Growing Up in 2012

Wow, has it really been a year since I started this blog???

Well, actually, the fact of the matter is…no, it hasn’t.  (Hahaha!)

I started this blog in May, so clearly, I’m a few months shy of a year.  But, for the sake of being in tune with the rest of the end-of-year countdowns and rembrances, I thought I’d play along with everybody else.  I mean, why not?  Granted, it hasn’t been exactly twelve calendar months since I started blogging, but regardless, I have been writing actively for the past year, so why not celebrate and commemorate it?  One thing I’ve learned this year is that it is hard work writing and maintaining a blog, and despite the many ups and downs, highs and lows, I have not given up.  I continued, I pushed on, I perservered, and most importantly, I grew.

I can honestly say that I’m happy with that, mainly because it turned out to be, for me, the big surprise in 2012: that blogging would help me grow as a writer.  It’s the last thing that I ever expected to happen, but the first thing I can now look forward to next year as I continue to write.  When I think back to my first (horrible) post and compare it to my most recent post, the improvement is almost tangible.  In these months that I have been writing my blog, I found my voice, I narrowed in on a particular style of writing, and I found the purpose and reason for maintaining the blog to begin:  a writing showcase.

And in that spirit, I’m excited to revisit and share some of my  favorite posts, mainly because, just like looking through a photograph of childhood pictures, I want to reflect on how I’ve grown up in 2012.

I am the Doorman

This was the  first post where I thought  there might be some hope for me as a blogger.  It wasn’t some stupid rant about what I was doing with this blog, but rather,  a moment to write about something and someone else other than me:  the class of 2012.  It was my way of wishing my students well as they took their first real steps into adulthood.  It probably could have still used some polish, but all in all, I think it came out okay.

This Post is about Nothing

I like this post because it was the first time I truly understood that I had to have a clear objective when writing blog posts:  there has to be a point, otherwise, why bother?  There are so many blogs in the sphere that have no direction or point.  Clearly, I’m no genius or expert at blog writing, but nonetheless, I had a happy moment when the idea of writing with a clear and defined purpose really sank in. This really helped me define my blog writing moving forward, and I think I started to improve quickly after that.

Finding Horror

My first guest post!  I  got tapped by the illustrious Edward Lorn himself to write for his blog, Ruminating On and it was pretty cool, I have to say.  It all worked out well, too, because he happened to tap me to write on his blog just as I was pondering the horrific and ugly nature of something that I had seen online and that had pushed me to write a poem about it.  I was exponentially angry when I wrote this particular poem, and in my anger, I happened to narrate it in the voice of the “bad guy”, if you will, and to me, it actually made it more scary—truly, it was a dark piece of work, and certainly, I would classify it as horror.  In any case, in my post, I wrote about how I came to write this poem, and write horror in general.  Mr. Lorn writes horror (is damn good at it, by the way), and the topic of that particular blog post, I think, was just perfect.

All That I Am

This was the moment where I really started coming to terms with this new path I’m on in my life with my writing.  Sometimes it’s not always easy to embrace all the aspects of the person that you are or strive to be, and this was my attempt to come to deal with that.   Not a bad thing to do, let me tell you.

Also, did I mention that this was the first time I successfully introduced a video into a blog post???  Hey, it may not be big news to you, but it was totally awesome for me….(silly, I know).

Introducing...

Ah, this post was as much for me as it was for my dear friend, Francis F. Keating.  It was here, with these words, that I felt I turned  a corner in that I was helping a fellow writer make his own mark into the literary world, one that was a long-time coming yet well-deserved. Writing is a difficult market to break into, so whenever someone can give a helping hand—however big or small—it can be very helpful.  Certainly, it’s a wonderful ego boost, and for Francis, it was the least I could do.

Plus, it was just fun to reminisce about our college days—who doesn’t like doing that?

Just a Quick Word

And this post, although it’s the shortest post I’ve ever written, is hands-down the most important, because it’s here where I thank everyone who takes a moment to read my blog.  Building a readership is no small task, so it’s wonderful every time someone stops by my blog to read and comment.  I don’t know that there is anyone who writes without an audience in mind, without hoping for an audience to read their work and that I myself actually have one makes me grateful to no end.  I hope that next year, in 2013, you’ll continue on with me and my little journey and find the ride to be enjoyable.

