Ella Dawson, A Letter from a Fan

 

(For those of you that haven’t heard: Ella Dawson is internet famous for various reason. Being an optimistic person, fighting for a better future, her writing,  and blog make her famous.)

 

Dear Ella Dawson,

 

You are a great person. You have an optimistic outlook for the future interaction between different people. Despite the opprobrium, you continue to fight for your vision of the future. There is no reason for the stigma against STI’s except personal fear.

 

I learned about you through a creative non-fiction piece you posted on Medium. It, put simply, was amazing. Your simple, clear language brought an extremely complicated concept into focus. It drew me in and gave me something to think about. A quote stuck with me. “it sits on my tongue like a sugar cube” That phrase so clearly depicts what was going on.  I knew from that moment, I had to learn everything I could from you.

 

I was only previously affected by heavily literary works like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. This pulled my earlier writing too far in the flowery, literary direction. This trend caused confusion and reduced my potential audience. For a relatively unknown author like myself, too much complex language becomes a problem. I needed a new goal. Didn’t Mark Twain say something about simple language?

 

I started reading your WordPress blog from the beginning. That Medium piece was too advanced for me to see the underlying technique. I needed more and earlier writings. The second blog post about your college thesis caught my eye. It was a definition of feminist sex writing. Basically, you were saying the feminist part comes in when the writing questions the social mores around sex. For example, what constitutes acceptable sex? What types of relationship work and how do they function?

 

A really surprising thing happened. I had been writing a book for the previous 6 months that started to ask those questions and provide what I believed were my answers. I have never tried to label anything. I find it extremely frustrating to squeeze myself into boxes. I stopped trying long ago. That definition you provided was something new, expansive and inclusive.

 

I also read a book you reviewed and liked. It gave me a window into your preferred genre. Reading helps me figure out what fits into a genre, the characteristics that make something good, and the established boundaries. Finally, I look for what works and try to incorporate those into my own writing.

 

The three short stories you guest blogged on Exhibit A gave me a chance to learn about your approach to writing fiction. I read Homecoming first. The relationship descriptions were so on point. ‘There was some Peter Pan syndrome to explain why she was here, lurking in the back of the library at just after midnight.” The story was real. There were the good things and a little grunge on the edges. The entire piece was about familiarity and comfort.

 

Camille was great in a different way. I left it with this picture of Camille through the eyes of another. I imagined a petite woman possessed with unbelievable strength. The true description of a character should be by someone that loves this person.  A couple of lines stuck with me. “She reached out with one of her tiny hands and brushed his hair out of his face, and she smiled as she poked some of the freckles littering his cheek. He grabbed her wrist and kissed her thumb.” That last line felt especially real to me. I suspect that originated from an actual experience. This story had a fierceness to it, paired beautifully with reverence.

 

The last one was Slush. It felt a little angry, frustrated, and wrapped up in itself, but isn’t that the way some relationships go. The two people are stuck between the end of psychological intimacy and the end of everything. The entire thing was evocative and filled with emotion. Your use of simile was superb. “Anger keeps them tangled like the links of a snagged chain. She knows eventually something will give and let them swing free with stunning ease but that day has not come yet.” I have yet to crack that.

 

A prerequisite to creative writing is going to different places and seeing ordinary, more importantly, relatable things. Having those physical experiences also helps. Consider those the raw materials for simile. Instead of loosely associating like with brainstorming, jump through ideas with an over-arching similarity. I can do that in social interaction but not yet in writing. Asking what could be a simile for things I’ve written about and things I feel, might be exactly what I need.

 

The metaphors were educational. It’s the precursor to the things that wowed me in that creative non-fiction piece mentioned earlier. “They used to love each other. The memory is a splinter driven too deep in her palm to dig out with tweezers: a dull and irritating hurt, worsened by the temptation to pick.”

 

Handy mnemonic device. A simile is like Red (Taylor Swift, Red). A metaphor is Clean (Taylor Swift, 1989).

 

Awesome writing. You are doing good things, not that anyone has to say it. Hopefully, everyone will see that soon. Keep fighting the good fight. Rock on!

 

Thank you for everything you’re doing.

 

Graham Kar AKA Girish Karthikeyan

 

GK

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The 25% Solution: Characterization that Shines

 

Character development is a big part of any story. Each character should be well understood by the reader and distinguishable from other characters. Establishing a strong character starts with a defined back-story. What events and personality traits make the character found on the page. There are several ways to build up a basis for understanding what internal and external factors form certain behaviors.

