Category Archives: Uncategorized

Creativity, Nature or Nurture?

Is creativity something that we’re born with or is it something we learn? It’s a question that people in art based fields often ask themselves. Studies by major universities show that people who tend to be more creative have different biological characteristics than those who are not. But not everyone is convinced. Some studies argue that creativity is a renewable resource that can be taught, enhanced and fueled, just like any other skill. So, is it nature or nurture? Let’s use myself as an example to delve into the subject and investigate whether the artistic drive inside of you is a gift of evolution or simple upbringing. 

 

My mother was a very talented artist in the late 60’s and early70’s. She had painted canvases spread across her bedroom, sketch pads stored in stacks throughout our basement and framed photographs of her old art studios inside her office. Even as a boy, I remember asking myself, “will I be like mom (or as we say here in Chicago, ‘ma’)?” As I think back, I don’t recall her ever sitting me down and teaching me how to paint or tell stories, yet as I continued to grow, I learned that I had quite the knack for drawing and writing.  Kids in grammar school use to come to me all the time and ask if I could help them sketch a picture or think of a story idea for a school assignment. To be honest, I never gave it much thought until I decided to pursue my career as an author. Now though, I often wonder, did I teach myself to be creative, using my mom as a guide, or was it something innate that helped me become the fairly creative man I am today?

 

                According to researcher Kenneth Heilman of the Department of Neurology and Neuroscience at Cornell University, I never really had a choice. Kenneth discovered that the brain is divided into two halves that are joined by fibers called the corpus callosum. Writers, artists and musicians tend to have smaller corpus callosums, which allows each side of their brain to communicate better, creating new ideas and associations more easily. Kenneth found that people with this phenomenon benefit through an incubation of ideas that are critical for the divergent-thinking component of creativity. So for Keneth, my brain is just wired that way due to my small corpus callosum (hey, size isn’t everything).

 

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Helsinki conducted a similar study associated to musical creativity. In their extensive assessment, they found that musical creativity is based on one’s natural ability to judge pitch, as well as the coordination of beat and harmony. It’s the brain’s inherent ability to reorganize information that makes one a great musician. This explains why so many musicians like Mozart had successful careers at early ages. It has always been in their DNA.  

 

On the contrary, according to Tina Seelig, the Executive Director of Stanford’s Technology Ventures Program, I, like any other creative person, slowly learned how to be as creative as I am. Through her studies, Tina has learned that creativity is a part of the “Innovation Engine”, a set of skills that can be improved by anyone with the right mindset. In Tina’s eyes, creativity is the process of creating new ideas, something that anyone can do if they just learn to think beyond the obvious. There are hundreds of paths, some easier than others, that can help you sharpen your creative skills. Through her studies, Tina has learned that we are all naturally creative, and like any other ability, some people may have more natural talent. However, it doesn’t mean that others can’t be just as creatively proficient. All they need to learn are techniques that help enhance their capacity. Much like speed reading or rollerblading, it’s a skill to be honed.

 

                So which is it? While I want to believe that artists, much like Jedi or Hogwarts wizards, are biologically chosen to become who they are, I have to say that I have a hard time buying into that mindset. People aren’t just packaged in gift wrap and a bow, creative as they’ll ever be at birth.  No, it seems to be something that slowly develops. Nonetheless, I have to admit that I’ve also met some pretty amazing artists within my day that didn’t do anything different from friends and colleagues when it came to improving their talent, yet they somehow managed to be twice as gifted as others when it came to painting, writing music, or sculpting. Maybe they’re just lucky?

 

                Regardless, for me, it’s hard to agree with any blanket statement which states that creativity only has one explanation like genetics or daily practice. In my eyes, creativity is more than just what scientists can put under a microscope. Yes, it’s a combination of biology and skill, and yet it’s still something more. It’s an orchestra of experience, cleverness, inclination, dreams, love and chance. It’s a desire to make people happy with your work and a satisfaction that comes with conceiving something all your own. That’s something that you just can’t put into one from of scientific rationalization. Does that sound mawkishly sentimental? Perhaps. Still, it’s something I live by.

