talonkarrde: (color)
Welcome back, old friend, one more time.

This is the last entry of the season, and for me, likely the last post for a while.

It's an odd feeling, you know? An ending that's not really an ending, just a pause until the next season.

Because of the meta-nature of the topic, this week feels more like the actual physical act of walking on stage and speaking to an audience than any other time; it's impossible, I think, to divorce yourself from the proceedings and still address the topic.

So instead of conjuring up a distant world once more, I hope you don't mind that it's just me talking to you, face to face. Metaphorically, of course.

There are three things I want to say, before the curtain closes.

-

First and most importantly, I want to thank you.

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for reading. For following idol through this mini-season (and possibly through past seasons).

Every comment, every criticism, every pageview means so much; it's encouragement and it's advice and it's warm fuzzy feelings and, really, most of all, it's someone who is coming back, week after week, to spend time on what we do.

It's someone that we have a responsibility to not let down.

So thank you for that, for giving us your time and your energy and your beautiful, meaningful words.

-

Secondly, I want to talk about writing and why we all do it, but, really, I've already done that. I would appreciate it if you took a bit of time to read that entry (the timing of it was incredibly coincidental), but the important thing is this:

Everyone has a different reason for writing. Everyone has a good reason for writing, and everyone deserves to be read. Whether it's historical slices of life or personal memoirs of a climb out of our darkest days or speculative and science fiction, we write to impact the world.

We change the world through our thoughts, our words, paragraph by paragraph, piece by piece. There is no 'better' genre, no 'most pure' way of writing that should win; we should not be judging fiction against nonfiction or poetry against prose, because while our tools are different our goals are the same, aren't they?

We're all here to write.

-

The third thing I want to talk about, the last thing, is about winning.

I didn't join LJ Idol to win. I joined it simply to write and be read, and in both of those goals, I've succeeded beyond my wildest hopes. Whether I finish first or fourth or fiftieth, every chance I get to see a topic and have someone read my thoughts is enough for me. Every piece is its own reward, regardless of placement.

In a perfect world, no one would ever get knocked out and we would just keep writing forever. I don't think that will ever happen, for plenty of obvious reasons.

So let me just say this, and then step back behind the curtain, go back to work and life and all those other responsibilities and quietly wait for the next season:

I'd like to see, maybe, once, what would happen if we all tied.

Just once.
talonkarrde: (color)
There is a certain moment in twilight when the light and the darkness vie for supremacy.

It takes a specific type of room — a personal library, often, with floor-to-ceiling windows — where motion and movement are enhanced by soft edges and softer rugs, where an overstuffed armchair and a mahogany end table with a silver platter and cup of tea on it allow for rest and respite, something that takes up more and more of your time these days.


You sit and sip and watch as the sun hides itself behind the distant mountains, as the last rays shoot over the craggy peaks that you climbed, once, a long long time ago. You think of the rocks and the ledges and the snow and it brings up memories and reveries of the Misty Mountains, of Moria, of Mordor, of the ridges of high fantasy and unexpected journeys there and back again. A brilliant ray of sunshine pierces the clouds and you think of the dragon, of the smoke and the fire, and you remember that one moment where the hero stands his ground, blade drawn and gleaming from the fire, facing certain death with a steadiness that you know, now, having seen in in the eyes of firefighters and soldiers and parents and all sorts of people, standing up for what they believe in.

You've written that scene, once or twice, and you have a collection of letters on the closest shelf where they tell you they cried, knowing what it meant, knowing why he had to, why she didn't flinch.

The sun fades a little more and the light is dimmer, darker, evoking a more monochrome look to the scattered buildings you see below. Without color, it seems almost sterile, in a way, and you think of tight spaces and grey airlocks, of the expanses of space and time as humanity spreads across the stars. You think of starships and Prime Directives and alien species all coming together for a better goal, and a better future, and you think of the multiverses out there with ringworlds and browncoats and four elephants standing on a giant turtle. You smile a bit, don't you?

Because you've written some of those stories, too, and you remember the tears as you read other letters where people wrote to you and they understood. They saw past the technobabble, past the aliens, and saw through to the society you wanted to see, the equality that everyone deserved.

