Tag Archives: Nate Ruegger

Inspiration: A Foundation in Prose

© Mike_kiev | Dreamstime.com – Books In Library Photo


By Chris Hutton

          Many writers stress the value of reading to one’s own writing. I won’t quote figures, because I don’t have them, but I don’t think that the value and corollary of being a strong reader to being a strong writer can be overstated. If one isn’t reading, I do not reasonably know why that person would be writing. I write to create stories both that are begging me to tell them and to bring the same pleasure to my readers as a I take from reading a good story. If my ultimate purpose in this world was to bring a little pleasure, a little escapism, that allows another living soul to take solace and make it through the day, I would consider my life well spent.

          Thinking upon that I found myself this evening pacing in front of my bookshelves, glancing over the well-worn spines of the many books that I’ve hoarded away over the years, and thinking not just upon the value of reading, but the way that reading shapes us, and personally how it shaped me as a writer. I looked to the books that I had revisited over the years, and began to wonder about my chronology as a reader. What path led me from toddler to a nearing middle-aged adult compelled to write science-fiction and horror?

          Perhaps this is self-indulgence, a hasty exploration of myself best taken in solitude, but I have blog posts to fill and deadlines to make, so if you’re willing, then bear with me. And if you’re not, thanks for accompanying me this far. Until next time.


Picture Books

          My earliest memory of books probably began with P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? but my earliest fascination with books began, as best as I can recall, with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. That mad rumpus and it’s precedent, those terrible roars, the gnashing of those terrible teeth, the rolling of those terrible eyes, and the showing of those terrible claws, still clings to me. In fact it has such a grasp on me now, even some thirty-odd years later, that it became the first book that I purchased for my daughter (one of which she has numerous copies in multiple languages – all of which I adore).

          I can’t rightly say if those monsters began my fascination with the dark and frightening tales that are now much of my evening reading – I cannot safely declare Maurice Sendak a gateway drug to horror – but I do know that the next memorable portion of my journey through literature began yet again with a tale of monsters and ghosts. In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz and Dirk Zimmer is one of the first books that I can remember reading on my own. I have never forgotten the long yellow teeth of The Teeth, or Jenny’s ever present green ribbon around her neck. Images of teeth in the dark and severed heads haunted me long beyond my childhood years until I had even forgotten the name of the book and its creators; but one Google search for those yellow teeth later and I had it, again.


Elementary School

          By this point I was in kindergarten or elementary school and I had access once a week to the school library. The books that followed me home ranged from abridged retellings of the Universal Monster movies, to ghost stories, to books on the paranormal and UFOs. I’m not sure what sort of library I had at my elementary school – I can only vaguely recall the one single room, divided by a half height shelf separating the checkout counter from the stacks – but I do remember those books vividly. As I moved into the later grades of elementary, stepping beyond picture books to novels for young readers, I remember the monthly Scholastic Arrow Book Club pamphlets from which I would always choose 2-3 books and eagerly await their shipment. Invariably I chose books centered on mummies rising from the dead, or ghosts hiding in the dark, but I remember each of those journeys with great fondness.


Middle School

          Had I continued on this track, likely my reading and writing would have stayed with the typical ghouls and ghosts. It did through the beginning of middle school. By that point I had fallen into my first literary crush, this for the books of R.L. Stine. This was before Goosebumps became his most-remembered work. Instead I grew up reading his previous series, Fear Street. Here the monsters were rarely of the supernatural variety but consisted more of stalkers, and murderers – boogeymen chasing after teens. My own written stories at this point of my life were mainly ghost stories, preferably spoken around a campfire in the middle of the night.