Wishing you a safe and Happy New Year!  See you January!

EMJ

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The Big Collision

Hey, I admit it:  I’m a dreamer.

I dream of my children going to college.  I imagine paying down my debts.  I envision renewing my wedding vows.

I dream of vacations on the French Riviera, where dark, swarthy Mediterranean men serve me exotic drinks with a sexy accent (heck of a leap, I know).

Sometimes, I dream of what might have been.  Frequently, I dream of what will be, and of course, there are those moments when I dream of what never was (there’s a little story to that, but I’ll save it for another day…)

And they’re glorious, my dreams!  There’s laughter in those reveries, lots of joy and much elation.  Life is very often good, even easy, and so it’s not hard to wonder why I dream.

But.

Recently, I made a completely innocuous observation that it’s a terrible thing when your dreams crash into reality. At the time, I just thought that sentence waxed poetic in my head and I actually posted it on Facebook, if for no other reason than I just like the way it rolled off my tongue.  Very wise, very profound.  (It’s because I’m so deep, you know?)

But actually, when I sat down at my computer later to do some work—after already having dedicated about an extra twenty-five hours above the forty hours that I’m actually paid for— that sentiment came back to me with a sudden kind of relevance.  I was at my computer, creating yet another lesson, planning to grade yet another assignment,  looking for yet another intriguing piece of video to bring the lesson to life (because God forbid students should be bored because your class is not entertaining enough) when I thought to myself, my god, I would so rather be writing right now.  After all, that’s my dream, is it not?  To be a writer?

I’ve got a novel going that I’m working on with a friend of mine that has been in my possession for months now and that I haven’t been able to look at (fortunately my writing partner has infinite wells of patience and doesn’t say anything—such a good guy!).  The little blog here that I write feels neglected.  It’s been months since I churned out a good short story.  And the one poem I wrote last month seemed to take forever to write, which for me, is a bit unusual.  When the writing bug hits, I can turn out a good poem in a few hours.  This one took weeks…but I digress…

All this nags at me, fills me with a sense of loss or despair.  Hopelessness.   There’s a kind of high I get when I write something, an immeasurable sense of accomplishment that picks me up and carries me away to heights beyond the heavens themselves, so when I’m unable to write—not because of lack of desire, but due to lack of opportunity—I get frustrated.  Antsy.  I feel unfulfilled.  I hear a little voice in my head that whispers that it’s time to write.  It tells me that I need to get a few words on paper, be it prose or verse or blog.  It suggests that I should dabble even if I can’t write

But time is my great enemy.  There’s never enough of it.  When I’m working, textbooks strewn about, tests stacked high on my dining room table, it steals from me precious hours and minutes that I could be using to scribble a verse or spin a tale of woe.  When I’m done, the ticking clock reminds me that my children need me and my husband misses me and so to them I go…and when finally, at long last, I think I’ve found a moment for myself, sleep (time’s evil partner if ever there was one) makes my eyes heavy in my head, my fingers slow on the keyboard, and my mind less sharp, less alert. Whatever even faint idea I may have had to write something slips from my thoughts, never to return….

The fact of the matter is that although I want to write, I have to work.  Bills must be paid, the kids have to be fed, my husband needs attention…and I’d like to enjoy a little something in the way of leisure activities.  As such, finding time to write every day is hard.

I know that there are people out there who would read this and scream out:  “Don’t make excuses! Make the time!  Find the time!  If you’re a writer, write!

I wouldn’t disagree with that at all, but finding time is hard.

During the school year, I work all the time, around the clock.  It’s a miracle to me that I still find time for kids and my husband (although my husband swears he suffers neglect at my hands, but you know, digressing and all that…)

So how do I reconcile the two?  My desire to write with my need to earn money?

I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to that.  I know that I have to take care of my family, and although I wish to no end that I could accomplish that task by writing, I have to be realistic.  I’m not famous, I’m not prolific, and when my dreams crash with my reality, there’s really no around even to hear the big bang, much less pick up the pieces of my frustration.