Now it's too dark to see, and you light a candle, watching as the yellow light flickers over the spines of the books that you've read again and again, the worlds that you take solace in and take inspiration from, the lands far away and close to home that you couldn't imagine being without. You've always preferred the soft light of the candle over the hard fluorescents, perhaps because it reminds you of Milton, of Shakespeare, of ancient scribes copying out ancient myths on ancient parchment.

You may have written some of that, too, historical fiction that taught and entertained and inspired all at once, tales which reminded us of how the world was before and of the innummerable shoulders that we have stood on to get where we are, because we forget so quickly.

And as the candle burns steadily, you write a few more words in your own personal journal. Your thoughts, your beliefs, your actions are all in here, and you remember the few times that you've shown others. You remember the hugs, the phone calls, the support that was both given and received and you remember a rule about empathy: shared pain is lessened, and shared joy increased.

And maybe, you think, you'll share this, too.

-

The candle slowly burns its way down, as the darkness comes like a blanket over you, and your last thought is of a favorite poem of yours, one that you know by heart. You speak it, softly, slowly, out loud, letting the words settle.

And afterwards you think, perhaps, there aren't too many promises left, too many miles to go now. And after all of this, after it ends, you hope that when they remember you, they'll remember one thing first: writer.

making fire

Aug. 2nd, 2010 09:23 pm
talonkarrde: (color)
Once upon a time, I wrote an entry on Making Fire; and in that entry, I paid tribute to the writers that I was competing with then. Today, with that topic once again given, I thought that it would only be fitting to again pay tribute my fellow writers — as has been done in the final rounds of seasons past!

This entry was the easiest to write for me, because it is one that has been on my mind for a long time. I am going to do something slightly different and not link to individual entries, but rather try and paint you a picture of who they are as writers overall, and the magic that they bring to writing.

[livejournal.com profile] beautyofgrey  is someone that, simply put, deserves happiness. That to me is the alpha and the omega, and her happiness makes me a bit happier, and when she writes about her suffering, I feel that it is suffering that we should all bear to ease it on her. She has been through a lot, no doubt, and her writing shows that — without, indeed, expoiting it. She talks about difficulties and terrible things that I could never think about facing, but even as she writes to connect to people, to show them the debts of dark hurt and the height of great happiness, it never, for a moment, feels cheap, it never feels that it was written simply to make you go ‘oh no’.

Do you know why that is? It’s because it wasn’t. It was written to connect to people, to inspire and to delight and to show that even in the darkest of times, there is hope. And that’s why she’s the Spirit of LJ Idol, something she fully deserves, and that’s why she should win. There is little more to be said — except that there is a lot(!) more to be said, about her fantastic fiction (and beautiful fables), her ability to weave a tale, her ability to take you to lands that only she has ever seen.

But at the end of it all, I think she is a writer that, with a line, a paragraph, and then, an entry, has drawn you into a world and made you feel what she felt. That is power.

[livejournal.com profile] rattsu  takes a different path. She can connect, oh, yes, but her skill, her ability, is in teaching. Instead of drawing you inside, she takes you outside, to everything around us, and shows us what things are, and what things could be. She can write a post on something that we think is very familiar to us — elephants, perhaps — and show us a stunning, incredible other side, one that we would never have known existed without her. She reveals the unknown in the known, and then takes us on journeys to those worlds that we didn’t, letting us be tourists and her playing the part of the intelligent, excellent guide.

It's writing like this that will change the world, really change the world, by changing viewpoints and inspiring action. And that's why she should win.

But(!) she also writes fiction, and she writes it as well as her educational nonfiction, with characters that are incredible and scenes that draw you in. It shouldn't be to anyone's surprise that she's published, and I would only be incredibly surprised if she doesn't continue to be.

Typically, at this point, we've also been told to write a bit about why we should win. But see, that wasn't in this week's topic, so I won't interpret it that way.

These are my fellow writers, my friends, and this is the the incredibly bright, light-giving, life-giving fire that they create.
talonkarrde: (Default)
“Teach, what’s the point of all this? I don’t see any point in readin’ this shit, you know? It’s just dead people that went on and on about their chairs and bullshit. None of it is real, teach. Why we readin’ it?”

I look at him and push my glasses up. He’s right, a part of me mutters, you never finished Great Expectations either. But I push it away.

