I want to start publishing more short fiction on this blog. Not only as a way to foster a habit of production within myself but as a way of sharing more of my ideas with you, my readers.

In that spirit, I’ve placed a new short story in the Writing Samples section of this site. It’s about the dark side of the web. The side that can turn you into someone you never wanted to become. Someone you enjoy being. Someone you crave. Some thing. Enjoy.

The Troll

I am a weirdo. I always have been. Some of it is on the surface but most is down deep. That’s how it is for everyone because everyone is weird in their own way. In lots of ways really. A key to happiness in my life has been to seek out weird things that are my kind of weird. The Voynich Manuscript is definitely my kind of weird. Porcelain dolls with their creepy little murderer eyes are definitely not. Finding our kind of weird is an important part of growing up I think.

I love weird fiction. I don’t just mean the genre. I love any fiction with elements that push the boundaries of what is normal or even possible. Star Trek TNG was a fine show but when the Borg showed up in those cyborg BDSM outfits, things got weird in the best of ways. Some of the most deep and insightful episodes revolved around them. The X-Files, Unsolved Mysteries, hell, Nova, and National Geographic specials were the main staples of my childhood evenings. All focused on topics that were interesting, little known, and above all bizarre.

So what is it about the bizarre? I’ve talked a bit about escapism before (here) and for me, the dark, creepy corners are where I choose to escape. Why? Because my life is neither dark nor creepy. It can’t be an escape if you don’t go someplace different. People who only ready happy, uplifting fiction make me wonder…

Anyway, on to THE CIPHER. This book is an oldy(sort of) but a very very goody.  Published in 1991, it is the first novel of author Kathe Koja. I just finished the book and I have to say, I have no idea what to think. I love when that happens.

The narration style is wild and chaotic yet suffused with an art that is both gritty and elegant. The loser Gen-X characters are hateful, awful people.  If they were real you would despise them yet she forces you to care about them and you do and you’re glad to. The brand of horror is  at times, in your face gore then, at once, existential and ethereal. As is the case for the characters within, this book makes its readers work to make sense of it all. Honestly, I’m not sure I ever did and that is where my recommendation of this book becomes pointed.

Do you like questions? If yes, continue, if no, you’ll hate this book. If a question is left unanswered, will you lose your mind? If no, continue, if yes, you’ll hate his book. If questions are the point, rather than answers, are you okay with that? If yes, read the book. If not… you get the idea.

I love questions. I love questions for the way they explode with more questions like some mushroom sending its legion-like offspring off to populate the world. I love weird things because they force questions. Why? Who? How? Even, huh? Questions take us places and THE CIPHER raises enough to send the reader on a wild ride.

Fiction is about escapism or connection and more often than not, both. today I want to talk about escapism. It’s a way for us to leave our daily life behind and discover something new. To feel something different and strange and outside the norm. When we crack the cover of a detective novel or settle into the world of mutants or aliens, or elaborate Victorian households, we let our minds expand into that space. We become a part of the story and it’s fun. It’s so much fun.

So, in what direction do you escape? For me, I escape into the dark. The horror and the thrills, the mystery and violence, the hard questions with the even harder answers. That’s where I come alive. I love thinking about how people overcome the negative or are dissolved by it. The characteristics of the troubled anti-hero are far more complex and gripping than any gleaming knight could hope to be. The drama of a space politician plunging the universe into war all for one problematic ideal makes me think of the issues we face in our own world. The undeniable skill involved in planning the perfect killing. The perfectly executed scene of  a monster devouring its prey. It’s a thing of beauty.

Weird, right? It may seem that way to those who only use fiction as something to relate to. Something to connect with. Those who seek out characters whose traits they can see in themselves.  In that case then seeing yourself in Sauron or Hannibal Lecter might truly be cause for concern. Remember though, connection is only half the fun. Escapism works in reverse. It drives you to seek out characters and worlds that are foreign and unique and decidedly not connected to you.

That’s the beauty of escapism, you are allowed to abandon your own life (whatever that may look like) for something out of the ordinary. I’m a happy, normal, well-adjusted guy (I think). I live a great life and have a great set of family and friends, so if I want to experience something new and different I have to find characters, places, and situations that don’t reflect my light-hearted life. The uplifting and the heartwarming don’t allow me to escape. Or at least not very much.

Why? Because I have to step into a character’s life that’s a lot like mine. I’m experiencing situations I’ve actually experienced. I don’t get the rush of feeling something I wouldn’t normally feel. The world may be on a planet far, far away or in a village hundreds of years into the past but if the story involves some person who likes some people, loves some people, dislikes some people, and does ordinary things with those people then my feelings stay trapped within the ordinary and comfortable. I don’t want to be comfortable. I want to be made to think and imagine and feel all the things I couldn’t or wouldn’t in my day-to-day life. I want to try on some new skin. I want to climb into someone else’s brain. I want to see life from a different perspective. I want to get away. To escape.

Writing has become an incredible escape for me. The twist is that instead of immersing myself into someone else’s world, it allows me to create the worlds I want. Places that haven’t existed for me already. Or maybe the places exist but the characters and situations I’m dying for haven’t yet been made. I get to shape them any way I choose and it’s a rush. The ability to create and destroy buildings, cities, worlds, lives… all without actually doing any of it. That is a power that is hard to describe. An escape that is hard to match. The added bonus for a writer is that in creating a universe for themselves, they allow their readers to escape there too. It’s a gift that is incredibly rewarding to give.

So, where is your escape?