Posted on April 28, 2011 by Nancy
I first met Mr. Braunbeck when I was a grunt at the Borderlands Writers Boot Camp. To Each Their Darkness is his guide for writers and in some ways it expands upon many of the gems he gave to those of us at the workshop. As one of the newest writing manuals on the market it is undoubtedly one of the best, using the personal to impart the practical. Comparable to Stephen King’s On Writing, To Each Their Darkness takes writers on a journey to discovering how to use their own dark experiences in their work, without becoming a slave to that same darkness that can hold one hostage.
But it is more than just a writing guide. And it should be read by more than just those working professionally as writers or those aiming to. Anyone that is interested in the sweat that goes into creating their favorite horror novels, short stories, or movies; anyone that is interested in the process that the writer must often go through before getting the words from his or her head-space and onto the page; anyone in a personal relationship of any kind with a writer — especially a writer of darker works — should read this book.
Gary Braunbeck has been gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some interview questions about TETD and the writing life. Without further ado, Gary Braunbeck, in his own words.
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You write about a lot of painful, personal experiences in TETD. How did you come to the decision to include them?
GB: There’s a line early in the book that states — and I’m paraphrasing here because I don’t have the book in front of me — that in order for something to stand as an actual opinion and not a simple preface to one, such as, “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it,” said prefaces have to be followed by reasons why, and in order for you to understand the reason why this person reached said opinion, you need to know something about the person who’s offering the opinion. Much of the personal information I offer in To Each Their Darkness is intended to illustrate to readers “how” I reached certain opinions about the horror field, and why those were the opinions at which I arrived. I talk a lot about other writers’ work in the book, particularly in a section that reprints about 6 introductions I wrote for others’ books, and it’s my sincere hope that by the time readers get to this section, they’ll go in with a fuller understanding of how and why I reached the conclusions and opinions that offer. (Also, hopefully, it will cause readers to seek out those books.)
Besides, one cannot write about the darker aspects of the human condition — and I won’t apologize for using that oft- and unjustifiably-maligned phrase — unless one has experienced some aspect, small or large, of it for him- or herself.
How difficult was that?
GB: The difficulty wasn’t in dredging up some rather unpleasant details from my past, the difficulty came when I began to associate these details with my own fiction in order to illustrate how a person can use horror and dark fantasy as a possible — sometimes necessary — form of self-exorcism. I’ve been carrying a lot of nastiness around for most of my life, and until I hit my mid-thirties, that nastiness defined me in my own eyes. I was not a nice person. Most days I still can’t think of myself as one of the “good guys.” To be completely honest, I write what I write in an effort to someday find a way to forgive myself. Haven’t gotten there yet but it’s been a helluva ride thus far.
How do you think writers can find balance between work and life?
GB: By knowing how to define him- or herself beyond being a story-teller. I know dozens of writers who define themselves as a parent, a sister, a friend, an in-law, an activist,etc. — and this is the manner in which they define themselves as they work to maintain the life they’ve built for themselves and their family, and they’re among the happiest, kindest, most compassionate human beings you could ever hope to meet. Calling themselves “writers” usually comes five or six lines down the list. My problem has always been that I’ve defined myself solely as a writer, so I can’t really offer you a solid answer to your question — and I’m not trying to be cute or evasive, but I’ve yet to be able to strike that balance.
What do you think is the best way writers can get in touch with the darkness in their lives in order to use it in their writing, without being consumed by it?
GB: Ah, there’s the rub, as Willy S. [William S. Burroughs] would say. But what I’ve found helps achieve that goal — that necessary emotional distance — is to view whatever darknesses from your life as simply story material. William Goldman has a great line at the end of his novel The Color of Light that goes: “Life is material, you just have to live long enough to figure out how to use it.” You have the opportunity to take events Q, R, and S and reshape them so that they enhance the story and theme of the piece. Just don’t start out by using an incident from your past whole-cloth because “…that’s the way it really happened.”
Fiction doesn’t give a shit about how something “really happened,” it’s only interested in how this thing can be reshaped to serve the story. If it doesn’t serve the story, then you can bet your ass you’ve fallen victim to creative self-indulgence and that whatever you produce is going to read more like apologist fiction, and that will cripple a writer’s resolve; there’s nothing quite like realizing that, because you forced an element or passage into a story where it didn’t belong, you have unleashed the literary equivalent of a Cleveland Steamer into the world.
You talk about lyrical styles in TETD. Can you elaborate a bit?
GB: I get so tired of reading journeyman-level prose, I really do. But at the same time, prose that is so purple dense as to be impenetrable is equally frustrating. I began gravitating toward a more “lyrical” style of prose because of watching re-runs of 1950s live television dramas, and then The Twilight Zone. Particularly in the 1950s live dramas, the writers had a damn-near impossible task: to capture and maintain the attention and emotions of a post-WWII generation that had only recently made the transition from radio to movies, and now here comes this newfangled whatchamacallit named “television,” and it promises to be just as good as the other two outlets. Problem was, the TV dramas didn’t have the bigger budgets, the studios wherein they performed the plays were, at best, the size of three janitor’s closets with a kitchenette thrown in, and — and this is the kicker — most of the directors only had two cameras to work with (some had to make due with one).
The sets were sparse and cramped, the conditions were impossible, so they had one thing and one thing only to keep viewers’ attention: the writing. And the dialogue these writers gave to their characters was wondrous; literate and brittle and sprinkled with affecting metaphors — they were like operas minus the music. And it never sounded phony — and that’s because these writers knew how give each character a definitive cadence to their speech patterns, often by employing a method of repetition that, as far as I can tell, began with the writings of Gertrude Stein and Mao Tse-tung (to this day, whenever I read something that’s been translated from Chinese, it reads like Gertrude Stein). It is an unapologetic rhetorical mode that builds everything upon repetition and the rhythm created by that repetition. When this type of prose — be it in narrative or dialogue — really catches fire, it establishes the unit of sense not in the clause or the sentence, but in the discursion — no easy feat. You can find this kind of language in the writings of Eastern mystics like Sri Chinmoy-Ghose and the Avatar Meher-Baba, but it’s also all over the Old Testament as well as the Koran and that good old standby Kahlil Gibran.
But here’s the thing: once you’ve learned to recognize this type of lyrical language, once the cadences become recognizable, you’ll realize that this form of language is everywhere, and you’ll never be able to un-recognize it. You’ll find that this form of language will find a way to merge with your own emerging voice as a writer, enriching it, expanding it, clarifying and elevating it to a level near-poetry … and yet read as naturally as everyday speech.
Upcoming works and last thoughts for this interview? Thanks!
GB: I’m currently finishing a novella for Tasmaniac Publications entitled Clipper Girls that I will have finished before my birthday, then I’m doing a novella for Delirium’s novella series, another novella for Michael Knost’s upcoming anthology Barbershop Quartet (horror/dark fantasy stories set in and around barbershops), finishing the 3rd Cedar Hill collection for Paul Miller at Earthling, and the final Cedar Hill novel, A Cracked and Broken Path for the amazing folks at Apex. There are a few other projects, but I don’t want to jinx them by mentioning them before anything’s been signed.
Thank you so much for inviting me to be interviewed. This was fun. I dug it.
Interview by Nancy O. Greene
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