The Books We Read Make a World of Difference

 

Reading will always go hand in hand with writing. Current reads are the tools we use to find what works for readers. Sometimes it’s easy to forget during the solidarity of the writing process that we write for others to read. The accepted content varies over time. For example consider a novel like Vanity Fair. In the 1800’s, extensive backstories and drab descriptions of settings were in good form. Exactly like Shakespeare. In the 1600’s, iambic pentameter or heptameter of George Chapman was popular. These days it’s concise prose without too much unjustified extra content, like backstory and description of the mundane. This will be about a few books I’ve read recently. I won’t keep you in suspense. They are The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, Sharp Objects and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher.

 

One of my writer friends recommended The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a Pulitzer Prize winner. The story is nearly an alt. history of the heyday in the comic books, the 1940’s through 1960’s. Along with Stan Lee and Sam Kirby, add Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay. Kavalier is a Jewish refugee from Nazi-controlled Europe previously the apprentice of an escape artist. Clay is a misanthropic writer interested in comic books and becoming the next great American writer. Clay penned the inking and Kavalier did the illustrations. The story followed their lives for the next two decades.

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This book taught me a few valuable lessons. Literary prose works for established writers. Getting people to read literary prose from a yet unpublished writer is asking too much. Chabon used lots of words that were new to me like prestidigitation, opprobrium, and razz among others. A pre-collegiate vocabulary isn’t enough to write at a high level. Chabon frequently went on tangents, devoting page space to the stories written by Clay. Large parts of the book detail the fictional comic book heroes, The Escapist  and Luna Moth. I liked these parts a lot. Chabon made me wish to actually read the comics he described. The Escapist thrilled me. Luna Moth was perfectly hot and written with style. Going on tangents can work if done expertly.

 

Two books by Gillian Flynn taught me a lot. I’ll start with Gone Girl, the one I read first. The story started with Nick Dunne waking up next to his wife, Amy Eliot Dunne. We follow along as Nick left their house that morning. We watch the events as he discovered his wife is missing. Nick’s experiences through the investigation is chronicled. In the meantime, we read through Amy’s journal from the night they first met onward.

 

Gone Girl was amazing. Flynn found a way to justify an incredible amount of backstory. In Amy’s journals, we are looking for an evidence that Nick is capable of killing his wife. Amy left a series of limericks as part of this anniversary tradition they have. This allows Nick a chance to relive even more memories as he follows Amy steps before her disappearance. Throughout Amy’s journal, she wrote a series of multiple choice questions. After all, she was a quiz writer at some magazine. The story is allegorical to the dynamic within a marriage. Strong writing brought the story through easily to the reader.

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This novel taught me a few important lessons. Great writing with a great story sells. Gone Girl was on the New York Times Best Sellers List for over two years, won two awards, and was made into a movie. A well selling book is relatable. Intense literary tendencies can work if done really well or above par.

 

Sharp Objects is about a young reporter returning to her hometown, to follow-up on a serial murder investigation. Going home, brings back a lot of old memories. Everything is creepy in a way that adds character to a small town. The end is nearly impossible to figure out.

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A few lessons saw me through to the end. There is place for complicated sentences in modern, non-literary fiction. Feel free to include introductory, dependent, independent, and concluding clauses as long as the coherence or smoothness doesn’t reduce. Details are okay if it adds something like a feeling you want to convey, hints, misleads, or does something to make the story better. It doesn’t matter who you are, traditionally publishing a first book over 200 pages is incredibly difficult, if not impossible without something else going for you. Gillian Flynn was a reporter for Entertainment Weekly and her first book is 200 pages long.

 

Station Eleven is a literary science fiction novel that redefined what sells. The story follows the creator of a small batch comic titled as Station Eleven. The comic was about a lone doctor on space station destined for destruction. We follow the comic author’s life through her relationship with a previously famous actor and beyond to death. The actor connected with a young girl on the set of a play. We follow this young girl after some type of apocalypse. Another character is followed through the cataclysm. Basically a literary novel without an easily defined plot but gives a feeling of actually being there.

