by Kevin Mercurio
Over one year.
Over one year since I have decided to write the long story Oblivion, with little to show for than the introduction of the initial chapter. That’s beyond shameful; it’s contemptible and ignominious. Even after a catastrophic year that brought new beginnings and a clear mind, I have succumbed to many of Pope Gregory’s Deadly Sins. Looking at how far I have come, there’s no question that my articulation both oratorically and literarily have faded somewhere outside my grasp. I have lost that prose.
Since graduate school began, I have vehemently refused to continuously develop the creativity that sparked this website and therefore, like all other skills stuck in inactivation, it just treaded tirelessly in the back of my mind. This, however, came to no surprise and without positive consequence. I have adapted routines, roles and responsibilities that, for the most part, have kept myself in a state of reverie. Within this period I have met a fantastic partner who has become my closest friend and living reflection. This relationship, and the many novel relationships I have made throughout this journey, have provided ample opportunity to develop character traits in myself that I see in all those I admire most.
My consternation derives from losing what made me mindful in the first place. What we sometimes forget is history: how our entire past has shaped us to become what we are today. That includes how this website has saved me. How it laid down the foundation to cerebrate. It’s purpose was not a location for complacency but to allow an INTJ to explore something I may never understand.
This post will be about my encounter with obdurate writer’s block and the difficulty of writing a dark genre.
I must admit that the purpose of this post is rather selfish and meaningless. Like a cruciverbalist, I am trying to spark my lexicon and flow of ideas that can drive writer’s mania. Essentially, the above soliloquy is a complex mixture of terms and references that can be summarized into three words: I am stuck. Here’s a glimpse at what I have written for Oblivion:
There was something off about this town.
Detective Winston parked his jeep in Main Square and took his first step into Defalco. The air was unusually thick and cool, almost like cold humidity, except no water was around the town for miles. It smelled of steel factory pollution, and as Winston looked at the night sky he could see the dark fumes in the distance obscure some of the starlight. Even at night, they were dark enough to be observed.
Winston looked around at the three buildings that surrounded the square. They were well-kept and certainly Greek inspired, with large columns towering over the entrance stairways. Straight ahead is what looked like the town library. In front, there was a bronze statue of an elderly man in a long-overcoat holding an open book, with his mouth frozen in the midst of conversation. The building adjacent on the left was the Defalco Court House, with another cliché statue of a blindfolded woman holding a tipped scale.
The other building encompassed two sides of the square, bending at the right-corner furthest away from Winston. He could not determine the purpose for it, but the building was lined with scaffolding and metal fencing. A sign on the fencing read “Under Construction”, not uncommon for historic buildings like these. The entrance was intriguing because the columns that lined the front were very tight and narrow. Winston could barely notice the doorway peak behind the giant centre column. How do people squeeze through for entry? Winston thought.
Towards the centre of the square, there was a man sitting on a wooden bench. Winston didn’t notice him at first, but directly made eye contact with him as soon as he discovered his presence. He was looking directly at Winston. He was an eerie looking old man, rustic and dressed in oversized, rotten clothing. But Winston was focused on the man’s face. It was disturbing. On his right side, the man’s cheek had concaved inwards, likely due to past abuse with chewing tobacco. It was reconstructed, but just barely enough that one could see right through into his mouth.
The man stood up and began walking towards Detective Winston, still standing by his jeep. As the distance grew shorter, he continued to pick up pace and rose his hand to point at the building with the scaffolding and narrow entranceway. Winston, realizing the potential danger ahead, ran to his trunk to retrieve his badge and gun from his work bag. He loaded the gun, clicked off the safety and pointed the gun at… nothing. The man was no where to be seen.
I have read these same paragraphs for over a year. I have been trying to perceive the life and character of Detective Winston to no avail. Why was he sent to the town? Why did I name the town Defalco? What is the significance of this old, hollow-faced man other than to incite a feeling of terror? Do other writer’s have this experience of dwelling on the reasoning for one’s words?
In all honesty, the entire idea of this story came from a quote I thought a character would say, likely inspired by Orwell’s 1984:
“You have to make the people think what you want them to think, as if coming out of thin air, when in fact our actions and speech have shown proof that we are capable of establishing desired neural networks.”
This led to the idea of a detective thriller. But I wanted something more than that. I wanted to blend the obscure realism of Orwell’s 1984 dystopia with the unprecedented horror of Lovecraft’s The Rats in the Walls, written in the thought-provoking style of McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Such a cocktail if literary works would prove to be my most ambitious work to date. Perhaps this is just too complicated to achieve, but I am a stubborn bastard and believe this can be done.
I have realized now that it was not my lack of ideas that have plagued me with writer’s block but rather the darkness of such a story. Spoiler alert: what I want is for Detective Winston to have the opportunity to encounter the most heinous villain imaginable after the theme has climaxed and choose not to. As easy as that is to say, it is so difficult to write a natural story that ends unexpectedly. In No Country for Old Men, particularly in the film adaptation, you have the visual of Javier Bardem so expertly crafted into the terrifying Anton Chigurh. You have the buildup of a Lovecraft plot with weird, eldritch experiences at every turn. You have the theme of 1984 and how the human mind can be exploited due to its plasticity, if you know what controls it. These are dark, literary elements that baffle a novice writer such as myself.
I have dwindled down the path and researched a fair share of pages on the dark wikipedia (thanks Reddit). The goal will be to devise actions of the most horrible living being imaginable in order for Detective Winston to stop short of his character arc. The real challenge is that writing such dark literature unsurprisingly puts your mind in a dark place. I am reminded by the life and death of Michelle Oswalt, and her work on the Golden State Killer. Her work, along with the work of many authors who provide dark themes in storytelling to captivate the audience, is inspirational and certainly admired by myself and many others around the world.
It has taken longer than I expected, but I hope that in the end, it will be both entertaining and pellucid.
“Searchers for horror haunt strange, far places.”
– H.P. Lovecraft