 

                Through this short blog, we’ve studied what some experts have to say about creativity, using me as an example. But what do you think creativity is? When you examine who you are, can you explain it? Were you born with creativity or is it something that you were taught? Is it understandable or unexplainable? We as readers and writers sometimes forget that we live in a pool of creativity each day. Every blog you post or article you read is someone’s creativity put into motion. Maybe it’s time you take a second to ask yourself how you became the creative wonder that you are.

 

               

SEE THE FULL ARTICLE:

The Guardian, “Are Some People Born Creative”: http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2013/sep/19/born-creative-study-brain-hemingway

Business News Daily, “Who Says Creativity Can’t Be Learned”: http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/2471-creativity-innovation-learned.html

Advertisements

Everyone Has an Opinion

          Whether your blogging fan fiction or working on the next award-winning novel, chances are that if you’re working on a new literary project, you’re also receiving insight from others. It may be a simple suggestion from a loved one or serious recommendations from your editor. Regardless, opinions can make or break someone’s writing. So how do you know what advice is valuable and what advice should respectfully be declined? Some might say it’s a matter of the author’s style, while others would argue that you need to scrutinize your counselor’s merit. Then there are those who say that if you truly want to write your best work, you shouldn’t take anyone’s opinion at all. So, let’s examine.

           Plato once said, “Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.” The distinction that he was trying to make is that opinion is subject to error while knowledge is not. There’s nothing wrong with taking someone’s opinion into consideration. Just read the dedication part of a book and you’ll find a whole slew of authors thanking their family, friends and editors for their advice. It’s proactive to ask for different viewpoints, especially ones that come from those of whom you have a great amount of respect for. However, one thing that a writer needs to keep in mind is that one person’s advice, as creative or thought provoking as it might be, may not cater to your readers’ demographics. The fact is, although someone might offer a fun suggestion, like your main character switching sides at the last minute of the book without prior foreshadowing, statistically- people prefer clues for surprise resolution.

            It’s the responsibility of the author to determine whether a suggestion matches the writer’s style. If a writer wants to create something new and fascinating, it might not be a terrible idea to get the opinion of someone who thinks outside the box. Dozens of writers have advisors on standby who are constantly helping them develop their works in new and original ways. However, if a writer already has a steady plot for a specific genre, and an outsider’s opinion conflicts with the outcome, it might be in the author’s best interest to make choices that cater to their fans instead of their counselor. Neither technique is wrong. It’s just a matter of methods, standards, and goals.    

            Another question that a writer needs to ask themselves is, “Who exactly is giving me this advice and why is it wise to listen to them about the direction of this piece?” You might find that although someone is extremely intelligent, they may not be qualified to help with a specific area of your work. You might not want to ask a historical non-fiction writer about whether the dragon in your fantasy novel should be able to transform into a human, nor may you want to ask a comic book fan if the nemesis in your plot should be more behaviorally realistic. They may have great insight, but their background can sometimes be conflicting. So make sure that the advice giver is the right person before making any drastic changes. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of not wanting to turn down their advice. It’s much harder to say no thank you than it actually is to actually identify a bad suggestion, but make no mistake, you’ll eventually have to.  

            Then there are those who think that taking the advice of others can be an error. According to New York Times Best Selling Author, Joseph Finder, “The most successful writers aren’t the most talented. They’re the most stubborn.” If you have a method to your madness, don’t deviate because of a colleague or loved one’s opinion. Let your system be your system until it fails. Suggestions are a great way to get a new perspective or to make decisions about tough choices in your writing. Nevertheless, if you don’t want anyone’s advice, honestly, don’t take it. Keep in mind, I’m not telling you to be an immovable curmudgeon, but some authors are more instinctively in tune with their readers than others, and if you’re one of these lucky individuals, no need to listen to other’s suggestions. 