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Emily St. John Mandel is a great writer that has a lot to teach. I remember this one sentence that, simply put was amazing. I read this one sentence that perfectly summarized the work duties of an executive assistant. This sounds boring but encapsulated in a richly complex sentence made it interesting beyond belief. After reading the paragraph, it was stunning to see it was all of three sentence. I have a ton of work left to be that good, especially that smooth. Literary novels follow characters, things, and places through a series of event to shed light on existential questions. Keeping the reader oriented can be difficult, but when it works, you can do anything.

 

The Goldfinch follows the young Theodore Decker after his mother dies in a tragic museum explosion. He spends a years with his gambling father in Las Vegas. Then we see years an apprentice and an antique dealer. Finally married to a beautiful woman. Through it all, we feel his emptiness and longing for what he lost all those years ago.

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This book is dense. For maybe the first time, a modern book required me or the reader to slow down and take in everything. I can’t imagine writing and editing a book for ten years. My motivation wouldn’t survive that long for one project. Literary novels create experiences with beautiful imagery. This can be done by making the ordinary pretty or choosing events that allow lavish imagery. Donna Tartt does this through a series of drug experiences and smoky, dark scenes with nothing happening very fast. There is literary and then there is great literary.

 

Infinite Jest is the longest book I’ve ever read. David Foster Wallace wrote a book that’s a traumatic experience to read. It incorporates a little of everything from drug addiction, depression, film theory, world diplomacy, tennis, and North American diplomacy among other things. The story follows a family that owns a tennis academy, a rehabilitation center just down the road, and a meeting between American counter-intelligence agent and a double agent from a Canadian terrorist group. That meeting got annoying with the frequency Wallace returned to it and its length. The use of parentheses to denote the antecedent of pronouns was frustrating. The ending left me disappointed. There was such a long build-up and the ending was outside the time frame of the prose. Wallace doesn’t hold our hand through to the end and shoves us to figure it out. The length made me really struggle to put the ending together. All that aside, Wallace gives us an almost unabashed look into the human psyche at its worst.

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Wallace gave me a few irreplacable tips. Merging different styles can slow a read down but you need literary clout to keep a reader in it. Infinite Jest uses ebonics, first person, third person, monologue, footnotes, and various other styles throughout. Detours are again okay. A grasp of words beyond most, makes a book really hard to read.

 

Then we have Storm Front (Dresden Files #1). A wizard/private detective investigates two different cases. The plot is rote. The two cases have to collide right? Add in wizardry, a police detective, a overseeing wizarding board breathing down his neck, a few rules about what’s allowed, and dark magic to get Strom Front. The language simple and easy to digest. The wording steps out of the way and puts the story front and center.

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I learned a lot that supports everything I’m getting into. Simple construction works really well. Readers like familiarity. The woman characters are femme fatales with a slight variation, usually. We have a hot reporter with a pen instead of a gun. A pretty detective with a badge and gun. A true femme fetale with information and no gun. I really liked a scene where the wizard questions the woman with information. Butcher does a really good job describing her smoky, contralto voice. I did something like that but not really well in my first book. I need to keep working on maintaining a feeling for an extended period of time. Keep the action coming and use the lulls wisely. Choose when to give exposition and what to say with care. Add something new to the genre like the present day, vampires, and sex as used by Butcher.

 

Reading is invaluable to a writer. It has always been a big part of my life and will continue to be. These books were read over the course of a year. Another year of reading will bring more lessons and interesting worlds. I look forward to it. Come back in two weeks for the next post. Until then, Graham Kar out.

 

GK

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The Schizophrenic or (The Pessimistic Voice that Says No.)

I liked Birdman in general.

 

The casting added something that felt real to me, Michael Keaton (Riggan). I remember him well from that 90’s Batman franchise directed by Tim Burton, That was the only time I remembered who he was apart from the character. I recognized Naomi Watts (Lesley) from somewhere, probably King Kong. The character that really got me in the story was Sam (Emma Stone). I found the problems in her attractive, probably because I wrote a similar character a few months ago.