But I will give myself some credit. One of the beautiful things about wanting to do well is that I am becoming persistent.  I’m willing to try new little ventures when I write with the hope that every new story or poem or genre helps me wield a sharper, mightier pen, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I sneak in tidbits of story here, lines of stanza there, and finagle a little bit of paragraph for a blog everywhere.

As a matter of fact, when I dream, the thing that I see over and over is that I don’t give up.  That I push myself and that I try.  I find moments, sometimes one after the other, sometimes far and few between, to get my words on paper.  And all the while, there’s a mantra in my head:  I will do this thing, I will make this work, and one day, I will be great.

And when these dreams crash into this reality, what is left behind is hope.

EMJ

Introducing…

As I make my way into the writing world, I have been asked by friends and family on more than one occasion what made me start writing poetry.  How did I come into this craft? When did I become a poet?  I like giving the answer, because it pays homage to a dear old friend of mine whose own writing talents and genius frequently go unnoticed and unrecognized.

His name is Francis F. Keating.

I met Francis when we were teenagers, both of students at Dillard University, an all-black college in New Orleans.  He was the cool dude on campus, sporting a bandana and an earring when it was not fashionable for guys to do so.  He loved listen to hard rock, which was in stark contrast to the hip-hop and R&B that was the preferred choice of music for everyone else on campus. Francis was our resident Arnold Schwarzenegger, both in his commitment to lifting weights as well as the square line of his jaw, so like the actor himself.  He liked serenade unsuspecting girls on campus when they passed him on their way back to the dorms, if for no other reason than to surprise them and amuse himself.  People gravitated towards him because of his easy, laid back energy, big smile, and quick wit.  The great thinker on our tiny campus, Francis was a blue-jean philosopher, pondering lofty questions about life among the mighty oaks of the quad.

He was not your average black guy.

But if this was not intriguing enough, Francis was also a poet—and an extraordinary one at that.

The first poem he ever shared with me—one that I will be sharing with you shortly—impressed me not only because of the voice and style of his verse had such an old-world, classical sound, but also because the content of his poem was so profound.  He didn’t write about teenage love and woe—like I did—or anything artificial or superfluous, like the sound of rain drops falling haplessly in a myriad of colors while sheep walked by or something innocuous like that (and thank goodness too, because as we all know, that shit gets on my nerves…)

No, Francis wrote a poem that talked about the nature of God, who He was and man’s fruitless search to find Him, only to realize that we ourselves hold the keys to finding the God we seek.

We are the God that we are looking for.

And he wrote this poem when he was fifteen or sixteen.

When I read that poem, I was blown away.  Francis’ phrasing was elegant and lyrical, and used a rich rhyme scheme to tell his tale.  The message of the poem was unique and thought-provoking and spawned conversation; many times later he and I would discuss the nature of God, church, and religion and its relevance in a modern society.  Further, Francis told a story through his poem and…well, we all know how I feel about that.

It’s not a stretch to say that after immediately reading that piece of writing, I really didn’t think I had any poetic talents at all.  But my good friend, ever humble, was also encouraging, and would push me to write.  He became a good editor for my burgeoning works, and even better, he was a great sound-board for ideas.  And so I would write, he would encourage me, and lo and behold, my own writing began to strengthen and grow.

Of course, Francis knows of all of this already.  What he doesn’t know is that secretly I would aspire to write poetry like him.  I was completely beguiled by the thought that poetry could have such great depth, brilliant rhyme, and touch a broad range of emotion.

I didn’t have to write the archetypal “teenage angst” poetry.

I could write something richer, more intricate, more profound.