In the end, writers need to understand that writing is subjective. You’re always going to get conflicting opinions about your subject matter. There’s nothing wrong with that. Often, this can lead to us improving our work. But it’s the duty of the writer to understand which opinions are constructive and which are merely personal preference.  As a rule of thumb, a writer should remember that they’re catering to a broad audience. If there’s an idea that the author is on the fence about, they need to ask themselves, “What would my readers prefer?” On the other hand, if what you’re doing is already working, take those suggestions and throw them right out of the window.

            So, ironically, here I am giving my opinion. For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, I ask you, do you want to take my advice or do you have a better suggestion?

Get Behind the Mule

One of my favorite songwriters and artists is no doubt Tom Waits. He’s witty, dark, and can write one hell of a melody. No doubt, his lyrics are sometimes cryptic, often with numerous meanings, but the guy really knows how to deliver a catchy tune. Get Behind the Mule, is a song from his “Mule Variations” album that has really stuck with me throughout my writing career. While the entire song is a bit grim, his chorus is something that always stirs in my head whenever I’m having trouble motivating myself to write for the day.

 “Got to get behind the mule-

In the morning and plow.”

 The line repeats itself several times throughout the song, delivering a haunting, but sensible message. Sometimes, you just have to pull your sleeves up and get the job done even if it’s the last thing you want to do. It’s easier said than done I know, but nonetheless, valid. If you’ve entered the book writing world hoping for an easy publishing process with minimal complications and easy, no mess acceptance, you’re probably not being realistic. Publishers are extremely particular, and will ferociously pick apart your manuscript to the last word. That’s because they have to be in order to do their job.

 The trials are exhausting and a bit demoralizing, but you can’t let them break your formula. Read and write every day, send out your manuscript, and continue to stay focused. These are the steps that will eventually get you published. A lot of times we forget this because we don’t want to admit that it’s tougher than we’d thought. It’s okay. Long waits, rejection letters, and criticisms are part of the game. Don’t let it stop you from being productive. Got to get behind the mule in the morning and plow

 

Are Writers Artists?

What comes to your head when you hear the word artist? For the majority of people, it’s usually Picasso attacking a canvas or Bob Dylan playing his guitar. Very rarely does someone imagine Mark Twain or Agatha Christie in front of a typewriter, regardless of the fact that they are the most prolific authors of all time.  So, why aren’t writers typically considered artists? Does one have to cater to the five senses in order to be one, or is it the emotion one stirs from their work that makes them what they are? Well, as usual, the answer isn’t simple, but requires exploration nonetheless.

Type “what is an artist?” into your web browser and see what comes up. I did, and the first definition I came across was, “An artist is a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.” Wow, it doesn’t get any simpler than that. Other definitions include, “A person who is skilled at drawing or painting,” as well as, “a skilled performer.” So, according to Webster and his friends, a writer is definitely out of luck.

As I continued to search, I found blogs and comments that support the idea that writers just are not artists. Certain opinions genuinely believe that authors, as talented as they might be, don’t fit the mold of what an orthodox artist should be. From these people’s perspectives, artists receive their title because they have a medium that is either visually or audibly pleasing. Painters create works that can be put on display. Musicians and actors perform on stage.  But a writer can’t showcase their work so easily, which to these folks, separates writers from artists. Writers tend to need time, organization, and systematical knowledge in order to fabricate their work (although there are certain types of poetry and short stories that are exceptions). In addition, a writer’s creation process doesn’t tend to be as intense or swift as other types of art. There’s no splashing of acrylics along a white wall or singing until your voice goes hoarse.

Yet, as I began to explore more online opinions, it became apparent that while some individuals feel that writers aren’t technically part of the art community, the majority of people argue that writers are in fact major players. While famous authors have always been celebrated, it’s only within the last few decades or so that a new principle for identifying an artist has developed- A principle that is paving the way for authors and poets everywhere. It’s an idea that recognizes true art for what it really is at its foundation. In the words of Albert Einstein, “True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist.”

Supporters of this well accepted viewpoint feel that writing is not only a part of the art world, but one of the most complex forms of expression that there is. A writer is painting with words instead of color. They evoke emotion with their stories and accounts. They create something out of nothing, taking ordinary events and weaving them into written words that induce a mood or feelings. While a fine portrait or song can arouse happiness, anger or grief, an exceptional column or book can change lives.

