Painting the Dark Lady

I’m going to say July never happened. Is that allowed? Can I call it a ret-con? I think that’s my right. Moving sucked. Work sucked. Looking for new work (still) sucks.

Of course, this is all redundant. Even with the fecal ferocity of events that made up the midsummer night’s “squeam”, I do have to pay homage to the brighter wing beats from the bat outta Hell. Small and insignificant, though they may seem, they resound with the strength of a butterfly’s flight. Hurricanes form with their very finite flutter. I won’t see the storm soon, but the tide will come – a monsoon of melody. Pandora’s hope, it ain’t, but it panders to my quasi-creative grasp nonetheless.

And it all began by reading a book.

Small confession, I wasn’t a reader until late in my childhood. Illiterate until 7, barely cogent with the written word until the 3rd grade, I skimmed by. Not for lack of smarts, but rather lack of motivation. I admit to my shitty studiousness. Book reports up until then were an exercise in futility. If a shortcut existed, I took it. Then I encountered a nemesis I couldn’t counter, a hard-ass of an English teacher. He expected a detailed synopsis on a novel of our choosing.

I was screwed.

Before the childhood migration to Oregon, my Dad had left me some of his old sci-fi novels. Among them were titles I’d never heard of, though that wasn’t saying much. I knew of very few authors to begin with. These rang even less of a bell than usual. The one I picked up first showed a picture of a bald, mustachioed man in mid-melee with a bipedal bat-type creature. The title was Tales of the Galactic Midway: The Wild Alien Tamer, the second in a series of four by Mike Resnick.

The book blurb stated it was about a circus in space, and the installment revolved around a man and an alien who formed an unlikely partnership by duking it out in the ring. From the looks, it sounded uninteresting. But I was in need of a book and didn’t feel like looking too hard. With a shrug, I removed it from the box and plugged away at the pages. My eyes widened. I saw the word “fuck” in print.

To a chronic potty-mouther, this was a revelation. A word deemed a death sentence of detention was smack-dab in the middle of a novel. Enamored beyond imagining, my glee seeped through my drudging lit level. I turned the page and kept right on turning. Other epithets made themselves known to me, ones I hadn’t heard before as well. A reader was born by way of curse word.

Exploring my Dad’s garage on one of my routine Cali visits, I came across another novel by Resnick entitled Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future. By junior high, I’d polished off a good five or six of his books including the rest of the Midway series. The new space opera before me had escaped my notice. My Dad summarized and called it “excellent”. I gave it a go. The only way I could describe it was equal parts sci-fi, western, myth, and tall tale, all rolled into a tightly-written package.

My love of genre-confused fiction was already prevalent. My favorite movies by this point in my life weren’t easily pegged by one solid label. Buckaroo Banzai, Krull, Big Trouble in Little China, they all possessed a little piece of everything. A wide-eyed geek was born from repeated viewings of these, and to add a novel with the same qualities further solidified it. Upon completion of Wild Alien Tamer, I toyed with the notion of being a writer. By the end of Santiago, I was one.

As the years piled on, I thought I perfected my craft. I used Resnick as my writing template. My command of dialogue was competent – clay-like in its solidity – and my characters were somewhat fleshed out. No one could call me great at the written word, but somewhere along the way I considered “Moi” the cat’s meow. That ego self-fellating didn’t last long. A wake-up call came in 11th grade. Someone called me on my bullshit; a teacher.

Their prognosis of my penmanship was thus: “You have a tendency to overwrite. Your poetry is solid, but your prose is rather weak.”

Heartbroken but stubborn, I chose to discard their assessment of my “gift”. How could they know? They were teachers, not an ink-stained quill-licker such as I! Okay, I wasn’t much of one either, but try telling that to a high schooler with a case of the cockies.

The only opinion that mattered to me – in regards to writing – was my father’s. After all, he introduced me to the writings of Resnick, so he was a better judge of such things. Early on in my attempts at storytelling, he conceded that I may have a talent. His nod of approval fueled my elitism until I was 23.

When I went away to Reno for college, the professorship came to a similar conclusion as teachers past. My writing was glib at best, rushed at worst. I brushed these judgments off with a “pishaw” and “poppycock”, or a well-placed middle finger if the situation called for it. I-if they weren’t looking, that is.

