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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

BWOldCoroner

Therapists all over the world, when hey throw up the word “underrated” in their word association tests — which they surely do, right? — the top response must certainly be “Coroner.” And then the patient wipes away a single tear to move stoically onto the next word, though he or she is broken inside. Which is why they are there in the first place. But I digress.

Holy shit, do I love me some Coroner. “Underrated” is too mild a word. That they did not continue past Grin is a crime against humanity. Though we can be thankful that they reunited for fest tours and whatnot, felt out the environs, and have moved on to the “new album” phase. It was announced quite some time ago, but as of April of this year, they’ve assured us via social media (written in stone) that this year’s the year of recording. Which is about as close to “good news” as we’re going to get here in 2020, the Year That Isn’t.

BWNewCoroner

And yes, it’s minus Marky Edelmann, but everyone seems to be at peace with that, most of all him, so we can accept that. In addition to drumming, though, he was not only the graphic mastermind behind the band, he was the lyrical composer. In 1993, Joe Mackett of Riff Raff commented on the absence of “lyrical sexism,” to which Edelmann replied:

We hated the cliched things. We tried to go a different way, even in the covers. I don’t like just telling a story. It leaves it more open for the listener.

In 2012, when asked about his lyrical approach, he had this to say:

It was a simplicity I was looking for. English is not my mother tongue. It was odd for me to try to find the right words. I wanted to express in few words what I wanted to say. At the beginning, you have a book, at the end, twenty words: that’s actually what I was trying to do.

For someone who likes to write stories based on other peoples’ songs (heh…) this is just perfect. It’s true, Coroner’s lyrics, while entirely sufficient on their own and for their purposes, absolutely leaves things open for the listener, and the writer. And it’s safe to say that Coroner’s lyrics frequently read — and this is a positive in my book — as they they may not have been written by a native English speaker. That’s not to say they are “incorrect,” as that’s not the case. But it is to say that Edelmann’s use of the English language is quirky in a way that, to the English-speaking ear, sounds strange, though if you spend another 3 seconds on it, you’ll find that not having English as your primary language gives one a certain amount of creative freedom that does not come off as a bad writer abusing a thesaurus (and that is always refreshing).

Take “Divine Step,” from Mental Vortex, for instance:

This is the last hit
Your heart will beat
Into this world…
This is the first step
Your soul will take
Up to the sky…
No time to pray ‘cos you
Can’t stay where words
Like that would count…
Face the moment
That you feared and
Glide outside your brain…

This is the last hit your heart will beat into this world. This is the first step your soul will take up to the sky. No time to pray ‘cos you can’t stay where words like that would count. Face the moment that you feared and glide outside your brain.

Just in terms of assonance and consonance, there’s a lot going on there, inside a single line, but also bleeding from one into the next, or skipping — you have to take the block as a whole prior to the chorus. Also, each line ends, not with a rhyme, which would be the obvious thing to do, but with words that act as a kind of sonic punctuation, either sharp (sky & count), or blunt (world & brain) — and I’ll venture to say that Ron Broder’s delivery accentuates this point. Then, there are the words associated with actions of the heart — hit and beat. Both are synonymous verbs for a violent act, which makes this (the very moment of death, no matter the cause) seem violent in and of itself. “Hit” is rarely, if ever, used in association with a heartbeat, and here the use is jarring and new, thus intriguing. The “beat” refers to the heartbeat, but is used as a verb. “Into this world” gives it an agency which, under the circumstances, is a little disconcerting. And juxtaposing the idea of facing a moment of fear (that sounds stressful) with simply gliding outside one’s brain (that actually sounds relaxing). Well, you know when one has resorted the using “juxtapose” in the critique, the critique has worn out its welcome, though I could add more here.

MentalVortex Cassette

And all of this follows through the rest of the song, and although I’m fascinated by it, I know that, in terms of writing a story to “Divine Step,” these linguistic tricks are harder to sustain in 1) a longer work of prose (without becoming too poetic), and 2) to really capture the resonance of the song itself. It’s just harder, if not impossible, to work out. I can use a few turns of phrase, to draw a line from song to story, so it will largely be between me and myself. I know this is a niche thing I’m doing.

