Richard Matheson has left us, and more’s the pity, for he gave us so much. This is not even a full list of his “Number 1 hits”, let alone of his full body of work:
Film: for Roger Corman, he converted Edgar Allen Poe’s gripping prose into the silver-tongued speeches of Vincent Price villainy; The Masque of the Red Death is lurid and comical. He turned a regular guy into The Incredible Shrinking Man; unleashed a world of vampires upon the anti-hero lead of I Am Legend (that actors as different as Price, Charlton Heston, and Will Smith have portrayed Neville speaks volumes about how malleable, and mythic, that story has been). He launched grieving men on otherworldly searches for love, in the distant past (Bid Time Return, filmed as Somewhere In Time) or in the Afterlife (What Dreams May Come);
Television: He dreamed up, for The Twilight Zone, the “toy aliens” who invaded a farm house, a World War I pilot whisked to 1960, the gremlin on the wing of that airliner, etc. He is “to blame” for the transporter accident that split Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk into warring “angel” and “devil” twins. He let loose a demented, never-seen (and possibly, supernatural) trucker to besiege Dennis Weaver’s terrified motorist, in Duel. He sent Kolchak, the Night Stalker on his first monster hunts. He influenced Stephen King; The X-Files even named a UFO-seeking senator after him.
He was also kind and generous towards his fans; for instance, he once sent out a friendly, and helpful, reply to an awkward letter I had written to him, seeking professional advice from a Grand Master. Besides possessing such epictalent, he was reputed to be quite an excellent person, too, which suggests that those are not mutually exclusive traits, after all (take that, “divas” everywhere!). He is Legend, all right.
Let us now praise the innocent bystanders of fiction, for they play an invaluable role: they witness the narrative, and lend it a helping hand. Ever imagine yourself living in a fictional world‘s setting? You would most likely expect to be one of the main characters; at least, to interact with them… but one can interact with the pivotal characters, without being one. Try to picture what it might be like to be a walk-on character in a larger story… even a glorified extra, too, has an entire story of his or her own, as do we all.
Think about how that walk-on views the world. He or she “stars” in a story not being told in greater detail, at the moment we first encounter this specific, fictional world. So-called minor characters live entire lives that may happen to intersect just once with the lead figures, but that’s enough to acknowledge their contribution. (Richard Linklater‘s quirky comedy film Slackeremploys an entire cast of walk-ons, to great effect.) The saloon keeper who knows something about cattle rustlers; the person who provides a lead to a detective working on a case; the below-decks crewman who lends the ship’s captain a helping hand; the folks in the bleachers who cheer at a game: they’ve got their own, huge stories, of which we may learn nothing in the story we’re experiencing.
We may think that the only character whose narrative matters is the main one, because that is the life-path upon which the story is focusing at the moment we are paying attention to it, but think about it: this person, too, has lived a number of years prior to entering this scene, which means a wealth of experiences informs that person’s own viewpoint. This means there may be no “unimportant” or “minor” characters; only characters possessing some degree of mystery. To be little more than a “glorified extra” in a larger narrative is something closer to common experience than being the central figure is, and while we all want to be the celebrated figure, each of us already plays such a role, even if unsung, somewhere off-stage.
Geography and social studies gripped my imagination; they were among the first subjects I enjoyed in elementary school. That terminology and I share an American provenance; I could have said “primary school”, had I been brought up elsewhere. I write differently in Texas than I did in California, not because I have switched technologies. The backdrop exerts quite a different sort of effect – call it a gravitational influence – on more than just the weather.
Out West, I liked to write about chilly places, snow sheathing foliage and terrain, as well as fog banks, rain, folks mumbling about dark doings, that type of thing; it appealed to me while I lived near the ocean, under warm blue skies. Here in the vastness of the Central Plains, I write about urban events, cities with tall buildings, overstuffed with millions of people. When I’m on the East Coast, places of warmth and jaw-dropping, open spaces seem so far away – so then, of course, I write about them more. Writing about places I’d like to visit has a different appeal from writing about where I’ve already been; I’m drawn to wherever I’m not – that’s the explorer, the sailor, the archaeologist, the astronaut, even the diplomat (I hope) hitting the keys for me, putting my “horizonfever” to good use…
Today it seems like traveling anywhere can only bring us into contact with the same restaurants, the same sporting and cultural events, and other features of modern life, “flattened” by our ubiquitous technology, five hundred channels of the same information, broadcasting, cable-casting, satellite-casting, pod-casting at us everywhere. Then, too, a well-told joke can make people laugh on both sides of an ocean – because what resonates with people hasn’t “flattened” us at all; quite the reverse.
