Friday, October 30, 2015

Ideas Like Bullets #1 -- Close to the vest and holstered

by Tommy Hancock

Ideas Like Bullets.  Catchy little phrase that I’ve used more than a few times to categorize how I think, how I create, how I write.  It’s handy in that it is rather descriptive.  Sometimes concepts come to my rather interestingly arranged mind and out on paper with the precision of a sniper, trained and prepared, perched in a nest of phrases of twists, looking down on the unsuspecting story unfolding below.  Other times, there’s very much a shotgun approach to how I do things.  Just load up with a first sentence here, a cool idea there, throw in a few characters for sake of impact, and just fire, see what’s left standing when the smoke clears.   Probably, though, more often than not, I carry around what I do as if it’s a pistol.  Close to the vest, holstered where I can get to it fast and quick, six shots or so ready to go at any given time.  Now, of course, those that know me know that along with those six bullets in the gun, I’m also carrying a figurative ammo belt of other ideas that would make a Wookie jealous.  But yeah, the concept of me coming loaded for bear idea wise as a writer and creator, that pretty much fits.

The imagery itself is telling as well, moreso concerning what I enjoy writing.  Most writers don’t envision the means by which they devise the things they write, they simply just write, pulling the past, present, and future of the worlds they build out of their brains and fertile and often fevered imaginations.   For those writers who actually do want to paint a picture of where their inspiration rises from and how they keep up with the Hydra that is creativity, usually it’s something colorful, yet simple.  Like a box, or a pirate’s chest full of storytelling booty.  Or maybe a treasured artifact they discover or even, according to an author I tripped across some years back, a mystical dragon that flies overhead, raining ideas down upon her thoughts like it was shedding scales.  Very magical stuff writers come up with usually, when they are prone to describe from whence their ideas come.  Which again, isn’t very often. 

But, not me.  The relationship of how I create to firearms is a fitting one, for reasons already stated, but also because I write Pulp.  I don’t just write Pulp, though. I read it, I watch it, I listen to it, I collect it, I enjoy it, and to some would say, based on career and life choices, I’ve actually lived Pulp at least a little bit.  Pulp is more than just the style that I choose to express myself with.  It is a very vital important part of who I am, and that’s both in the light and on the dark side of the street.

Now, this is the point in the narrative where defining what Pulp is usually becomes necessary, but I’m going to avoid doing that this time around.  Or, probably more accurately, if Pulp gets defined in this rambling, it will be in a longer form than usual and you’ll have to pick it out from between the lines.  Let’s leave it to say that I see Pulp as a style of writing I love to use in everything I write.  And that’s probably where the definition lies for what it is to me.  Not in the technicalities of it, not the trappings of Pulp, or who wrote it before me or what aspects of my own I bring to it.  But Pulp for me is probably best defined by why I write it.

The question of why someone writes anything is an interesting one.  It is a query that really almost always has deep, tangled roots into the true nature of the author, but the answers writers usually give are short and terse.  Some say, “For the money,” but most of them haven’t really been working professionally long or have already made their literary bones and are part of that upper tier making sufficient coin.  Others say, “Because I’m a writer.” And although technically that’s a reason, it’s not a ‘why’ reason, more of a ‘Go away, kid, you bother me’ reason.  And a few get a tad deeper, stating, “I can’t help myself. I try to stop, but I can’t.”  So, allusions to writing being a sickness, a disease there is no cure for – something that we’ll probably discuss all by itself at a later date – but still not ‘Why?’.

And as someone who’s been writing since being in Mrs. Phillips’ Third Grade classroom where I scribed the tales of murder mysteries and robot invasions of our school that I and my friends only had a recess to solve and/or stop, I get why the above responses are the usual.  Because, for a lot of people who create, who put themselves through the glorious heaven and torturous hell of being artistic, it is not only the fact that there is at least a modicum of talent flowing through our veins.  More times than not, our creativity, our desire to craft, to build, to weave, to draw, to write comes from something personal, something about us that, although potentially not unique solely to our situation, is in a way completely ours.

