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  • Elaine Marie Carnegie

The Journey By a stump


Please help me welcome A Stump to the Writer's Journey Blog this week. You will enjoy this unique perspective to the Writer's Journey!


First, don’t call me a writer. I’m not. I wish I were, but I really don’t write enough (nor am I paid often enough) to consider writing more than a hobby. I am, however, on a journey that involves writing. I’ve greatly enjoyed the writing part of that weird, winding trip. The companions along the way are mostly great, and the others make excellent villain fodder for stories. That’s a joke. Sort of.


I didn’t start writing because I wanted to write. I have a full-time career as a pastor, but I was originally going to be an archaeologist. I studied sociology and anthropology. I’m an amateur chicken farmer, and somewhere along the way, I found out that I have a wife and four young sons to help raise. I’ve gone through an awful lot, including being the victim of childhood abuse at the hands of a family member, being homeless with my family and losing all of our possessions from an infestation of toxic mold—I then went on to become a mold and indoor environmental inspector. So, I didn’t have the time to sit down and think one day and decide to start writing.


I started writing because it’s cathartic. I had a bunch of bad stuff in me that had to come out. Writing turned out to be cheaper than going to a therapist. But that means that a lot of the stuff I write is pretty gritty. As it so happens, some people really love gritty stuff—good news for me! Due to my profession involving sharing in the lives of others, the harsh reality that I live with every day is that children die, people commit suicide, others starve to death, some seemingly nice people turn out to be character assassins, and sometimes, life just isn’t fair.


Bad things don’t just happen to good people. They happen to everyone, and I’ve found that the best way for me to deal with those bad things that I see happening all around me is to write about them. Not only does it help me process those things, but it’s an outlet for me to get rid of unhealthy emotions, including anger, jealousy, and fear. I think that’s why people who read my stories usually comment on how they felt like they were punched in the gut, or that they were “haunted” by the stories. Because there’s something in there that resonates with what our fears tend to be, and those fears aren’t really the boogeymen living in our closets. They’re fears about life. Life, as it turns out, has a penchant for being absolutely terrifying.


In preparing this article, I gave more thought to who I am as an author than I ever have before, and it dawned on me that I’m not really much of an author. Most things that you read about authors speak of how they practice their craft and build their story, adjusting the arc and finer plot points. That’s not how my brain works at all. I taught myself how to read at the age of five, before I entered school. That’s how my brain works. I love language. So, I guess you could say that I’m not a writer, I’m a reader. As such, I write like a reader. I’m also a really slow reader (like, 150 WPM slow!). I’m what they call an “auditory reader,” which means that I read at the same rate that most people talk. I’ve tried speed reading, and I don’t like it. I think that it ruins the art of reading.


When I read, I don’t just see words on a page. In my mind, I see the story acted out in my brain, and the characters come alive. Although I don’t claim to have total recall, I have nearly perfect retention, and can recall characters, conversations, etc. from books that I read decades ago. Because I remember so vividly, I almost never reread a book. There have been three books, however, that affected my soul deeply enough to pick them up and read them again. The Bible, Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Those three books, I’ve found, contain so much truth in them that they’re worth studying. I believe that those books and their authors have significantly affected my writing style, and if I could write a book like any of those, I’d feel as though I had accomplished something.


Without a doubt, the books I’ve read and my reading style has greatly influenced what and how I write. Since I don’t read words, but see pictures, my own writing tends to be visual. I think that atmosphere, mood, and character are far more important than plot. I don’t care what happens to a person in a story or what they do as long as they’re living, breathing characters. When I read other writer’s stories, if I come across flat characters or scenes with little description, I’ll just put the book down. I read so slowly, I don’t have time to peruse poorly written stuff. I’d rather spend the afternoon seeing a written picture of a person sitting on a bench doing nothing than labor over technical plot points that don’t paint any pictures.


I try to pull the reader in on the first paragraph—the first words, even. I think that it’s important to grab them. After I grab their brain, I cram it full with as many descriptive words as possible, just spraying imagery everywhere so that when the introduction is over, their mind looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. Then, I slow it down a bit. Before they realize what’s happening, I want them to be having a conversation with a character. If I can successfully do that, then I’m happy.


However, that’s not where the reading stops. When my muse gives me a story, it’s not an idea like, “I’ll write a story about a boy becoming a man.” It’s usually just one little plot twist that comes at the very end. As I write, I let things flow visually across the page, then drop that twist in the reader’s lap like a bomb and walk away. It’s my hope that that little tidbit—which is usually the first part of the story I discover—will latch onto the reader and occupy their mind after they’ve finished reading. That’s the impetus for my writing—the hook. I want what I write to hook the reader for an hour, a day, or a week after they’ve put the story down.

I’m certainly not naïve enough to believe that all of my stories do that, or that any of my stories do it well. However, that’s my attempt at writing. It’s sort of a free-flowing exercise in word association that has a somewhat vague destination looming in the distance. If the reader guesses the destination ahead of time, I’m disappointed. Like life, I think that writing is about the journey. Is it a vividly beautiful journey? I think that it can be. I write mainly suspense/horror, but even dark stuff can contain beauty. A horror story where everyone gets chopped to bits by a monster holds very little interest for me. I left that type of story behind in adolescence. Instead, I want to paint a beautiful picture of the world—of strivings and strengths and relationships—and then give a glimpse of the sordid underbelly of that idyllic monster. I want my writing to feel like the real world with just a hint of evil lurking under the surface. I think that’s how our real lives are, and that reality is the stuff nightmares are made of.


I think that’s why I write short stories. I honestly don’t know that I could keep any of that nonsense up for fifty thousand words. Even if I did, I doubt that it would be a coherent whole. I’m sort of a one trick pony, and you can’t keep riding that animal around the ring for thirty chapters. People will get bored. So, the book that I’m releasing this August is a collection of short stories. They’re all loosely connected and feature the same characters, but I wouldn’t say that it “tells a story.” I think that it shares some truths. Maybe repetitively.


But they’re there. And the reader will be able to pick the book up and put it down whenever they want and won’t need to worry about remembering what happened when last they read it, because there isn’t a plot. I hope that they remember the characters. I hope that they remember the little village of Edam, which is the setting of the book.


It’s loosely based on a small village in upstate New York where I spent a few years as a child. All the characters are, in some way, a reflection of me. They possess some character trait, some flaw, or a desire that I have. Although the book is pure fiction, it’s as close to autobiography as I’ll probably ever get. I’m not bold enough to compare myself to great authors like Sherwood Anderson or Ray Bradbury, but their own books like Winesburg, Oh., Dandelion Wine, and The Martian Chronicles played a huge part in my brain’s development of the idea for this book. As people read my book (titled The Endless Summer), I hope that they’ll see their own reflection in at least some of the characters. I see myself in pretty much all of them. Ultimately, I think that’s the destination of this journey I’m on: to paint a picture of my own life and experiences, but in a way that others can use as their own mirror.


I love Adam's perspective on the Writer's Journey! You can find him at https://astumpdotcom.wordpress.com/

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