Of course, you’ve noticed her by now, if you’ve been here at all: she’s beaming in the sunshine, just above whatever I’ve posted. She just turned up on my doorstep one day: butterscotch-colored, wearing no collar, eager and anxious, no companions in sight. I fed her something, I think; gave her a bowl of water to drink; she seemed grateful enough – but then, she departed. Next day, this happened again; she even let me scratch her someplace where she was itching, or contending with fleas. Third day, and again; it’s a pattern. I’ve come to enjoy, even to anticipate, her visitations. Fourth day… nothing, no trace of the gorgeous beast. Tracked her down: at the pound, miserable. Made a snap decision, to get her out of there, and brought her home for keeps. She was a beautiful golden Lab; I named her “Mady“, short for all the other, suggested names I had found too good to discard. She lived with me for the rest of her days, and such great days she made them for me, too!
So: my writing background is rooted in fiction. As a kid, first I wrote about heroic spacemen; as I grew older, I expanded my interests to include heroic spacewomen (art imitating life). I knocked around a while longer, learned some more, and took to also writing about folks living here and now, on planet earth.
Alas, we fiction writers who lack wealthy relations and/or representation have to earn the means to eat some other way. Copywriting seemed like a viable means of feeding the beast, but early in my studies, I struggled with a new “skill set”. This seemed a bit too much like having a job in sales, which I’ve never felt that I could do all that well.
It took a recent conversation – with one of the smartest guys I know – to set me straight. I was explaining how tough I found it to write a pitch for something. He has done some sales – enough to know that it involves engaging people’s emotions. “It seems to me,” he said, “that an ad is like a short story. So, just write that.”
I have to agree – and not just because he’s my father. It makes a good bit of sense to see dramatic, or story-telling, possibilities in any sort of writing – it all drives towards the same thing: communication. I’ll post “spec” ads on the Wares page.
Astonishing to realize this was so long ago; the last survivors of this epoch- shattering thing will leave us some day, owing to their great age – surely, that’s the only way any of us wishes to go. Over 166,000 Allied and Axis men went at it, hammer and tongs, during “Operation Neptune”. The heartbreak of it: roughly 2,500 Americans (including a distant cousin of mine), two thousand Britons and Canadians, and something like four thousand to nine thousand Germans were “dispatched to Valhalla” from the sand and surf of Normandy. Rent fiction movies like The Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan, for a “dramatic” look at these cataclysmic events; better, look up authentic “newsreel” footage – the WWII precursor to television news – to see how folks back then were kept informed.
Tired of putting in simple searches? Try going on a “Hero’s Quest” instead, and cue the soaring music, as the credits roll! Dividing the various from the sundry into categories is “filing-cabinet territory”…Ire-brandedit “Inner Space”, because then it’s like we’re exploring underwater. I almost left the “Work” bit in peace, till I liked the sound of “Wares” better. Most self-respecting calendars track “The Sun and the Moon”... which sounds like it came from a children’s book (wrote this on a Wednesday… just GO with it –)
Which is a phrase concerning motion, yes, I know. Perhaps I have to be someplace. Where was I? Right. My deal is: Anybody can just pick the widgets that this wizard gizmo provides, use the standard names for each, and go to town (well, not literally, as that would require… some sort of… motion… toward a town – that again),but of course, I just had to be difficult, because when you’re adept at something, you…
The point is: I could have just taken the standard “bells and whistles” one sticks on one of these pages, and run with them. (Third timewith a “traveling” metaphor! They get it already, man.) I should make this a lot easier to navigate, if nothing else. I gave that all due consideration, and I decided: “NAH! Boring. Middle Management stuff. Plenty of that to go around already.” Figured if I could liven up the place, it would… be livelier. Like putting a potted plant in your office, to make the place feel more like you’re at home, that type of thing.
Welcome to my first post of this new blog! I plan to cram it chock-full to almost bursting with useful and useless stuff, leaning more to the first category – if all goes well.
I picked the title “Inky Brightness” (after more effort than I would like to admit I had to invest) because it contains a deliberate contradiction: it’s funny how we scratch down ideas, plans, messages, dreams, etc. in opaque ink, in order to illuminate them.
I like it. I hope you do, too.
Caesar Augustus, in order to launch something, might say “Sic infit” – “So it begins”… sounds a bit like he’s saying, “Baby with a cold”, right? Right out of the gate, we’re not trying to offend scholars of Latin or new mothers, so instead, I’ll just go with “Plug it in, turn it up, and-a one, and-a two…”