“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”--Banksy
There are many books and stories that shape each of us, particularly those of us who create with words. I remember my mother giving me an anthology of horror stories when I was 7-8 years-old, and there being a story by H.P. Lovecraft—I don’t remember which one, though sense it was one of the Silver Key stories—that wrapped its ambience around me and took me to a place I could not believe one could travel via words.
I also remember her books on UFOs, the Psychic Sciences, Ghosts, the Supernatural…
I remember some odd little action/mystery books that teased me with visions of Morocco, perhaps a precursor to my love of the work of William S. Burroughs.
I remember being a teenager and on a whim, just needing something different, picking up a book by Harlan Ellison—The Beast That Shouted Love At The Heart of the World—and being enraptured by his no-holds barred speculative jaunts through gritty futures of the mind and body; very human stories.
I remember beautiful, poetic stories by Ray Bradbury, the looming presence that was this fairly new horror-writing fella, Stephen King, Charles Grants’ Shadows anthologies, and many more dark impressions detailed with words, and, finally…
Back then, my ‘in’ to a writer was usually via their short fiction. Ballard’s short stories required intense concentration. They, not unlike quality Weird Fiction, were as much about a mood, a tone, something beyond the narrative, than just story. Ballard dipped deeper into my psyche as his tales lingered long after I read them. I remember the first time I read “The Voices of Time,” late night, and drifting off, barely awake, yet wanting to finish the story…when the eight or so paragraphs toward the end hit like a sledgehammer—such beautiful, transcendent imagery--waking my brain to the possibilities of what a story can do beyond well-staged words. Much like the Lovecraft story many years earlier, his words carried weight beyond the page.
The Atrocity Exhibition, the collection of condensed novels, really rattled things. My mind stretched.
But it was Crash that put me over the top.
Let me step back a second: There are two books that opened doors into my mind, into the realm of subconscious connection, and prodded my creativity in such a way they were essential in shaping the writer I have become, and partially define the person I am, or at least they nod rather enthusiastically toward the psychological landscape of said person. One would seem obvious for those who’ve read my fiction: Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, Volume 1, though of course the whole Books of Blood series of graphic horror tales enlightened and disturbed in wonderful ways. They said to me, Go ahead and dig as deep as you want into that dark place people might rather avoid, much as Barker said, “I forbid my mind nothing”— the key inspirational quote for all my fiction. The other book, though not as stylistically obvious, was the one that hit hardest: J.G. Ballard’s Crash.
My mind being geared toward outsider art from an early age—I believe it is part of my DNA, a subject I’ve thought on a lot and will touch on in a blog (or in some manner) at some point—when reading the tagline for the book about car crashes and sex, one with a mind already receptive to subjects of a provocative nature, well, how was I to resist the dark allure, the endless possibilities, of where a writer I already knew could push my buttons would take it?
“Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. …”
I was hooked by the first lines and dragged through the sexual maelstrom that followed. Ballard constructed a damaged mosaic in tune with the damaged logic inherent to the deviant passions of first Vaughan, then Ballard himself, inserting himself into the role as narrator, lending impact, a head-on impact—the only conceivable path Ballard could have chosen for Vaughan’s tale. (Another blurring of the lines between fiction and reality: the real-life actress, Elizabeth Taylor, being Vaughan’s death-quest focus.)
Full immersion is an expression I use for writing that demands complete participation; for writing that does not allow anything but full immersion. What Ballard did with Crash was lay out the path with internal thoughts most people would rather keep inside, even ignore. The dark and light are essential parts of each of us, yet many people do not permit the dark room to breathe. Ballard’s uncensored thoughts were a revelation then and even now, as I skim over bits and pieces of the novel while writing this piece.
Though repetitions—a looped Warhol print of a print of a print of a Rorschach image created with blood, semen, and gasoline--and descriptively clinical—the novel is not erotic in the common sense of erotica; it is firmly set in the mind, not the body, though the body is the plaything utilized by those whose transgressions rule their minds--what Ballard tapped into within the malleable putty of my mind was my own tattered psyche: my interests in all things subversive, as well as the kinks of sexuality beyond vanilla. He did something no other writer before had done: he spoke to the essence of me and, like Barker later (but not that much later), told me it was okay to go deeper, but more so with Ballard, not just viscerally, but psychologically (hence, the many layers within most of my fiction), and always look at every situation from a different, unfamiliar angle. (This last element is paramount to my fiction.) Even though Crash is teeming with dented cars and dented sexual couplings, the mastery is because of a rigid presentation. This rigid presentation magnifies their obsessions.