And so, with my friend at my side, that’s what I set out to do.

 ~~~~~~~~~~

Fast-forwarding through the years, my writing would come and go.  Life, as it often does, frequently got in the way:  I got married, had kids, set upon my professional career as an educator.  Unfortunately, with the passage of time, as Francis and I got on with our lives, we lost touch.

But you always remember the people who impact your life.  In the times that I would aspire to write, my friend was never far from my mind.  When I’d sit at my computer late at night, a tentative stanza here or there flashing on the screen, I’d wonder to myself:  What would Francis think of this?  Would it be up to par? Would he give me grief about the rhythm? And what about this rhyme scheme—would it pass the test of his critical ear?  (Francis is very particular about rhyme—no mother goose rhymes for Mr. Keating!) It was against his work that I would measure the quality of my own…usually with little success.

However, years later, when we would eventually reconnect (ironically, it was for the purpose of writing a book) he’d challenge me to write poetry, and I’d think to myself, there’s no way I can hold a candle to what he has written.

And yet, the idea that I could match his skill with a pen or that I could be as equally profound with my themes presented a challenge, and so I began to write my own poems.  Of course, there were hits and misses, but in my quest to match his great talent, I like to think that I developed my own. Always looking to write a little more, to write better, to be better, I created a collection of poems that is still growing even today.   Clearly, I have my own style and my own strengths, but at the end of the day, there’s always a nod to Francis and his work, whether he knows it or not.

This is how I became a poet:  trying to keep up with Francis.

~~~~~~~~~~

Of course, this is a whole lot of build-up for two people who might be good writers only in their own minds. Other people might actually look at our respective works and think we write like shit—who knows?

But what I do know is this:  that I have a friend who to me is a phenomenal poet, who has been my great inspiration, and it’s because of him that I am on this course.  So I thank him for it.

And although I don’t have that big or great of a following yet, or that my first book isn’t flying off the shelves as I would hope it would, I do know that in addition to his support, I have benefitted from the encouragement of other writers and authors who have helped me by getting my name out there through their blogs and shout-outs to their fans.  So that now, for my very dear friend who imagined my potential long before I saw it, for my buddy who believed in me, for my writing partner who matches my inclination for all things dark and twisted, the very least that I can do is get his name out there and share his work with you.

Francis is going to post a series of poems on my blog for the next few weeks.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

And so, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to…Francis F. Keating.

 “AND ALL FLESH SHALL SING TOGETHER”

Forged in the midst of greater men

Stood the image of a man

Torn knuckles cringed in fury,

The Bible brass in hand.

Its head through time decapitated,

Ideas gone with his land—

But ‘neath him lay a pedestal,

Dead visions of the man.

“The Lord is coming!”

Words so sacred buried in the stone.

No signs, no thoughts, no reasons why,

Just chiseled breath and tone.

And minds enslaved ten thousand years

By Gods unholy bride,

Soon broke there chains,

Beheld the world,

Unveiled man’s hidden lie.

New opened eyes!

There is no God to save us from our sins.

No prophets’ lies

Nor revelations judge the souls of men.

And when we look upon

Such tattered trophies of our past,

We bear in mind our own reflections

Gods beheld at last.

COPYRIGHT 2012 ©  FRANCIS F. KEATING.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

All That I Am

I know that there are some of you out there getting to know me.  That’s great, but for those of you who don’t know me, let me introduce myself.  I am Elizabeth Michaud John.

I am a wife.  I am a mother.  I am a sister (an evil one, I readily admit, by the way–my idiot brother would quickly confirm this given the chance).   I am a daughter.  A friend.  A cousin.  An aunt.

I am also a teacher.  A colleague.   A worker.  A supervisor.

I’m a lot of things, in fact.  And on these pages, it’s not really hard for me to list them all.

I’m a Scrabble/WWF genius (suckas!).  I’m a TV enthusiast.  I’m a linguist.  I’m a logophile (and yes, I’m going to make you look that one up).

The list goes on and on.

I’m an arachnophobe.  I’m a traveler.  I’m a sometimes chef (you’d better believe I can make a mean bowl of cereal).

And it keeps on going.  I can tell you more, if you’d like (I’m going to assume that you’d like, otherwise you would’ve stopped reading already).

I’m a typist.  I’m a joker.  I’m a potty-mouth (yea, I love to fucking curse.)  I’m also super-impatient.

It’s like the lyrics to that song by Meredith Brooks:  Bitch.  Hey, look, I’ve cued the song—how appropriate of me!

It’s a testament to the fact that I’m brilliant.

(We should take a moment to celebrate my first blog-related video post.)

I’m frequently a happy camper. But I can also be one sad little puppy.  I’m quite often very  sarcastic.

I’m an enigma wrapped in a conundrum  (I love that expression).

