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One of my many horrible habits is reading a lot of…blogs. It’s one way to keep my vanity in perspective, especially when it comes to blogs about writing/getting published/getting yourself ‘out there’ as a writer – or a writer-wannabe.

You see, a good many of these blogs are exercises in humility. (Which could also be said of writing.) No matter what you think, you will never be …good enough, never mind good enough to publish. You will never get to the point where you have “arrived” as a writer, unless you started in the Seventies and have remained a best-selling author ever since.

I can handle that. I can handle being told that no matter what I think, I have not one original idea in that pathetically pea-sized cerebellum at the tip of my spinal cord. I can handle that I will unlikely ever become a published writer. I can even manage to overlook the appalling amount of crap that does get published, just to discourage the rest of us who are arrogant enough to believe in the stories we tell, rightly or wrongly.

But when I recently came across a blog discussing the perils of imagination, I blew a mental safety valve or two.

One writer – published, promoted, with a certain reputation – was accosted by a fan at a book convention. Before I incriminate myself any further, may I say I am in no position to pass judgment on this writer, never having read her, but the implications that lay hidden in that fan’s criticisms made me think…big time.

She was asked by this fan if she had ever been to a location mentioned in one of her stories. She told him no, that it was all her imagination and a bit of research. The fan, obviously a product of the ‘reality TV’ generation, then bashed her over the head with: “But how can I ever take you seriously as a writer again? I thought you had been there! I thought you were cool, and now, I can’t believe a word you write any longer!”

Which was around the time I blew that valve…

So imagination is a liability for a writer? WTF???????

Ahem. If we apply that criterion to some of the Late and Great, well, whaddaya know…there go…Jonathan Swift, John Milton, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe and entire collected works of Jules Verne, to name very, very few…erhmmm…how about all sci-fi ever written? Heinlein invented several alternate timelines in his stories, but do you think he ever actually experienced them?

Of course he did – except not literally. He had…imagination, one of the few things left in this cynical world which gives yours truly any hope for humanity’s future.

You could apply that to whichever field you choose: imagination gave us the benzene molecule, the general theory of relativity, quantum physics, ‘Das Kapital’, the Sistine Chapel and all of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and the ‘Ring of the Nibelungen’. The ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. And. And. And.

Feel free to add to that list. It would make for a very, very long list. Once upon a time, for instance, all painted art was either representational and/or devotional – and often, both. It was until a Dutch painter in the late 15th century either suffered a bad case of ergot poisoning or a bad attack of imagination and created the triptych called ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. The art world has never quite recovered.

Just as that writer had never been to a pivotal place in her story, except in her head, I have…never been to New York as an adult, never met the Devil in a café, and I have never set foot in the music venue in Copenhagen I used as the model for ‘Alcatraz’.

Someone I know quite well is writing a crime thriller about a female serial killer of a kind that makes Hannibal Lecter seem like a milquetoast wimp, and so far as I know, she is so soft-hearted, she has a hard time swatting flies and mosquitoes in summer.

It all comes back to…imagination. Imagination, where time and space are irrelevant, where anything can happen and often does, where our only limitations are in how far we dare to follow – a dream, a story, a possibility that may or may not happen.

If limitations were an issue, if he were confined to the world around him, Hieronymus Bosch would never have given us that triptych of phantasmagorias, Da Vinci would never have invented the helicopter or the tank or even painted the Madonna of the Rocks, and Dr. Fleming would never have discovered penicillin. If not for imagination, we would never have made it to the moon, or even Mars. If not for imagination, we might as well do ourselves in, because it’s only when we dare to dream, dare to exercise our imagination that we can dream a way out of whatever pickles we find ourselves in.

If that fan at that convention had dared to follow his own thought through, he should have realized that the conviction that made him believe the author had, in fact, been to the location of her story was a testament to her imagination. She made him believe – that it happened, that she was there, that, by extension, he was there, and what he really objected to was not a lack of reality, but that he had been misled – by his own imagination, and isn’t that the purpose of fiction?