“Look, Charles, these are classics. They represent the pinnacles of human literature, in expression and form, and—”

“Yeah, but they borin’. There’s nothin’ that applies to today, and our lives, out here. This is the past, man.”

There is that other group of writings, that part of me says again. Those are relevant, and—

And the school board would absolutely murder me if they found out if I recommended them, I finish, quashing the thought.

Yeah, but which do you care about more? Getting Charles to read, or what the school board thinks?

“Okay, Charles. I’ll give the class five short stories to read, and we can discuss them, and you can tell me what you think, okay?”

I thought for a moment over the ten, the fifteen that I had in mind. To winnow them down to five, to select among all of them who were brilliant each in their own ways...but five it would be.

“Aight, teach. But they better be good.”

#

The first story is this one; it pays, I figure, to start out with a bang. And this is, out of everything in the competition, the most explicit, in-your-face slam there is. When I print it out for them and watch as the class reads it, I can tell who’s done by the ‘what the hell did you just have us read’ expression on their faces as they look up.

After everyone looks up, I say, deliberately slowly, “Any reactions?”

“Holy shit,” Charles says. “That was disgusting.”

“It was, wasn’t it? But why was it disgusting?” I ask, looking down at the piece.

“Because it was so...real. So visceral,” someone else says, trying out the word and seeing if it fits. It does, of course.

“Exactly. It’s writing that really draws you in, and it’s not afraid to confront subject matter that we ordinarily shy away from it. Now let’s discuss the diction, and the imagery, and the characterizations.”

As they filter out, I realize I’ve made a gamble. What if they tell their parents that their teacher had them read incest-smut? More importantly, what if they don’t want to continue? But it’s a gamble worth making, I tell myself; students need to see what literature can do, what it can say.

#

The next piece I have them read is this and, as expected, it brings a lot of surprise. About half the kids just read the comic, while the rest take their time to read through the prose as well. Charles’ voice rings out, while some are still reading. He’s the impatient type.

“This is just pictures, and words. Why is this important?”

In response, I draw a octagon on the board, and write the word STOP in the block letters inside. “Why is this important?” I ask him.

“Come on, teach. That’s something that tells drivers not to kill each other. This doesn’t do anything that important.”

“Oh?” I ask, eyebrow raised. “What about airline safety brochures? They don’t have any words at all.”

“Yeah, but that’s because anyone in any language can understand them!” He’s a smart kid, which makes me want to do right by him.

“Right. Now, have you read Watchmen?” I give the lead-in, wondering if Alan Moore even exists to these students.

“No, but I saw the movie. Cool shit. Superheroes that weren’t superheroes, saving some people. Hurting others. Way cooler than the Superman movie.” A perfect response.

“Watchmen, Charles, was a comic first.” The students mutter amongst themselves; some already knew, others look surprised. Charles looks engaged, which I take as a good sign. "Comics have power and meaning, and they address issues that are serious and affect all of us. It's not just superheroes in tights anymore."

I head over to the school’s computer, and press play, and the familiar tune comes over the speakers. Crappy, but audible.

It was a dark desert highway, cool wind in her hair...

“The Eagles,” one of the girls, Sydney, says. “The author says it in the words, but, well, my parents really loved them, I heard the tune in my head as soon as I saw the picture!”

“Yes, and this is the second lesson about this piece. It works wonderfully because it does a great job of assimilating many separate references, references that enrich the work if you get them. The references aren’t necessary for the content, but they certainly make it more enjoyable, and this is a feast of horror and thriller references. And great writing usually builds on other great pieces, either subverting or supporting them, and so the more you learn, the more you enjoy it.”

I show the class with a copy of Watchmen — actually, I bought copies for every kid in the room, and tell them that they are to read it and tell me if it would’ve worked as well as a novel. Charles stays after class, asking me about what other references there were in that piece.

#

My third story for them is one that was written not too long ago. This one leaves the students not with disgust or confusion, but with sadness, and I see more than a few tears that are hastily brushed away; and not only from the girls. I give them a moment of quiet, of reflection, and then I start.

“Thoughts?”

“It was sad,” Charles says, and the rest of the class nods agreement. I almost speak, but he looks like he might say something more, so I wait.

