Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hey, This Writing Thing Doesn't Have To Kill Me After All - Brian Hodge - Biggest Aha! Moments in Writing

Hey, This Writing Thing Doesn’t Have To Kill Me After All

by Brian Hodge

There was a time when I could conceive of a novel that I wouldn’t survive. I either wouldn’t be around to finish it, or around to see it published.

I know, this sounds insufferably drama-queeny. “Oooo, look at the tortured artist, doing what he loves, and the jagoff still isn’t happy!” Be that as it may, the one writer friend to whom I confided this understood it completely.

Early on, I wrote four novels for the heralded Abyss line of books, the brainchild of beloved editor Jeanne Cavelos, for Bantam Doubleday Dell. Each novel was grimmer than the one before. They had their moments of levity, of heart, of love and light, but still, they went to some very dark places.

And I didn’t know any other way to write them but live in those places for the duration.

The only thing I can compare this to is method acting, an approach in which the actor strives for complete personal and emotional identification with a role.

You’d think a role like Hannibal Lector might leave stains, but Anthony Hopkins turned it on and off at will. He’s not method.

Then there’s Daniel Day-Lewis, whose obsessive inhabitation of character is the stuff of legend. In preparing for The Last of the Mohicans, he spent six months living off the land; he learned how to make a canoe; back in civilization he carried his flintlock rifle everywhere, even to Christmas parties. He didn’t just play Hawkeye. He became Hawkeye.

And then … there’s Heath Ledger.

Conclusions vary on the contributing factors behind the prescription meds overdose that killed him. But two things aren’t much in dispute: that it was accidental, and that, after finishing work on The Dark Knight, he was having a rough time shaking off the effects of playing the Joker.

I understood that better than I would’ve liked.

Four novels: From Nightlife to Deathgrip to The Darker Saints to Prototype, the plunge got deeper each time. The vortex down pulled harder. The lines got blurry sometimes. I still squirm when recalling a confrontation I had with someone, no longer myself, but relating to the world with the paranoia of the worst character in Deathgrip.

Finishing a novel ended nothing. The recovery period after each one took progressively longer. Depression isn’t quite the word for it. It was more a feeling of disconnection with myself, being unmoored as to who and what I was, and even why. It was clinging toxic residues and a suspicion that maybe I’d be better off in a state of non-existence. My mate, Doli, later admitted to thinking, before the last of them, “I can’t go through this with him again.”

Prototype was the nadir. Writer Edward Lee called it the most depressing novel he’s ever read. One of my martial art instructors ranks it second, behind Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Jeanne Cavelos, at the time, called it unbearable. A long-time reader remarked on an online forum, “I can’t imagine what made him write something like that.”

In hindsight, I guess it was because I had to. I realize now that mentally, emotionally, and metaphorically, the thing was autobiographical: the odyssey of someone who doesn’t fit in the world.

But then, not long after finishing it, the strangest thing: calm.

A-ha moments, for me, are rarely moments per se. They’re more of a long, slow accrual of enough evidence to convince me that this is how it really is.

A dawning realization: I don’t have to do things this way any more.

Maybe I did once. Maybe the entire sequence of novels was something I had to go through in order to finally put something to rest, then move along. But a lifetime of that M.O.? No. Some things can’t be sustained.

So I wrote something very different, a crime novel, Wild Horses, and it was fun. Then another. By the time I got to the short novel World of Hurt, in which I did maybe the worst things to a character that I ever have and possibly ever will, it was confirmed: I could leave it all at the desk. Could turn it on when needed, turn it off when not, and walk away without carrying it everywhere else.

I’ve always felt that creators are best served by following their hearts and instincts, no matter where this leads. We forsake the opportunity to know ourselves better if we approach a threshold, then back away.

But, as Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

The view always looks better from the other side.

Information taken from Amazon about this author:

BRIAN HODGE, called "a writer of spectacularly unflinching gifts" by no less than Peter Straub, is the award-winning author of ten novels of horror and crime/noir. He's also written over 100 short stories, novelettes, and novellas, and four full-length collections. His most recent collection, 2011's Picking The Bones, became the first of his books to be honored with a Publishers Weekly starred review. His first collection, The Convulsion Factory, was ranked by critic Stanley Wiater among the 113 best books of modern horror.

He's recently finished the time-consuming task of porting over his earlier works for e-book editions, using it as an opportunity to do a fresh line-edit and polish on every novel and collected story.

He lives in Colorado, where more of everything is in the works. He also dabbles in music, sound design, and photography; loves everything about organic gardening except the thieving squirrels; and trains in Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which are of no use at all against the squirrels.

Connect through his web site (www.brianhodge.net) or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/brianhodgewriter), and follow his blog, Warrior Poet (www.warriorpoetblog.com).

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