With this being the first of the new incarnation of my attempt at blogging, something I’ve honestly started, stopped, and restarted a few times, I thought it might be time to at least try to lay out why I write Pulp.  Not that anyone is requiring it of me or that me pulling back the tattered veil that shows my innermost whatevers will make you read this blog more or sell books for me or anything like that.  But, simply, why I write Pulp, the real motivation behind that choice, that drive, is something that I feel the need to share.  If you don’t feel the need to accept my sharing, though, I totally understand. You should probably stop reading now.

I have always been fascinated with heroes.  From the time I was small and my dad would turn on the TV and there’d be whatever Western he was watching on Saturday afternoon on.  Or he’d let me stay up later than my mom wanted and watch Hawaii Five-O or The Rockford Files or any number of detective/mystery shows.  Heroes, either of the complete white hat or even the dingy gray variety, speak to me, have been a source of enjoyment, almost a muse all their own, since I can remember.

And it wasn’t simply the heroes, but it was the conflict. The battle between good and evil. The fact that as blurry as it may get, there really is a line, a rather wavy indistinct marking at times, but there is a moral distinction between what is right and what is wrong.  The fact that that determination, what exactly is good and what is bad is often up to the individual, was not a truth lost on me at an early age must be mentioned.  Earliest memories I have, mingled in with the pursuit of television heroes, followed very quickly by digging up every Sherlock Holmes movie and story I could find and building towers of DC Comics in every corner of my room, also involve lessons on just how fickle morality is for some people. Lessons that I wasn’t given a choice but to learn by teachers who didn’t ask me if I wanted to be their student.

I was a smart kid.  Would like to think I’m still a smart kid passing as a responsible adult. And please, that’s not me bragging.  I mean, I had good grades, but my opinion of my intelligence is based more on the desire to learn I had.  A natural curiosity, maybe, but a truly unstoppable need to gather as much information as possible.  I never remember not carrying a book with me from the age of four forward.  Although I’ve been told differently, I am almost one hundred percent certain that my first word was ‘Why?’  I take great personal pride in a nickname that has been given me multiple times over the years by different circles of friends and acquaintances – The Wizard of Useless Information. So, in that pursuit, I latched onto things that I wanted to know more about and went after them as if they were scraps of food and I hadn’t eaten ever.  And chief among those pursuits was the desire to know more about heroes and villains, to gorge myself on fictional adventures of characters that were over the top and larger than life.  To understand not only why they chose which side they walked, fought, or flew on, but also to see enough of the inner workings of those sorts of tales to be able to create them, to make them myself for others to read, for others who needed them.

And also, to maybe find out which side I hung my hat on as well.

Identity is a hard thing for anyone to figure out.  And I don’t mean just one kind of identity, but who you are as a whole and how all the different aspects of what make you you fit together, how they all define the person you are.  It seemed like it was even a harder chore for me, although that is probably just personally colored hindsight talking.  I had a very keen awareness of a lack of identity early on.  Even though I have these memories of my father sharing his love of TV heroes with me, it’s really the only early positive memory I have of him. Not that the others are necessarily negative, but they are distorted by arguments with my mother and with my grandfather as well as a general pessimistic view my father had of everything around him.  Nothing was his fault, everything was against him, and he never could get anywhere because he was a Hancock and Hancocks just didn’t get anywhere.

My memories of my mother, though better, are shaded by all this as well. She fought my father’s attitude as best she could, protected my sister and me from it as possible, but she also was his wife. And for her that meant, in her way, either supporting his views at times or, when she couldn’t and fighting back wasn’t an option for her, simply ignoring it and painting over it with shallow explanations.