Another reason why writers are increasingly being recognized as artists is that the urge that drives them to express themselves is parallel to the urge that any other artists feels. The fervor that compels a writer to convey a story through language is the same enthusiasm that a violinist uses when drawing their bow or a sculptor uses when he or she shapes clay. Most importantly, this new outlooks doesn’t just apply to writers. According to the majority of blogs and articles I read, other contemporary forms such as photography, computer graphics, film making, and fashion are just as vital, and long overdue for recognition they deserve. So long as there is passion, creation, and expression, there is art, plain and simple.

So the next time someone asks, “Who is your favorite artist?” try to resist the urge to answer with Monet or Pavarotti. Instead, try naming someone a little less conventional.  While Chuck Palahniuk, Carlos Baena, and Robert Kirkman may not make the traditional list of artists, they live and breathe the same creativity of Andy Warhol and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Just because specific individuals that sculpt statues, dance in ballets or sing in operas get all the credit, it doesn’t mean that they’re the only artists out there. It’s up to us to recognize artists everywhere, be they stand-up comedians, cameramen, or writers.

The Truth of It

    Eureka! You’ve just finished your first book and are now thinking, “How do I get published?” After months of blood, sweat, and tears, you go online and begin investigating. Sadly, after researching a slew of websites, not only are you utterly confused, but also feeling as if you’re at step one all over again. Some experts say you should self publish. Others suggest that you find a company to push your book. They warn about shady agents, introductory no-no’s, and coordinating the perfect pitch letter. With so much information out there, who should you trust? Well, its times like these when the only thing to do is go directly to the source. Luckily, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with an experienced author in order to find out how a new writer can best get published.

William J. Wagner is a sports journalist and author of Wrigley Blues. The Herald and Review praised him as, “A veteran sportswriter,” while Sporting News described his acclaimed work as, “A wonderful book.” He has over thirty years of writing experience and has been published in numerous sports journals and magazines. William was kind enough to take the time to answer some frequent questions that upcoming writers typically have. He touched on everything from the publishing market to industry standards.

Firstly, William warns that just like anything, if you’re not passionate about writing, it’s not worth it. Most published authors are never truly compensated for the amount of time and effort that they put into their work, so writing to earn your fortunate tends to only end in disappointment. In fact, with traditional publishing companies scaling back, and an overabundance of new writers flooding the market, the chances of turning your manuscript into a profitable best seller is ever shrinking. However, if you genuinely just love to write, William suggests keeping at it. It may sound cliché, but somewhere out there, people want to read your book.

Next, Wagner suggests striving to sign with a publishing agent before trying to get your book out to readers electronically. While eBooks are the future, the chances of your first manuscript becoming successful in this way are remote. And though some people like to bring up the few thriving independent eBooks such as Fifty Shades of Grey, the majority of readers support established household names over “Indy” writers any day. According to William, the best way to get your manuscript picked up is to hire a literary agent. Literary agents, the good ones at least, can be found online and should never ask for payment up front or editing fees. Those who do, tend to be profit mongers, and want nothing more than to take your money, but not before possibly tarnishing your good name. If you insist on trying to get your manuscript out yourself, William suggests that you at least employ an agent to submit your work to major publishers (who usually refuse to look at a piece without the sponsorship of a literary agent), while promoting your manuscript to smaller publishers within your genre (who generally don’t demand representation).

Finally, William highly urges writers to perfect their pitch letter. Most publishers receive hundreds of manuscripts a day, and only choose to delve further depending on the strength of the pitch letter. Wagner suggests a clean and concise letter that summarizes your story. He also recommends giving examples of popular books that are similar to your work. Most publishers are looking for something they can market. While your manuscript may be looked over a dozen times or so, continue believe in your work. More often than not, if you have a great pitch letter and a well polished story, there’s a publisher out there who will eventually be interested.