So, why “Divine Step,” then? Two reasons: First, it’s the moment of death. The entire song is basically a six-and-a-half minute cliffhanger. And you’re left hanging. You will find out if your heaven is colored black and you will find out if your suffering will find an end…but not here, not anywhere in this song (the tunnel footage in this video is obviously a draw on the well-established tunnel-and-bright-light metaphor for the near-death experience or the straight-up afterlife, but as you are about to emerge, it simply goes bright and you have no idea what’s on the other end). I like the open-mindedness of it (death is the classic, eternal cliffhanger), but also that, ultimately, it is literally a six-and-a-half minute song about a moment in time, perhaps only a second or two, between life/what you know, and death/what you don’t know (and thus fear).

What takes place in that instant? What is the thought? Is there one? And as the song goes, what is sin? And who is God?

Second, the musical structure of the song. I didn’t think too much about the structure of Carcass’s “Heartwork” for Dark Foul Light. There was a lot to work with linguistically so that’s where I gravitated. Though I’m (obviously — I am a huge nerd) taken with the lyrical content here, though for different reasons, the real draw here is how the song unfolds musically.

I am not a musician, so time signatures are like math to me — I’m not going to sit here and discuss it without my lawyer (that’s how bad my math is). But, obviously — being the Rush fans Vetterli and Broder were, there’s some wacky stuff going on here (it’s Coroner, this is not unusual). Odd signatures aside, I’m drawn to the varying speeds throughout — galloping and fast, like stream of consciousness, then circular, and then it slows and becomes dreamlike, only to gear back up to another gallop, and so on…

That’s attractive to a writer. How to use language, story, sentence structure and length (paragraphs as well) to impart the sensation of fast or slow, straight or curved. Well, I imagine it’s a lot like the way you do with with music, only the instruments are different. So, that’s my challenge here and why this song out of so (so) many brilliant Coroner songs to choose from. This is a band I’ll likely return to in the future for story mining — they’re just so, so good.

To finish up here, I’ll say this about Coroner — I don’t care when the new album comes out, as long as it eventually does. And I am entirely open to the band’s new sound/content/incarnation, because they have always been underrated. They’d been gone for so long, and they were such a tremendous band, frankly, that the world gets anything new from Coroner, at this point — we’re just lucky, and we should be open to whatever it is they want to give us at this stage in their trajectory. And the fact is, as far as I’m concerned, if it doesn’t push all of my buttons (because we all have our own subjective pleasure buttons — I hope they name the album that: Subjective Pleasure Buttons. Coroner, that’s free for you to use), I doubt my enthusiasm could be dampened. I just love that they’re back, they exist as an entity, and as individuals, they’ve decided to take this on, move forward, and see what happens.

I look forward to mining the new album, whenever it comes out, for story fixin’s.

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Continuing from last week…so, how did I come up with the story itself, what with the song being pretty vague? I always start with place and setting. Carcass is from Liverpool, so there we are. We’re in Liverpool. I have been to the UK numerous times, but I have never been to Liverpool. My closest connection to Liverpool is my third-great-grandfather , from Holyhead, Wales, having left from Liverpool to get to Canada. That’s it.

Follow my thinking here: Liverpool’s industrial history reminded me of Pittsburgh’s (where I live), and when I think Pittsburgh & painting, no, I do not think Andy Warhol, though I know you probably do. No, I think of the murals of Maksimilijan “Maxo” Vanka in St. Nicholas Catholic church in Millvale.

MaxoVanka

He was a Croation-American artist who painted these 25 murals in 1937 and in 1941, which are considered his most important works.

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Maxo Vanka

There is also a story of a phantom priest associated with St. Nicholas. Take a little bit of all of this and you have a Liverpudlian painter haunted by a ghost while he refurbishes a church’s murals. So, now, to relocate the church in Liverpool…this was easy.

