Memoirs, Writing Fiction, and the Difference

Memoir is really very similar to fiction in how it’s written. They both follow the same structure. Events are organized in the framework of a story. The flow isn’t interrupted to preserve the totality of events. Things that pertain to the story being told are included. Everything else is left out. Fiction is an additive method. Memoir is subtractive. You take a subset of everything you remember and from that into a cohesive story. Events are picked from a multitude of things that actually happened.

This selection of events is apparent in movies based on true events or a dramatization of the truth. Take for example, Steve Jobs. I’ve watched three versions of Jobs’ life. First, the biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, Jobs. Then the factual documentary Man in the Machine. Finally, Steve Jobs directed by Arron Sorkin and starring Michael Fassbender.

Each movie had a different angle. Jobs was about Jobs getting ideas and using them to be the best. Man in the Machine is trying to be as unbiased as possible. It was the most balanced but tried to talk about the relatively unknown things about Jobs. Steve Jobs was controversial in its directorial and writing direction. It omitted his accomplishments for the most part and focused on his relationship with his daughter, Lisa.

All in all, the based on true story movies tried to make Jobs relatable. And the perception of Jobs was he wasn’t approachable. He was a strict, straight to business type of guy. He had stringent expectations and expected them to be met. He was thought to be the driving force behind Apple’s success. Each movie took a different approach to humanize and create a connection with the audience. Sorkin focused on Jobs’ personal life and matched it to Apple’s performance/Jobs’ fortunes. Jobs started us with Jobs as a student that couldn’t really connect with anyone except when he started Apple. Man in the Machine used his relationship with the mother of his daughter.

 

Memoir and fiction follow the same pattern. First, we see the character before anything starts. Then, something happens they have to react to. Then, they try fixing the problem different ways and fail successive times. Then, something starts working. Finally, the character succeeds, finds something that changes their life forever, and the story ends. This matches the character arc of a fictional story. Fiction adds an external conflict. When the character arc is the main conflict, it’s a literary story.

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Some recent stories have a strong character arc and conflict arc that are nearly equivalent in importance. Take The Girl on the Train as an example. The character arc of Rachel’s drinking and the central conflict of finding Megan’s killer. Or Gone Girl. The internal conflict is how Amy feels about Nick and the external conflict is Amy’s murder. Adding a strong character arc to a compelling plot brings a story up by an arm and a leg.

girl on the train

I recently read Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara. She is a prolific writer of memoirs and personal essays. She pointed out some key points. You have to be a hero, not a victim. It’s easy in this society and time to feel like a victim. You need a time in your life where you take action. A bad thing comes your way, and you fix it. Getting your car stolen is bad luck. Bad stuff happens. But if you track down the thieves, steal your car back, and you learn how to overcome a debilitating fear of confrontation. Then, it becomes a story that works in a memoir.

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You need to be done with the problem. If you haven’t found a way out, there’s nothing really there. Struggling and still struggling with the issue you want to write about, it is too soon. The writer needs perspective to make a memoir. You need to know the lesson and be detached enough to know what really happened. People read a memoir to gain a new understanding of the human condition. Something that can help figure out life, a little better.

 

A few things are in the way of me writing personal essays. When I write about myself, the writing comes out snobbish and stand-offish. I have allows been a little showoff. For years, I never knew why I wanted to prove my intelligence. Recently, I found the reason behind it. I have always felt less than everyone else because of my physical limitations. I always felt a little trapped by my condition. My way out and to feel better about being “less”, I try to feel equal by proving my intelligence more than balances out my physical weakness. That realization changed a lot, but I still worry about falling back into old habits.

 

When I have in-depth conversations about my intense emotional states and the inner workings of my mind, the person on the other end doesn’t understand me. That’s because I’ve never tried telling people even a percentage of that stuff. I have trouble relating to other people. I’ve been anti-social for that long. I’m slowly improving there.

 

This is an example of a recent conversation where I try to get better at explaining something.

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Recently saw Collateral Beauty. It’s about a father that recently lost his 6-year-old daughter to cancer. He writes letters to Death, Time, and Love and they reply. Towards the end, there was a really emotional scene where he admits his daughter is dead. I actually had tears forming a well in my eyes but didn’t allow any out. I pulled away emotionally.

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Why didn’t you let your tears come? Don’t you think you’re cutting out emotion unnecessarily?

