I’m starting my morning off by enjoying a bowl of cereal while I read through the Spam comments that Phil’s Misadventures in Fiction has accrued recently. It’s oddly entertaining, although the spammers certainly do have nice things to say about my posts. Even if some of those kind words don’t really make a lot of sense from a grammatical standpoint.
Speaking of kind words: the professor I sent Joshua Harkin and the Wicked Nightmare King off to got back to me with his critique today. It’s not something I feel should be shared in its entirety on here, but I do have to say seeing the phrases “I thoroughly enjoyed it” and “you have great characters” really put a stupid grin on my face.
Meowiarty is hanging out with me while I type this, as he sat at my bedroom door and meowed until I let him in. He may be a touch spoiled, I’m willing to concede, but he behaves like a dog enough and I miss having dogs around…so by that reasoning it should be okay that he’s in here. Probably. I’ll remind myself of that when I’m cleaning cat hair out of my PC’s tower.
Naturally, today’s post will involve 42 in a way. Hopefully not too predictable a way, but we’ll see.
Day 42 – Raising a thumb to the stars
I don’t fully remember my first time encountering The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I remember enough. I was visiting my Aunt Debbie and Uncle Bob, and was wandering the house a bit. The details are a bit fuzzy, as my memory is about as durable as an Etch-a-Sketch work of art, but I’m pretty sure I spotted it in my Aunt and Uncle’s room mixed into a towering stack of books. I think I asked about it, but I’m not sure, and then I had no further interactions with Douglas Adams’ writing until quite a few years later.
My first encounter with Terry Pratchett happened in a similar fashion. My dad bought me a Sony Playstation and a handful of games, among which happened to be Discworld. The cast of voice actors was terrific, and Eric Idle made me fall in love with Rincewind (which would later play a big role in my tendency to gravitate towards the Unseen University books). At the time, I had no idea Discworld wasn’t just part of a terrific game I happened to be relatively bad at, but also a series of books.
I mention these two authors because I eventually stumbled upon their works, largely during a very early time in my life as a writer, and they became pillars in my journey to become a published author. I had no idea that science fiction and fantasy could be funny while still conveying serious drama. Or that it was so possible to have tongue-in-cheek humor while teaching actual life lessons. This all blew my mind, and so I set about trying to establish my own voice in a similar fashion. I knew I enjoyed making people laugh, I loved to write, and so I knew I had to combine the two.
The early results were probably on the same level as Dr. Frankenstein’s first attempts at making the Creature. There was writing involve, certainly. Arguably, there was humor, but it took a bit of searching in some cases. Other instances, it was very beat-the-reader-over-the-head obvious. What could be found, and quite readily, were snarky footnotes. Pratchett and Adams had transformed footnotes into a magical device meant for comedic purposes, and so I peppered them into the text quite liberally whenever possible. The effect didn’t produce well-written stories so much as awkward scavenger hunts from a randomly selected, superscripted symbol to its corresponding punchline, and it didn’t always pay off.
My high school writing meandered on all the same, with more focus on the short newsletter I’d created titled The Pengy Press (I still have a WordPress by that name, somewhere, gathering dust). I still wrote fiction, but it wasn’t as prevalent as I was quite lazy at times. Also: who am I kidding? I’m still pretty lazy. My senior project was to write a novel-length work and have it peer-reviewed, which I succeeded at. In hindsight, the entire thing was pretty terrible. The story has since been pretty thoroughly cannibalized, and its echoes exist in quite a few of my current day writings. Joshua Harkin and the Wicked Nightmare King, for instance, inherited a few odds and ends.
I continued to write at Point Park, where I learned I don’t really care too much for journalistic writing. I’d gone in with this vision of becoming the next Dave Barry, writing only brilliant and hilarious editorial pieces. The jokes, I knew, would be so good that people would regularly have to toss aside their newspapers to avoid spraying coffee out of their noses, doubled over in fits of laughter, onto my regular installments of syndicated genius. What I quickly learned, however, is that I’m very impatient with journalistic writing, and I certainly didn’t sign up for writing at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the rest of my life. And so my future books, filled with humor-peppered wisdom on life as I experience it, faded into the background noise.
Edinboro University and its writing classes (and a handful of professors who truly pushed me to work my ass off; I’m looking at you, Repp, Bartone, and Solberg) shaped what voice I had developed up until that point and helped me make it my own. By the advanced writing classes I was hearing how my humor and style were more distinctly Phil Gorski and not, say, Pratchettian. I still hear how my works are clearly influenced by Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, with fewer mentioning Christopher Moore or Neil Gaiman (although they played just as large a role in my love of reading and writing), and I take that as a compliment. Those are the writers who influenced me the most, and they are the reason I wanted to create stories so much. The idea of creating something that has the capacity to be lighthearted and serious, funny and sad, and so on…Quite frankly, there’s nothing better in the world than succeeding at that goal. It’s why I think it’s so important to follow dreams, too. If something, no matter what (with exceptions like murder, obviously), leads to crazy-intense passion in a person, I think they should pursue that. Make it a cornerstone to life. When I’m writing, which is something I would’ve never continued to pursue without having read the authors I read, I feel like the rest of life just makes sense.
Fifty-eight days remaining.