St. Luke’s — aka, “The Bombed-Out Church” — really stood out. It’s bombing, along with the Vanka murals, gave me my time period, in addition to a key plot point. The Liverpool Blitz began in August 1940 and ended in January 1942. St. Luke’s was hit by an incendiary bomb on May 5, 1941. Vanka may well have been working on one of his murals the moment St. Luke’s was hit. It was gutted, but the stone structure still stands as a memorial.

St. Luke’s was more ornate woodwork and stained glass than murals. If you go here, on the left you’ll find pictures — count down to the sixth pair. These are of the main altar, and I don’t know if the designs here are painted, or tile work, but I used them to model Geoffrey’s painting:

Another pause, and Geoffrey only stared at the segment of mural directly above his head, the IHS of Christ’s name, the frame around it, the crown it wore, repeating all around him. Its curved plan invited an almost serpentine quality that seemed to slither over the arris of the vault and down between the large stained-glass panes.

Oh, names. Two characters, Geoffrey the painter (Jeff Walker — bass, vocals) and Bill Geoffrey Steer — guitar) and the priest, Father Owen (Ken Owen — drummer when Heartwork was recorded).  Easy-peasy.

Then it’s just a matter of reviewing a few historical sites about Liverpool and studying maps — make sure, especially after a few years of bombing, that you’re looking at a map contemporary with the events, or you’ll end up with streets that exist today, but didn’t then. I have no idea who the hell would catch this, but, you know…nice to be as accurate as possible about a place and time you’ve never been to or experienced. You’re bound to screw up, misinterpret, or miss something altogether, so at least try to minimize it.

Take these elements, hammer them together, and create an outline. Put the song on in the background on loop, and then ignore it, because you’re writing now and you’re in the zone.

Metal songs don’t necessarily have to translate directly into a crazy story full of typical metal tropes, though it’s fine, really, if that’s what the writer wants to do (I’ve really enjoyed some of those…😆). After that stint editing Despumation with open submissions, I can tell you, the vast majority of stories derived from metal songs tend to be exactly that — literally derivative. And that gets really old, really quick. Also, when you fall back on just being as metal as you possibly can, the prose tends to suffer (I don’t know why, because there’s really no reason, but that’s what I was seeing, repeatedly) — there’s little attention paid to language, which, considering the lyrics are a huge part of this whole process, losing sight of the language is kind of inexcusable. And it doesn’t matter how intelligent or, frankly, meat-headed the lyrics are — when you start looking at ways to interpret them as a fully fleshed out story, once you enter the creative process, there’s always something you can do with it to set the story apart and above.

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Dark Foul Light Cover

In April of 1941, Geoffrey is a Liverpool painter still healing from wounds incurred from a recent German bombing raid, and haunted by the memory of one of the many who didn’t survive. Since then, the colors he uses seem dull and lifeless. In an effort to reclaim his former artistic drive, he takes a job refurbishing the ceiling mural of St. Luke’s Cathedral. But something is with him, always, and, high upon the scaffolding, he unwittingly straddles the veil between the living and the dead.

This is the blurb for a short story I wrote a while ago — approximately 5700 words — based on the lyrics of “Heartwork” by Carcass. You can read it here.

I guess the first thing I do is give a good, thorough reading of the lyrics. Early on, Carcass was known for their (Jeff Walker’s) fifty-cent forensic vocabulary, which absolutely worked with what they were doing, but as the albums unfolded, so did Walker’s scope. The fact is, if you look back — even all the way back to Reek of Putrifaction, you will find that Jeff Walker has a refreshing (in the world of grind core) grasp of language and how to use it for effect in a literary sense (though it becomes more apparent with Symphonies of Sickness and more refined as one moves up their discography).

