Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Eulogy to My Maternal Grandmother

(Photo removed for reasons of copyright.)
A Mexican Tree of Life
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Alejandro Linares Garcia

June has been a month of deaths not just among great authors such as Ray Bradbury, but even in my own family. My grandmother on my mom's side passed away later during the week I posted my last article here. She was 89. It was sad but it was expected since she had been slowing down a lot for the last year and was bed ridden since the beginning of the year. So it has been a very busy last couple of weeks for me with the planning and contributing to the funerary events. That's why I have been off the blog for the last couple weeks. (By the way, that's why I decided to write this entry this evening, Monday, instead of my usual scheduled day of late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. I didn't want to go much longer than two weeks without posting. I don't like leaving my readers hanging in mid air.)

What did Ray Bradbury and my grandmother have in common? I would have to say it was story telling. My grandmother was not a writer, much less a writer of English. Even though she was born here in this country, she was raised most of her childhood in Mexico. When she came back she eventually picked up on English, broken but good enough to communicate the basics. And so even if she didn't speak clearly enough when she would tell us stories of her childhood and even more recent ones of her adulthood, many of them very funny which she herself would laugh at as we laughed along with her, she told them beautifully. She put the emotion into them, especially when she would immitate people's voices.  Emotion is a major element in almost all story telling, especially narrative. My grandmother wasn't the only great story teller in my family; there have been many others. But she was one of the ones who I believe influenced me to tell stories even if I tell them better in writing than I do in speech (and English is my first language, but, as far as story telling goes, I many times think I orally tell stories brokenly more than my grandmother spoke English brokenly!). And so I have that, among many other things, to thank her for.

I thought talking about my grandmother's story telling influence was fitting for the nature of this blog. But since this blog is also about art in general, and not necessarily just writing and story telling, I should also mention that she was a great artist. She was not so much a great artist in drawing or painting (her two oldest sons are the great ones in those) but in crocheting and, what I call, sculpting recyclable plastic, such as one gallon milk jugs, to fit what she crocheted over it. For example, she would sculpt a milk jug into the form of a swan which the crochet piece would fit over to complete.

My grandmother was a great singer as well. Most of her songs were in Spanish but I could still tell they were great by the very tone and melodies she would use. And, most of all, she was a great cook, especially of Mexican food. One of the things I looked forward to most whenever I went to her house when I was a kid was the great Mexican food she made, all from scratch. (Forget Taco Bell; don't even get me started on that!) She was always cooking and always serving what she cooked. Many times she wouldn't even asked you if you wanted to eat something; she would just make it and serve it to you. As far as her cooking goes, I think her greatest accomplishment had to be when she won the statewide menudo cook-off contest in Los Angeles in the mid 1980s. But my favourites were the tamales, which, as is traditional in Mexican culture, she would mostly make at Christmas but would also make at other times of the year. People would flee to her house from miles around just to buy her tamales at her and her second to oldest daughter's yard sales. If my grandmother had never married and had gone on to get a job cooking in a Mexican restaurant, I think she would've ended up becoming a Mexican gormet chef for critically acclaimed restaurants.

Perhaps I'm flattering based on my own biasness for my grandmother and her cooking, a biasness that comes from love. But I do know one thing: her cooking was gormet and critically acclaimed by us, her family. It was definitely critically acclaimed by me. I haven't tasted the genuine Mexican food yet that has beaten hers. And I don't think I ever will.

Is it just because I loved my grandmother that I'm saying this? Maybe. But love is also a major element in any art--whether fine art, literary art, culinary art, etc. And that's what gives art its spirit. My grandmother did precisely that. True art is made with love and it is received with love.

Rest en paz, Nana, y Dios te bendiga.

--Steven Arellano Rose, Jr.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury: A Very Sad Loss to Science Fiction/Fantasy

Photo Credit: Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons

It's been a sad week for many of us sci fi/fantasy fans since one of the greatest writers ever in the two genres passed away this past Tuesday--Ray Bradbury.