“My mom...was involved in something...” he slowly, haltingly says, and I nod, taking the conversation from him before he has to say too much.

“That,” I comment, making sure all eyes are back on me, “is the power of this piece, and this writer, you see. She has a way of writing so that you connect to her, instinctively; she draws you into her world, and her pain, and—” I add, “her happiness.”

“It doesn’t always end that well,” Sydney comments, and I’m surprised to hear such a thing from her, who’s been fairly quiet and fairly happy, as far as I’ve seen. But she has a point that needs to be addressed.

“No, it doesn’t, but that’s another lesson of the power of writing. We can use it to change our moods; when we’re feeling down, reading the piece of an excellent writer can lift our spirits. When we’re angry, it can calm us down.

“This week,” I say, “Your assignment is to write something about a part of you, just as this story was about a very important part of the writer.”

#

By the time I give them the fourth entry to read, the class has accepted that there will be some deviations from what they expect as the norm. I see Charles and Sydney and everyone else read through the poem once, and some of them even try reading it twice, to gleam any new meaning out of it that they didn’t get the first time around. This time, I start the discussion.

“Poetry,” I say, “is something that I personally find extraordinarily difficult. It requires a knowledge of meter and momentum and an excellent vocabulary and knowledge of what words to use — verbiage and diction. Let’s get the main point out of the way first. This doesn’t rhyme, unlike the works that we’ve studied before. Does that make it not poetry?”

“No,” Sydney says quietly, wrapping her hair around a finger. “It sounds...right. It doesn’t have to rhyme. In fact, if someone tried to make it rhyme, it would be...”

“Unnatural, perhaps?” I offer for her.

“Weird,” she responds, and I smile.

“Poetry is special because it fits meaning into fewer words than you normally have. It means that you need to make every word count and conjure up evocative images while still obeying rules of meter and cadence.”

“Yeah, but if it doesn’t rhyme, why can’t you just make breaks wherever you want?” Charles asks. Not a fan of poetry, apparently.

“Try it,” I respond. “Take this poem, and make random breaks, and tell me, does it flow better, or worse?”

I see him look down at the poetry, and mumble under his breath. He looks back up at me, and I grin, accepting the victory he offers.

#

“I’ve given you four examples so far,” I start out, holding the last piece in my hands. “I’ve taught you, I hope, something of what literature is, and what it can be, and the forms it can take, and the effects that it can have. There is one more thing that I want to teach you, and that’s that it’s amazingly varied, versatile. It’s like a fire—”

And Charles cuts me off. “We’ve heard this one before, you know. You talk about how it can entertain but also how it can educate, how some writers write to escape and others to draw attention to certain topics. That whole metaphor with fire and sizes and smoke and whatnot.”

I’d taught him well, evidently.

“Okay, okay. Writing, I think, is at its best when you can use it to inspire, when it gives you hope, even if it makes you cry.”
talonkarrde: (Default)
Let me tell you a story— wait, I’ve done that a lot, already. Let me tell you of something that I believe.

I will start here: I believe in the internet.

When I moved to my new middle school in the summer after fifth grade, there were about a hundred and something kids in the my class, and everyone knew more or less everyone else in their grade. I was new, and I needed to make friends, and despite struggling a bit, I did. We all did, back when we were middle schoolers, and this is what I’ve observed: we often made friends based on superficial things — taste in books, or TV shows, or movies, or bands we liked. ‘Hey, N ‘Sync’s new album is pretty good’ became a springboard to invite others over to enjoy other CDs in someone’s music collection; a shared interest in Starcraft became an invitation to LAN parties, and so on and so forth.

Memories were formed, though, and memories are important.

In high school, there were all of a sudden a thousand teenagers crammed into a building, or a few buildings. There were different levels of classes now, and many extracurricular activities, and new people to meet and hang out with, even if they weren’t in your grade. And so more friendships were made and fostered and developed, and the result was that we came out of high school with friends that we had been in clubs for four years with, or had taken all those hard AP classes with, and shared a good portion of our lives with. I made some pretty good friendships during those times.

And did we remember the middle school friends we drifted away from? I don’t know.