But despite the ease with which I can profess all these things and others, there is one thing that is difficult for me to declare.  Whenever I try to say it, I notice that I frequently pause, or the syllables stumble and trip coming out of mouth.  It has three parts, and each is as difficult as the other.

I’m..a…writer.

Ahh, yes, well, there you have it.  Easier to type at least.

I’m…a…poet.

There’s that other title, an extension of the first.

I’m…an…author.

Whew–the last component!  It’s like the holy trinity of writing-related titles.

When you get married, your status is accepted and cemented by that rite of passage.  It’s easily proven, it’s readily verified.  Or when you have a child, there’s no disputing the change in your biological status. Claim the child or not, you are and will forever be a parent.  Or how about your paycheck?  Every one you get clearly signifies that you are somebody’s employee.  The stub that you’re left with and the surplus of cash in your bank account (however temporary) are all a testament to your working status.

It’s not hard to profess these things, because with little proof, they are easily accepted.  No questions asked.

But when you write, and when you say you’re a writer, it’s a whole different ballgame.  It’s weird, but as it turns out, just making that declaration out loud is not enough for people.

They need proof.

And even when they are given proof—a short story, a poem, a novel—it doesn’t mean that they’ll accept it.  People do like to judge using a measuring stick that is not universal nor broad.  Rather, everyone has their own particular qualifiers that they wield to determine if you are what you say you are:  a master of words, a manipulator of rhyme and rhythm, a weaver of tales and suspense, a purveyor of fact and truth.

Or, in the absence of proof, there are the questions.

You’re a writer?  Really?  What do you write?”

“How come I haven’t seen any of your books in the bookstores?”

“Oh, you write?  Wow, you must have a lot of free time available.”

“Yea, so do I.  I’m writing a book, too.  I mean, how hard can it be?”

“Really?  Why?  Don’t you have a real job?”

And these precious jewels are just the tip of the iceberg.  Is it any wonder why I sometimes stumble?  I guess it’s because for me (although I’m sure this is true for anyone who writes) the storytelling process is so personal. With every word you leave on the page, you leave a little piece of yourself as well.  I may write about monsters or murderers, ghouls or fairies, something sweet or something somber, but no matter my voice or my character, the plot or circumstance, I leave some of my soul on those pages.  So for someone to dismiss my work so summarily, it’s a little heart-wrenching.

So sometimes I don’t profess that I’m a…well, you know.

But what I have come to realize over time is that like with anything, there will always be someone to stand in your way and say that you are less than you are.  That what you do has no value.  That the blood, sweat, and tears that you pour into your desired craft are a waste of the time that God himself gave you.  Eventually, it has come to me that as I work to make my mark in the literary world,  there are people that will always need proof, they will always ask the dreaded questions, and no matter what I provide or how I answer, it will never be enough.

And so what is the lesson that I take from all of this?  What has been my epiphany?  To stand up and make my claim.  Don’t stumble, trip, or fall.  Speak up and speak loud, and profess it all.

I’M A WRITER.  I’M A POET.  I’M AN AUTHOR.

Did I also mention that I’m sort of BADASS???????

EMJ

Note:  Of course, what I’m saying here doesn’t apply to everyone.  There are those who will readily accept and believe when I say I’m a writer.  Those are the ones—however few—that have a never-ending faith.  That believe without end.  They steadfastly give their support, so I most certainly am not discrediting those good folks—as a matter of fact, I exalt them.  Without them, I might not even be able to sit here and write this blog.  So I thank them—they know who they are. 🙂

The Language of Writing

I am a student of language.

In my own childhood home, foreign language was very much a vital thread in the fabric of our everyday lives.  My family is Haitian, so I heard French and Creole in my house all the time when I was growing up.  As a result, I think that my family experience made me very receptive to nature of foreign languages. When you grow up in a bilingual household, it’s very easy to see the world with a larger, broader view—as well as your place in it—than if perhaps you grow up in a monolingual one, especially if that language is part of the dominant culture.

