Monthly Archives: June 2010

Portrait of a Writer’s Block

It is not without trepidition that I start this post. Not because I’m concerned that I’ll reveal some deep dark secret, one that will shock the world and cause my friends to abandon me in droves. Nor am I concerned that I’ll dissolve in a misty, murky jumble of emotionally driven platitudes and cliches, vomiting out angst onto the screen for everyone to see.

Both would actually be preferable to the reality: which is that I am devoid of idea, absent of thought and bereft of creative jots.

At the most, my brain holds an iota (but no more) of concept, lurking somewhere in the back; a thing, frail Phantom, waiting in the wings to deliver The Idea. I can hear him, just a murmur, a whisper of notion.

But so far, he’s not saying anything that I can hear.

So I keep writing, in the hopes that he’ll speak up before I hit the end. But it’s becoming more and more unlikely that he’ll make an appearance. Deus ex machinas are so rare in real life. No shadowy figures standing in doorways who step into the light to reveal it’s the hero that everyone thought was dead. No cavalry, who conveniently remained hidden behind a hill until they were most needed, and then burst onto the scene to the joy of the buxom woman and the desperate gunslinger, their backs to canyon wall while fearsome injuns prepare to pepper them with arrows.

I’m getting closer to the end now and still nothing. I fear my Phantom idea has exited, in hopes of finding greener passages in which to burgeon. Which leaves me to dig deeper, trying to find the words to end this entry, releasing both you AND me from this shapeless purgatory.

In cases such as these, it’s always best to just go with the cliche. That’s why they exist after all, to provide refuge for those who cannot find the words to describe something.

So let’s cap this off with two little words and you can be on your way. Leaving me here, still looking, still hoping, that I’ll come up with something to write about.


Dylan Charles

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Scaring Myself

I’ve always been interested in looking at the types of horror that I write about, because I think it says a lot about the kind of person I am, about what makes me tick.

I have a tendency to steer clear of anything that’s spiritual. Ghosts do not scare me. Haunted houses scare me even less. If there’s one type of horror I stay away from, both as a reader and a writer, it’s the Haunted House trope. Beyond the fact that I don’t think ghosts are scary, the solution to a haunted house is so mind bendingly simple, that I lose all interest in following the trials and tribulations of the characters. Just move out of the goddamn house! You’ve got a problem, it stays tied to one geographical location, then MOVE. Problem solved.

(Small digression, favorite haunted house novel, The House Next Door, which basically obliterates all my complaints with the genre. Check it out.)

I also tend to stay away from the Classical Monsters tropes: no vampires, no werewolves, no mummies. There’s just very little that can be said about those monsters. They’ve become so embedded in our pop culture, that they’re no longer truly scary. And, lest you forget, horror is about scaring people. This seems to be something modern filmmakers have forgotten.

If I can think of a new angle for werewolves and vampires, then I’ll run with it. But for the most part, I think those guys have been thoroughly tapped out.

My own personal fiction focuses more on either madness or some Lovecraftian terror. By Lovecraftian, I don’t necessarily mean ancient Gods living beneath the ocean, but strange, metaphysical horrors that lurk around and under the shadows. That appeals to me on some level because there’s at least a vague potential for it being a real thing. Not to mean that I think these creatures and demons and the like do exist, but so little is known about the universe, that the notion of weird little pockets of unreality at least sounds plausible. And that’s what makes things scary to me, their real world plausibility.

And this follows with stories about madness as well. Insanity is a very real, tangible thing. I mean not for me. I’m sane.


Dylan Charles


Filed under Horror: Movies, Books, Stories and More

Little Green Book

For the first time in a long while, I’m keeping a little notebook to keep stray ideas. In fact, this blog entry started out in the little green book.

I’ve never been one to keep a journal. It’s too much stress. I’ve gotta write in it every day, or it doesn’t count. I’ve gotta scribble the boring and mundane details of my every day experience, which generally I don’t want to glance through at some later date. “Wow, I…ate breakfast. And then took a nap. Excitement.”

But lately, I’ve enjoyed having it around. I bought it when I was in Boston so I could write down anything interesting that I might want to blog about later, but I’ve kept adding to it since I got back. Story ideas, ideas for the blog, little doodles, whatever I happen to be thinking about; all of it goes into my little green book.

It’s a large part of why I write in my blog every day now, instead of in sporadic, half-hearted updates once a month.  It’s not just a way to make sure I remember these little ideas, but it’s a way of thinking this way again.

Writing always seems, to me, a way of thinking. When someone is writing, they’re taking thoughts that are not concrete or focused and putting them into definite words that can be understood by other people. And it’s something that can be exercised and improved. And it’s something that can atrophy and become very difficult to do.

By keeping my little green book, I’m constantly practicing and refining and figuring out how to put things into words.

And one of these days, I’ll use it to figure out how to end an entry.