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Whenever I describe something in too much detail, it doesn’t make sense. I need to fix that before writing a memoir. I’ll try my usual description first.

 

Emotional history: Started as a person with normal reactions to my emotions. Feeling them and becoming numb when some emotion became too much. Everyone does that except it isn’t going to happen frequently for most people. For example losing a close loved one. That might happen a few times. Simple sadness was enough to make me numb after a little while.

 

Then I started to decrease the threshold before I became numb. It worked for a time, and I reached my goal to fit as a male in American society. At one point, I was unable to feel anything.

 

Then, I slowly reduced the threshold when numbness happened. Through that still ongoing process, I thought I was rediscovering something I lost. That moment, watching that movie, I was in a struggle to stay there and feel. Becoming numb would have been slightly easier. There was a standstill and anything could tip the balance. Something did.

 

A better image. Everyone has three parts to their psyche. We’ll ignore the superego. There are various names that work for superego like conscience, mother’s voice, God, and hindsight. We’ll ignore that.

 

There’s a childish side or you at your weakest, id, baby, or the person you would be without an external influence. Then the protector, ego, or what the world made you into. The protector usually acts in small ways. Like covering your face, when you cry. Hiding you away, when you’re boiling mad. Putting on a brave face, when you’re really scared. It basically reacts to what the baby wants and finds a socially acceptable way to meet those needs.

 

What happens with normal emotions? The protector does those little things. When something too much happens, like the death of a close loved one, the protector says, “Baby, you need some time in your quite room. I’ll be with you the whole time. Too much is going on out here.” You become numb while the baby has some time away from life.

 

For someone like me, the baby cries bloody murder when something sad happens. Everything is exaggerated beyond the average. A baby like that spends too much time in the quite room. That baby never gets to experience a lot, because a lot of things are too much.

 

I increased the sensitivity of my protector to the baby by showing the protector more emotional states. Like an abused child, the protector grew more attuned to the tormentor, the whiny baby. Then the baby spends less time out and then none at all.

 

Right now, I’m dismantling the safe room. If an external threat appears, the deconstruction stops or reverses temporarily. Very similar to the process of growing up.

 

That’s still a little confusing.

 

The other part is sharing too much. The vulnerability of it. We’re all scared to sharing too much. That allows the possibility of getting hurt. The more you share, the greater the rejection. I feel like I should share my life’s lessons. I’ve been through a lot. Moving to a different country at five and never going back. My medical experiences that vastly over date my time to 28 years of age. Then the lessons meditation taught me. Finally finding meaning in my life. There is a lot I could share. There might be a memoir in my future. We’ll see.

 

The Eternal Feud

Another over-complicated dream sequence for you guys to read. I edited this one down more than the others so far.

 


 

I entered a room engulfed in white tile. Dark gray streams of concrete stood still, solidified within the field, ripples and all. Four pictures adorned the entirety of four walls. One profiled a fjord in its depth and security. Another depicted a temperate rainforest abundant in tall trees. Yet another of a glacial lake framed with mountains caught my eye. The blue water of it entered the spider-webbed fissures and crevasses inherent to a glacier. The remaining wall presented a steep mountain top, the sheer cliffs allowing a tenuous foothold for the resident snows.

 

In the center of the space, a reflective, metal, human-esque sculpture floated up. I went to it. Upon a touch, it transformed into a gray padded body suit. The intricate stitching had a zipper that moved down the side of the neck, ran over the shoulder, across the torso, and down one leg. Both sides were identical.

 

I slipped the suit on, zipped up the sleeves. It fit perfectly.

 

My hand now became a contorted reflection through to the floor below. The entire room felt alien with a somber metallic sheen, and the pictures morphed to perfect mirrors. I tried to look at myself, just to see the opposite wall. Moving closer and closer changed nothing. I reached out and saw a ripple in the reflection. The truth of my invisibility dawned on me.

 

I knew exactly what to do, merely walk out of the room. The insane ability — yet untapped — rushed the environs into a blurred frenzy. The scenery went beyond any mortal feats of perception, somehow forcing a long forgotten sense to reinitiate. I intuited going out the door, turning right, walking up a flight of stairs, and stopping on the edge of the roof. We flew into a high jump off the roof, keeping our body narrow and straight, pleasing a new urge. The invisibility failing at downward speed necessitated swift accomplishment. I prepared to land kneeling, compressing as broaching ground impact. Rolling over face up, pounding the ground, threw me into standing. My quick reaction to every minutia occurred without thought. Circling a group of soldiers — all marked as friendly. Following the line in the sand, so to speak marking the path, avoiding any and all incognizant, running at an incredible speed into a two-story fence harboring spikes! Instinctively jumping right up, rolling tucked over the fence, I stood ready for anything.