Then there was college, and for me, at least, college was about the reversal of expectations from high school. With 20,000 or so students, instead of seeing the odd person you didn’t know, it was about seeing the occasional person you did, and delighting in the “oh, you’re in my Chem 204 class, right? What’s your name again? I just know you sit three rows in front of me, sorry.” College, though, was also about joining debate and joining the newspaper — the official one, we had two or three other less popular ones — and taking a very limited set of classes with other people. And it was about living with other people, too, and that was sometimes good and sometimes bad; for me, luckily, more good than bad.

And there were the high school friends I didn’t really talk to anymore.

And now there is this magical thing called the internet, and perhaps you see where I am going with this. With each level of schooling, there were more people that I came in contact with, and more importantly, more people that shared the same and specific interests I did. In middle school, just sharing an activity with me was enough to establish a friendship on. In high school, though, you could find those with the same band of classes, those that did activities. With college, there were enough people that you could find someone that shared your major, your minor, and the exact three activities that you enjoyed doing. It stops after college though — you don’t get the same effect in your workplace.

Which is why they say that the friends you make in college will be there for the rest of your life.

I believe that the internet is the next step in this evolution. It has a incredible number of people on it — Facebook is around five-hundred million users, isn’t it? — which is a few order of magnitudes higher than my college. And the power of it is that through it, we can connect to those people that share the same incredibly specific interests as us. Online games like Skyrates and Echo Bazaar, authors like Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi, those are some of my interests, and the internet has allowed me to connect — and meet in person! — those that are, as I think of it, geographically distant (or near!) but personally compatible.

It allows us to connect to people that we never would have met, otherwise.

That doesn’t mean that there is no danger. As the news reports, and as we all personally have had some experience with this, not everyone is who they seem, and the cloak of anonymity is one that does not always bring out the best in people. But I believe that the inherent nature of the Internet should not stop people from taking leaps of faith, and from trusting. In college, and even in high school, there were people that you knew were not necessarily trustworthy or honest — and more hurtfully, there were those that you thought were, but later turned out not to be. The Internet presents the same issues. By that same token, in college, you knew you shouldn’t give your contact information out to anyone that asks; it’s that same judgment you should exercise on the Internet. But these issue themselves are not new issues, they’re simply extensions of privacy concerns we’ve dealt with all our lives. And that brings me to choosing who you associate with.

And my association is this: I believe in LiveJournal.

I believe in a group of writers that has a site to spill out their hearts and their souls and their secrets to others that they have not met, or have only met once. I believe in the idea where everyone writes for others to see, some locked only to their friends, others open to the entire world, for any person who stumbles upon their work to see. This is as close to a ‘club’ in college as there is, and there are amazing writers here doing amazing things.

We are different! There are those that write fiction and those that write non-fiction, and those that straddle the line and mix fantasy and reality in a way that no one but themselves can call the different. And we all have our little clubs and groups and cliques and preferences, and so there are those that are in fanfiction communities and those that are in mutual support groups and a million other preferences that they have. I, personally, do not choose to associate with all of those people — which means I haven’t gone deep enough.

I will end here: I believe in you.

I believe in getting to know those that take part in this little idea that came out of Gary’s mind, you see, because I think I’ve found those on the internet that are like myself. No, we don’t all think the exact same things — but what’s the fun in that? We don’t look for our identical twins when we look for friends. We just look for those that we share enough with, and I think I share plenty with all of you.

And whether you write fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose, I think that we’ve exchanged enough here that I’d like to call you a friend. So to answer the question, who are the ones ‘trip-trapping over my LJ’? They’re friends, you see, present or future.
talonkarrde: (Default)
I wonder if our distant ancestors even had even the shallowest of foresights of where their efforts would lead, if they saw even a glimmer of the futures that they would bring about by rubbing two sticks together until until there was a spark, a dancing, burning light that kept the dark away and the beasts at bay, that brought the world under their sway.

They surely would not have imagined the combustion — or electric — engines that have become commonplace and essential, or rockets to the stars that turned out to be gigantic balls of fire themselves, or the lights by which watchers from the heavens can see how far we, their descendants, have scattered over this planet.

No, they were probably only concerned that it gave them warmth to stave away cold winters and a weapon that would drive away predators who hunted them so fiercely.

But the beginning was there.