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The cinematography drew me in. It was a window into the normal world, walking and how everything looks from that angle. I sit or lay down throughout my day. Every rarely am I looking from eye level of someone standing. The camera shifted in and out of third person to different character perspectives. I liked the closeness to the characters talking. The frustration of Sam when spoke about how outdated her father was became visceral in a way that movies almost never have for me. I sit all the time. People are either right next to me or in front 4 feet away. Imagine never directly facing someone when you talk or being 4 feet away. Looking over railing is impossible for me. I have to parallel park my chair or look at the railing from feet away. This was shown once in Birdman.

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The rooftop scenes were scary. Heights are down right scary if you can’t stop yourself falling. I can’t. Truth or dare seems so unrealistic and overused. Do people actually play that game in situations of hidden attraction or friendship? That part where Mike (Edward Norton) describes Sam as special, “burning the candle at both ends”, sounds written. The options there are either call it out or change that part into something else. I would have described it differently. Still good.

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The superpowers were interesting even if we couldn’t be sure they actually existed. Levitation, telekinesis, and flight. Everything the fictional Birdman could do. Riggan became so invested in the character, it became a part of him as a voice that degraded him. We all have a little voice in the back of heads, telling us everything that could go wrong. It was an interesting plot piece that severed as an easy source of motivation.

 

A great movie.

 

GK

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Why I was Silent For Most of My Life

 

There is no such thing as a born introvert. I may not be able to point out a specific research article or anything to back me up. But I do have my story. Maybe that’s enough.

 

All of us remember singing or dancing with exuberance as children. An awkward home video of a child singing not very well, what did you expect, not all of us are the next Taylor Swift. I my case it was a magic trick involving a camera cut. I stood there wobbly on my uncooperative ankles. A big flashy toy weapon hung in my hands. The camera cut on cue. I hid said sound weapon in a cardboard box. The camera started again with me holding nothing. A trick of the camera disappeared a toy thing.

 

Other memories of my singing along of ABBA for some ungodly reason. Dancing around with my sister as she spun me around by both hands. Listening to a ton of the Beach Boys, I had no idea what they were singing about. Something changed when I was around other kids my age. I clammed up and became shy. My parents never discouraged that behavior or modeled something different.

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Some traumatic event or more realistically a series of such events leads to introversion. The science suggests nature and nurture contributes to the continuum. I was always the smallest, weakest kid, so very few people were always nice to me. This initial trauma forced a tight limit on the number of friends that felt good. For, me that grew into focusing on a few close friends with the general exclusion of others. This started out well and good. The reality doesn’t sink in during childhood. Without exception these first dozen or so friends moved away, and I never saw them again. That’s a traumatic experience if it happens again, again, and again, and I almost forgot again. These friendships were all from my first elementary school.

 

The last two-thirds of sixth grade were in a new school. Unlike my old school, there weren’t many black or brown students let alone teachers, wah wah wahh. Let’s say some people didn’t like me very much as the wheelchair bound Indian kid. One kid, Mathias was showing me the lay of the land. Five dollar mechanical pencils were the equivalent of Letterman jackets. I didn’t really feel like investing in one such meaningless mark of social status. I had the cash but didn’t go there.

 

It was probably stupid considering what I did next. I got a broken Pilot G2 pen from Johnson, fixed the sucker, and never took it out. Then I asked the class jokester to see his whatever mechanical pencil. That kidder told me it was on his desk and I could look at it. Mathias stood right beside him giggling like the funniest thing was happening. I should have seen it as duping delight. That wasn’t on my mind because everyone was so nice. They always looked happy to see me, said Hi insistently, and were really friendly. Like a sap, I cruised down the really long hallway back to the classroom and looked. I was mad. There was nothing there.

 

I’m not trying to make an indictment here. That single event struck a fissure already deeply ingrained from everything before. Mathias and I became friends. I ignored Mr. Joker from then on. I also think the timing had a lot to do with it.

 

Just as the Fates turned on me, six months later they saw me back into their good graces. The school district boundaries changed and my middle school wouldn’t be the general vanilla of Osseo. The relative cornucopia of Brooklyn Junior was my future. That’s when my anti-social period began.

