Monday, November 26, 2012

Showing expertise in fiction?

One of the things Maryann Reid said in her recent article, Why Nobody Reads Your Book stuck with me. Check it out. If you're into publishing your writings, it's a good, short blog article.

She said:

"Nobody knows who you are - Even if you and your book have visibility, you still need to back your writing with facts by making it clear who you are and why you’re qualified to write on your topic. Cover your background, your inspirations, your aspirations and anything else that will give your book substance. Otherwise, your audience will have less faith in your validity as a writer and thus less incentive to read your book."

Good point.

Consider however that Maryann was mostly talking about non-fiction. For myself I write and publish mostly fiction: horror fiction, speculative fiction, science fiction, hopefully disturbing and macabre fiction (well, some more than others) and, even some humor. Then there's also my generally non-fiction blog, here. And some non-fiction I write here and there. For instance my review on the documentary, "Chasing Ice" in

But her comments got me to thinking.

First off, I have a University degree in Psychology. I have a non-fiction ebook out on Psychology. Okay, so I have the degree in that and allegedly some degree of expertise in writing on those topics.

But, what about non-fiction? How does one show... what? Expertise? In Horror fiction?

You could be a biographer of Edgar Allen Poe, or have a Masters in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Or, you could say: "Hey, read my horror book. I was once a serial killer. A really, REALLY deranged one, too!" Now that, would be showing expertise in horror.

But... that might however not be too productive from a jurisprudence consideration when the police knock on your door to arrest you.

What I suppose I can say for myself though is that I had a pretty broken childhood and that's where I got my expertise in writing disturbing fiction. Of course at the time as a child, it can seem devastating or life threatening and we all have our ways to deal with it. How many comedians have said they had a rough childhood and so found humor as a way out of it or merely to survive it? I also got pretty good at using humor growing up, if you didn't try to laugh at it sometimes  it seemed insurmountable to live through it. But at some point that can also turn into a kind of gallows humor.

I got in trouble (much as my own son years later did) almost constantly. I was constantly curious, bright to the point of stupidity (ask my teachers from back then, I'm talking early elementary school here), ADHD (obviously), and I was brave beyond sanity. My mother once said she feared one day looking at the window and I'd have my bicycle up on the white picket fence, riding merrily along, and about to fall off and be impaled. She also had said when we were at the hospital ER yet again, that I really should have my own room there as we seemed to visit so often for one thing or another.

Funny thing though about that, after all these years, after all the things I've done, falling off cliffs while climbing on search and rescue teams, skydiving while still in high school, SCUBA diving since 10th grade, street car racing. Yes I broke the law, but I was as careful within the realms of insanity that I could work out at the time (and yes now I shudder to think about it). But that was all about me. The real weirdness was not within me (it was all around me), or perhaps I should say it did not come out of me, until later.

My mother had a few marriages. And divorces. Her last was to a guy I never got along with. He just didn't like me very much. Mostly my siblings didn't like him either, not even his own son, my half-brother and five years my junior. Nor did our mother, she didn't like him very much either. Which is curious since she married him like four times, once being after his conversion to Catholicism; and not infrequently she said that she hated him. An odd way to grow up.

Our mother and this last step-father would have some pretty rumbling arguments. Which is a misconception because "rumbling" makes it sound like a low drum beat when really it was a much higher pitched ensemble of anger and fear. Though the fear was mostly from us kids watching our mother beat on our step-father (who was quite muscular and could easily take it) but waiting for him to one day snap in all their rantings and just kill her and then, us. My younger brother died of liver cancer at fifteen and I had always thought that it was because he grew up only knowing that lifestyle of tension and anxiety; while I had had the experience of living for five years before all that came into my life. I was the lucky one.

We also grew up in an environment of love from our somewhat crazy and fun, but rather strict mother. That all blended with the anger, bitterness and jealousy of that last step-father who now is turning ninety-one and has dementia. As I grew up I came to understand him somewhat but he was still an arrogant ass, jealous, ignorant and selfish. But then he always paid for us to live. It was a strange environment that made little sense to me as a child. He at times terrorized me, but somehow our mother kept him from doing the two things that really made all the difference: drinking and beating us. Had he had more free reign on those two things our lives would have taken a quantum leap into the realms of misery.

Between my constantly getting into trouble and my home life, I was allowed to do little on my own. But I was still a kid and my mother was still a mother with other kids and a house to run. So I always found ways to get into things. I just learned mostly how to hide what I got into. When we moved to our last house I was only allowed out on my own, to go to the library. At the library I discovered two life changing things. The "Adult Section" and the "Science  Fiction Section" and within that last one, a series of Science Fiction books written for young boys where I first learned of authors like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and later Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison and so on. I also found thinkers like Aristotle, Socrates and a few others.

After grade school, I graduated from comic books to magazines like Creepy and Eerie which led to HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe and others. Though it wasn't until tenth grade that my cousin turned me onto The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, an amazing discovery I will forever be thankful for. At that point escapism took a quantitatively lighter slant. But the darker die had been cast years before. Perhaps that alone is why I lean more to writing Horror and not Fantasy?