I write all this just a few short months after my father died suddenly.  We had been working the last year or so to improve a relationship that really hasn’t existed since I was probably twelve, if not younger.  It must be noted that I’m 43 years old, so, yeah, a lot of stormy water under the bridge, and much fault for it, at least for me, begins with him, but I was working on that with him…and still am now without him.  Forgiveness doesn’t get easier when the people you need to forgive are gone, it just becomes quieter.

As I struggled to learn and at the same time see if I was to be my father’s son or if there was another way to go, other forces impacted my life.  People, not strangers, but people I trusted because I was told to, you always trusted family, decided there were other things I needed to know.  Things they showed me, they did to me, had me do to myself and them. But it was all right, they said, because they loved me.  One even said that they could tell just the kind of person I already was at age four and what they were showing me, sharing with me was exactly what the person I was needed to know.

I don’t have many complete memories before April 1980. Lots of ribbons and strips, but nothing really solid.  Not until the day I decided I wasn’t afraid of the dark anymore.  Really weird association, I know, but that day in April, just a few weeks shy of turning eight, I no longer feared the monsters in the dark. And the monsters in the light were never going to scare me again, either.

Intelligent and horribly insecure.  So much so that, at the age of eight, I considered not being here, not dealing with life anymore. Now, I didn’t put it in the solid terms such things are set in as we get older, but not existing, simply walking away and not being whoever the hell I couldn’t tell I was seemed awfully appealing.  There were things about me I couldn’t tell anyone, things that happened that I still haven’t shared with people you would think would have been the first I’d go to, even though I have taken appropriate steps to address the issues, sometimes kicking and screaming, but still I did.  But for so long, I simply wanted to go away, to not be.

And that is a struggle I carried from then in many ways until today.  One of the things I used to think, used to long for, used to regret was that circuses had stopped traveling from town to town by the time I was eight. Also, that the Merchant Marine and the French Foreign Legion, at least as I knew them, were things of the past.  See, in the stories I had discovered, all of these were passageways to other lives, to great adventures, to wild times and good friends, people who would die for you.  I wanted those opportunities, those avenues.  But they and chances like them only existed in Fiction. And most of them in Genre Fiction, particularly the type of stories that appeared in cheap yellowing pulp magazines or battered paperbacks.  Or in old movie serials and golden and silver age comic books.  Only in Fiction.  Pulpy fiction.

So, the first story I ever wrote I would call a Pulp story. And I haven’t stopped.

So, hero or villain?  Many of the good things in me as a person I actually can say I learned from fictional characters as much as I did the real, truly good role models I had around me. Of course, I’d like to believe I came out more Doc Savage than John Sunlight, more Lone Ranger than Butch Cavendish.  But I’ve had my mustache twirling moments, too.  No plots to dominate the world or anything, but I’ve acted out of selfishness, out of brokenness.  I’ve hurt people, sometimes with intent, most of the time not.  I’ve been a bad person at times, and have been pretty good in some of those instances at justifying, rationalizing it.  I have failed at being a good friend, a good husband, a good father, a good son, a good employee, a good everything. I’ve also succeeded several times, I think, at all of those things.

The truth of the matter is, the color of the hat changes with all of us.  We all have histories, both distant and current, that every day define who we are. The quest for identity is like Indiana’s hunt for fortune and glory.  It really doesn’t ever stop.  Hopefully we take the right roads more often than the wrong ones, but the fact is knowing who I am, pinning that person down with clear parameters and definition…is really a lot like defining what Pulp is.  And I’ve finally, after more years than it probably should have taken, become okay with that.

So, I write Pulp.  Because I like heroes and villains and the conflict they endure.  And because I can relate and vent a little writing those stories.  And who wouldn’t want to vent with giant robots, monster bat men, femme fatales, and cosmic catastrophes? Real stress relief, that.

Tune in next week, Kids and Adults alike! I promise the column won’t be so maudlin.  It may not make any more sense than this post did, and will probably be all over the map, but that, too, is just a reflection of who I am.

God Bless and Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kid,
Tommy