A. J. Black
Myth-Building in Modern Media

Myth-Building in Modern Media by A. J. Black

What led you into writing?

I’m honestly not sure there was a particular moment I can point to in my life. I’ve just always been writing down my thoughts on things, or writing stories, since I was a child. I would write fiction in notebooks or write reviews of TV shows on paper and piece them together like the magazines I would devour back as a child, like Starburst or TV Zone. Then I gravitated to computers and slowly fell more and more down a rabbit hole of either writing scripts, or film reviews, and so on. I’ve never really stopped writing in some form or other all of these years.

How does a typical day look?

Well, I write this in the summer of 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, so what are days anymore? For the last few months, it has varied, but there have been patterns of getting up, shower, breakfast, and at the computer by around 10am where I work through until around 1 or 2pm, averaging anywhere between 3000-4000 words. That’s a good day. Equally, I’ve had periods where I’ve gone weeks not doing a thing on the books or essays I have deadlines for. Once I am back at work full-time later in the year, I will likely revert to writing late afternoons between around 4-6pm, and heavily on weekends.

What drew you to writing about popular culture & entertainment?

It evolved really from writing about TV & film, which I had always done since I was a child in the scrappier manner I mentioned earlier. I’m drawn to analysis beyond what we see or hear on screen and how these aspects inform how we watch these mediums. Pop culture beyond all else, I think, informs how we act, how we look, who we vote for, how we live essentially, and by unpicking that intersection I find I’m learning more about who I am and the world I live in. Which means the short answer is that it’s all about me! Hah.

How do you inspire and motivate yourself?

I maintain my enthusiasm for the subject matter by burying myself in it. For instance, the next book I am writing is entirely about Star Trek, so I have probably watched more of that show in the last six months than I have the last 6 years. That immersion I find helps to keep the motivation up and remind me why I’m passionate about what I’m writing. Also, plenty of reading writers who are much more talented than I am, because it reminds me the level I’m ultimately aiming for as I continue to (hopefully) grow and develop.

What sort of challenges affect non-fiction authors over regular fiction?

Having not finished a fiction novel (I have started a few!), I wouldn’t like to speculate too heavily on fiction author challenges or in any way suggest they have it easier, but I suspect the biggest hurdle for non-fiction is that you have to put the man hours in when it comes to reading, research and critical thinking. Novelists do, of course, research heavily but then they get to go away and imagine worlds on paper. Non-fiction writers are constantly having to draw on research, theory and analysis, so there is less freedom to become lost in the haze of creativity, as it were.

What’s your setup?

I am a dining table writing man, for the most part. We do have an office but we don’t have a comfortable enough chair as of yet to make it my home (plus, I share it with my good lady wife). I will perch myself at the end of a nice wooden dining table with my back to the window so I can’t be distracted by the life and times of my neighbours.

Myth-Building in Modern Media: The Role of the Mytharc in Imagined Worlds
“This is nothing new. Storytellers have been doing this, many consciously, for decades. You only have to look at the comic-book as a key exemplar of archetypal mythology at work. Superman, the last son of Krypton, sent to Earth as the sole survivor of an apocalyptic world, is as pure a metaphorical Jesus Christ, with his super-heroic story an equivalent Second Coming, as fiction could imagine. Writers like Bob Kane, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee are the latter-day Homer, Aeschylus and Sophocles, their tales serving as parables which often redefine tenets of ancient mythology for a modern audience, in some cases quite literally, such as the Asgardian mythology of Thor. Given the recent prevalence of comic-book fiction in cinema, many of these stories have begun to reach a much wider audience. The entire Marvel Cinematic Universe provides a “who’s who” roster of archetypal heroes and villains, many of whom match their mythological antecedents. Yet this is often where the confusion exists between what we would consider mythological characters and archetypes and mythopoetic storytelling. In recent years, pop culture has begun to rely more and more on wider, mythological storytelling in which characters aren’t simply representative of bigger concepts, they are part of stories and worlds which allow us to contextualize our lives and meaning.”  More

What lasting effects have your favourite authors had on your writing and style?

As a non-fiction author, it is difficult to ascribe a particular inspiring person whose style has influenced me, as perhaps a novelist might be affected by a George R. R. Martin, say, but collectively reading other authors along similar lines has helped me with structure and craft when it comes to assembling a non-fiction piece; breaking the core thrust of the text down into something with a sense of flow. Every good piece of non-fiction feels like a narrative, in some way, and that’s something I am certainly porting with more direct effect I would say into my second book.

How do you wind down?

I probably don’t enough, realistically! Strangely, I find podcast editing to be quite relaxing. I love a good TV series, movie or film score. Walking, too, is very therapeutic, and has become even more so during our pandemic lockdown.

What forms and processes do you prefer whilst researching?

I honestly don’t know if I have a specific process as such, bar a great deal of reading around the subject matter and copious amounts of notes, which then translate into chunks of matter that can be written up into something approaching meaningful words. My work hasn’t yet facilitated a need to travel anywhere and do on the spot research, bar Birmingham’s Central Library where I can sometimes be found (in non-pandemic days) looking at volumes surrounded by students and people almost half my age!

What are you reading at the moment?

I tend to be a one book at a time kind of guy, I struggle with multiple tomes on the go. I just finished Globalists by Quinn Slobodian, which was dry and technical but fascinating. I’ve just started Histories of Nations, edited by Peter Furtado, which has some wonderful essays on multiple cultures, and I am jonesing to get stuck into Neill Ferguson’s Colossus which I dug out recently, as he’s one of my favourite writers (despite the fact he’s a conservative, and I’m really not!). And though I read less non-fiction, I was recently bought as a birthday present Stephen King’s new short story anthology If It Bleeds and, well, who doesn’t love a bit of the King?

What’s the most useful advice you could give to an aspiring non-fiction author?

If you believe you have something to say about a topic you love, say it. Write it. You will almost certainly be providing, even in some small way, an angle on your passion that people out there will want to read.

Tell us about the book you’re promoting.

Myth-Building in Modern Media is principally about the concept of the ‘mytharc’, which since the 1990’s has popularised a range of fiction, both on television where it began, cinema and beyond, and it attempts to trace a link between earlier examples of mythology and world-building in fiction all the way back to HP Lovecraft, through the Monomyth of Joseph Campbell, all the way to modern examples such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Which means, hopefully, there is something for almost everyone to enjoy on the journey!

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A. J. Black

A. J. Black

A J Black lives in Birmingham, England, with his wife and non-existent dogs Mulder & Scully. He runs a blog called Cultural Conversation and a podcast network called We Made This, when not writing books about popular culture & entertainment. He occasionally goes outside.

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Myth-Building in Modern Media
What Is the Mytharc? There has long been a certain amount of debate as to where the term “Mytharc” came from. We know it came from somewhere on the proliferation of message boards which popped up to discuss the hit television series of the 1990s, The X-Files, but no one is quite sure who coined the term. It eventually slipped into the language used to describe the show from its third season onwards. The X-Files came to define the decade in which it was made from a pop-culture perspective.

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