 

I employed the method of understanding every aspect of my own personality. Each of these components can be added to others found in the world to create a whole, realistic character. Another way to get there is by observing others and writing out a hypothetical life story that accounts for everything observed. I did this a lot in secondary school, during my anti-social period. Then, there’s the conversational method. Talk with people, have deep conversation, and try to understand this person. Share yourself and it should go both ways. Find someone that is comfortable with it, first. I did a horrible job explaining that.

 

The novel I’m writing now, there are four main characters. Their story arcs will mimic each other to some extent and have vast differences in other ways. Isn’t that how life is? There is Inslee, the proverbial third-wheel to Sloane and Dominic. Duncan is one of Sloane’s children. Dominic and Sloane have been together for the length of their 2,000 year interstellar trip. Feelings and reactions evolve a lot in 2,000 years. Each character has POV parts that make up the entirety of the prose. Now, the character descriptions of these four characters. We have Inslee, Dominic, Sloane, and Duncan.

 

Inslee is a sexy, savvy doctor that knows what she wants and is willing to do almost anything for it. She is currently in a situation where, everything she has tried results in nothing changing. From the first time she meet Dominic, she has been attracted to him. This eventually became unrequited love. That feeling would undoubtedly change through the centuries. Remember Dominic is almost religiously devoted to his life partner, Sloane. Inslee’s love, becomes longing for what she can’t have, which makes the feeling of love stronger. Then it makes absolutely no sense to love a person that much. She falls then for the idea of him. Finally she realizes she never actually loved Dominic, but simply what he has with Sloane.

 

Their relationship is complicated after 2,000 years of friendship, most of it crammed into an interstellar spaceship with a crew of 12. Consciously, she found other relationships to bury her feelings for Dominic. Even though she consciously released those feelings, her unconscious mind still holds onto hope. Unconsciously she sets up situations to accidentally be close to him and test his loyalty, basically flirting without being aware of it.

 

Each of these immortals has a method to unite body and mind. That is a required part of their existence due to that fact their consciousness is grafted into a new body. Each method of body/mind connection is trained into each blank clone body and practiced by each consciousness. A deep truth is inherent in what the practice is. In Inslee’s case, that is love.

 

Dominic is a happy go-lucky guy that doesn’t appreciate what he has. He connects with his body by re-experiencing his past. The best way to get him is to deconstruct his relationship with Sloane. After being with the same person for a while, most relationships loose the spark they once had. Each half of a partnership has to evolve and merge for the relationship to constantly redefine itself to work in any situation. I lost you in abstraction there. What about an example?

 

For that, there’s the history of the relationship between Dominic and Sloane. She protects him during Remember. Dominic helps her get accustomed to their new life without the support she is used to having. They are separated for a time and their feelings intensify. Then Dominic protects her. The feelings of love they have gets old. Based on who they are, two things can happen. Their relationship falls apart or they grow together the only way possible for them. They grow co-dependent in an almost healthy way. Everything is great when both are together and aware of each other. What happens to someone like Dominic when this separation takes place?

 

That is his central question in this new book. He becomes depressed and at times suicidal. Been there before and know it well. Either way, I am really good at describing emotional states without naming them. I could probably teach a master’s class on that aspect. That’s for another time.

 

Then we have Sloane. This character is almost a spitting image of me. Sloane is the person I would be if I was alive in this future time period. Sloane is as I’ve thought of her a compassionate person that tries everything to help others. This isn’t the mold for a likable character. It’s more likely I choose the more accurate personality. Sloane wrestles back her emotions through meditation. Meditation is her connection tool. Succumbing to these emotions is terrifying. In the influence of these extreme emotions, she is unpredictable. Showing both sides makes a more likable character. Sometimes she falls into the trap of recursive thought and abject abstraction, and she struggles to reconnect with realty. On other occasions, she falls into the other nectar trap, becoming the person people expect her to be and loosing herself in the process.

 

Duncan in the son or daughter of Sloane and Dominic. The fusion of his parent’s personalities results in a strong, silent type that meditates in private and deep religious roots. Dominic doesn’t appreciating what he has and along with Sloane propensity for extreme emotions, this results in the silence of their son.

 

Writing each character through the entire story works for me. Two characters interacting gets tricky, but that’s the trade off. I’ll probably write out a full plan for this one. More story ideas to come.