 

Noticing a group in the distance, I sprinted there. My arrival went unnoticed by everyone there, marked as targets. That received a message to touch each target, depositing a piece of invisibility behind. The pearlescent mirrors shone in the near ubiquitous gray. A countdown sounded… one… two … three…the targets crumpled into neat mounds all around.

 

At the epicenter of the carnage, there swirled a black cloud dropped out of the heavens. Shortly, stabbing me by throwing a sword. Engaging the new target, my suit became a prickly defense and attack arsenal of spines. I entered the ominous black gas quagmire to perpetrate my continuing attack. My defense articles tossed away a hastily thrown enemy sword, the first of an unrelenting black bolt barrage and other metal armament, with glimpses of a humanoid dripping in black ooze. One bolt penetrated my defenses. A surge of adrenaline jumped me away a 100 yards, the black mysterious weapons system stayed immobile at enemy camp. I withdrew my attack/defense scheme, my most powerful option requiring a high degree of precision jump onto the target. The jump was ready. Jumping as high as possible, everything grew small. The suit changed shape, directing me over the target. The invisibility flensed off to near my feet, the gray underlayment remained for my protection. I plunged into the high reaches of the dark cloud, then impacted with the force of a small earthquake. The cloud dispersed with the disintegration of the enemy.

 

Secured behind the invisibility barrier, a high pitch whine signaled intruder alert. A cold embrace ran up along with an associated numbing climbing through me. A black film tarnished the lustrous finish. I yelled for help. No one was there to hear my cries. Everything that was mine, my body, my thoughts, my feelings, ceased to exist. I gasped my last breath.

The Others and Why I Can’t Stop Reading

I came upon a series a few years ago. It’s a series called The Others, written by Anne Bishop. For a long time, I’ve been thinking what about the series makes me coming back, except having purchased the entire series up to now. A lot of things can keep me coming back, but everything from before doesn’t work with this series. The characters aren’t particularly interesting. The world in the book isn’t that different from real life. Nothing is really there from a first glance.

 

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Written in Red, Book #1

Hopefully, this blog post will help me figure out what’s the appeal of The Others. Written in Red was the first book I’ve read that starts with an introduction that says the history of a fictional world. It basically says alongside humans there was another comparable top predator. Bishop refers to these other people as the Others, Earth Natives, or terra indigene. Well, the Earth Natives control the natural resources and humans make stuff. Everything humans have is basically rented or purchased from the terra indigene. One area in Europe is rightfully under human control without owing the Others anything.

 

 

I’ll dissect that idea here. The terra indigene are creatures that take on the form of other top predators they encounter. Most of them have a human and animal form. Some can become smoke. Others shift into the elements. And others can turn into anything at will. This relates to skinwalkers in our world, people of myth that can supposedly take the shape of animals. I equate the Others to Native Americans who have way more power due to their ability to be stronger and just as smart. What happens if the invaders or early explorers found people much more dangerous than themselves? Something very similar to the world of the Others happens.

 

This dynamic sometimes gets interesting. The clash between the Others and humans is always there in the background, but it isn’t that big in my mind. That dynamic has appeared a few times in other stories. Basically, every vampire and werewolf story is like that. I don’t really like that monster genre. Where the protagonist is a vampire or werewolf.

 

In the first book, Written in Red the moment that got me in was the nature of the cassandra sangue or blood prophet. Some girls and women have the ability to tell prophecies after they’re cut. That was new to this genre. After cutting, they speak and experience euphoria or hold it in to remember the vision and feel the pain of the cut. That euphoria bugged me for a little bit. I decided that was plain fiction. One such person, Meg is the protagonist of this story.

 

The combination of those two storylines effectively drives the story forward. Each book delves into a different aspect of those concepts. A series exploring the same facets of something in each book quickly grows repetitive. I haven’t read any adult series, but that makes sense based on the other series I’ve read.