Later on in fifth grade and much more easily in sixth grade, I could freely wander the neighborhood far and wide as I had earned some trust. Whenever I could I disappeared into the neighborhood on my bike. Times were certainly different then. But the seeds were set in those younger years with the speculation of possibilities that first Science Fiction and later Horror, offered me. Horror was a great way to work out the frustrations of daily and family life for me, as I'm sure it has been for so many others. It was also great to play out the fears you have and to examine your limitations and your strengths, on occasion even learning of new ways out of dire situations.

From a social perspective, it seemed that no matter where we moved up to that point, and we moved almost every year for some reason, I never had anyone my own age to play with in the new neighborhoods. They were always either my older sister's age, or my younger brother's age. Our oldest brother lived with his dad and his new family, much to all of our consternation and his repeated running away from there and returning to our house where (we and) he desperately wanted to live. It was a repeatedly heartbreaking ritual. One that in the end was always brought to a sad conclusion by his father retrieving him as after all, he had legal custody.

My sister though was a shining light in our childhood. Always knowing the right thing to say or showing some basic logic to get us through. Sometimes giving the emotional comment to give us hope and if I believed her feelings, she believed mine in that round-robin kind of support that kids share in these types of living situations.

My younger brother was just annoying, having suffered through "beautiful child syndrome" and replacing me as the cute kid. I had always been fawned over until he arrived and even back then I had to admit, he was a good looking kid. Just annoying, though. Where I had been fun and energetic and annoying, he just seemed to be whiny and annoying.

Those who would have been his friends mostly wanted to play with me because they saw in him what I saw. Still, I got annoyed when they displayed the same feelings I felt toward him. Of course, I would play with them sometimes, but then they were still younger than me and so I frequently ended up playing on my own again. My sister being a girl, well, her friends didn't want anything to do with me, even though I did. Sadly for me, that never went anywhere. Then again, maybe it was better as it turned out. Still, we played together for years until a certain age and then that too seemed to just stop. Pretty common I would assume.

Always getting into things, I spent a lot of my time in my bedroom being "grounded". I ended up with a record player, a small TV (though I wasn't usually allowed to watch TV if grounded, although I could listen to music and that was a great saving grace). And then, there were my books. I could be imprisoned in my room, but I always knew that my books would allow me to travel the stars, and then some. Which kind of brings me around full circle.

How does one show expertise in one's fiction writings?

I suppose it helps to have a background that lends itself to a lively inner life as a child and the more drama, then surely the more that will be available later. But that's really all dependent upon how that child sees things, as a child.

How does one show that expertise in one's writings? It's quite obvious, isn't it?

It comes in the clarity and the depth of what you are writing about, because you've been there. At least, to some extent. Because you've experienced those feelings of loss, despair, anger, even possibly hatred. Not the juvenile "hatred" of not being allowed to go to the prom. But the mature "hatred" of wanting to kill your parent or parents; for making your entire family miserable year after year after your mother consistently supporting your views by saying how much she hates her own husband, your step-father and one of your sibling's father who also hates him and you feel that there is no love lost from the other side either. Yet he can be neutral in many situations that makes your entire life appear, somewhat insane.

You should have known as a child the gaps between the highs and the lows when as a child it all seems so much more intense. In those first formative years whatever happens is a great deal of the entirety of one's life. It is only in later years that it all comes into perspective and you can see it clearly for what it is. And maybe as an adult you can come to terms with it all and learn to become productive and useful, to society and yourself and hopefully one day, a family of your own.

It is at that point that you can share those intense feelings and experiences, possibly through the filter of the genre in which you are writing. To give your reader the feeling of having lived through things, hopefully things that they have never had to live through themselves. Or to re-experience those things they too had lived through, but this time with the potential for showing them ways around or out of those situations, to help them heal even in the most negative of story lines. To offer them "relief valves" through which they can find catharsis or at very least, humor. To possibly entertain and educate.

See, that is the interesting thing about fiction over non-fiction. You can show your expertise through story, through the journey, and the ending. Through the Gestalt of the tale told. Part of the magic of it is that a reader can put down the story at the end of it and know in their heart and their mind, that you have brought them to someplace special; if you had that expertise to bring them to that place. The more levels you can touch upon, the more release you can offer them, and the more expertise you have shown. For expertise is not just about one's level of skill sets but also about one's experiences.

Then again, writing fiction doesn't just require a rich childhood, for the richer your set of writing skills is the more you can persuade your reader to believe. Believe, that you were there.  If your experiences and skills are not that rich, the more you write the richer they both become. Because the more your write the more you examine yourself and your past and enhance your current abilities.

Your experiences are your primary expertise and your foundation, a platform from which to write even about things that you have never before touched upon. It is when you can put those two elements together, skills and experience, that you have the potential to form some very intense reading experiences indeed. It is not unlike the visual arts, in that your expertise is obvious in your art. So how do you show your expertise in your fiction? You simply need to write.

It is very likely that you already have the expertise, we all do, but you simply may not know it. You just have to find it and show us.

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