As such, when I got a little older, I decided I wanted to be an interpreter.  I was going to stand between two foreigners and unite them through the vehicle of language, telling their stories, sharing their concerns, recounting their fears or or exalting their joys. I had all these great, dreamy notions of living in New York City and working at the UN, meeting exotic people, and speaking a multitude of foreign languages, much to the amazement of my peers and the friends of my social circle.

But beyond the lofty goals I envisioned for helping others bridge their communication gaps, for me personally, I loved the idea of communicating with people from all over the world, in their respective language, and sharing a piece of their lives and their world that was so different from my own.  I imagined myself sitting in cafés in Paris, sipping on an espresso and watching les français stroll by, with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop.  Or I’d be lounging in a tapas bar in Spain, flirting with a dark-haired, dark-eyed Antonio Banderas-type (figure Antonio Banderas as he was in Desperado), secretly planning my wedding to this swarthy, sexy caballero.

I’ll be honest:  I just thought it would be pretty fucking cool.

Well, I didn’t quite realize that dream.  That’s not say that I didn’t try—I most certainly did.  When I was in college, I studied five foreign languages:  Spanish, French, German, Japanese, and Portuguese.  My studies granted me an opportunity to travel abroad and I was fortunate enough to study in France and Japan.  My travels did afford me the chance to realize part of my dream:  I did sit in those cafés in France, and while sipping on café au lait, I got to flirt with a lot of Spaniards who happened to be there learning French.

Go figure.

And in Japan, my eyes were opened to a world of wonder—there’s no other way to explain it.  The country was pristine, immaculate perfection.  The landscape of the country was manicured  flawlessness.  The careful art of bonsai really seemed to describe an entire people:  small, careful, beautiful, rich.

And through it all, the real focus of my dream manifested itself everyday, no matter where I was:  I was communicating with people from around the world, sharing bits of history and culture, food and fun, life.

I told stories of my world in the language of my hosts, and I listened to them regale me with their own stories in my language.

So it wasn’t a total loss, my dream.  If anything, I took my first steps forward.

But like with anything, sometimes life gets in the way.  I got a job, then I got married, and then I had kids.  A life abroad with three kids began to seem farther and farther out of reach, and I think I kind of let my dream go.  Not with any regret, mind you, but more out of a sense of necessity.  Interpretation is not a profession that is in high demand in this country to begin with, and living in the Deep South, it’s almost non-existent.

Such is life.

But one day, I picked up a pen and I began to write.  Not in French or in Spanish.  Not in German or Japanese or Portuguese.  But in English.  In the language that I had mastered long ago.

I wrote stories and I then I dabbled in verse.   The words seemed to pour out of me, as if I had opened floodgates that were holding back an ocean of water that I didn’t know was there.

I created worlds and characters and events and lives, and then I shared them with the world (a small world, I readily admit, but I have hopes that that world will become ever larger).  And as I wrote, I made an accidental discovery.

My dream had returned to me.

When I was younger, I aspired to communicate with the world through foreign language, but that opportunity would slip through my fingers.  But through my writing, the opportunity had re-presented itself to me.  I could still communicate with the world, only the means of delivery was different.  The stories may not be true, but they were engaging, nonetheless, and they captured a slice of life that could be given to another for their own personal inspection, whatever their perception.

I wonder sometimes why I didn’t see it before.  The language of writing is as complex as any other foreign language that I have ever studied.  Of course, there is the technical side:  the grammar, the mechanics, the study of function and form, syntax and process.  But there is also the creative side of language, where the technical aspects merge with creative thought and expression to deliver messages, ideas, or even…stories.

I can’t believe now how easy it was.  Certainly, the language was unexpected.  It never occurred to me that while using English I can still interpret, only instead I’m interpreting life events through writing, because let’s face:  much like live interpretation, storytelling is just taking an event and retelling it in a way that you see fit.  Granted, when I write, I clearly have more leeway to bend the facts as I wish them to be, but nonetheless, I still get to play with words, manipulate meanings, fool around with syntax.  As I write my stories and scribble my verses, I tweak tone and intonation, meaning and nuance.  And I love it.

I’m realizing that writing allows me to do the one thing that I always wanted to do:  experiment with language.   My dream was never really gone from me; in fact, it was always there, lurking in the recesses of my mind, just waiting for me to make this connection.  And now that I have it back, I think I’m going to do everything I can to realize my dream to its fullest potential.