 

Written in Red was about Meg escaping the compound and finding work with the Others. People like Meg, cassandra sangue were allowed to be held against their will by benevolent caretakers to help them survive their addiction to cutting and the euphoria. Those rules didn’t prohibit cutting the girls to make a profit by selling prophecies/cuts. Basically, the rich wanted that to continue, so they had their lobbyists pressure the government. Meg escaped one of those facilities. Most cassandra sangue weren’t exposed to the outside world so living outside was difficult.

 

Bishop adds new jargon throughout her books. I found that interesting as a writer. How should I introduce new words through fiction? The learning curve required probably wouldn’t work with how I write, but seeing it for real was something. The first one was A walk on the wild side, basically an intimate liaison between a human and a human form terra indigene.

 

The storyline was a group of mercenaries went after Meg at the courtyard of the Others. Meg’s visions alerted them to the attack. Premonitions are an effective way to drive stories forward. Each book has them in different lights. In Written in Red, Meg spoke aloud her visions and other people interpreted the few words she spoke. In the second book, Murder of Crows, Meg dreamed her visions first. After cutting, she held in the vision and did everything she needed to do to save the most people. The third book was frustrating. Vision in Silver didn’t show the full prophecies. The bits and pieces we got were impossible to decipher until it actually came true. Right now, I’m reading book four, Marked in Flesh. Meg uses cards to reveal prophecy and other cassandra sangue bolster her abilities.

 

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Murder of Crows, Book #2

Murder of Crows is about two drugs, feel good and gone over wolf. Both are the same drug. The Others get feel good, a downer. Humans get gone over wolf, an upper for aggression and courage. Those drugs egged humans on to kill a group of Others that were shifted to Crows, hence the title. A group of people attack the Others’ courtyard like in book #1. Bishop made the similarity between the euphoria cassandra sangue felt and sexual pleasure. The villain drew me in. She was beyond convinced that the Others behaved like humans. A sexy body didn’t affect the others in any way. They didn’t find thin people appetizing, except in rare occasions. Her behavior was strange to them, and that cracked me up. I know I’m strange, hence the moniker radical.

 

 

vision in sliver
Vision in Silver, Book #3

Vision in Silver was about finding a way for cassandra sangue to in live the outside world. The other plot was about the rising friction between the humans and others. Somehow jewels financing the human uprising got into the hands of the Others, and people wanted it back. The Others are more deadly than people can imagine.

 

 

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Marked in Flesh, Book #3

Marked in Flesh is the first real attack on the Others. The events leading up to and after the event are chronicled. You can guess what happens when a weaker force underestimates and attacks a stronger and more vicious force. Again, prophecy pushes the story forward.

 

 

A few things about the series bug me. The shifter story element seems all too familiar in this genre of urban fantasy. Sometime I should probably read the most successful series in this genre, The Twilight Saga. Haven’t had the pleasure yet, but eventually. The cutting experience is very different from reality in some ways and similar in others. Euphoria doesn’t result, and cutting isn’t as it seems in the book. Cutting is a response to some internal frequently psychological occurrence. A lot of unnecessary details are abundant. I doubt we need to read the characters changing between boots and indoor shoes every time they enter a building. The plethora of characters bugs me. It seems like in every book, a handful of characters just appear. If each character was new, dynamic, and transformative that would be something. The characters, except a few, seem like filler or a different name to use. Those flat characters aren’t even described frequently, externally or internally. Each book assumes you remember quite a lot about the characters, but the books come out months apart. I know a few books down the line, I’ll pull the ejection seat.

 

Anne Bishop does a few good things. There are a ton of subplots. Something is always going on. The descriptions of the buzzing, tingling, and prickling skin are effective as a divining rod to find the focus of a prophecy. Different characters are used as the point of view for different sections of the book, from chapters to a few lines. Meg’s battle with addiction is interesting, because it doesn’t exist exactly like that in real life. The basis is probably chemical addiction like smoking. I wish that so many Native Americans weren’t wiped out during the settlement of the world. The native people weren’t doing anything wrong, and we needlessly eliminated them in mass numbers. Maybe the world of the Others is how things could’ve been. The aspect of writing simply and getting complex ideas across interests me. Also, the way Bishop manages to put a sinister light on the most basic interactions.

 

The Others is a great series to read. Graham Kar.

The Secret History Versus The Goldfinch

Recently, I finished reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It’s about a college student by the name of Richard Pappen going through the process of starting college at a remote institution. He finds a group of people and a subject that consumes him. In the end, they get involved with the murder a fellow classmate.

