Edward Gorey Lives!

4_writers_goreyI haven’t talked about Edward Gorey much on my blog (except for here and here). I apologize for that. It was a terrible oversight and I aim to remedy that right now.

Gorey was a brilliant author and artist, well known for his abecedaries, his limericks, his crosshatched illustrations, and his morbid sense of humor. He was a genius and I’d count him among my influences (should I someday write something worth reading and become famous, this will save critics some time in deciding who my influences were).

Unfortunately, he died. That keeps happening to my favorite authors.

And yet, he lives again! Well, after a fashion.

Thank you, College Humor for bringing Gorey back to life through Death himself. Beautiful.

Rumpelstiltskin and the Rule of Three

Growing up, one of my favorite children’s books was Rumpelstiltskin. Specifically, it was the version of Rumpelstiltskin by Edith Tarcov and illustrated by Edward Gorey. The reason it was among my favorites was because it came with a cassette tape audio version of the book.

“When you hear the beep, turn the page. Beeeeep.”

I wore that cassette out. I can still pull bits and pieces from the story out and recite them with the same inflections as were on the tape. And I loved the simple illustrations long before I discovered my love for all things Edward Gorey.

Edith Tarcov’s version was good for many reasons, but one that I especially appreciate is the fact that she stayed true to the original story.

The story goes like this:

A poor miller with a beautiful daughter wants to impress the king who stops by so he tells the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold. So the king takes the miller’s daughter to the castle and locks her in a room with a pile of straw and a spinning wheel and tells her that if she spins the straw into gold by morning, she can live.

Now, she doesn’t really know how to spin straw into gold, so she starts crying. Just then a funny little man walks in and offers to spin the straw into gold for her in exchange for her ring. Spin, spin, spin, the job is done. The king is pleased, but greedy, so he takes her to a larger room with more straw and the process repeats, this time the funny little man accepts a necklace for payment. The third day, the miller’s daughter is sitting in a large room with lots of straw and still no skill for spinning, but she has nothing of value to exchange for the funny little man to do the deed for her, so she agrees to give him her first baby when she is made queen. Spin, spin, spin, the king is pleased and marries the miller’s daughter.

A year goes by. The new queen has a baby but forgets the little man and her promise until the funny little man shows up to claim his wages. The queen begs and pleads for a way out of their arrangement, and the little man relents. “If you can guess my name in three days,” he says, “you may keep your baby.” So the queen sends out the messenger to collect all the names of the kingdom. First night, no luck. The messenger goes back out for all the strange names. Again, no luck. The third night, he doesn’t get any new names, but he does overhear the little man singing in the forest, and the little man’s song tells his name. The queen uses the name to get out of the baby deal, the little man stomps himself into the ground and no one has seen him since.

Forgive me for telling the whole thing, but I wanted you to see the Rule of Three in action. It occurs all throughout the story. First, the miller’s daughter is subjected to three rooms of straw, over three nights, during which she gives three gifts to the funny little man. Then, when she is queen, she has three nights to come up with the little man’s name.

But why three?

Three is a number with a lot of baggage. We experience life in three dimensions. In mathematics, it is the first unique prime number, triangles have three sides and three points, and pi starts with it. Earth is the third planet from the sun. Three is quite popular in religious circles. But in writing and storytelling, three has other special properties.

Three is the smallest number needed to see a pattern in action. Something happens once, it has no significance. Twice, it’s a fluke. Three times, that’s a pattern. And humans are trained to look for patterns. We love them!

So when a story makes use of the natural inclination to seek out a pattern, it makes the story better and more memorable. In serious stories, the Rule of Three can create suspense. We always feel like we are waiting for the other shoe to drop. In humor stories, we are surprised when the third part is incongruous with the first two.

As I dig into the Rule of Three, I wonder if I have used it in my writing. I wonder if I haven’t and I need to. I wonder if saying “I wonder” three sentences in a row is too much or just right. It feels right to me.

Anyway, now that you know about the Rule of Three, I’d love to hear how either consciously or subconsciously you have seen it in action. Leave me a comment… or three.

The Writing Processes of Vonnegut, Pratchett, Gorey, and Tolkien in Links

In an interview this week with a fellow blogger, I was asked who inspires me. I answered with four different authors, each chosen for a different reason (in order to find out what those reasons are, you’ll have to read the interview). This week, I decided to seek out any wisdom that my four favorites might have to share on the topic of writing.

I was introduced to the writing of Kurt Vonnegut in an ethics course offered by the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University in my freshman year. We read Slaughterhouse Five and explored the morality represented within its pages. I’ve always enjoyed books, but I haven’t always enjoyed them when they were required reading for school. When I first read Slaughterhouse Five though, I couldn’t put it down. I think I read it twice before the due date and then again before the end of the semester. “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time…” Even just talking about Vonnegut’s work now makes me want to pick up a copy and read it over again. The link here features Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing. If you are a writer, I hope you click through.

It was sometime in my first year of working at Baker Book House when a coworker exposed me to the genius of Terry Pratchett. I think we were talking about sci-fi and fantasy stories when she told me that she was doing a paper for one of her literature classes on the topic of rule consistency when creating a fantasy world. “It doesn’t need to be just like it is in the real world, but it needs to be consistent within itself,” she said. She went on to tell me that she was using the works of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as an example of consistency. When no flicker of recognition flashed on my face, she insisted that I read some. The next day, she brought me three books. “When you finish one of these, you are going to want another to start on right away,” she said. She was right. This link is for an interview that Pratchett did a few years back, and the relevant portion for writers begins about midway down the page.