William also makes mention that inspiring writers today have far more challenges than writers ever have in years past. With so many more self publishing opportunities, a surplus of competitors, and a manifold of schemes that prey on unsuspecting penmen, it’s no wonder that so many struggling writers throw in the towel before they ever become established authors. High hopes quickly become lowly and deflated. However, if you can follow the delicate process suggested for first time writers, and are both patient and optimistic, your chances of signing that first contract will significantly increase. So, while it may be humbling, new writers need to remember that from small beginnings come great things.

(William J. Wagner’s highly acclaimed book, “Wrigley Blues”)

 

SUBMIT, BUT DON’T QUIT

“It’s an awful feeling to write something that you feel is really important…and to feel that you’re being published by people who really don’t get it and/or don’t really care.”

-Alice Walker

Recently, I’ve made mention of “the do’s and don’ts” when submitting a manuscript. Since then, I’ve had a few questions from readers about how the process works. It can be tough to try and make the right decisions when sending out your work because different publishers have different procedures. It doesn’t help that many publishers have become a bit more cutthroat then in years past due to excessive inquiries. Nevertheless, there is a basic course that nearly all of them abide by. The following are some suggestions that will help upcoming authors when pitching their manuscripts. This advice comes from research, published authors, and literature websites.

First and foremost, there’s no rule demanding exclusive submissions. Anyone telling you differently hasn’t tried to submit an article as of late. It’s tough and you need to reach out to anyone who might take it. Submit the piece to several publications. While it might be considered a bit impolite to submit the same piece to competitors, there’s nothing saying that you can’t.

 

Secondly, understand that review time is considerably different depending on who you’re submitting a manuscript or article to. Magazines move fast and thanks to the Internet, receive and respond to queries relatively quickly. Typically, you can expect a magazine to respond within eight weeks or sooner. If you don’t receive something by then, either move on or write them a polite e-mail to see if they are interested. Please don’t expect magazines to send a professional rejection letter. It is a courtesy, not a requirement.

As for book publishers, first and foremost, learn how to develop a pitch letter. It is the key component to selling your book. With fiction, learn how to write a fluid, immaculate synopsis. With nonfiction, try to have your proposal emulate a business request. Publishers tend not to read a manuscript unless they’re interested in your query. And like with magazines, don’t limit yourself to a single publisher and don’t wait for a reply.

Most importantly, just keep writing. Don’t get discouraged by rejections, lack of responses, or insecurities you might have about your pitch letter. This industry is getting faster and faster, with publishers looking for that next great piece of work without consideration or apologies. If they don’t like your work, they’ll move on. So should you.

 

Am I Selling Out or Fighting for My Work?

I read a lot of authors’ blogs and one of the hot buttons tends to be a debate over promoting your book. Some authors feel that they should concentrate solely on writing their book so that it’s at its best, while trusting their publishers to take care of the rest. Other authors feel that using social media, going on blog tours and attending conventions is the foundation of having a successful novel. Some blogs say that trying to be a salesperson dents a writer’s reputation while other post that self promotion is half the battle. Its two different schools of thought. So which is right?

Well, it wouldn’t be a heated debate unless both sides didn’t have excellent points. Traditional authors feel that a writer’s responsibility is to spend hundreds of hours of blood, sweat and tears trying to perfect a manuscript that they pitch to a publisher to sell. By accepting the book, a publisher is saying that they feel that they can market it to the correct audiences in order to make a profit. So why would you get the author, who knows nothing about selling, involved?  That’s like asking them to work on a car for you or fix your plumbing. Sure they’ll give it a shot, but writers tend to be lacking in marketing skills. They specialize in telling stories.

A publisher by definition is supposed to make information available to the public. That includes all of the stages of development including acquisition, editing, graphic design, production, printing and most importantly, marketing. You write, they excite. While a publisher might expect you to show up for a few promotional appointments, they shouldn’t rely on an author to turn a book into a success. That should be something that they deploy.

On the other hand, while it might be the responsibility of a publisher to help sell your book, why wouldn’t you try to help your own cause? While there’s conflicting numbers that don’t exactly prove or disprove if blogging truly helps sell books, I can tell you from personal experience that connecting with readers never hurts. I’ve seen multiple well written blogs that inspire me to continue following the author. And yes, while using Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. might not drive sales, it’s a great way to understand what people enjoy while keeping your name out there.  Plus, it helps target specific audiences.

