The Writing of Martin Brennan

Lessons from Tom Waits

Everybody knows me at the dump

— Tom Waits

I CAME across this wonderful interview with Tom Waits that Elizabeth Gilbert did for GQ magazine back in 2002. She mentioned it in her Ted talk Your elusive creative genius which is also a great watch. In the interview there were some gems of wisdom from one of the most unique musicians and writers in the 20th century, certainly one of my favorites. I thought I’d collate the quotes I found interesting here but I’d urge anyone to go read the article itself in full.

tom waits

Kids are always working on songs and throwing them away, like little origami things or paper airplanes. They don't care if they lose it; they'll just make another one

Tom said this after relaying a story where his daughter came up with one of the key lyrics to Hold On off the top of her head. What it says to me is that you should focus on just getting creative work out there, and not really worry about whether it succeeds or fails. Just write another story, or another song, paint or draw another picture, just get it out there and keep going.

He believes that if a song "really wants to be written down, it'll stick in my head. If it wasn't interesting enough for me to remember it, well, it can just move along and go get in someone else's song."

I can really relate to this and I’d say it’s part of my creative process, but in equal parts I think it’s also important to do work that doesn’t come to you. Sometimes you need a prompt, or a guide, or something. But all of my novel and longer short story and novella ideas have come to me in this way. I’d read an article, or see or hear something, that gets me thinking on an idea. I don’t write it down. If it’s still stuck in my brain after a few days percolating up there, I know I’ve got something to work with.

A collaborator at heart, he has never had to make the difficult choice between creativity and procreativity. At the Waits house, it's all thrown in there together- spilling out of the kitchen, which is also the office, which is also where the dog is disciplined, where the kids are raised, where the songs are written and where the coffee is poured for the wandering preachers.

This is how I want our house to be as my kids grow older. The boys already like reading, and I hope to continue to guide them that way, and maybe they’ll do a bit of writing when they’re older too. It’s a great outlet. My partner loves it too, reading and writing. It’s one of our common interests that we can talk about for ages (when we can get a word in over the screaming and the barking).

I’ll stop here, but you really should go and read the article. It’s beautiful. Then, go and listen to Rain Dogs, and thank me later.

Man in the High Castle

What profit it a man if he gain the whole world but in this enterprise lose his soul?

— Philip K. Dick, Man in the High Castle

READING about World War II is always fascinating. Tragedy and human suffering was perpetuated on an enormous scale by some of the most despicable men in history. In Man in the High Castle Philip K. Dick imagines an alternate timeline of human history where the Axis powers are the victors of World War II. A history where the world is divided up between Germany, Italy, and Japan. The novel is set in a conquered United States of America, in which the west coast is owned by Japan and renamed the Pacific States of America (or PSA) and the east coast is ruled by the Third Reich, with a buffer zone along the continental divide. The central conflict of this novel is the machinations the great powers have between each other and within themselves, as well as the reemergence of American culture, and the idea that the whole world may not be real at all.

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South of the Border, West of the Sun

'For a while' is a phrase whose length can't be measured. At least by the person who's waiting.

— Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

I‘VE BEEN trying to broaden the genre and writers of the books I’ve been reading this year, so I read South of the Border, West of the Sun as recommended by my partner. I devoured it in just a few two hour reading sessions, and Murakmi’s simple and straightforward writing style mixed with the beautiful imagery he weaves left me thinking about the book long after I finished reading.

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The Hermit, Blood Meridian

A MAN’S at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he dont want to. Rightly so. Best not to look in there. It ain’t the heart of a creature that is bound in the way that God has set for it. You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.

— Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

The Graduate (1967)

My whole life is such a waste

— Benjamin Braddock

IN THIS classic film backed by a Simon and Garfunkle soundtrack Dustin Hoffman plays Benjamin Braddock, a clean-cut golden boy with loving parents and the world at his feet. He has just graduated from four years at college and his future lays vast and limitless before him, and at his graduation party all of his parent’s friends are happy to see him and offer their advice. So why is Ben so eager to get away from the people he has known all of his life, to shut himself away in his room? Why does he look as if he is on the verge of a panic attack while his party guests are all smiles? Why is this young, smart kid so worried about his future?

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The Editing Process

THIS is the first post in a series of posts where I will explore my writing style and process, for a few different reasons. I hope by writing out my process in some detail I can identify areas where I can improve, have something to look back on when I’ve written more stories and novels, and hopefully help others gain insight into different areas of the writing process. I would also love to hear feedback from other writers no matter how far along you may be in your career or hobby. We are going to start toward the mid-point of the novel-writing process, which is where I find myself at right now. I’m writing a book I’m calling Bottom Feeders, which is about the Crabs Motorcycle Club, a group of misfits and losers fallen from grace and at the bottom of the shitheap, doing jobs for a larger club, the Devil’s Faithful MC, just to get by. It’s a mixture of crime, humour, and action and sitting at 85,000 words at the completion of the first draft. I’ll get to how I wrote it in a future post (it involved a lot of cheap notebooks and pens) but for now I’ll focus on the editing.

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Fiction Writing

I WANTED to take this opportunity to explain what I like to read and write about, so you may be able to understand my frame of mind when you read my fiction. I guess I have kind of a predictable taste in writing for a late-twenties white dude. My favourite authors are Cormac McCarthy, Stephen King, JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin, Hunter S Thompson, George Orwell, and Bret Easton Ellis, and I’m starting to get into Papa Hemingway. If I had to pick any of these authors as my biggest influence I would say King for his fairly simple writing style but engaging character building, and for whom I aspire to be like it would be Cormac McCarthy who writes words so bleak and so beautiful I suspect he’s some sort of southwestern vampire who’s been alive to see the world from its primeval beginnings.

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Brave New World

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world, that has such people in't!

— William Shakespeare, The Tempest

IN A perfect future everyone is genetically engineered to know their place in a caste system, every want or need is catered for, and if a citizen is ever feeling down, soma is there to take them on a holiday. Though in this bright imagining of the world where even death is no big deal, fractures form in the perfect facade with the elimination of free will, love, and family in the name of the betterment of society. In Brave New World Aldous Huxley goes in a different direction from the normally grim, brutal, dystopian future towards something that is still in our eyes fundamentally wrong.

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Hell's Angels

He died in the best outlaw tradition; homeless, stone broke, and owning nothing but his clothes and his Harley

— Hunter S. Thompson

BRUTES. Huns. Thugs. Murderers. Rapists. Lowlifes. Outlaws. The Hell’s Angels, a motorcycle club out of Oakland, California, was a force to be reckoned with in the mid-sixties, with a terrifying mystique surrounding them akin to the one that surrounds the wendigo and the sasquatch. Hunter S. Thompson, intrigued by the horror stories circulating around the state and the media about this band of criminals, threw himself into their midst.

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Pet Sematary

Death is a mystery, and burial is secret

— Stephen King

KING utilises all of the instruments in his depraved toolshed in this horrific novel about the secret practice of burial, and the great taboo of death. Like so many King novels, it begins with a regular, All-American family who move to a small town, in this case Ludlow, Maine, to begin life anew. Dr. Louis Creed takes a job with the local university, while his wife Rachel and his young children Ellie and Gage, along with their pet cat Winston Churchill, settle into their new life far from the hustle and bustle of Chicago.

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Martin Brennan, the Author

I’m Martin Brennan. I'm a software developer by day, and I like to think I know how to write. Like how a hobo thinks he knows the recipe to Coca-Cola.

You can read about my major projects on my works page.

The authors that inspire me are Cormac McCarthy (my God), Stephen King (my Prophet), J. R. R. Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, Hunter S. Thompson, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Find me on twitter @mjrbrennan or email me.