Happy to finally get the first of these finished! Presenting my fellow VP XIII’er and the maker of the famed chili dog casserole:
“I’m a compulsively creative person. I make music and pictures, I’m the kind of cook that friends and family casually refer to as the best in the world (there are untold millions of us…), I’ve even dabbled in sculpture and film when I was a kid. And whenever I’ve seen or heard or tasted anything that I’ve loved or admired I’ve wished that I’d created it myself.”
Sean Craven has a case of the jitters. Sometimes when you watch him, he jitters out of focus. Because he oscillates, there are moments when he is sharp against the background, so sharp you almost forget about the background. I met Sean at a week-long writer’s workshop where I watched him weave around and through reality. I wish I could do that.
This excerpt is from an essay that Sean wrote in 2007. When I talk to Sean, I can see the truth of this in him. Many of us creators have been saved by our art.
“Art has given me strength and comfort and refuge. It has challenged me and angered me and changed the way that I looked at myself and at the world around me. It has shown me the crystalline beauty of purely rational thought and the deeply knotted torment of madness and it has allowed me to accept and value these things in myself.”
Sean’s story Tourists introduced me to Sean’s writing. It is a unique blend of horror and humor, a little bit of an emotional roller coaster. What makes “Tourists” work for me isn’t only that juxtaposition, but it’s also the realism of the story. Sean is a master of inserting the odd into the common.
Where did Sean get the inspiration for “Tourists”? “The Western religious tradition that I’m most familiar with is Christian Science. Which is a really daffy cult. I know it because my grandmother was a Christian Science practitioner. Totally devoted, and absolutely convinced that someday I’d be a Christian Scientist because I was smart enough to see the truth in the teachings. (Back in the day, Deadheads had a similar attitude — if you had decent musical taste, it was just a matter of time before you’d parse the differences between the October Fourth cover of Sugar Magnolia and the jam version they did two shows later…)
“And that led me to want to write about my grandmother. She was a fascinating woman, and we were very close.
“But the question of who exploits an American religion demanded a fantastic explanation. Should I set it in the future, and let New Agers from the new colonialist culture do the job? Nah, I wanted to write about my grandma in her time and place. Make it aliens. And the story spooled out from there.”
Like many artistic people, Sean exercises many kinds of creative expression. We talked about his writing particularly. Sean said, “There is something about the rigor of writing that pleases me. Sobriety, silence, and solitude are all necessary for me to write well. When I think of what I can do and what I would do the gap between them is filled the gratification that comes from hard work and study. And there is a very special pleasure in getting things right, in finding the proper word, evading a cliché, coining a phrase that speaks from my experience of life. I like labor and the demanding nature of writing pleases me.”
Sean finds that he is most drawn to unusual writing. “I love the eccentric, the visionary, the personal and peculiar. I love beautiful writing for its own sake, and I also love monsters for their own sake.” He also enjoys the New Journalism movement, and finds reading humor to be one of the best preparations a writer can make for prose. In regard to fantasy writing, he’s drawn to old style pulp and cyberpunk, noting Rudy Ducker’s transrealism as a contributor to his own style.
Sean has supported and educated himself about writing in many different ways. “The single most useful thing I have ever done was to join a writing group. Right now I’m in three writer’s groups, two here in Berkeley and one on-line. Working with other people’s writing is the best education you could ask for — aside from having a deadline-driven writing job, which was how I started out. (I wrote internet cartoons for Mondo Media, mostly scripts for Thugs On Film.)
“I think creative writing classes are a good way of getting some deadline pressure, but a writer’s group is better.
“I’m also willing to study. Right now I’m wrestling with plot and story development, but early on? I worked my way through a textbook called Punctuation Plain and Simple. I get praise for my prose. That’s one of the reasons why. And don’t be afraid to learn from hacks. James Frey is a pretty mediocre novelist but you can pick up a lot of useful information in his writing manuals.
“And while it’s been said before, I’ll say it again. I read widely. I read well outside the range in which I intend to write. And I read critically, looking for errors to correct and techniques to swipe.”
Sean will be attending the Taos Toolbox workshop this July, and is very exciting to study with Walter Jon Williams, who happens to be one of his plot gods. He’s currently revising a novel and a film script, and is working on some short fiction. “I know it’s goony and pretentious, but I’d like to be known for telling the truth about life as I’ve seen it. While I’m working, though, my biggest concerns are character and style. My goal is to write something that will still be read a hundred years from now. Something that actually has some real literary worth.”
That doesn’t sound too goony to me.
If you want to hear more from Sean about his philosophies and his projects, click on over to Renaissance Oaf.