Publishers are great at selling a manuscript to the general public, but they tend not to concentrate on specialized groups. Blogs, social media and focused tours are a great way to aim at an audience you’d like to cater to. For example, if I’m writing a horror novel (cough, cough, “Consumed” is in on bookshelves October 2014, cough), I might want to promote my novel to gothic book clubs,  ghoulish citywide conventions and anywhere else that there’s horror readers. Promoting to people who tend to read your specific genre not only theoretically pushes sales, but it also assures better reviews. Readers of a certain style might be a bit pickier, but they also tend to appreciate elements within your writing far more than a person who just picked up any book at the airport to get them through their flight to Los Angeles.

So what does it all mean then? Should you promote or shouldn’t you? Well, although my word isn’t an official authority, I’d have to say that both schools of thought are on the right track. Yes, I’m calling it a draw. While it’s true that an author’s book should be their priority, and that being weighed down by book promotions can be a serious distraction, getting involved in endorsing your own manuscript is vital.

Managing time is tough. If you’re an early phase author who still has a day job, it’s probably even tougher. An author with a publisher has to make sure that they are spending a majority of their time working on their manuscript while allowing ample time to promote. The rule of thumb tends to be that the smaller the publisher, the more time you may want to invest in pushing your book. I’m not saying that you have to stretch yourself thin, but the occasional blog, Twitter comment or Goodreads update helps.

However, if you feel that you absolutely positively do not have enough time to both write and promote, it’s my suggestion that you abandon ship with the marketing segment. While you may be able to help, it’s ultimately the publisher’s responsibility to get the word out that your amazing book is coming soon. Your publisher can promote without you, but no one can write the book but you. Might I warn though that this is only for rare cases. In my opinion, most people, if they’re really honest with themselves, can find the time.

So the next time you’re worried about the success of your book, ask yourself, “Am I doing enough to help?” You’ve put a lot of effort into your novel. Encourage readers to buy it. It doesn’t mean that you have to treat it like a second or third job, it just means that you should put a small amount of time away every week to ensure that you’re giving the book the attention it deserves. Remember, you only get what you give.

Image

Good Living Leads to Good Writing

I use to romanticize that when a person became an author, some fantastical character similar to Santa Clause came down to the artist’s home, bequeathing them with a gloomy black suit as well as a life supply of whiskey and cigarettes. Now I know this wasn’t spot on, but it helped me make sense of my favorite classical authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Walter de la Mare and Oscar Wilde, who were some of the more melancholy novelists of their time. And yes, while it’s true that not every gothic author was an alcoholic, solitary introvert or ex-convict (Mary Shelly and Robert L. Stevenson to name a few), there does seem to be a slew of these social deviants throughout literature’s timeline.

 

However, as much as one might fantasize about emulating the lifestyle of their favorite unusual authors, may I suggest that you reconsider? Because while it might seem exciting to live in the footsteps of some of the more bizarre penmen, I’m a firm believer that good writing comes from good living. Yes, sometimes, we as writers might feel the need to wallow in self pity, tiptoe along the darkest alleyways or drink until our livers turn green, but it doesn’t necessarily make us more creative. No, being a good writer comes from within. It’s constant practice, well thought ideas and an unwavering spirit. It’s the ability to reside in, cope with and adapt to the modern writing world. To quote the Sage of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson, “nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

I’ve been known to “indulge” in the occasional drink…or ten, and to be honest, sometimes Hemmingway’s philosophy, “write drunk; edit sober”, does help get the words on paper. Then again, I’ve written the majority of my best works while just being content and clear minded. Get me in my favorite chair next to the window with a steaming cup of coffee after eating my wife’s quesadilla casserole and I’m ready to go. Now put my snoozing dog at my feet, add a rainstorm with some Tom Waits gently playing in the background and prepare for a masterpiece.