 

GK

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Generating Ideas is the Most Fun I have All Day

 

The plan for my next book is underway. Planning is the most fun thing about the creative process. Ideas trickle in from everything going on around you and in your head. Somehow this all comes together to make a cohesive story. The first mental draft and that point where the words flow almost on their own are the other times that writing feels like something that shouldn’t be possible. How can anything be this fun?

 

Creating the character profiles comes before any plot construction. Characterization is something I like a lot, reducing a character to a deceptively simple phrase that means almost nothing if the character isn’t from your mind. The journey is more important than the destination, but the destination still means something.

 

The story is a generational ship. Watching Star Trek: Voyager, the term generational ship sounded like the holy grail of space travel. I started to wonder why a generational ship wasn’t something that appeared more in science fiction. It then, started to make sense. Basing a story on a revolving cast of characters can get confusing and doesn’t work well. The author builds a character that the reader is invested in then that character is dumped. Roots by Alex Haley is a good example of that. The book became exceedingly long and a little difficult for me to keep the characters clearly defined.

 

Long term space travel is frequently framed in the context of cryogenic preservation. The character sleeps from point A to point B. It works well from the story standpoint. A boring journey goes away with that addition. I don’t believe cryogenic sleep is possible. What about that frog that freezes solid and thaws out still alive, you ask? Cryoprotectants or a special chemical saves the tissues from ice damage. These frogs are so different from humans. Most likely this method can’t be used with warm-blooded animals. Frogs don’t regulate their internal temperatures unlike humans. That’s out for me.

 

The problem with a generational ship is the revolving set of character. Making the same character survive the duration fixes this sticking point. Immortality or something close. Something close to reincarnation is what I came up with. The mind survives through a succession of cloned bodies. In effect the ship’s crew is immortal for as long as they are traveling through the depths of interstellar space. The current plan is a 2,000 years journey spanning three galaxies. At the end, when the story takes place, the crew have an unmatched breadth and depth of experience and there’s more to come. Four characters POV’s will be artfully blended.

 

What happens over 2,000 years? Human bodies are changed to be more representing of all the creatures of Earth and more human. UV sensing eyes, melanin variable skin based on UV exposure, telepathy, compassionate, and a few other more complicated things. What changes mentally for an immortal? Personality differences are amplified along with an increased appreciation for other points of view. Basically a more enlightened human or hyper-human. Each person behaves slightly different the longer they have been around. Add that to my unique execution and the sequel to Remember is born.

 

I’m planning to write one character all the way through and then do the same for each character. There is some loose connection between three of the characters in Remember and the sequel. For the sake of brevity their names are Inslee, Dominic, and Sloane. Then there’s Dominic and Sloane’s son, Duncan. I might eventually change Duncan to a young woman, we’ll see. Woman are generally easier for me to write. I’ll give you a quick description of each character later.

 

GK

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Thriving in Spite of Reduced Ability

 

Throughout my life, a few things have remained the same. I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive muscular disease that slowly weakens me. This results in a lose of ability over time.

 

I have found things that are inherently impossible for me now. Walking is an example of that. Everything else is possible with motivation and hope of getting better. Those are the two things required to be the person you want to be.

In the beginning of my life (before age eight), I knew there was something different about me and didn’t quite know why. Firstly, I started using a wheelchair. The issue of my emigration from India provided another possible source for my differences. Some version of this probably went through minds of other kids about themselves. Everything changed a little after understanding this wasn’t the end of my difference, things would surely get worse.

 

Let’s be clear about something, I never thought of myself as disabled or damaged. I am just different, like a person with green eyes is different from a person with brown eyes. Never allow another person to define what and how you can do anything. Living without a hindrances is a great gift, but beating what everyone thinks is a greater reward. As with all things, the more effort employed, the better the outcome. This way of thinking changes your perception of yourself. You know for a fact that you are not less able than anyone else. Never put artificial limits on yourself.

 

I have never attended a support group. Almost everything I’ve gone through deals with itself, apart from the first near death experience. This isn’t an ongoing struggle. This is who I am or who I always was. Nothing that comes your way is beyond your ability to cope, whether that means sharing your story with others or dealing with it in your own way.

 

This brings me to my experiences with other kids when I was also that age. Every year throughout high school, I along with other kids struggling with purely physical differences attended a gathering. You know the almost forced gatherings setup by well-meaning adults for discussion.

 

We were asked questions to setup conversation, so-called icebreakers. Would you take a cure if it was available? This is one I remember well. The majority answer was no, excluding myself and one other among the 50 or so others. My reaction to the majority sounds in my head. Why? The answers went something like this: it would change who I am.

