As a writer, October haunts me. It makes me sweat, shiver, and quake with frustration. Truth is, I just can't get into the damned spirit of the Damned. Pardon the pun.
Ghosts, ghouls, and banshees would scare me out of my skivvies--if I believed in such nonsense. But I don't. Sure, I'm a Congregationalist. We believe in bake sales and fellowship. Scary enough, but hardly shriek-worthy.
What really frightens me about October is that one day I might talk myself into writing a real Halloween Wienie--a so-called scary story that elicits more yawns than yeows. Believe me, Virginia, I wouldn't be the first . . . or, according to my straw poll, the gazillionth. Truly scary tales are scarcer than hens' canines.
Though I'm no anthropologist, I suspect, as a culture, we've become a horror-jaded audience.
Gasp all you want, you Stephen King and Wes Craven fans. But 'horror', as a genre, is really comedy coated with arcane melodrama. Ask your heroes. Does anyone believe King or Craven sleep with a nightlight? I don't. So, if they don't believe in all the sinister mayhem they produce, why should we? Call it 'horror'. Call it 'slasher'. The folks who create these things are laughing up their sleeves. And so, bless your hearts, are most of the people who read/screen them. It's blood-soaked, scream-shrilled entertainment. What's not to love?
Lest an irate King or Koontz reader plunge a stake into my heart, let me clarify. I know the 'horror' genre is based on metaphor. But as we live in the Nuclear Age, how can you trump that? Don't answer. The Apocalypse is already cliché. And all the zombies that come with it.
Listen, I've never understood this 'neo-vampire' fascination. Bram Stoker's Dracula, a lame retelling of cryptic Eastern European folk tales, is about as exciting as a Valium overdose. I'm not kidding. Have you read it? I have. Dracula reads like frozen molasses oozing uphill. It's a mind-numbing elixir of necrophilia and narcolepsy. Weird? Sure. But scary? Only to those who crave to be scared. Of whom, apparently, there are legions.
At its heart, the original Dracula is little more than a verbose Victorian romance novel merged with titillating ethnic folklore. A Carpathian bodice-ripper, if you will. How scary can that be? Most scholars agree that the initial popularity of the novel was attributable more to its salacious nature--by Victorian standards--than any interest in hemoglobin.
Then, Hollywood took up the charade. Take away the looming shadows and the eerie music, and every Dracula film ever made, save for F.W. Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu, boils down to borrowed superstition laced with lascivious seduction. Soft porn applied via symbolic fangs. It's my opinion that staged neck-bitings are much more about revealing cleavage than dealing carnage. Not that I'm complaining on that front. Given the choice between bouncing boobs or spurting blood, I'll opt for the former every time. Directors of vampire films give me cake, and expect me to swallow the red schmaltz all over tit, uh, it. Frankly, I prefer boobs smothered in whipped cream rather than ketchup. One man's opinion.
I expect many of you have screened the recent spate of films featuring young, beautiful, angst-riddled vampires and pouty-lipped vampire-ettes. All with perfect complextions and cheekbones several stories higher than their collective IQ. All the Computer Generated Imaging aside, it's still the same old skin titillation couched in musty Carpathian myth. With the same decrepit story lines. The same old tripe packaged for a new generation of eager suckers--pardon the pun.
I posit there will never be a truly scary story written about vampires, werewolves, mummies, or zombies again. Clichés are the antitheses of creativity.
Which brings me back to my original point. April, August, or October, I can't write a truly scary story. And neither can Stephen King. Oh, he delivers the thrills and chills with consummate skill. And I admire him for it. But, in this day and age, when compared to real life, the 'horror' genre is as it's always been . . . light diversion.
So, why can't I write it?
"Yesterday played back today isn't yesterday, it's now." --Barry Kaufman
As I ran into the finish chute at the Los Angeles City Cross Country Championships, Coach Arps gave me a little nod. What a generous man, I thought. The school district had transferred me from Fernando to Monroe High, so I was no longer running for him or his team. But I was still running for his approval. Even now, 50 years later, that little nod from him means more to me than my medal from those championships. I regret not telling him how much I respected him as a coach and loved him like a father. His example went beyond teaching me how to run fast and win races. He gave me lessons about life that have lasted a lifetime.