I can imagine – that some day, in some future, I will be able to write something someone else will want to read. I can imagine that those words will have relevance and importance above and beyond whatever flies through my pea brain at the moment of writing it.

The one thing I can never, ever imagine – is being without imagination. Even reality is a construct – it’s all a question of perspective, and how can you have perspective if you have no imagination?

Image: Detail of Hieronymus Bosch, “The Garden of Earthly Delights”

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Lately, when I haven’t been wheezing, playing out the female characters from Pixar’s “Cars”, or playing out all the characters in the Effing Book, where many interesting things have happened lately, I have been catching up on all the fun I ‘ve missed, including devouring several days’ worth of the NY Times, never a bad thing. And there, I came across an article that got me thinking about a phenomenon unique to this day and age – blogging.

Really, the idea is simple. It’s the Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London, but you don’t have to get dressed, it doesn’t matter if it rains and anyone at all anywhere in the world can read your immortal – or not – words, argue or agree with you, heckle or harangue you. The word is yours, the floor is yours and if you’re even halfway good, so the myth goes, you might even hit the Cinderella jackpot and go on to book deals and the Oprah Book Club!

Stranger things have been known to happen.

And it can be about anything, anything at all! There are – lifestyle blogs, book blogs, political blogs, animal blogs, blogs about blogs. It is, at least in certain parts of the world, freedom of expression at its finest.

Anything goes, and many things do. There’s just one problem with all that online verbosity. It is, however, a big problem.

Nine times out of ten, nine blogs out of ten – you’re writing for an audience of precisely – one. There you are, blowing the world apart by the seams by your sheer, utter, blinding brilliance – or bs, take your pick – on whatever ails you/grabs you/ills you/thrills you at any given moment, and all you’re really doing when push comes to shove is – showing off? Exposing your narcissism? Polishing your ego? Practicing your writing skills – or the total lack thereof?

Because you’re the only one that reads it! And let’s face it, darlings – after a while, even you can find your own dazzling perspicacity rather – lackluster. You want feedback, you want adulation and accolades, you want that book deal and your bottom on Oprah’s couch, frothing at the gills on camera over the subject du jour.

Oh, yes, you do!

Don’t you?

There’s a certain liberation that goes with online identity, You can be anyone, anything you desire. You can open up your mouth and insert your foot, size 5 or 15, but if no one is listening, who cares?

It used to bug me, that I wasn’t one of those bloggers with umpteen zillion followers. Some of those who have many followers I’ve lurked over, wondering what they were doing right that I wasn’t. I even began subscribing to a “how-to-promote-your-blog” newsletter, and then gave up when I realized that I could write the Effing Book and use this modest little soapbox for a verbal test lab, or I could try to create a total Moltenmetalmama brand – like Coca Cola, Astro-Glide and Metallica – and I could whistle for writing a novel.

It would be a screaming shame to see nearly seven years of sweat, blood and many, many tears go down the drain because I got seduced by the blogosphere. I’m arrogant enough to think I’m better than that. Or if I’m not, then my story is.

That article made me aware of something I didn’t even know. That even as I write this now, I’m still ahead of the game, precisely because I have followers – all five of them, and that I care very much indeed about each and every one of them. Only one of you knows me in the real world. (He also knows what happens when I get too close to a tequila bottle – and may forgive me – some day. )

I’m not here, yelling into the void, to polish my own halo or sell my solipsism. I’m not out to make a zillion bucks in ads or even a book deal, although I wouldn’t protest too much if I had one, and I do think that some day, I will – have one.

I’m here to become a better writer, to get my head out of history, to let rip and let go and see where my words will take me. You, my fantabulous reader/followers, are here because you’ve found something interesting to read – or you’ve found an interesting mind – or – you tell me!

That’s six people right there, who didn’t know each other a year ago, all brought together by a few words knitted together by yours truly.

Not so bad. Now, I just have to stay ahead and take care I don’t bore you all to death, so that I end up as – an audience of one.

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