 

I wasn’t looking for friendship any longer. I hit the books for really the first time. I made a few loose friends but no one expect me valued those friendships. My mind turned over this intrinsic human need of companionship to my imagination.

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I watched everything and I mean every single thing going on. Using these observations, I storied their lives as I saw them. As flawed and isolating as this was, it created the components I now use to write. A few interesting characters were Harry, Gwen, and Veronica.

 

Harry was Mr. Cool. I felt he was really struggling in Honors. Basically, Harry was hitting above his average. His wardrobe needed work but the girls loved him as a friend. I could never really talk to girls throughout middle school or high school. Harry was my hero in that way.

 

Gwen was someone I always felt a connection to. I never worked up the courage to say a single word to her. The news got around to me through the usual ways. Did I mention the fact I hear like a bat. Eavesdropping was my skill that sometimes helped but usually kept everyone at arm’s length and gave me enough to feel a connection without interacting. Gwen was in the school play. Years later, I found a lot of similarities, more about that later.

 

Veronica was this person in all my Honors classes. I can probably still describe a ton of things that contributed to my story of her. I thought of her as a girl ahead on the maturity front, more open than most, a social butterfly, and a good person. This has no basis in truth, but I like to think it does.

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Now the part where I un-learn the lessons from all bad stuff delivered my way. I wasn’t that easy, in fact it was the hardest thing I had done up to that point. A few things motivated me to turn back the damage and try again. I lost the physical ability to speak. Very few people know that but there it is. I had stopped going outside and living some time before. The 20’s depression so many millennial’s have, had just ended with the beginning of my fiction writing career. I knew that marketing would be a big part of my future. I needed to escape the cage of my own creation.

 

This reclamation of my social self began with the common social medium of my generation, the attention trap that is Facebook or fb. I friended anyone I recognized from High School and on back, including everyone I imagined knowing. I didn’t recognize a few. This changed nothing because either the request is accepted or ignored. No friend requests are ever declined.

 

Then rejection therapy. I said hi to every single accepted friend. It was an internal battle each and every time. After the first hundred rejections things became a tad easier. I found a few people to talk to.

 

So I’ve exposed the possibility of rejection and faced it en masse. The next step was to learn the social lessons I passed over. I fb messaged like an awkward new-born. I talked about anything that worked. Each message ran a laundry list of worries through my head. Did I say the wrong thing? Should I apologize? This one I agonized over for days and weeks at a time. I projected my conscious into a shade of this friend and searched this new soul to understand what my friend was going through. I agonized, literally agonized this question. I’m not a nice person or a mean person. It isn’t possible to bridge the gap from being okay to being nice with an apology. I spent years ruining friendships thinking I could apologize my way to being a nice person.

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In time, by that I mean years later, I was ready to break through years of social anxiety with a final Karate chop. I made a list of secrets I had always been terrified to share with anyone. It was the usual stuff like bad experiences and the things you cherish the most. I forced myself to type them out and send them like clandestine missives, all on the very brink of a panic attack. My friends are the greatest, and I hope everyone can say that.

 

I went from a child having fun and not knowing better to a cynic with too many bad experiences. Now, I’m a speculative optimistic trying to get back everything I denied for years. People need friends. It might be easy to say forget them. If they can’t appreciate me, it’s their loss. I might be easy to say my friends love me. Do they really or just the part you show them. We all can have epic, radically honest, complete friendships. All we need is the motivation, the guile, and the bravery to confront the possibility of loss. Without that, what is the point to this maddening, meandering, mess we call life. There is no life in a vacuum.

 

Take life into your hands and make it your own. This is one story of my life. Take anything helpful and ignore the rest.

 

GK

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Sucker Punch, the Truth Hidden Behind the Action.

 

(This contains spoilers.)

 

Sucker Punch is a psychological thriller starring Emily Browning (Babydoll), co-written and directed by Zach Snyder. Basically, the story was about a girl locked up in a psychiatric hospital for killing her sister. Her step-father bribed an orderly to get her lobotomized, so she couldn’t tell anyone he tried abusing his step-daughters. It seemed realistic considering the story was set in the pre-1950’s. In order to cope with her horrible situation, Babydoll hallucinated a different situation to still function and find a way out.