Ray Bradbury was one of the first science fiction writers who I seriously read. The very first novel by him that I purchased and read was The Martian Chronicles when I was a senior in high school. From then on I was hooked. I've read and collected nearly all his books of fiction and although I haven't read as much of his nonfiction books, the few that I did are totally awsome! Other fiction of his that I've read have been, Fahrenheit 451, the second book that I read, and The Toynbee Convector which I bought the summer immediately after my high school graduation and just before I entered my freshman year of college. Later I collected and read The October Country, a collection of his dark fiction, his dark fantasy novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man, I Sing the Body Electric, and many more that I still have stacked and/or buried away somewhere in my bedroom.  I doubt I'll ever get rid of any of them unless I can find older editions of some of them since I am a collector of vintage paperbacks and jacketed hard cover books because of their great art and the very eras it depicts. That is another thing Mr. Bradbury was in love with--the sci fi art of early pulp novels and magazines. 

However, Mr. Bradbury was not merely a science fiction/fantasy writer. To label him as such would under rate him way too much. Ray Bradbury was a great writer period. He could and did write in almost any genre of fiction though speculative fiction was his biggest. He also wrote mystery, romance, and romantic (as in highly metaphorical and sentimental, not necessarily as in love) stories and has done equally well in them.  His great poetic prose has transcended genre so much that his work is even required reading in the high schools.

I remember reading in my high school senior advanced English class one of his short stories adapted into the Martian Chronicles. It was about a horror expert who flees to Mars to make his own automated haunted house in a future where Earth has outlawed all things fantasy. Unfortunately, as much as many English teachers assigned their students to read his most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451--about a future society that illegalises books--none of my high school English courses selected that one for us to read. So I went out and purchased a copy and read it on my own. In reading it I discovered more than ever how dangerous censorship can be to both society and individuals.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ray Bradbury at CSU, Fresno in the '90s when he gave a presentation on his literary and artistic career. I was enchanted when I actually shook his pen-calloused hand just before he signed my copy of his Martian Chronicles at the book signing table. I had the pleasure of seeing him speak a second time during the 64th World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles during the summer of 2006, although that time I didn't get a chance to have him sign another copy of one of his books.  But I am so greatful that I spoke to him in person and had a book signed by him that first time.

One of the things I feared most in all my life is the day Ray Bradbury would die as all of us do sooner or later.  I knew when that would happen there would be no more new stories from him.  Sadly, that day has come.  But he'll always be with us when we read his work and talk about him as I am doing this very moment.  Also, I believe his spirit will echoe through us new generation of speculative fiction writers who were influenced by his work and his beliefs on art and creativity. I was definitely influenced.

Mr. Bradbury, we will miss you but will always remember you and continue reading your ingenious work. May you rest in peace.

--Steven Rose, Jr.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

This Is Not A Chainsaw

This is not a chainsaw. Can you turn it on?
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Pearson Scott Foresman

I was going to post a concept sketch of the cover illustration for my upcoming fiction collection, The Fool's Illusion, but had to look for a chainsaw online. No, I haven't taken up woodwork. Actually, I was only looking for an image of a chainsaw to sketch from because one of the characters on the cover is supposed to use one.  He hasn't taken up woodwork either.  I write horror, as many of you probably already know and so that should tell you enough what the character on the cover is using the chainsaw for. For now, anyway. You'll see the rest when I post the concept sketch next week and after I've mastered the art of drawing chainsaws within the art of drawing period.

Researching the details of a chainsaw for a story illustration reminded me of Stephen King's advice that he gives in his book, On Writing: research for a story is back story in which back story is just that, back story. It stays in the background. It shouldn't take over the story itself; it's there simply to make the story as a whole believable.

As a writer and artist I'm learning about a variety of subject matter all the time. And so I'm glad that I can do the research on a given topic, yet we artists and writers have to be careful not to turn our story into a term paper or our illustrations into technical drawings like seen in science textbooks (although most of those are done by computer graphics now). We don't write fiction or we don't make illustrations to show off our knowledge of what we researched. We write fiction and make illustrations to tell our stories in as convincing a manner as possible. And so we research to know how the chainsaw works and what it looks like in as much detail as possible so when we write about a character using it we'll know how to describe him/her using it. If we're drawing it in an illustration, we need to know how it works so we can show the person holding it correctly or, if he/she is a psychopath, believably. If we drew every damn detail, every damn bolt and screw and the most precise detail of every tooth on the blade, we're going to end up with a character holding a giant technical illustration of a chainsaw. Or maybe even worse: a photographic painting of a chainsaw with a comparatively sketchy background painting of the person who's supposed to be holding it.

If you are a writer or artist, just remember what the 20th century philosopher, Michel Foucault said about the artist Magritte's painting of a pipe: "This is not a pipe."

Until next time . . .