Dylan Charles


Filed under Writing: Novels, Stories, Blogs and Comics

Sweet Dreams

My subconscious and I have never really gotten along. There’s a vicious little bastard running things down there in the darkness and apparently he doesn’t like me much. Night after night, he puts together the most twisted shit he can and runs a nightmare double-feature. Which is, in itself, annoying. I would like to get through the night without my family and friends getting wiped out in a post-apocalyptic landscape or without having to fight off zombies while Hayden Panettiere explains why we should just be friends.

But the thing that really annoys me is that I can’t USE any of these dreams for story ideas. They’re derivative, unoriginal and sometimes just outright steal ideas from books, movies or stories. Christ, I would think I can be more original than just lifting the entire plot from Aliens night after night, but apparently I can’t.

It depresses me because I have to wonder what it says about me if my dream apparatus can’t be bothered to be more creative than this. I’ll just hope that the thieving, unimaginative bastard part of me is sated with these lackluster entries in the horror field.

What’s worse is sometimes I’ll wake up and immediately after the dream think, “Hey, this could be an interesting story.” I’ll start to scribble it down and as I write, notice how it bodily lifts from that book I just read and added a bit of the Exorcist for good measure.  And that’s the stuff that makes sense. Everything else is junk drawer crazy that doesn’t really knit well into a plot.

If I’m going to sleep badly, I’d like to get something out of it, but, so far, the most I’ve gotten from it is two or three blog entries where I complain about how much my sleep sucks. So thanks for nothing Subconscious.

Dylan Charles

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The World is Miserable, Solid All the Way Through

I’ve always wanted to blur the lines between fiction and reality, just the tiniest bit, just enough to make a reader turn and stare a little harder at the dark around them, wondering if there might be something lurking there.

I’ve always had an extremely overactive imagination, but it’s always based in reality. I scared myself silly as a kid about biting bugs, rats, machete crazy madmen, bears, whatever. Things that exist in this world.

But I don’t remember being scared of monsters or boogeymen or vampires, ghosts and werewolves. I hoped for these things. Not necessarily to come into my house and devour me whole, but I hoped that they existed, because that would mean magic was real, that the supernatural could turn the world upside down and inside out.

That’s faded over the years, supplanted by the joy I take in what science tells us about the universe and what it tells us about what we don’t know about the universe.

But there is still that small part of me, the one that comes from ten-year-old me, that wishes that there was something more to the world; that something beyond the confines of science and mathematics roamed in the murky depths beyond our understanding. Even the terrible things, because even a terrible wonder would be better than no wonder.

And that’s a large part of what I’ve always wanted to do with my writing. For the duration of the story, I want someone to accept the possibility that there are ghosts and demons and monsters and they’re lurking and waiting to pounce. I want them to believe in the possibility of doorways to other worlds. I want them to be scared to turn off the lights.

If only for one second.

I want there to be wonder, even if it’s terrible.

Dylan Charles

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For the last few months I’ve been feeling uninspired with regards to my writing. I haven’t worked on a new story idea in months. Instead, I’ve been focusing on either editing stories, or rewriting stories I wrote years ago in the hopes that they could be salvaged.

It’s been a long stagnant period that I haven’t seen any signs of ending.

Until I got to Boston.

While there, without even trying, I came up with an idea for a story. And while this sounds like it’s going to another entry where I just start gushing about how wonderful Boston is, this sparking has less to do with Boston itself and more to do with the general change in scenery.

It’s just about getting out there and seeing new things, experiencing new things. If I stay in one place and see the same buildings and the same parks and the same people every day, I’m going to write about the same topics or get locked into one frame of mind.

With the simple act of going to a new place, I’ve suddenly jumpstarted my brain. I started looking around, poking my nose into things, listening to new accents and all that begins to start the gears spinning again.

Right now, back at home, I just…keep my head down. I’ve seen it all before, so why bother paying attention? But in Boston, or any unfamiliar place, I become aware again, excited again, by what’s going on around me.

And the best part is, once I got back to Durham, I begin to notice things I had missed here before, simply by benefit of having a new point of comparison. For example, it’s really goddamn hot down here.

So that’s one big reason to keep on going back to Boston.

Not the only reason mind.

Nor the biggest reason.

But still, a nice little side-effect to going somewhere that already makes me ridiculously happy.

Dylan Charles

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Ye Olde Bostontownne

One of the things that makes Boston so attractive to me is its age. I’m always drawn to old things, ancient things that have a history that goes back to the before. Ancient Roman coins, 19th century novels, and 17th century cities: they spark something inside me.

I can imagine the people that have walked down roads that have been in place since before there was a United States and back. It doesn’t matter that they’ve been paved over a dozen times since they were first laid down, the roads are still there, beneath the blacktop and the yellow painted lines. God alone knows how many feet have walked those paths, at first just to walk cows to pasture and now so cars can rush through five times as fast.

We saw the first subway built in the United States, which stretched all of five blocks, if that. And I thought about the first people to ride it and wondered if there were the people who cursed this newfangled underground train system. Or if they were all aflutter over being the first in the country to have such a thing, a point of pride to point of to visitors, just as it is now.