Then my dear ol’ Pa said something that finally cast a kink in the ego-armor, “Some of it’s pretty good, but your dialogue needs work.”

From there, I finally began to doubt my prowess with the pen. What did I have to show for the last decade of self-declared scholarship. Answer? Not much. The longest piece I wrote was seventy pages, unfinished. In my portfolio? Five or so completed, two-thirds of which were crap and/or in dire need of a rewrite. In the writing classes I took, I skated by with substandard papers and last-minute queries. The culmination of my college life, a big-whoppin’ “C” earned by the skin of my teeth. Any new revelations I took away regarding writing never came from a class, but from other better writers; those with a novel or two under their belts.

Yet I still chose to wear the moniker, for what else did I have to show the world? There were signs of a possible gift hidden beneath the dreck produced up until now. I never fully gave up, but I never committed to it either. Writing and I were friends with benefits, a physical manifestation but not an ephemeral one. And the malaise carried through until the present.

Earlier this July, a friend of mine and I bummed around the Powell’s Books in Beaverton. It smelled of scholastic pursuits – a combination of Central Air, dust, leather and paper. And perhaps patchouli from an employee or two. My friend went for the Koontz section, whereas I gravitated to my sci-fi standby. Every once in awhile I perused the shelves of a bookstore for a Resnick I hadn’t read. Most of the time, I came up empty. Not this day. Nestled between his Widowmaker and Kirinyaga (both of which were utter crap) was some old school Resnick, one I hadn’t read. The book was The Dark Lady: A Romance of the Far Future. A used copy for $2.95? Damn right I was getting it!

I started it in the wee hours of that night without sleeping a wink, and finished it around noon the following day. Polishing off an eyeful of the last page, closing the book, I let off a sigh of “Wow.” The story without spoiling anything was thus:

Throughout time, a woman appeared to men, and they were inspired to paint her image. Several paintings and statues, dating back as far as Sumeria, captured her beautiful yet sad likeness. At times she was portrayed as a Goddess or a royal princess, other times a normal maiden. Each time the expression was the same, melancholy and longing. The tradition carried on even after Mankind had reached the stars.

A group of men, and one alien, sought to unravel the mystery of “The Dark Lady”, and her motivation for searching out certain men – risk-takers on the fringe who later met an untimely end. Was she an Angel of Death, an immortal, an alien herself, or something more? What was she after? And what inspired men to capture her timeless expression? They didn’t know.

I shan’t spoil the answer. All that need be said is it struck a chord…and hard. I remembered what I was supposed to do.

I remember saying, long ago, that my goal was to shock and awe a 6th grader in the manner that I was introduced to Resnick. My brother recently told me that the best approach to use when writing is to dive into it head-on. “Balls to the wall,” he put it. Dad reminded me that in order to be a writer, “Writers have to write.” One of my bosses said, “As a writer, you need to leverage your time.”

Tonight, I’m up late putting fingers to keys. Alas, not to write fiction, but at least I’m writing. As to what I plan to put out first to make a name for myself with, I have no bloody clue. Perhaps I’ll dust off the kung fu strippers, the surreal unstuck-in-time town, or the (literally) star-crossed lovers. I haven’t decided. All I know is that I have a portrait to paint, one of a yearning that is bittersweet…and a long time in coming.

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Saturday, November 29th, 2008 Musings

3 Comments to Painting the Dark Lady

  1. Others have told me I inspired them to write, but I have to say you are the first to be so inspired by a 4-letter word.

    Good luck.

    — Mike Resnick

  2. Mike Resnick on November 29th, 2008
  3. Writing anything at all is the key. It’s funny sometimes how some of us start out with that penchant for writing fiction, and then one day find ourselves writing that “other” stuff.

    But at the end of the day it’s that ever, continuous moving pen that keeps our hearts in it. I think it’s akin to blood. If we stop writing, we die. Simple as that.

  4. Ivan Graves on November 30th, 2008
  5. […] the sci-fi section. From there, I bee-lined to my favorite author’s name – Mike Resnick. I’ve written about him before on this blog; heck, I even interviewed him. Ever since I was a child, I always checked his […]

  6. The Sasquan Signature | Lazy Literatus on September 25th, 2015

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