          Around this same time my English teacher, Mrs. Petherbridge, introduced me to the works of Edgar Allen Poe, a man whose writing still haunts me and which begs me back to re-explore its pages on a regular basis. At this point I had entered an AG program for English and suddenly my world exploded with books – usually it meant lists of possible novels that I could read, followed by short book reports (and for a brief and odd stint in seventh grade by calculated word count reading levels and demerits for speaking). During this period I discovered Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Between Poe, Stoker, and Shelley, horror left the realm of the mere ghost story, of the frightening tale to pass away the hours, and showed me its literary peak, the heights of horror that could be reached by masters of the craft. Between Stoker and Shelley I also formed a great appreciation for epistolary horror, a genre that I miss deeply, but to which we shall return.

          Then, suddenly the horror genre came to a screeching halt. I became derailed. I began my first literary love affair with The Lord of the Rings. This would have been in seventh grade. That book, and all of Tolkien’s works would follow me for decades. They still call from my shelf every few years for a rereading. Yet I became so enamored with his work that my previous exploration of the paranormal became sidelined with an extreme interest in medieval times and an obsessive compulsion to memorize the minutia of Middle-Earth. Now I can’t say that I could hold my own with Colbert (I couldn’t), but it was a deep well from which I drank often.

          This fascination led me to seek any outlet to quench my love of fantasy literature. Soon I was reading Dragonlance, the works of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman sculpting the remainder of my middle school years. Other writers would come and go, but their works and Tolkien’s were a constant.


High School

          As I entered those formative years of high school, the range of my reading expanded, though at its core still rested Tolkien, Weis, and Hickman. I became introduced to science-fiction through Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Frank Herbert’s Dune. George Orwell opened my eyes to dystopian literature with 1984 and then the walls of genre fell apart completely as I discovered Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and the tragic tale of Heathcliff and Catherine. This was a strange and diversified time for my reading, but it helped expand my understanding of stories, of the characters at the crux of any good tale, and the range of stories possible.

          Still, fantasy literature was my mainstay and it could not be so easily deterred. It would remain…


Undergraduate Years

          …following me to college. At this point I discovered J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, along with George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. The former intrigued me through its evolution of style, tone, and subject as a reflection of the growing maturity of its characters and its audience, while the latter intrigued me for the stark realism with which it portrayed its fantasy world and the re-sensitization to violence that it’s primary character deaths imbued upon the reader (something that did not carry over to the later TV series). Now Tolkien, Weis, Hickman, Rowling, and Martin formed the core of my library (favorites like Poe, Shelley, Stoker, Orwell, and Brontë not withstanding).

          Yet, something strange happened at this time as well. I found that my previous love of horror came calling back to me, and it found its grounding in the works of Stephen King. I consumed his books, devouring as many as I could (I’m a slow reader, so that does have its limit – especially at that point in my life, when fantasy literature dominated). I began logically with The Eyes of the Dragon, then segued into his horror works. To this day my favorites are Carrie, The Dead Zone, The Shining, Duma Key,‘Salem’s Lot, and It. His non-fiction book On Writing is also an extremely compelling read, and one of the best books on the craft of writing that I have ever read.


Graduate School

          In 2006 I began graduate school, majoring in Writing for Screen & Television. My reading time became limited, and my obsessiveness over Tolkien finally began to dwindle (despite a deep love for his work that I will never relinquish). I wanted to move on and read a larger variety of work. I continued my exploration of King’s oeuvre, but also expanded into mystery fiction reading the works of Michael Connelly (of which The Poet is my favorite), Kathy Reichs, and Michael Crichton. Not willing to leave fantasy completely behind, I searched for new authors that could come close to the heights that I found in Tolkien. Philip Pullman came the closest, with The Golden Compass or His Dark Materials. The audacity of the book, the mingling of a child’s tale with an all out examination of, if not war against, religion intrigued me, and I am still greatly impressed with the scope and courage of the books.


My Thirties-ish

          With graduate school behind me, life became consumed by patterns that fluctuated between one of three stages: 1) looking for work, 2)adjusting to new jobs, and 3)finally acclimating to a job and reclaiming time to read and write. During these years, of which I am still in the middle, my writing has often had to confine itself to short works. Due to this constraint I found myself delving deep into horror short stories (the story type I most often write in short form), exploring once more the works of Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, and now also H.P. Lovecraft.

