Two weeks ago, I was a guest on the fantastic podcast, Books and Booze, to talk about my new horror story, “The Castle on the Hill,” in a new anthology from Sirens Call Publications. On the show, I talked about everything from mental illness to scotch to Miley Cyrus. Check out the interview here: Joseph Lapin, Episode 81.
The last week was great, because I was able to take some time away from pitching and writing and step back a bit. I’ve been freelancing, now, for four months, and it’s time to take stock of where I am at. It’s a difficult journey, but I have great support. Over the last two weeks, I have had work appear at the LA Weekly, OC Weekly, and Salon.com, but when I look back on the last four months, my creative work has suffered a bit. I’ve been so focused on trying to write for projects that will help me survive that I’ve forgotten, to some extent, about poetry, about short stories, about my memoir.
Maybe that was a part of the plan. Maybe I needed some distance. And when Thanksgiving “break” came, I found myself writing a new story, and it was my first true science fiction story. It’s set in a Los Angeles in the future, and while I feel somewhat nerdy writing the story, it’s been a pleasure to allow my imagination to wander — to envision a new world. And this has helped rev up the creative process.
This would have never happened four years ago. I would never have even given science fiction a chance.
When I was in graduate school, I started out only interested in literary pieces. I was (and still am) a huge fan of Tobias Wolff, Denis Johnson, Stuart Dybek, Hemingway, Raymond Carver, and Junot Diaz, and I only cared about one story — the lyrical, literary story. I actually had a teacher in undergrad, after much pleading to tell me where I needed to grow as a writer, tell me that I only valued the realistic story.
But when I got to FIU, I met a teacher who started to introduce me to genre — especially Noir and horror. I was resistant at first. I thought genre was for hacks who wanted to make money. Then I started to read Raymond Chandler, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. One of the best anthologies this teacher suggested was the American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny From Poe to the Pulps. I suddenly became aware of the tremendous possibilities of genre and the infinite combinations — even surrealism, abstraction, the philosophically stirring existed within the forms. Yes, I was ignorant and stubborn, but I was learning. So I read everything from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Island of Dr. Moreau to Borges, and I saw similarities and possibilities.
Now, this isn’t any new revelation. Just look at Michael Chabon and many other writers experimenting with genre. But I was suddenly freed from the reality that all writing had to be real and true. Truth is a word, anyway, that has nothing to do with facts or even reality.
So I wrote my first horror story at FIU, and at first, it was torn apart, somewhat, in the workshops. I had a tendency, then, and a tendency, now, to go over the top. So I revised and worked on it. And about two weeks ago, it was accepted into a future anthology by Sirens Call Publications. The story is called: “The Castle on the Hill.” The anthology is a haunted mental-ward theme.
My point is this: sometimes in order to feel free again, to be reminded of the infinite possibilities of this world, of art, of writing, it’s important to live within a form, a genre, a guiding principle. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s better to be free and without direction. Right now, I feel somewhat stuck in between both ideas.
I’ll wake up tomorrow, and I won’t truly know what the day will bring. I’ll sit down to write a pitch, and I might find a better idea. I’ll sit down to finish a story, and I might end up writing a poem. And maybe it’s only in this searching, in this lost wandering do we come to direction, to guidance, to form. Well, the most important commodity, when it comes to writing, has to be hope. Hope that you will find a thread. Hope that your character will come alive. Hope that you will finish. Hope that you will be appreciated. Hope that you will find the words to say what is pulling at your heart-strings. Hope is what gets us through the feeling of being lost.
And so now, I must come to a stopping point. I didn’t really know where this blog was going to take me. I didn’t know really what was even on my mind.