I believe this revelation came to me with David Cronenberg’s cinematic spin on Ballard’s book, where the almost lackadaisical pace, the even keel of presentation, where a car crash and a sex scene and a conversation all have the same level of muted impact, conjured a fascinating, flat-line sensation that was key to the essence of the book: there are no highs, no lows; nothing, no matter the extremes, derails the even tone of the book.
Even as one reads for the first time James’ and Catherine’s conversation during anal sex, a two-some made ménage a trios via Catherine’s graphic descriptive interjections of Vaughan’s penis, down to taste and appearance (yet she’s never had sex with Vaughan—this is all in her mind, her imagination spreading like an infection into Ballard’s mind, intensifying their coupling), the balance is not skewed in the book, though for me as I read it, I was mesmerized by the activity, willing to go with Ballard on his stark, sexual tryst, and made (eagerly?) uncomfortable by his language as well. (I remember re-reading the book just before seeing Cronenberg’s movie, having just read the anal sex scene and thinking, no, that won’t be in the movie, and it was all there, the language enough to stamp the NC-17 rating on the movie.)
I’ve always been one to look for art and particularly fiction that pushes beyond expectations and into places that elicit a response, usually one of discomfort. (Though now, with projects in progress, the discomfort is veering toward discoveries of awe and wonder, a fascinating transition; you’ll read these with upcoming stories.) (I’ve never used so many parentheses before, such and abundance of casual asides. I wonder as to the reason. Perhaps it’s my inner thoughts wanting room to breathe…? They will get their release in fiction, as Ballard has taught me to do.) This discomfort is a place I like to go, to touch the reader deeply and leave an impression, a mental scar, something that might never heal, as Ballard’s book has never allowed a healing. It has been an integral part in the unleashing of creative inhibitions, inspiring me to always Be Fearless.
John Claude Smith has written fiction, poetry, and bad lyrics for as long as he can remember. At a point when he decided to get serious with fiction, sending out stories and getting a few acceptances in the early 1990s, he was side-tracked for many years by music journalism (as JC Smith), including stints as the industrial, experimental, gothic, metal, and all fringe categories reviewer for a variety of magazines including Outburn, Industrial Nation, Side-Line, and Alternative Press. He believes the over 1,100 reviews, articles, profiles, etc., he wrote helped hone his skills for the fiction gig. Finally back on the fiction path, he’s had over 60 short stories and 15 poems published, as well as a debut collection of “not your average horror,” The Dark Is Light Enough For Me. His second collection, Autumn in the Abyss, was published by Omnium Gatherum in March of 2014, and is garnering much positive response and reviews. He is presently writing his third novel, while shopping around the other two (well, he should be…) and putting together a follow-up collection. Busy is good. He splits his time between the East Bay of northern California, across from San Francisco, and Rome, Italy, where his heart resides always.
Autumn in the Abyss
When enigmatic poet Henry Coronado disappears six months after the New Year's Eve, 1959, Welcoming Chaos event, he takes with him a profound secret wrapped within the words of his poem, Autumn in the Abyss. Fifty years later, an ill man's research into Coronado's work and life reveals that poetry can indeed change the world, or leave it in ruins.
The Word is a living thing...and often with lethal intentions.
Reality is the strangest mirror...
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The Dark is Light Enough For Me
From dark speculative fiction author John Claude Smith comes a powerful debut collection comprised of twelve intricate tales of bittersweet madness, twisted desire, and souls in crisis. Exploring the deepest realms of the human—and not so human—condition, each masterfully crafted yarn brutally ravages the thin veneer of reality as we know it, expertly exposing the human psyche’s desperate need to survive at any cost.
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GINGER NUTS OF HORROR THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR WEBSITES