          Simultaneously, the meandering path of my career realigned me with an early love of science, reawakening my fascination with space, and in the past ten years two distinct branches of fiction reading have emerged: science-fiction and horror. Leaving now behind the foundational works of my youth, I’ll look to the writers from whose work I’m currently reading.

          On the science-fiction front I have explored the works of Arthur C. Clarke (Rendevous with Rama being my favorite), Carl Sagan (Contact and his non-fiction masterpiece Cosmos), James S. A. Corey (or Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) and their series The Expanse, and more recently Andy Weir of The Martian fame and whose second book I am eagerly anticipating.

          With horror I continue to read Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King (all of whose work is vast enough to keep me occupied without exploring other authors), but I have also been actively searching for new (or old) authors whose voices I have not yet heard. Among these my most recent discoveries have been John Ajvide Lindqvist (Harbor), Nick Cutter (The Troop), Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box), and Dan Simmons (The Terror), though I am also looking into David Wong (John Dies at the End), Scott Smith (The Ruins), Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House), and Ania Ahlbom (The Pretty Ones). During this exploration I came across my favorite modern horror book due to an excellent recommendation by the ever talented Nate Ruegger. The book: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Never has a book so actively engaged me, redefining the scope and bounds of a story, and exploring epistolary style with such a layering of tales. If you haven’t read it, and you don’t mind a dense, multi-layered read, it is worth your time.


The Point…

          I suppose I’m supposed to have one of those, right? Well, I do. It comes back to the very first two paragraphs of this post: the value of reading for a writer, and the way it helps mold us and the stories that we tell.


Horror

          I have to wonder if it weren’t for Where the Wild Things Are and A Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories would I write horror? If it weren’t for Stephen King would my horror stories take character as such a central focus? If not for H.P. Lovecraft would that writing not have such an other worldly exploration at its center? If not for Dracula or Frankenstein would I still find myself compelled to explore the human themes at the heart of my horror stories? Would my tone be different had I never been exposed to the rich atmospheres crafted by Poe? Every one of these writers and these books has shaped the type of horror story that I write. They have helped me find my voice.


Fantasy

          Yes, I do not write fantasy currently, but it was the longest mainstay in my years of reading and I know for a fact that it imbued me with a sense of world. Tolkien, Herbert, Pullman, Martin, they all crafted worlds complete with mythologies, religions, histories, languages, and cultures completely unique to their works. The level of detail needed to write within those realms and still keep your story center stage is astounding, and from reading those works, I learned to create my own worlds (whether modern or futuristic) with a depth of history, culture, and detail that grounds my work. This allows my fiction to rest upon a solid foundation, a reality that allows a reader to suspend disbelief in the story itself due to the level of reality presented in setting – at least I hope that it does that.


Science-Fiction

          Finally, what have I taken from the collective works of Orwell, Card, Clarke, Corey, Sagan, and Weir? A grounding in science. I like my science-fiction heavy on reality, close to near future, human tales bound by physical laws. I love worlds where astronauts still float in zero G or artificial gravity is a product of centrifugal force. I like colonization that has failed to terraform but exists precariously with nothing between colonists and death but man-made habitats. My stories have become those that explore issues of society, politics, environment, technology, and philosophy, and use the future to explore those themes.


Conclusion

          This is simply a matter of making my case. As a writer I am a product of what I have read. Without reading, I am nothing – not in a literary sense. So if you want inspiration, if you want to find a voice as a writer, please, no matter what else you do, read, and do so with a voracious, insatiable appetite. Never stop. That’s my lesson for the week, I guess. Hopefully it hit its mark.

          Anyway, Happy Writing All!


Support Networks

Marielle Woods on set – one of the many creatives I admire and encourage you to support

          Last week I wrote about the value of partnerships in writing, from the partnership between a writer and a reader, to partnerships with editors, collaborators, and co-writers. This week I want to look at a similar topic: supporting the arts, which in itself is another type of partnership – a network of supporters partnering with a creative to help spread awareness for, and enable, their creative endeavors.