I ran across Edward Gorey in college on a random excursion with my roommate, friend, and sometime muse, Adam. Together, we would visit Barnes and Noble and search through the bargain racks for anything that looked interesting. I picked up one of the Amphigorey books and was instantly in love with the mixture of dark humor, brilliant illustrations, and tales that forced the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Alas, I could not find any advice to authors from Edward Gorey, but this link is for his book The Unstrung Harp or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel, in which Gorey illustrates the creative process of novel-writing though at the time he wrote this story, he himself had never written a novel. Still, it isn’t far from the truth.

My last author for this list is actually the one that I read earliest in my life. My dad handed me a copy of The Hobbit when I was in 7th or 8th grade and told me that I might enjoy it. I devoured it. Tolkien’s style, characters, and voice drew me in (as they do for anyone who dares to read The Hobbit). After that, my dad gave me a copy of The Fellowship of the Rings which I breezed through as well. And then I hit The Two Towers and got bogged down along with Frodo and Sam in the Dead Marshes. Sadly, I set the series down for a full year before attempting another go. But by that time, I had forgotten half of the details of the story, so I decided to start the whole thing again from the beginning. The Hobbit, check. The Fellowship of the Ring, check. The Two Towers, I powered through it this time, check. After I finished The Return of the King, I was sad the journey was over. LOTR was all I could talk about with my dad for weeks. And then he asked if I knew about the Silmarillion, which I hadn’t. So I decided to start again with The Hobbit, plowed through LOTR, and picked up the Silmarillion. Oh man, I was in nerd heaven. So many things in LOTR were explained, origins of the races, where the wizards came from, what a Balrog is, tales from the first and second ages of the world before the third age (when LOTR is set)! I am helplessly a Tolkien fan, so when I saw this post on Tolkien’s 10 Tips for Writers by the wonderful blogger, Roger Colby, I knew that it was going to be good. Colby culled through Tolkien’s writings and interviews where he discussed his craft and came up with a solid list for writers to use as a reference. Be sure to check it out, as well as the rest of his site.

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Last, for my writing report card, I’m going to give myself a B+ for the week.

I got the most hits in one day to date on Wednesday, I did a blog swap with another blogger, and I had fresh content everyday. The only thing was that I didn’t get a chance to write much on my novel, but I’m not going to let that get me down. Good job, me!

Flash Fiction | Thom & Tom: Weight for Me

I am taking a week off from book reviews. I hope that’s okay. I haven’t had much time to read lately. Instead, I’m doing something new.

Yesterday, I introduced a couple more characters from my Thom & Tom flash fiction series and I mentioned that I’d share a story. Well, here I am making good on that promise.

Thom is a squirrel. Thom is invisible. That's kind of their thing.

Here’s some proof that I’m not an artist.

Before I post it though, I feel the need to explain the format a bit. My original vision for the series was to be along the lines of an Edward Gorey book, with a picture above each line of text, though each line of my text would have footnotes (like Terry Pratchett does, though he does not do them for every line) and the footnotes themselves would have footnotes.

I’m a terrible artist, so you’ll just have to imagine that there are pictures here. If you are an artist with a knack for anthropomorphic forest animals and you have nothing better to do with your time, give me a jingle and we could make some sweet money together.

Okay then, here we go.

The Misadventures of Thom and Tom: Weight for Me

By Josh Mosey

There once lived a squirrel named Thom.*
*The h is silent, but not invisible.

Thom lived in a tree house with his roommate, Tom.*
*Tom is not silent, but is invisible.

One morning, during his morning ritual*, Thom saw something frightening on his bathroom scale.**
*Thom’s morning ritual consists of: hitting the snooze button twice before turning off his alarm clock, using the lavatory, going back to bed, realizing that he shouldn’t have gone back to bed, taking a shower, weighing himself, eating some breakfast, throwing something at Tom, having a cup of chai, and getting on with his day.***
**It isn’t very nice to be frightened by anything that soon after you’ve woken up.  It’s just not a good way to start the day.
***Getting dressed is not part of the ritual because squirrels don’t wear clothes.  That would be silly.

It was his weight.*
*About 2 lbs. more than normal.**
**Which is drastically overweight for a 1 lb. squirrel.

The first question Thom asked was, “Who do I blame?”*
*An important first question.

Thom immediately dismissed the possibility that he was somehow at fault.*
*Who starts by blaming themselves?**
**Not Thom.

Thom’s next target was the media.*
*Not so much because the media portrays “big” as “beautiful,” but because Thom watches a lot of television.**
**And when Thom watches television, he eats.

But was it just the media’s fault?*
*Thom (and everyone else too) likes to spread the blame around.

Now that he thought of it, the grocery store was having a lot of sales recently.*
*Sneaky grocery store.

But that doesn’t even take into consideration Thom’s friends.*
*Tom is especially bad, with his “let’s see how much food Thom can fit in his mouth” game.**
**Tom likes to play this while Thom is sleeping.***
***Thom doesn’t like to play while Thom is sleeping.

And then a thought occurred to Thom.*
*Two thoughts actually, but only one was relevant to this story.**
**The other thought was, “I wonder how much I would have to pay a stranger to walk around yelling, ‘Free the Colors!’ all day long.  That would be funny.”

Thom thought, “Why not blame the food itself?”*
*Go to the source.

Just then, Tom stumbled* out of his room…**
*Stumbling is just one of Tom’s many talents.
**Tom usually stumbles out about five minutes after being hit with whatever Thom threw at him.***
***See sentence break 3 for more details about Thom’s morning ritual.

And solved the issue with only a few words.*
*A roommate’s abilities are sometimes uncanny.

Tom said, “It’s winter.  I hate winter.”* **
*During the winter, squirrels store up fat reserves so they can survive the season when they cannot find as much food.
**I hate winter too.

The End*
*Of this story.**
**Not the world.***
***I hope.

So, there you go. A real Thom & Tom story. Merry Christmas.