 

I reacted with silent cynicism and confusion. This makes no sense. A cure isn’t retroactive (someone won’t go back in time and cure you at birth, anyway that would make a cure much easier). How can you possibly refuse the cure when it is almost my deepest desire? Then it hit me. My 15-year-old self thought they simply can’t hope because the low likelihood hurts them too much. It helps them cope. The disease is an ingredient of who they are. If the question wasn’t hypothetical, they would stop lying to themselves and say yes. That was what a teenager would think. I stopped bothering with other people as I grew older.

 

I now think a cure just administers physical improvement, keeping you the same person inside. If the cure would change more than that, the disease has too much power. That is the generally accepted conclusion, a really bad disease limits what opportunities that person has. I admit that without Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, I would have a different job, but I don’t think my personality would have changed that much. I would be more social than I am now, but isn’t that a good thing? Limitations are a bad thing. Never cripple yourself without trying. A battle that is lost in the mind, is pointless to fight.

 

This post is getting a little too long for one day (hands tired). The key lies in finding your purpose. Take what qualities you have. In my case that is a fighter personality, maximum effort yields maximum results, observation of everything, railing to challenges, and keen memory. Find what you are supposed to do. I am supposed to push through the expectations of others, show them they can do great things, and show them what I can accomplish. Never give up or die trying.

 

GK

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Inspiration for a Novel: Frustration with Science Fiction

Remember started as a novel written just for me, addressing my issues with most fiction published today. Every science fiction novel or tv show I’ve seen except with the notable exceptions, has elements that are easily disproved. For example, electricity can’t reanimate that dead but does kill the living. Reanimation requires a few things. The reverse of everything that happens after death. First stop decay by somehow sterilizing the body (probably take a few pages to describe everything rationally needed). Remember features details not easily dismissed without field specific education or research.

The shallowness of most fiction. I find it extremely difficult to reread or rewatch almost any content. My memory precludes anything except fictional worlds that appeal to my sense of aesthetic. The repeat experience usually lends no new insights except in rare cases such as The Life of Pi, The Matrix films, Mission Impossible (the first movie), and maybe Inception. Remember is a novel that shows something new with almost every read. My writing opens itself to multiple interpretations based on the reader’s perception and point of view, but still with a clear ending.

The experience of the protagonist doesn’t match well with the reader’s experience. If the protagonist is confused, shouldn’t the reader be just as confused The protagonist forgets the past, but the reader knows what happened. The numb feeling after killing someone. The listing of emotions without the effect apparent. Remember shows everything, usually before saying anything explicit about the situation.

Throughout the revision several changes took place, namely the transition from passive to active verbs. A good portion of the writing was removed to focus the novel further in the best direction. Trimming unnecessary sentences and redundancies helped along the way. A two month break highlighted issues with flow and rhythm. Everything led to the finished Remember, or so I thought. A beta reader found a lot of small errors. I’m writing another book before digging out those errors.

Remember needs work. That’ll probably happen over the next six months.

This is the back description as it stands now.

Conor Abby’s life as a research scientist disintegrates with the murder of Irena Mekova, the second closet person to him in this world of 2417. His life was complicated enough after a brain damaging vehicle accident. Working for a clandestine organization doesn’t help matters. A relapse of retrograde amnesia leaves the truth of what really happened locked away somewhere in his mind, if only he can Remember. Are their suspicions true? Did Conor murder Irena? Why can’t he remember?

Stay tuned.

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Inception of Remember, a First Novel

 

Remember basically reduces to an internal struggle against slow and complete corruption, until escaping the hands of these corrupters. This central conflict works best considering the other options. A protagonist versus antagonist battle doesn’t reflect much of daily experience away for the criminal justice system, military service, politics, and criminal element. The ability to justly exert force over the antagonist feeds too much into existing works. The rivalry between two people competing isn’t something I’ve read but enjoy on the silver screen.

 

The struggle of protagonist against the environment reminds me of long-haul fishermen, Ernest Shackleton, and movies (not many books yet). Not something I want more of from writing. The stories that really interest me end up protagonist versus self, psychological thrillers. Remember has always been a book focused first on something I want to read then adapted to the masses. My existence omits most kinds of physicality, let alone physical or environmental conflict. The psychological conflict is more familiar to the majority of possible readers from experiences with body image and lifestyle. The need to change something but not always the ability or motivation to do so. Examples include prevention of type II diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. That is what I settled on.