What I like about the “Heartwork” lyrics is that they are both concrete, but ultimately indefinable. That’s not to say it’s vague – there are adjectives galore, which gives a very strong sensory experience of the words, but the fact is that the most concrete we’re going to get is “work of art,” and most nouns support that theme. But, it’s not specific in fact. Just extremely specific in feeling. I also appreciate the word play and the variance of phrasing, though not entirely, keeping some of it intact, within the repetition. It’s a great way to retain a recognizable song structure (with the reiteration of verses and choruses) while also shaking it up.

So, all in all, it’s not so specific that the story writes itself, or that your story is going to end up being just a heavily fleshed version of the song. Not a lot of room for creativity when that’s the case, though, I wouldn’t knock it. Sometimes the story of a song is interesting enough to fill it out and see what’s lying deeper within. Here, though, there’s a lot of room to move around. Explore the space.

In this post, you’ve got a link to the story to read in its entirety (which, I suggest before reading the rest of this post), a link to the video so you can have a listen, and a link to the lyrics (shit spelling notwithstanding). So, all I’m going to do now is just show you how I used the lyrics, just in terms of the words themselves.

Works of art, painted black

Magniloquent, bleeding dark

Monotonous palette, murky spectrum, grimly unlimited

Food for thought, so prolific

In contrasting shades, forcely fed

Abstraction, so choking, so provocative

  • monotonous, contrasting shades

“All the color rushed from Geoffrey’s world, and in its place, a monotonous shade enveloped his hearing, his taste and smell, his sight, and even numbed his nerves so that the crumbled brick around him felt only a buzz beneath his hands.”

  • palette, murky spectrum, grimly unlimited

“He watched them, then let his gaze trail up the bland buildings opposite his and to the grey sky—all seemed so drab, a tedious, lifeless palette, murky and grim.”

  • forcely fed

“He breathed deeply, feeding the air forcibly into his lungs, which seemed to contract further with every explosion, far and near.”

  • so choking

“He recalled the arch of broken cement overhead, what remained of the railroad bridge, pieces of stonework crumbling into his mouth. So close, too close. Choking.”

A Canvas to paint, to degenerate

Dark reflections – degeneration

A canvas to paint, to denigrate

Dark reflections, of dark foul light

  • A canvas to paint

“When he could carry his easel, canvas, and paint box to the docks with one hand on his cane, he sought to begin again.”

  • Dark reflections – degeneration

“Once he began on the ceiling above the altar, he was able to put most of the raid out of his mind, his eyes narrowing on the canvas above him, denigrated and degenerated with age. In the wet paint, he’d note the dark reflection of his own eyes looking back, creased and distorted with the shape of the dull smear.”

  • A canvas to paint, to denigrate

“Not an easel on the dock, not a denigrated canvas of faceless, failed portrait after portrait.”

  • Dark foul light

“Everything was there and everything was what it should have been, but the pieces, upon looking back through them, seemed fouled darkly, their hues corrupted, the light polluted.”

Also, here we have our title.

Profound, aesthetic beauty

Or shaded, sensory corruption

Perceptions, shattered, splintered, mirroring

In deft taints, diluted, tinted

Spelt out, in impaired color

Denigrating, going from paints to pain – not a pretty picture

  • Profound aesthetic beauty

“The grey light outside filtered through the massive stained-glass windows, each brilliant color diffusing profound beauty onto the pews and choral stalls.”

  • In deft taints, diluted, tinted

“He followed the lines, deftly respected the previous structure of the design, though the tint seemed tainted.”

  • Going to paints to pain

“He looked around himself, at the colorful glass figures posed in a variety of pious formations, the mural slithering between, pane to paint to pane.”

Works of heart, bleeding dark

Black, magniloquent art

Monotonous palette, murky spectrum, grimly unlimited

Prolific food for thought

Contrasting, fed with force

Abstraction, so choking, so provocative

Works of heart

“It’s not the most creative work, granted,” Father Owen continued. “It can be better described as a work of the heart…”

…and…

“Geoffrey’s heart worked double, triple, his chest pounding, the brush that stuck to it vibrating with each pulse.”

