasy. I couldn’t get enough of them. Since it was a series of books, I got to see the characters evolve over time and it felt like I really knew them. They were much more than just characters to me. They became family. “The Watch” grew from a ragtag group of misfits to a large force that struggled to reclaim the streets of Ankh-Morpork. It felt like I was actually there, experiencing those changes myself.

There are many interesting characters that fill out this world. Ankh-Morpork, the city these stories are based in, is a character in itself. Lord Vetinari, the ruler of the city, reminds me in many ways of the vampires in the old black and white movies. Commander Vimes, the primary character, is cynical and jaded but he lives to uphold the law. Sergeant Colon, an old war horse with a military past considers himself the ideal sergeant. He spends the majority of his time avoiding trouble. Corporal Nobby Nobbs, is a man so ugly and small that he has to carry papers that prove he is actually human. The wizards of Unseen University often make appearances as does the head “man” of the library. The Librarian was accidentally transformed into an orangutan and found that he liked it so he refused the wizards when they offered to correct the mistake. His characters feel like real people, having all the character flaws you can imagine and they make his books come alive. The thing is, no matter how oddball the character might be, Pratchett creates characters you can still identify with. I even identify with the orangutan librarian. I hope that someday I can create at least one character like that.

I don’t even remember where I first heard of Terry Pratchett but he changed the way I think about writing. I love the way he intertwines humor even in the most serious situations and I often laugh out loud while reading his works but the biggest thing is that I find it near impossible to put them down. I do my best to emulate him in my own writing. I’ll never be a master of it the way he was but I will never quit trying. It would have been my fondest wish to have met him face to face but I am too late. On March 12, 2015, he passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. It pains me to know that the “City Watch” died with him.

 

Mark Reynolds: The Passing of Prince

The recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan raised a few eyebrows. How could a lyricist possibly be worthy of one of the most prestigious awards given in our society? Mark Reynolds discusses the passing of our musical legends and the impact their losses have on us and what they leave behind. Not only their melodies but their words.

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LATE APRIL, 2016–

I’ve never really been much of a Prince fan, but his passing hit me unexpectedly hard, probably because of the immediate outpouring of support and grief that occurred on its heels. I have a few of his songs in my collection, but I wouldn’t–or better, deserve–to call myself a true fan of his, because I haven’t really followed his career.

That being said, this event was enough to inspire me to go home on Friday and write down an observation that occurred to me while on the drive home. Many of my thoughts have been selfish lately, but I’d like to think that this particular one isn’t. Thanks for reading it, if you make it all the way to the end, it’s rather lengthy. But when I’m inspired, I find that I have a lot to say.

LOVE THEM HARD, IDOLS AND FAMILY

I’m a pretty up guy. Those of you who I have friended here and have gotten to know me through my posts or my humble stabs at writing creativity I think can attest to this. However, something very down occurred to me on the way home tonight that I can’t get past. I”m not usually a doomsday monger, and ulitmately, this piece isn’t that, but it is something that I want and need to get off my chest.

The year 2016 has not obviously not been a good year to us when it comes to the artists we adore. The last 32 hours have been a testament to this. Generally, we’ve lost those that we love so deeply over a period of time–Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, George Harrison, Michael Jackson, to name a few. These passings seems to have been spread failry well away and apart from each other so that we have time to grieve and heal before the next one compels us to begin the process all over again. Time between can soften the hurting blows, although we always know and fear that it’s going to occur somewhere, some time again.

This year so far has been an imploded star, a black hole where nothing escapes, especially if you happen to be a physically or mentally-ailing aging musician. These passings have not been few and far between–they seem to have been many and often. I noticed this trend in the last couple of years, when first it was Gerry Rafferty, then Alvin Lee and Ray Manzarek in the same year. That was bad enough. At least, we had a lull. Now, in the span of just under four months–a shockingly quick period–we’ve lost Paul Kantner, Sir George Martin, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson. And now, sadly, Prince. I’ve never seen such a huge period of global grieving for the world of art and creativity in my life.

While the toll this year seems to be many all at once, that’s truly not what I discovered is troubling me. Relatively speaking, it’s a very small number, considering the hundreds and thousands of artists out there now that we all cherish in our own private, personal way.

Many of them are common to us all; many are some we personally learned about that no one knows about–those are the ones that I’m speaking of. Most of these common loves we have are artists who have been born in the same era and are getting on in years. Fortunately for us, they continue to exist as flesh and bone. But soon for a few, and years to come for many more, they’ll all eventually become only sound and memory. Personally, I’m dreading the days that my own personal heroes will be taken from me–Joni Mitchell, Roy Harper, Gilmour and Waters, Jagger and Richards, Gabriel, Clapton, Paul Simon, Elton John, CSN, and even Y. I’ll have to prepare myself that on those days, my world will progressively become a lesser place. All of these artists that have passed recently are all pretty much from the same era of creative Rock discovery, give or take a few years. And now they’re all gone. Prince, the youngest of the grouping, was only 57. Only 57. These guys aren’t getting any younger, you know.

So I get to the cloud that’s now settled over me, folks, and it’s this–this is not the end of these losses.

It’s only the beginning.

In fact, they’re going to become more and more frequent. Eventually, death will come to your favorite sooner or later.

I think as a species, we’ll need to circle up, join hands, and support each other over and over and over through those times. And I think that’s an awesome occurrence.

So I say that before our precious idols that are still with us–our precious families both blood and spirit that are still with us–let’s dare to love them harder than we ever have before. Let’s appreciate that these artists can take us back to being children again, or to our nervous first kiss, or through the loss of a loved one for which we relied on them to get us through.

I’ve seen an appropriate meme in the last day for which I wish I could credit the writer, because he or she nailed it–“We don’t mourn artists we’ve never met because we knew them. We mourn them because they’ve helped us know ourselves.”

When they die, parts of us die. It’s really that simple.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to die. So if I have anything at all to do with it, they’ll live forever.  Their words – and the words of all lyricists and writers I continue to follow – will inspire me, even in my last breath.

I refuse to let them die on me. They’ll die with me, I’ve decided.

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Mark Reynolds is from a small town in Upstate NY and now lives his life very close to a big city, just outside of Philadelphia, with his wife Jennifer, dog Max, and green-cheek conures, Cleo and Ruby. He knew he wanted to be a writer when he was recognized for contributing an origin story of how the Big Dipper came to be as part of a 4th-grade science project.  He hasn’t stopped reading, writing, or learning since.

His first novel, Chasing The Northern Light, is available as an e-book at Amazon, and in print from TheBookPatch.com. Mark is currently at work on a short story stand-alone piece for that work, a sequel to it, and hopeful to begin screenplay after the New Year.

He can be followed at “Mark My Words, Too – The Official Mark Reynolds author page”, on Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/Mark-My-Words-Too-The-Mark-Reynolds-Author-Page-143155692767514/?fref=ts