Thursday, March 4, 2010


I’ve got this old corkboard that I’ve been dragging around with me for decades:  every time I’ve moved to a new house, it’s moved—eventually settling in to a comfortable place in a corner of my office.  In the science fiction world of 2010, the idea of a corkboard—covered with pushpinned family photos, ancient New Yorker cartoons and quotes cut out of magazines or copied to index cards—is decidedly retro:  I’ve got plenty of other family photos in my office—they’re everywhere—nicely framed.  And the quotes could easily be digitized or, for that matter, discarded.  There’s really no reason for the board to be there.  It’s more for the history of it, the comfort.  In many ways it’s visual white noise:  the thing might as well be invisible.  

But there are  moments when something long-cherished but forgotten suddenly pops out at me, like this quote, from science-fiction writer David Gerrold (best known for his novel The Martian Child and his Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”), torn out of an issue of Starlog magazine (remember that?) back in the 1970’s:

“I taught a class in writing once.  I told them that a good story is about pain and hope and the transition from one to the other.  Most important, it is about what we learn in the process of that transition.  The essential quality is hope.”

Reading that, more than thirty years ago, Gerrold’s words resonated with me because they reflected something I believed, knew, to the bottom of my soul, but—as a young writer at the beginning of his career—had never articulated.  “The essential quality is hope.”  It’s so much easier to create stories that damn the universe as meaningless chaos, that dismiss existence as an endless chain of suffering.  But to look pain in the eyes and find hope reflected there?  To journey down to the depths of Hell and discover Heaven?  That, to me, is the essence of a great story.  And a wonderful life.

Here’s another corkboard quote—this one typed on a now-yellowed index card—from my literary god, Ray Bradbury:

“A day without writing, I often said, and said it so many times my friends sighed and rolled their eyeballs, a day without writing was a little death.  I did not intend to pitch me over the graveyard wall.”

Honesty first:  I don’t write every single day, if writing is defined by sitting at a keyboard producing pages.  Never have.  Never will.  But I’m always writing.  Time away from the computer allows my unconscious mind to breathe and play, uncork dreams and visions, and then surprise me with the results.  (Sometimes I’ll be in the shower or resting on the couch or on a walk and I’ll start seeing movies in my head:  a new story playing out—characters, action, dialogue—on a screen in my mind.)  Writer’s block, I’ve learned, isn’t a block at all:  it’s an opportunity.  

That said, few things in life can compare with the days when you do put those erupting ideas on paper, when the words take on meaning, when the meaning becomes an honest-to-God story.  Death himself
couldn’t pitch you over the graveyard wall then, because you’re fully, vibrantly alive.  That Bradbury quote is there to remind me to keep nurturing my creative self.  To keep dreaming—and bring those dreams out into this larger dream we all inhabit.

Finally, some corkboard wisdom from Meher Baba, hand-written, by a friend, on a small rectangle of lined paper:

“Do not keep the door of your heart closed.”

I think that one speaks for itself.

© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis


  1. This makes me want to write. I'm going to--now.

  2. "The essential quality is hope."

    Amen to that, JMD.

    I've been re-reading THE LOST YEARS and "Nobody," incidentally, and it's spoken to my heart in ways I hadn't forseen, precisely because its essential quality is hope.



  3. Happy to have provided some inspiration. What are you working on, Nicholas?

  4. Glad you liked "Nobody," David. (For those who don't know, that's a new Ben Reilly story in the current WEB OF SPIDER-MAN.) It's tough revisiting Ben in these short 10 page bursts -- I'd love to have a nice, juicy Ben mini-series to sink my teeth into -- but, that said, I've really enjoyed re-connecting with the character.

    There's another Ben story, that follows him to Europe in the early days of his exile, that I recently finished. I found my footing a bit more with this one, I think. Val Semeiks is drawing it right now and it will be in a future issue of WEB.

  5. I'm excited to see what the future holds for you and Ben Reilly. Also glad to hear about your Kaine/Peter Parker backup during "Grim Hunt."

    I don't read ASM on a regular basis these days, but I'm excited to see how Marvel builds on Kraven's legacy (as long as he's not back, which I don't think he will be). KLH is another very hopeful story, one that readers sometimes forget is as much about emptying coffins as filling them.