-

In our distant ancestors' words to each other, there was a seed that grew into the stories that we tell today. I do not think that it took long for language to go from conveying simple data — "antelope. food. hunt." — to establishing mythology about how their world came to be, or explaining the history of their tribe, or generating fantasy about their future.

At first, perhaps, a speaker simply told people how to gather food and where prey was. He or she described to them what it was like beyond what their own eyes and ears could see and hear. A bit later on, perhaps, it might have been a cold night without fire, and everyone was freezing. They needed something to distract them from the cold, so the storyteller would tell them a story.

It grew from there, of course, and today, we use words to communicate in ways that the first raconteurs could never have dreamed of. We use words to explain, to entertain, to connect, to distract, to share, and so much more.

In skilled hands, writing is a tool that can be bent to many purposes, a tool that takes on many forms.

Do you see where I am going with this?

-

Each of us makes fire every time we write.

-

We each make fires for different reasons, and we each tend to our fires differently. Some write to illuminate, and so their fires are tall and strong, lighting up the landscape for miles around them but producing little heat. Others want their ideas to spread, and so create bonfires to burn as many as possible — not harshly, but enough so that their readers will remember. Yet others still build a small, cozy controlled flame, and invite their friends over to share in their small joys and regrets.

But you knew all this already, I suspect, and saw the metaphor coming from a mile away.

What I wanted to say in all of this is that I find choosing between fires impossible now. We have weeded out those that were not adept with their tools or their shaping of the flames that rise, and sadly, we have lost many whose fires I thought I'd be warming myself by for a long time.

With those that remain, we all write for different reasons and to different audiences. I do not know what to measure entries by — whether it incites a passion in me? Whether I can see more of the darkness revealed? Whether I can look at it and say, 'Oh, I've shared those feelings, a few days ago'?

Whatever your method of judgment, though, I think we've been around long enough that we've amassed a body of work. For new readers, I'd like to take a page from last season's finals and tell you a bit about my two fellow competitors and a bit about myself. For those that have been following all along, I hope to remind you of some very good pieces.

-

[livejournal.com profile] impoetry is pretty much who he was as a kid, ruling the world from the top of the Snapple machine. He coaxes his flame to reveal glimpses of himself every so often, and then disappears again to illuminate other topics — or satirize them.

Brian switches easily from scorching to not producing light almost at all, letting the reader find their own way in the darkness. And then, as Billy Wylde, he gives us a study in insanity as the only way to deal with an irrational world.

He's at his best, I think, when he writes from the heart.

-

[livejournal.com profile] kittenboo is best described, in my opinion, as someone that is intensely raw. The flame burns with no regard for the spectators, and knocked me down far more than I was comfortable. And that, honestly, is more than okay, because what she writes should be affecting people on every level. I thoroughly enjoyed the entries of her not holding her tongue as a caring mother — and in a reversal, when she's talking about being a daughter.

But then the flame shifts, and Heather welcomes you into a terrible world of fiction, and then burns through your heart with another piece.

And then, if that weren't enough, one more searing blast with a bit of both worlds and only 177 words.

-

My name is Sean, and I am a jack of all trades, master of none. I've tried to present a different style each week, switching between fiction and nonfiction (and often toeing the line), delivering different genres, and adopting different voices. I believe I am better at entertaining and distracting than lecturing, which is why I try to stick to stories and avoid politics like the plague, and can't help but think that my imagination is more interesting than my life, which is why I generally choose fiction.

I think my best performances have been my intersections, whether on love and honesty with [livejournal.com profile] crimsonplum, war and loss with [livejournal.com profile] thaliontholwen, or forbidden desire with [livejournal.com profile] rejeneration

But I am proud of all my work, especially in attempting a detective story and a humor piece, both of which I consider my weak points. I think my piece on telepathy-by-touch was my best science-fiction endeavour, and that my post-apocalyptic cannibalism piece is my best fiction entry overall.

On a more personal note, the two entries that have changed me the most are, perhaps appropriately, my first and last pieces so far.

-

As Gary says, with only how many we have left, every entry will be someone's favorite, every contestant one of our friends. I think we all write with heart and we all have amazing things to say. I will be voting for all of us. Beyond that, what is there to do?

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