He wasn't my only role model. Teachers who made sure that long after I had forgotten the capitol of New York and when the war of 1812 was fought, I would remember how to learn. And want to. People who taught me to listen, not just wait for my turn to talk. Friends who influenced me to say what I know is true, not what I heard on the grapevine or assumed deductively.
These weren't my only mentors. Something else taught me about life: memoirs. My son's death made me take a long look at what his life meant to me. And that made me take a long look at my own life. Being a writer, I began transforming memories into memoirs and found that I couldn't isolate my present from what I was discovering in my past. And that changed my future. "The past," wrote Will Durant, "is the present rolled out for understanding, and the present is the past rolled up for action."
Without reflection, life is just a string of incidents connected by the passage of time. Like salmon swimming upstream, we get so immersed in the business and busyness of life we don't see how the circumstances we encountered and the choices we made became a story with a plot and a point.
Everybody has a story to tell: children, teenagers, young adults, middle aged men and women, seniors--even an unborn child. So don't wait until you are older. Start transforming memories into memoirs now. Start a diary. Ask family members to tell you about their lives. Imagine the satisfaction of saying, years later, "I'm so glad I asked grandpa about his career in the Navy."
If you're not a writer, you'll be happy to hear that writing skills are less important than telling your stories in your own way. "My father," said William Zinsser, "who didn’t try to be a writer, was a more natural writer than I am, with my constant fiddling and fussing."
Writing a memoir creates a mirror that reflects how life changed you. It's connecting the dots between yesterday and today to reveal a path into tomorrow. It's an adventure and a hero's journey. So let the adventure begin. Sail the seven seas of yesterday and return with ways to weave your past into your future.
“How long has it been," asked Ray Bradbury, "since you wrote a story where your real love, hate, prejudice and passion slammed the page like a lightning bolt? What are the worst and best things in your life? When are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?”
Writing, like photographs and other nostalgic keys, is a powerful way to unlock the door to yesterday. "I have found another side of myself," wrote Heidi Bimschleger, "that I've never known before. When I leave 5th grade, I'm not going to stop writing because I don't want to close up a world that I just unlocked."
Let writing unlock your world of inner thoughts and feelings. Transform a powerful memory into a compelling story. Add muscle and blood to the bones of your story by plumbing the emotional depths of that memory. Then put every word on trial for its life so less becomes more as your sentences snap into place.
Why? Because a memoir isn't just writing about yourself--it's writing throughyourself to help others see your experiences as a bridge to their own lives.
So give your readers an attention-grabbing beginning, a middle that doesn't muddle and an ending that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat--a story infused with adventure, surprise and humor. Something they can take home for their own lives. Something you didn't start with when you began putting sentences together. Something over flowing with the powerful, poignant drama of discovering yesterday in the rear-view mirror of today. Something that blooms beyond a mere sum of its parts.
Alice discovered a Wonderland by following a rabbit down its hole and Dorothy discovered a Wizard by following the yellow brick road. Both came back changed, and you will too, by following a vivid memory into yesterday. Revisit the heroes of your life.
One of them is you!
Here I sit in my favorite coffee shop where I write daily. Ideas are jotted down in my notebook, and I’m eager to get started. But I can’t see them—I forgot to bring my reading glasses! And so I sit here sipping my refreshing lemonade and listening to the music that’s always a bit too loud.
I’m writing in large cursive letters and even by doing that, I can’t read what I’m writing. I will hopefully be able to read my words when I get home.
I don’t want to cut my writing time short. So, I will enjoy my time away from the busyness of home. Somehow the lemonade tastes better today. The choice of songs more appealing. The paintings on the walls more beautiful. And the chatter of customers is at a minimum.
Maybe today is merely meant to be a day of renewal. A day to relax. But then ideas begin to swirl around in my mind. I jot them down, hoping the words are legible.
The coffee shop will always be my favorite place to write…if only I could see today.
Lee Allen Hill is just a leftover hippie with a penchant for word-slinging.