 

The title of Remember means two possible things in my mind. The protagonist, Conor goes through a verification procedure for his murder conviction, involuted by a memory erasure and recovery process. This works on the principle of removing a majority of the ego, stripping away the entirety of the super-ego, and leaving just the id or complete innocence. In this state, anything remembered comes through as honestly as possible. As remembered memories return, I posit they feel less immediate (something remembered from a movie or book, not something from firsthand experience). Toss this to the fact that memories incorporated after the fact lack the full emotional and adrenal force accompanying events happening right now. This effect dissipates over time. People going through this procedure recount events freely and openly.

 

Remember also means remember what love is if a parallel storyline enters consideration, the one between Conor and Claire. In popular culture, the idea of love just means a few complications. One partner says it and the other partner wrestles their emotions until the decision falls out. Relationships are constructed into fragile, mercurial, ghostlike objects for the most tension, impact, and uncertainty. Love isn’t sex. Love isn’t physical. Love isn’t desire. Love isn’t vengeance. Love isn’t selfish. Love is connection. Love is psychological. Love is need. Love is forgiveness. Love is wanting the best for someone else without regard for self. Remember that.

 

Remember experiments with the idea of duplicity, showing one side to everyone and hiding your true self away (everybody does it to some degree). Agent 7429 must be someone close Conor, but we aren’t sure who. The clues dribble out, while Claire (Agent 7429) lies at every turn, masking her true self. Dr. Mekova plays the role of pitiable victim until the clandestine meeting where she makes a compelling oratory about Conor’s situation and alludes to possible reason, from her point of view as a member of a “terrorist group”. These double identities present a criticism of the axiom “perception is reality”, which means how others view a person determines what that person is to them. This makes sense and works to some extent, but is it the best way? Those of us plagued by shyness at some point or cynical of the way things are view this as rewarding the sycophants and refusing the hard workers. In truth, external validation means nothing beyond material gains so valued by society. Personal equity comes from internal validation. Countless studies agree that monetary gains don’t equate to happiness. In Remember, this duplicity puts the duplicitous in a position whereby they need the forgiveness or trust of others, now hard to come by.

 

The idea that dreams have importance permeates the text of Remember.  The memory therapy works by recovering lost information through dreams. This is an extension of the way dreams incorporate memories and events from everyday life; we just can’t control them well enough, yet. In other places, dreams affect daily life by influencing decision making. Take the choice to accept the “offer” from the Division (his employers). A dream just a few days before mused the opportunities and risks of this choice. The possible control of dreams shows ambivalence towards who is really in control. Each dream throughout features meaning.

 

Each part, chapter, and segment focuses on a central theme. The chapter titled Romanticism places importance on what the author feels than anything else. It contains the conversation about the end of Claire’s relationship and the dream about blowing up the Institute with Irena. Things that I feel should happen without much reason, especially that dream. The part called Blank Slate repeatedly returns to that idea. Remember is a novel that allows in-depth analysis.

 

Still working away at Remember. Some time away and little soul searching told me I wasn’t finished. Back to the editing table for now.

 

GK

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Getting Something Good Down on Paper

 

How did I come up with the novel? What inspiration triggered everything? Like most stories, it started small then took a life of its own. The beginning sparkle forms at the heels of problems people face every day. In a futuristic sci-fi novel, the prose should solve a verity of these problems. Throwing in the issues confronting society as a whole doesn’t hurt.

 

Keep in mind, my views border on extreme optimism. No post-apocalypse here. How to solve traffic, losing a phone, and lackluster entertainment? The disconnect between living in the suburbs and working in a city – true for most of us – can easily be dismissed by both occupying the same building. Would losing a phone really matter if an infinitely powerful computer lived symbiotically within each of our bodies? Simulations could use these systems to deliver an entertainment system into the brain itself. The possibility grows with each passing decade or even century.

 

The voice/style of my writing brings these ideas forth unto the page. The dissatisfaction I have with reading stems from the authors need to convey their intention. Are my imaginings of a toaster from fifty years ago less than the writer’s? I think not. This idea prioritizes content over description. My first draft read more like a play than a novel. Through extensive critiquing, I turned this into a proper novel with minimal description.

 

The contrast to this enters the surreal dreams. My ideas that psychoanalysis will return like a conquering hero, entails the interpretation of dreams as messages from the unconscious or subconscious mind. These passages approach literary vignettes disguising messages. Better authors seamlessly combine these two styles, a perfect example in Robert Ludlum.

 

These ideas are currently being ironed out for a novel worthy of agent perusal. Stay tuned for more.

 

GK


 

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