          While I address this network from the perspective of a writer I would argue that is equally applicable to any type of artist be he or she a musician, a painter, an illustrator, a writer, a director, a photographer… the list goes on. That being said, for ease I will primarily reference this type of network in so much as it supports writing since that is the perspective from which I have derived my experience with it. No offense to other creatives is intended.

          Often as a writer I find that I want to buckle down and write that next manuscript and push everything else to the periphery. That next work of fiction, that next story, dominates all else. The thought of investing my limited time to supporting others, diverting it from that primary focus of creation, can be easily cast aside as a luxury for another day. It is not that I do not want to support my peers so much as it is that I want to write and it is easy to forget all else while in that drive, especially when I also hold another full time job, am raising a young daughter, and, like everyone else, am simply juggling the typical responsibilities of everyday life.

          Currently, even with that drive to create, and multiple original stories battling for my attention, the majority of my writing time pours into blogs, tweets, Facebook posts, and other brand strategy documentation (a necessity to be discussed later). In other words, at the moment my writing is dominated by the business side of writing – building an audience, planning, proofing contracts, and prepping pitches and cover letters in attempts to be read. It is disheartening when so much valuable and often meager writing time is invested in the these necessities of what it is to be a modern writer instead of working on that latest work of fiction that is pounding at my skull demanding to burst forth and be heard. I imagine that many, if not all creatives, struggle with this balance.

          To cut to the chase (since I’ve already spent way too long in the build up), writers and other artists can easily get lost in the struggle for time and neglect supporting their peers.

          To my fellow artists and creatives, I urge you, don’t do this.

          Just as you might be struggling to get your work read, your music heard, or your film financed, so are your peers. We are all in this battle together and without our mutual support of each other the world will be robbed of many deserving voices fighting to be heard. We must support each other.

          This is easy advice to give, and likely to hear. It is much harder to live by it. Admittedly I have neglected this responsibility for many years, providing some support, but rarely with the fervor it deserves. Yet there is good reason to try to curb that tendency, to reach out, to network, and to prop each other up.

          Maybe that is simple to see, but I’ll sketch out a few of my quick, if verbose, thoughts on why we should make this effort.

1) Firstly, it comes back to last week’s discussion on the value of partnerships. As John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” We do not operate, nor benefit from the delusion that we operate, in isolation. We are better for the whole of our networks, our peers, our partners. These relationships challenge us, improve us, and make our work better. Our writing has little, if any, meaning, devoid of partnerships, of readers with whom we share our ideas. If we don’t support our peers, if we don’t build and encourage those connections, then we deprive ourselves of the benefit of those partnerships.

2) Secondly, pure and simple, we all need support and need to provide that support. Partnerships improve our work and that network brings in the value of being part of a larger whole, but even aside from being a part of that network, we can’t just act parasitically upon that relationship. For one, that type of behavior will be quickly noticed and the network will fall apart, but two, if we want our own creative work to reach an audience, we need to support the work of our peers, become a part of the larger network, and in so doing not only will we help our peers, but we open ourselves up to them, encouraging that support back. We become a part of the larger, we expand our audience, our reach, and we strengthen our relationships. With that strength support will come.

3) Again, along the lines of avoiding using your network parasitically, supporting that network also must come from a place beyond our own desire to feed off of it and benefit from it. I live by the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I don’t come to this from a religious place, it just is the heart of how I believe people and society should act. It is a moral commitment. If you appreciate the support of others to your own work, if you desire that support, how can you ask for it, or even deserve it, if you’re not being that positive change in the world and providing that support yourself without the expectation of it in return. Find people whose work you value and support it just as you would wish others would do for you.