  6. JMD:

    This doesn't pertain to the above post; but I have just discovered Abadazad. Are there any future plans for this series? My kids are absolutely enthralled by the story and it brings to mind the wonderful afternoons I spent as a child in the wonderment of OZ. I haven't been able to find any further info about the series. Can you assist...? Sorry if I missed any news regarding the series.

    By the way...I've been a fan of your writing style for years.

    Best Regards,

    Scott McKenzie

  7. Thanks for checking in, Scott. If you look through some of the older posts, you'll find lots of info re: ABADAZAD. The bad news is that after the third book, THE PUPPET, THE PROFESSOR AND THE PROPHET came out (and only in England, at that) Hyperion Books for Children canceled the series. I still have hopes for ZAD's resurrection, but, at the moment, there's no concrete movement in that direction.

    That said, I have a kids novel coming out at the end of June called IMAGINALIS that I think (hope!) will please fans of ABADAZAD. I'm getting more and more excited as it gets closer to the book's release. All the very best -- JMD

  8. Actually, it's not a Kaine-Peter Parker back-up, David, it's a...well, maybe Marvel wants that to be a secret, so I'll keep my big mouth shut. I've read Joe Kelly's first script for the "Grim Hunt" story and it's quite good. I don't think ASM readers will be disappointed.

    "As much about emptying coffins as filling them"? Incredibly insightful, as always.

  9. JMD-

    Have you ever read Stephen King's On Writing? Even though I'm not a writer, I found it a superb, inspiring book for anyone who is involved in the creative process. Your stuff about the corkboard reminds me of the many interesting details that King also shares in that book.

  10. Nope, never read it, Rob. Sounds like I'd enjoy it.

    By the way, as lord and master of THE AQUAMAN SHRINE, I thought you'd like to know that I'm working on an episode of BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD right now that features AM -- as well as a group of characters that Giffen-DeMatteis fans will be very happy to see.

  11. Okay, I'm officially even more intrigued and psyched about "Grim Hunt" than before.

    Summer just doesn't come fast enough these days!


  12. I'm just starting the first of the four back-up scripts this coming week, don't rush it too much!

  13. LOL! No, I don't want to rush you into any missed deadlines or anything. And there's definitely something to be said for delayed gratification in comics. Have fun this week (I know you will)!


  14. JMD-
    If you're partial to audio books, King does the job on an unabridged version. Its like a creative writing course by King himself.

    Re: BATB---that's awesome news! Maybe we'll finally get to hear what "Bwa-ha-ha-ha!" actually sounds like!

  15. Now that you mention it, Rob, I might just have to sneak a "Bwah-ha-ha" or two into the script! It hadn't occurred to me till thanks for mentioning it.

  16. Oops, I haven't been back in a while. My wife just said "You haven't answered J.M. Dematteis's question."

    Firstly, thanks for asking.

    At the moment I'm writing a short horror story that my artist and I are going to submit to a few anthologies. Regularly I work on a creator owned series called "King of Pain." We've got two issues available and I've been pitching it around. On top of all that I just got a possible offer to work on a comic book for a movie shooting in Salt Lake. That last one isn't set in stone yet, but I'm feeling good about it.

    Feel free to check out my stuff on my writing blog:

  17. Those quotes all go hand in hand, don't they? Life has been incredibly hard for me lately, and I was starting to get really down. I think I had given into despair, and I started withdrawing from the people I loved. Then, I decided I would start writing music and lyrics again, even though I am unable to play any of it, due to my health, and I found hope again. Giving into despair is really a cop-out, isn't it? There is always hope, it's just hard to find sometimes. Thank you VERY MUCH for the post.

  18. Oh, and I'd like to second Stephen King's "On Writing" as a great work.

    I thought I was writing all wrong. Then I found out that Mr. King and I have a very similar creative process. It let me off the hook to write naturally instead of being bogged down by things that didn't work for me--namely outlines. (Not that there's anything wrong with them...)

  19. I'll absolutely check out your blog, Nicholas. And thanks for the endorsement of the King book, as well.

  20. You are INCREDIBLY welcome, Libby.