There are buildings built on top of buildings, buildings that have supplanted older buildings, history stacked on history. Little cemeteries tucked into little corners between buildings, little pockets of forgotten stories engraved on stone tablets, the dead of those first settlers to arrive.

It’s a city that has embraced its past, enhanced it, built up around it and become embedded with old tales and memories.

Dylan Charles

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Boston: In Summary

Though I only spent a few days there, I’d like to live in Boston. It’s a big city that manages to avoid feeling like one. New York feels like a cramped, seething, writhing mass of cranky people, which Boston has managed to avoid. Mainly, I think, by not cramming 13 million people onto an island.

And the people were, on average, polite and friendly. I was walking down the street, sneezed and someone said “Bless you.” I stopped in shock, blinked and continued walking. That’s not supposed to happen. Talking to a stranger in, say, New York, is usually the prelude to a mugging. Or panhandling at the least. This just seemed like an actual  piece of politeness. Though, I’m still paranoid that she was just trying to distract me while her partner pickpocketed me. Luckily I don’t keep my wallet in my back pocket, so they were foiled.

My first day in Boston, we took a duck tour through the city. Duck Tours revolve around World War II era amphibious supply vehicles. We started out touring through most of downtown and then plunked right into the Charles River to continue the tour. It was a great way to get to know the city right off the bat.

While Emily was at work, I’d explore the city on my own, by foot, starting from the Museum of Science, picking a direction, and walking for an hour. I marched along the river on the Cambridge side, crossed the Harvard Bridge, marched on the Boston side and then crossed back again on the Longfellow Bridge. I walked to the aquarium, Faneuil Hall, Boston Common and just out and out tuckered myself out.

By Thursday, I had reached the point where I was able to successfully give directions to someone. Exciting, if only ’cause I have trouble giving directions where I actually live.

And in spite of all the things we managed to do, we barely even scratched the surface of what there is to do. We went to the aquarium (tiny adorable penguins waving their flippers as if they were trying to take up flying again), the Museum of Science (the lightning show, where giant Van de Graaff Generators cracked and sparked and little kids cheered) , ate at Faneuil Hall (good pizza; sigh) and got Italian food (spaghetti, calamari, red sauce; sigh) and pastries (God bless cannolis) in North End. This means, of course, that I need to go back. Repeatedly.

Expect more posts on Boston throughout the week.

Dylan Charles

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Boston Borne

It’s been a good long while since I’ve last gone anywhere new. Hell, it’s been a long time since I’ve traveled more than a state away, new or not. So I’m looking forward to going to Boston.

That might be an understatement of sorts.

I should specify that I am looking forward to the experience of seeing Boston and seeing a new city, while I am extremely ecstatic about my overall trip. There is a subtle difference there.

I’ve only been to a few cities and I’m curious about how I’ll feel about this one.  I’d like to add more…city-experience to my bank of knowledge, cause right now it’s very limited. I’ve lived in New York and visited Los Angeles several times and they’re two very different beasts, with Los Angeles disappointing me more than anything: too sprawled, not enough skyscrapers (for some reason, people living on fault lines don’t tend to build so high up), and, in spite of everything movies have taught me about Los Angeles, there is not an explosion every five seconds. Although I did see a car chase there. A very slow car chase.

So I’d like to see how Boston stacks up to New York and L.A. and I want very much to like it. For various reasons.

I’m going in with no expectations, no preconceived notions, no hastily jumped-to conclusions; just a blank slate, a tabula rasa (look I said the same thing, but in Latin).

I’ll be sure to write up the whole experience when I get back next weekend.

And I’ll be there tomorrow at 10:30, assuming things go smoothly.


Dylan Charles

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The Healing Powers of Touch

I have an innate need to touch things. It makes the object more real, more immediate. Seeing something is almost never enough for me to verify the existence of whatever it is I’m looking at.

I run my hands along fences and brush and buildings, especially if I’m in a new place. I like to know the heft of something and the textures and everything that makes up tactile sensation.

If I’m on a walk in the park, I’ll pick up pretty much every animal I see. Except copperheads. But I worry about the day when I see the opportunity to grab a copperhead, cause I know I’ll do it. Who would pass up an opportunity like that?

When I volunteered at the Carnivore Preservation Trust (now the Carolina Tiger Rescue), I would pet the tigers. And the ocelots. And the binturongs. Just with the flat of my hand across the fence, mind, not actually poking my hand into the cage. I might be stupid and reckless, but I am rather attached to my appendages. The tigers just wouldn’t be REAL otherwise, the memory less persistent, the experience more prone to fading.

By going to those extra lengths to touch something, memory becomes more nailed into place and I have less chance of losing it. It makes events stand out.

Plus, how many people can say they’ve touched a tiger?

Or a rhino for that matter.

(I can!)

Dylan Charles


Filed under Thinking and Pondering: Science, History, Analysis and Over-Think