Warum nicht?

EMJ

Finding Horror

I wrote a poem today and it was horrific.

Not horrific in the sense that it was filled with typos, misspelled words, or a stupid message.

But horrific in the sense that I wrote it as a response of sorts to a picture of a terrible incident I found on the Internet.

The photo was of a picture of a lynching.  It must have been taken around 1920, I think it was, and it showed a young black man hanging.  Actually, the lynch-mob decided it wasn’t enough to hang him, so they doused him in coal oil and burned him while he hanged.

I guess they wanted to make sure the job got done right.

And yet, as horrid as this picture was, what bothered me most was the reaction of one man in the crowd.

He was smiling.  Smiling as if he was watching the greatest show on earth.

I guess maybe he was.

As I looked at the photograph, I kept my eye on this man, holding his shotgun, so smug and satisfied with the action taking place before him, deaf to what I’m sure was this young man’s pleas for mercy, immune to this same man’s screams and cries of pain.

The guy just stood there, smiling away, and I began to wonder about the kind of hate a heart must harbor in order for a person to stand there so coldly and yet so happily at the demise of another human being, especially a death of such a gruesome nature.  The more I looked, the more I pondered, and then before I knew what was happening, I had a Word document open on my desktop, and my fingers were flying over the keys.

I wrote and wrote and wrote and when I was done, I had written a poem in the voice of the smiling man.  A vicious, sarcastic verse about this postcard picture and as far as that poem goes, it does what it’s supposed to do.  It’s dark and ugly, filled with hate and vitriol and venom.  It’s filled with horror.

Because for me, this is where true horror starts:  in a postcard.  In reality.

This “postcard” is clear, hard evidence—one of many, unfortunately—of  the ugliness in human nature that leads to horror.  In that photo, true horror is presented in its rawest form:  in this case, a man smiling at the violent, senseless death of another.

What is my point?  My point is that frequently, people ask me:  “How do you do it?  How do you come up with this stuff?”

I don’t know that I ever just “come up” with anything.  I know what frightens me, and based on that, I look around and I interpret what I see.  Unfortunately, there’s darkness everywhere,  all around.  For me, I typically base my darker works—either stories or poems—in reality, because clearly, these things can, do, or have happened, and they are terror in their own right.  I don’t necessarily need to make up stories about lab experiments gone wrong, demons from hell, or aliens from outer space, when all around me, regular people are providing a narrative of darkness everyday.  When I weave my tales of horror, it’s the human animal I refer to and that provides me with ample fodder.  And because there is an element of truth and possibility in the storyline, I think it makes the story that much more frightening.

That’s how I get my ideas.

This isn’t to say that I won’t venture into the fantastic or the supernatural.  Not at all.  I don’t want to limit myself or my writing in that way.  But, for me, as a writer and as a reader, there is a kind of comfort that is derived from a tale that, when I put the pen down or the book away, I can easily venture back into the realms of reality knowing that the imagined words on the page will never come to pass.  I’m scared only for a moment, while in the moment, and then it passes. It’s over.  It’s gone.

But, in my capacity as a writer, a reader, or even as a casual observer of human behavior, the minute that realism is introduced, however it’s presented—through fact or fiction, in verse or in prose, through pictures or film, in actions or in deeds—then it stays with me, tormenting my thoughts, dictating my actions.  I keep my children a little bit closer, I hold my husband a little bit tighter.

When there is a hint of realism, of possibility, of probability, I know horror is lurking around the corner, waiting for me.  And as a result, as part of my creative process, I don’t need to look for “scary ideas”.  Horror finds me.

When I was on the computer today, surfing the net, I wasn’t looking for anything particularly shocking.  But somehow, in my many clicks, I wound up on that site, on that picture, and on the face of the smiling man.  To me, it was pure evil, when I least expected it, when I was least looking for it, and it scared me.

And then, I wrote about it.

EMJ

This entry was written as a guest post for fellow blogger and author Edward Lorn, author of Dastardly Bastard and Bay’s End.  Be sure to check out his blog at edwardlorn.wordpress.com.  His books are available both in print and for download at amazon.com.