Bleeding works of art

Seething works so dark

Searing words from the heart

  • Searing words

“…someone whistling—or was it a bomb dropping?—searing ever closer to impact.”

Also, not so literal, the “bleeding” is here, without using the word:

“He moved his head slowly, up and around, taking vague note of the protecting arch above him, then directing his gaze all the way over to his right side, where a woman in a red silk blouse and a tweed skirt lay buried from the ribs up beneath some heavy-looking fragments of the bridge.

Again, no particular thought came to him, only hazy notions of certain details. There was not a single run in her stockings. She was missing one shoe. The blouse she’d put on that morning had not been red.”

Also, the last line in the poem by Michelangelo:

In front my skin grows loose and long; behind

By bending it becomes more taut and straight;

Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:

Whence false and quaint, I know,

Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;

For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.

Come then, Giovanni, try

To succor my dead pictures and my fame;

Since foul I fare and painting is my shame.

There was a lot to work with, so a lot of perfectly great words that could have worked anywhere, really, but I didn’t want to overdo it — I guess I didn’t want it to seem obvious or overbearing, but that seems silly now — as if the population at large is thoroughly versed in the lyrical content of any Carcass song, let alone this one in particular. I could have put it all in, but there it is.

Next Monday, I’ll talk about how the story itself came about. Cheers.

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Several years ago, I published two collections called Despumation (they’re actually still available: Here No. 1 & here’s No. 2). I was hoping to take it further, but I vastly overestimated the number of competent writers who also listen to extreme metal. The submissions were…bleak, and I don’t mean that in a metal way. It was rough, so I shut it down. Though I did not contribute to these, I did write one story (with the intention of writing more, enough for a separate collection of just my own stuff), which you can find here (along with a bunch of other great metal-based stories), or you can just read my story up on Wattpad.

It’s called “Dark Foul Light” and it’s based on Carcass’s song (not the whole album), “Heartwork.”

I got a message from a reader on Wattpad who read it because it ranked well with the #Carcass hashtag, and they liked it, but they found the story wasn’t what they were expecting. And, I get it — they’re absolutely right. Though, if you’re very familiar with the song, you’ll find the lyrics throughout, which is where I started when I developed the story altogether.

Anyway, it occurred to me that perhaps I could blog about that process. A lot of the submissions I got for Despumation were attempts at a fairly literal interpretation of relatively concrete lyrics, which, with pretty limited metal tropes, tend to end up being about the same sort of things — murder, violence, satan, etc. Very little variety. I get that it seems like a pretty obvious way to approach this kind of endeavor: concrete lyrics, concrete story ideas, literal story. But I found that if you open the song pool up to more abstract, conceptual lyrics, 1) you have much more to work with, and 2) the places you can go with it expands tremendously.

And you will definitely end up with stories that your average headbanger wasn’t expecting — and may not even like, which is a shame. But, as a writer and a metal fan, it’s deeply satisfying, and frankly, it’s a better story. Start with the lyrics as a foundation, and then do a little research about the band to find your setting, character names, etc. That then directs you to peripheral information that, while having nothing to do with the song per se, captures the culture the band was operating from, among other things. Another thing you can do, if it works, is use the structure of the song to set the pace. That’s a challenge.

There’s a lot you can do with it, other than simply find a song that already tells a rather direct story (which, in metal — as with any genre, I’m sure — tends to be fairly limited). Not that there’s anything wrong with using a song that really tells a story already — one can always expand on it. But, I find it less satisfying and it keeps you boxed in, in terms of creativity.

So, next Metal Monday, I’ll tell you how I came up with the story of “Dark Foul Light,” and from there, I’ll tell you how I’m currently devising a story based on Coroner’sDivine Step” from the Mental Vortex album. Yes, I’m back on the metal-based story wagon — working on that collection again.