 

I have a nightmare along those lines long before watching Sucker Punch. I see something bad, like say a murder. When I tell someone about it, they accuse me of being crazy. There is no evidence other than my word and I start believing it. Then I’m stuck thinking I’m crazy and having a lingering paranoia that the murderer is following me. What’s really scary is never knowing if it actually happened or if it’s all in my head.

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I’ll start with a dissection of the plot and the reasoning as I see it. The asylum is a converted theater. Dr. Gorski uses the disused stage for reenactment therapy. Babydoll imagines another situation that is slightly better, a dancer and prostitute. I think it’s slightly better than being sane in an asylum. Some undeniable elements of her reality still carry through.

 

I read through a long discussion on IMDB from user aliciabaldelli that shows a different perspective.

 

The narration at the beginning and end were interesting, I mean thought provoking. This is a transcript from an Internet search that sounds about right.

 

Everyone has an Angel.

 

A guardian who watches over us. We can’t know what form they’ll take. One day, old man. Next day, little girl. But don’t let appearances fool you. They can be as fierce as any dragon. Yet they’re not here to fight our battles but to whisper from our heart reminding that it’s us. It’s every one of us who holds the power over the worlds we create.

 

We can deny our angels exist, convince ourselves they can’t be real. But they show up anyway. At strange places. And at strange times. They can speak through any character we can imagine. They’ll shout through demons if they have to, daring us, challenging us to fight.

 

Now for me this means someone is looking out for you. This person can take many forms, hurt or help, all to show you the way forward. These angels make you into the person you’re supposed to be. They echo with something deep inside of us and that’s how we change. Belief in this isn’t a contingency, but this is how life works.

 

Babydoll is, in reality, stuck in a mental asylum. She imagines being in a brothel. And sometimes goes into another level of abstraction as an action hero. Each of these imagined constructions tie back to something in reality.

 

Each time Babydoll dances, she is remembering something painful from her past. I like to think this is enough distraction to get the things she needs to escape. When she dances for Chef, it doesn’t really make sense. He wouldn’t be interested. That discussion post from IMDB offered a different explanation. Those action sequences are actually when Babydoll used her sexuality to get what she needed to escape. More about that later.

 

I wasn’t ready for that interpretation. I used to think each action sequence was a representation of a session with Dr. Groski. The first sequence was Babydoll fighting three clay soldiers. Before you are forced to tell an uncomfortable secret, three things happen. Each soldier represented an internal enemy. The first soldier had a long nose like Pinocchio. Lies are the defense. What secrets? Nothing happened. It meant nothing to me. Then comes anger and finally fear. Why aren’t you believing me? Just listen to what I’m saying. Don’t believe me. Fine be like that. I can’t tell. He’ll find out. I can’t tell you anything. Will you protect me? Can you protect me? Then you finally start talking.

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Clay soldiers before the battle.

The next action sequence was fighting against clockwork zombies in the trenches, literally WWI trenches. My thoughts drew to this being about the death of her mother. How everything that happening in Babydoll’s life somehow reminded her of the people she lost. Every turn brought the loss back, painful as ever. Every turn in the trenches brought more zombies.

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A glamor shot.

The third one was a castle siege to steal the crystals from the throat of a baby dragon. To me, this felt like survivor’s guilt. Babydoll felt responsible for the deaths of her mother and sister, mainly because she lived through it. In this action sequence, Babydoll killed the baby and mother dragons.

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After killing the baby dragon.

Unlike every other action hallucination, the last one happened in the kitchen. Dr. Gorski wasn’t anywhere to be found. My idea this was a representation of a therapy session didn’t fit. I’ll change just this one into a sexual distraction so her friends could get a knife from Chef. What she imagines serves as motivation. She needs to live for everyone she lost.

 

The action sequence is about stopping a high-speed train carrying a bomb. Their failure very closely resembled what happened the night her sister died. Babydoll lost someone trying to stop something bad happening. The bulb matched the city exploding. They get what they’re after.

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Abbie Cornish as Sweat Pea, last action sequence.