Almost all of us have that special place or moment. That perfect hiccup in time when nothing seems imperfect about the world. It comes with good living. Work hard, stay healthy, remain kind to those you love and more of these “perfect hiccups” will arise. Because while dyeing your hair black, skipping through graveyards and drinking like a fish might help you get in the mood for whatever project you may be working on, just being happy with yourself will always prove ten times better. Joy isn’t always something just handed out freely. Often, it comes from the person’s own measures.

 

 

THE SECRET TO AN ARTIST’S SUCCESS

I work and associate with artists of all sorts. It’s not just writers, but film specialists, photographers and painters. Occasionally, one of them decides that this dream they’ve been chasing just doesn’t feel right anymore. They don’t enjoy the hassle of working by day while being an artist by night, and have decided to just throw in the towel. And while I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing (my wife went from actress to doctor and couldn’t be happier), if you’re quitting just because you’re frustrated, you’re doing the one thing that successful artists everywhere did not.

Becoming a leader in any field is a tough accomplishment. You have to constantly be in a state of mind that makes you want to improve while being patient enough to understand that nothing happens overnight. Now throw in the fact that artists, much like a lot of professions as of recent, are a dime a dozen and suddenly the goal of becomes that much more daunting. The odds seem against you and the stress can sometimes wear down the soul.

 But fortitude is the name of the game. For example, Picasso was penniless and unsuccessful for years during his Blue Period. As disheartened as he was, he committed to drawing, though he was nearly as poverty-stricken as some of the grim depictions of poor that he rendered. It wasn’t until his Rose Period nearly ten years later that he truly emerged as one of the 20th century’s greatest painters. Resilience, stamina, endurance, these were what helped him through the trying times.

It’s not just Picasso though that blossomed. Hundreds of household names such as Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe and Dylan Thomas are living testaments to what willpower can bestow. You don’t have to be a starving artist like some of them, but just continuing to nurture your talent without surrender should be enough. Don’t jeopardize the wonderful art that you may gift to the world someday just because times are tough. It’s like George Bernard Shaw once said, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” It would be a shame if you deprive us of what you can do. 

The Strigoaica

Deep in the darkest woods of Munţii Retezat lives a creature known only as Strigoaica. Refused by hell, she makes her home in the rock beneath a gnarled oak tree, the skins of children her only decor.  She neither lives nor rests, but is cursed between. And though no one knows who she once was or what she is, it’s certain that she’ll always be. A black cloud on the horizon, she is ever enduring. 

She has bone colored flesh with a mane of decrepit sable. Her eyes are coal, her teeth are gnarled and her fingers are sharp as talons. She has a crooked back and withered breasts concealed in a rotten gown of fawn. Her arms are long, her snout is bent and her wormlike tongue is a mawkish plum.It is said to lay eyes upon her is to welcome death, though few rarely ever get to see her. Instead it is her song they hear or her stench they breathe which warns them of her coming. She can hum a melody that starts like gentle rain but ends like a storm, louder and more maddening than anything thought natural.  Her sickly aroma is that of the grave, a bouquet of rot and turned soil. A perfume so foul that it thickens the air, suffocating those nearby.

No one knows why she haunts the veil hidden behind Munţii Retezat. Some say she seeks vengeance for the child she lost while others claim she is Lucifer’s discarded first wife. Still a few insist that she is the hag-witch of the mountains, created by the cliffs as a warden.What is certain is that she hungers to torture men, quiet women and feast upon children. It is a desire that can never be quenched, ever constant in her mind.

So wayfarer, if you’re ever traveling through the roads of the old world and come across Munţii Reteza do not make camp. No, continue on your journey until the hairs on your neck and lump in your throat withdraw. For lurking in the night, hidden in the shadows cast by the moon are greedy eyes, curled claws and a hungry maw. She can neither live nor die, but is always waiting for a fool to venture too near to her gnarled oak tree.

Author Notes

While traveling to research my latest novel, I came across some frightening folklore in Transylvania, Romania. This folklore helped inspire my rendering of the Strigoaica.

© Justin Alcala. All rights reservedImage