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Dark Foul Light Cover

Just a couple of quick announcements;

First, I’ve got a three-part short story up on Wattpad this morning, Dark Foul Light:

In April of 1941, Geoffrey is a Liverpool painter still healing from wounds incurred from a recent German bombing raid, and haunted by the memory of one of the many who didn’t survive. Since then, the colors he uses seem dull and lifeless. In an effort to reclaim his former artistic drive, he takes a job refurbishing the ceiling mural of St. Luke’s Cathedral. But something is with him, always, and, high upon the scaffolding, he unwittingly straddles the veil between the living and the dead.

This story is based on the song “Heartwork” by Carcass. Fun Tip: Take a moment to to give the lyrics a quick read before dipping into this 5700-word story. This is a one-off!

FM9 (5.1)

Second, the first part of Florida Man’s Chapter Five is up. Florida Man is updated Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

1 Economy

 

And, finally, as of yesterday, Dread Confluence (short story collection) now has one full novelette up (in five parts): The Poison Spring.”

Dread Confluence is a chilling collection of tales — from the uncanny to the downright ghoulish — based in and around the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.*

The first tale begins in 1873, in the town of Economy, where the unsuspecting Paul Gaffey taps into the underground river for a community well…also tapping into something more ominous.

This gets updated 2-3 times a week and is currently planned for six stories total.

DC Cover

 

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So, I’ve been posting stuff over on Wattpad. It’s a rough platform, and by that, I mean, it’s not the best place for what I write. It is populated mainly by teenaged girls thirsty for, apparently, alpha-male werewolf romances. I know, I didn’t know that was even a thing, but it goes along with the fact that “toxic relationships” is also very trendy there. This makes me sad in that these poor girls have clearly internalized the “if he hurts you, it means he likes you” line adults have been feeding them their whole, short lives. And that is a bummer. I hope they grow out of it.

Florida Man Cover Placeholder

But yes, Wattpad has a massive romance (of all sorts) readership, and although Florida Man: The Battle of the Five Meth Labs: A Love Story is, well, a love story, it is a love story among many other things. I’d feel wrong tagging it with the romance genre, because it is hardly romantic (depending how you feel about electro-stimulation), and exposing these poor unsuspecting girls to Bildo and MeeMaw’s Whackin’ Dick might be a little much.

DC Cover

I do have something else up there, though: Dread Confluence. It’s a short story collection of paranormal stories set in and around Pittsburgh, Pa (two novelettes and four short stories — so far. I think it needs one or two more to really round it out.). It is chronological and spans from 1873 to 2010, so far. It is basically my 2011 MFA fiction thesis, which I haven’t really looked at since, but I think it’s good enough for folks to read. There’s an additional story, called The Obstruction (that won’t be posted until later — I update 2-3 times a week, all installments are under 300 words) that I wrote a couple years later, which was prompted by my thesis advisor, who, upon receiving a brain cancer diagnosis, said to me that it was an apt topic for one of my “scary stories.” So, I wrote one for him. It was published, actually, in a Canadian anthology a number of years ago, but since it was set in Pittsburgh, I added it to Dread Confluence.

Why am I posting on Wattpad? I dunno, really. The whole process of querying agents and publishers (at least the ones who accept unsolicited manuscripts) is a lonely, isolated experience with very little in the way of response, let alone rejection. I got knocked out of the game by a variety of ongoing personal situations in the last handful of years, and while I kept writing and doing revisions, no one was reading anything. It feels like I should just be digging a hole in the backyard and throwing the stories in there, maybe dig them up if I can manage to get an agent to bite. When you’re a writer, and you’re going through the process, it gets extremely disheartening writing into a void.

Now, I’ve got a few people reading this stuff. And they seem to be enjoying it, which is a relief.

So, that’s why. Would I rather be publishing traditionally? Absolutely. But it’s a long, hard slough, and I’m not getting any younger. I’m still querying and whatnot, and I’m considering another foray into the self-publishing jungle, but we’ll see. This is fine for now, while I work on finishing this third novel, get a few more shorts for another collection, etc. I’m still working. I’m always working on something. It’ll all come together, eventually.

 

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