4) My personal odd morality aside, it just feels good to help. Sometimes we can forget that. Perhaps you get bogged down in your work, you isolate yourself, and you forget to help your fellow creatives. It happens to all of us, but even just sharing a friend’s work, buying something they’ve written, or supporting their crowd-funding campaign, at least for me, invariably brings about a good feeling, a joy in the knowledge that you tried to help in whatever small way that you can.

5) As an added bonus, as you help more, as you give more without expecting, ironically enough you might just find yourself building future collaborations. That is the byproduct of a strong network, and those collaborations can lead to many exciting journeys. But if you don’t try, if you don’t immerse yourself amongst your peers, if you try to hide in your writer’s cave, you’ll miss out on all of those opportunities.

          So, anyway, hopefully I’ve made some sense amidst this rambling. Now get out there and support your peers. Maybe some karmic return will come your way, maybe it won’t, but at least you can feel good for trying.

          And on that note, it would be silly to discuss support networks without offering out some support of my own. So, here are some of my friends and colleagues whose work I admire greatly, that I encourage you to check out (legally (no torrents) – a matter that deserves its own blog at a later date), and hope that you enjoy.

Let’s go show some support for others trying to bring the world quality entertainment.

Collin Kelly:
          An amazing writer whom I had the pleasure of meeting many years ago in college, Collin Kelly writes with Jackson Lanzing, and together they created and contributed to numerous quality comic properties over the past few years. Please check out their work including:

Hactivist Vol. 1 & Vol 2.
Joyride
And work on various DC properties including Batman & Robin Eternal and Grayson.

          Like their work? Please follow Collin, Jackson, and their frequent collaborator, the excellent artist, Marcus To on Twitter: @cpkelly, @jacksonlanzing, @marcusto

JC Thomas
          JC is a comic artist with whom I have the pleasure of collaborating. I am ecstatic to have his support as an artist, and am constantly thrilled with his work.

Ninja Mouse
The Gates of Dawn
Twitter

Kiran Deol:
          Writer, Actress, Comedian, Documentarian, she is powerhouse talent, whose sharp wit and candor is always appreciated. If you can catch her stand-up, please do. Otherwise, follow her at the links below.

Twitter
Facebook

Marielle Woods
          Marielle is a talented producer and director, with whom I worked many jobs ago back in my reality television days. She is currently working on fund-raising for a short film, Do No Harm, examining the dilemmas of a combat medic attempting to hold onto his humanity while facing the dilemmas of war.

Indiegogo campaign
Vimeo channel
Twitter

Michael Shaw Fisher
          Michael Shaw Fisher and I attended the same writing program at USC, sharing many classes together. His writing has always proven to be brilliant, and he has since gone on to prove himself an amazing playwright and actor, whose productions have won awards year after year in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. If you ever have the chance to witness his work on stage, take it! His current production is SKULLDUGGERY: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet, which will run in Los Angeles September 30 – November 5, with previews September 23rd and 24th.

SKULLDUGGERY
Orgasmico Theatre Company

Michael Meinhart
          Michael and I became nemeses, and close friends, working on numerous marketing projects together between 2010 and 2013. He has a passion for his music and visual art that cannot be rivaled, and is the lead singer, songwriter, and frontman for Socionic. They are currenty finishing their Orenda Rises tour and will be playing again in Los Angeles at The Whiskey A Go Go on Saturday, October 15th.

http://socionicband.com
Facebook
Twitter
Youtube
Instagram
http://socionic.bandcamp.com

Nadjib Assani
          Nadjib and I attended the same undergraduate program at North Carolina State University where I was lucky enough to witness some of his early work on his passion project, Legends of Onile. Working in both comics and sculpture he is crafting a beautiful tale worth your support.

Legends of Onile

Nate Ruegger
          Nate and I attended college together at the University of Southern California. He is a talented writer and director and I am always thankful to have him as a reader. He is currently in pre-production to direct a short horror film, Trust Me: A Witness Account of the Goatman. Learn more at:

https://nateruegger.com
Trust Me: A Witness Account of the Goatman
Twitter

Happy Writing, All!