At the end, we return to the asylum. We now know everything she imagined at the brothel actually happened. She went through with the lobotomy because she wanted it. Living with the pain of accidentally killing her sister while trying to protect her, was too much.

 

The end narration transcript is again from the same site.

 

And finally, this question: The mystery of who’s story it will be. Of who draws the curtain. Who is it that chooses our steps in the dance? Who drives us mad, lashes us with whips and crowns us with victory when we survive the impossible? Who is it that does all these things? Who honors those we love with the very life we live? Who sends monsters to kill us and at the same time sings that we will never die?

 

Who teaches us what’s real and how to laugh at lies? Who decides why we live and what we’ll die to defend? Who chains us? And who holds the Key that can set us free?

 

It’s you.

 

You have all the weapons you need.

 

Now Fight.

 

I think this means something along the lines of people only have the power over you that you give them. Something is not inherently good or bad, it just is. Beauty and grotesquerie are in the eyes of the beholder. What you think makes something good or bad. An example is death. It’s generally accepted that death is bad. But aren’t there a few good things too? Fear of death makes you live more. We want to make the most from our limited time. When we reach near the end of something there’s this pressure to do everything we continually postpone. There won’t be another time. The choice becomes now or never, and there is no later.

 

In the premise of Sucker Punch, this applied to a pre-frontal lobotomy. This procedure scrambles the seat of conscious thought, basically psychological death. This is generally considered a bad thing. Can it not also be good? Take for example the situation Babydoll found herself in. She has nothing left. All the people she loved are dead. The last of whom, she killed by her own hand. Isn’t psychological death the ultimate way out? If that’s your mental place, wouldn’t a lobotomy fix the issue? It adds some other difficulties, but you’re no longer there. Self-sacrifice means nothing if another isn’t saved. That’s what happened.

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Before lobotomy

That quote goes on to say all the weapons are your own, so fight. First, let’s accept the conclusion thoughts determine the bad or good qualities of anything. So the question becomes if something thought to be bad is coming and there’s no way out, how can you defeat it. The first option is always to escape. That isn’t available. Neutralizing enemies never works, because there are always more. If you have one bully that you chase away, another is always waiting. If there’s no bully, then it’s something else. You can face your enemy and win by turning the bad into good. So fight against your own precepts or established beliefs. Find some way to make the inevitable acceptable.  Take for example facing death. Force your thoughts to the good. Think of everything you’ve done. Think of everything you won’t regret.

 

It’s a sobering message but it matches the world of Sucker Punch. I told you what happened but the movie wasn’t done justice here. It bears a semblance to reality, but that’s up to you, the viewer. Tell me what you think. Later.

 

GK

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The Confluence of Light and Dark/Water and Sand/Life and Death

 

A dream, this time with two possible interpretations or even more. Smooth, rolls of the tongue, and a little new.

 

Enjoy.

 

I am at the beach — everything dark, except for the moon. Its light suffuses like a bright candle, in a completely dark landscape, highlighting water and earth. The bright, pure light emanating from its heart cascades, segmented over the dark water, as it sets. My feet hide buried in the sand just in the wet area. The warm waters break over the sand and my ankles. The moon starts transforming, becoming more elongated and oval. It turns into a complex shape, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The moon comes closer and gets brighter, while the light grows warmer and gentler. I grab its out stretched hand and pull myself up. The hold, leads me into the water. We get in deep enough that I can barely reach the bottom and shut my eyes. The moonlight culminates in brightness and almost fades away through covered eyes. I open my visuals to the almost set moon.

 

The beach beckons before the evanescent, ethereal light. I am held fast to the seafloor by the hard cold of steel against my ankles. All my strength writhes in a desperate attempt to swim away, with no fighting it. I stay here, as all other options betray me. The water starts moving in waves, gradually rising. I can’t move higher in the water — my bondage has seen to that. The water’s at my chin and elevating. I take one big breath and dive, to investigate my feet bound with an inescapable ring of iron. Lunging to the surface proves too far. My arms barely reach, let alone my head. I struggle to get my breath, to no avail. Involuntarily, I breathe out.

 

GK

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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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