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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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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When I was 11 or 12, I was home alone one Sunday afternoon. I don’t remember where the rest of my family was, but it was one of those weird afternoons — a hot summer day, but it had just rained, so off to one side were these dark brooding clouds, having just barely passed, and to the other, the sun. The leaves on the trees around the house still dripped.

There was knock on the front door, which was weird, because we never used the front door. The side door was closer to the driveway, so that was the main entrance/exit. I looked through the door and there was this man standing there. An old guy. I opened up.

He was an albino African American in a fedora-type hat and a long dark rain coat. He asked is “Danny” was around — my father — so, I knew he was family, somehow, some way. A strange, vaguely unpleasant smell came from him. The whole thing was strange.

I said, no, my dad wasn’t home, and he just smiled and told me to tell him Ludlow had stopped by to say hello, and then he left.

When my parents came home, I explained the strange visitation, and my dad laughed and gave me a look. He asked me, “So, how’d you like ol’ Ludlow?”

Ol’ weird, smelly, albino Ludlow. I said he seemed nice enough. But, overall, the experience was a little unnerving. The smell, my dad surmised, might have been embalming fluid, as Ludlow was a mortician.

I think he was a cousin of some sort, but I never saw, nor heard about, Ludlow again.

I’ve been working on a book for the last 12 years. I recently just finished the first draft, finally. The protagonist is an albino black mortician named Ludlow. It’s set in my home town. It’s a ghost story. It’s set in 1992, but involves the 1905 explosion of the Rand Powder Mill that occurred nearby, the dead of which the above monument memorializes. It’s located in the Fairchance Cemetery — I took this picture recently, as I needed the inscription.

Maple Grove Cemetery runs right up against Fairchance Cemetery — there is no partition, so if you don’t know, you couldn’t tell there are two, and not one. The above monument is about fifty yards from the veterans section of maple Grove, where my father is now buried.

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When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in these cemeteries, and St. Joseph’s next door, this one separated from the others by a cow path between the farm fields surrounding them all. There is a funeral scene in my book, which, in my head, takes place at our old family plot, (the Clares and the Allens) on the other side of Maple Grove, which my father used to take care of when he was alive. At one point, he’d had a mini-stroke while cutting the grass and fell over into a grave indentation, which he’d joke about later. My dad isn’t in that plot, and in, in fact, the only Davison buried here (in the veterans’ section), the rest all interred at Sylvan Heights in Uniontown. I have no idea why he chose this.

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The Allens and Clares lived in the house we lived in, in which my father was born. There was another house on the property, also occupied, I believe, by the Clares, on the corner by the street, where you can still see the cement walkway that went around it, the foundation long since filled in by my father. The old pipe for the well pump is still there as well. I remember seeing pictures of fit — a typical middle class, 19th-century home.

Once, when I was 10 or so, I thought I saw a man standing by the side of our house, looking up at the second floor, hands on hips. I had just come around the corner and saw him for only an instant, when he turned and ran toward the older house foundation, faster than I could register. But my memory of the figure was that he had no face, and nothing from the knees down. When I told my parents about it, it was concluded it had been 18-year-old James Byrd Allen, who’d died of typhoid, his grave pictured above.

These things aren’t really connected, but in my mind they are. So, yes, it’s a ghost story. And it needs a lot of work, still, even after 12 years.

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