 

I read Tartt’s other book The Goldfinch a few years ago. I remember it fairly well. It’s about a boy, Theo Decker. The book starts with the death of his mother. The entire book is about Theo struggling to find a sense of normalcy in his life. Ultimately, he finds solace in what life has to offer.

 

Reading two things from the same author is something that helps me see how to improve my own writing. Seeing another writer’s progression suggests a way forward. My direction will probably be an amalgam of the authors I like best. I thought a lot about the differences and everything the author carried across both books.

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Photo by Mingwei Li on Unsplash. Picture enhancements by Graham Kar.

Both protagonists are chronic malcontents. They’re unhappy in their lives. They cling to fictional versions of everything that has happened to them. Richard lies to everyone about his life back home in Californa. Theo clings to the remnants of his perfect life with his mother, in any way possible. That has do with the way they romanticize the lives of others and the past.

 

Romanticizing something imbues it with qualities that are rarely apparent when something actually happens. I think of romanticizing the past as embellishing it to feel some comfort that wasn’t there in the moment. Seeing the lives of others as better, whether that’s the truth or not, feeds into the self-fulfilling prophecy that your life sucks. Digging a well of self-pity rarely gives you a good feeling. I’ll admit this opens up a lot story possibilities. And sometimes that, above mentioned thought process strangles us. That’s where these stories start. Then something shakes everything up. Richard is always in that strangling thought process. Theo is too young to be disaffected without something going catastrophically wrong, the death of his mother.

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Photo by Daniel Páscoa on Unsplash. Picture enhancements by Graham Kar.

Frequently, Tartt casts characters with a dreamy air. Characters like Pippa and Camilla, as well as scenes. Sleepy in an ethereal light. That’s done with a few different elements. Elements like cigarette smoke, drawn shades, night time, dense fog, pure light, and drug induced states. That lends a slight fictional air to the proceedings, like lightening in Frankenstein. The environment lends a sense to what’s about to happen or has already happened. A drugged daze when the character feels lost. Cold when the character feels alone. Dream-like sights for the people we love romantically. A straight forward translation of a dreamy woman or guy. That nonetheless adds a unique dimension to her stories. The pictures and events described are picturesque and always interesting. Making the scenes simple wouldn’t work very well to translate the protagonist’s mindset. Saying a character is stuck with their head in the clouds isn’t the same as making it felt on nearly every page. Might I point out that this is very similar to how writers see the world. We examine mundane events to shed light on the human experience. It’s fascinating to see the part Tartt shares with us.

 

The protagonists love the unattainable. Pippa or Camilla depending on the book is the one Theo or Richard love. Not exactly them as people, but they fall in love with the idea of them. Theo is attracted to his first love and the possibility that if everything was different, they could be together. Richard loves the woman who is incapable of loving him. Camilla is in love with the strength of another. “We love in others what we most lack.” Richard H Stoddard.

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Photo by Arnaud Mesureur on Unsplash. Picture Enhancements by Graham Kar.

Richard dreams of Camilla and is dissatisfied with any other person. Theo knows it’ll never work with Pippa. They are broken in much the same way, and that can never work. Love of the unattainable is a continuation of their malcontent mindset. As you can probably tell, I’m masking a slight disgust and jealousy throughout this post.

 

The protagonist goes through the daily motions of life wishing for more. Theo attends school despite the turbulence in his life. He finds a job despite his obstacles. He gets engaged and on. Richard faithfully completes his assignment. He misses classes every now and then, but things work out. They find a way to keep from worrying, so the actual story has time to play out.

 

Drug high states are used for dramatic effect. That contributes to the dreamy quality present throughout the books. The descriptions of their experiences are interesting to read. I wonder how factual they are. It would be not that difficult to write from research and fictionalizing the rest. I suspect that everyone’s reaction would be slightly different. And drugged out experiences can be found if you look for it, as with probably everything these days. The characters take uppers, downers, and psychedelics throughout. The Secret Histroy features smoking and drinking. Theo does a ton of drugs with his friend Boris.

 

I’ll highlight a few differences. I really didn’t pay much attention to this while reading. The Secret History takes places during two years of Richard’s college existence. Identifying the time setting was tricky. It happened sometime be 1978 and the 1990’s. The Goldfinch follows Theo from middle school through to adulthood. It happens very close to the present at the end. Richard experiences guilt, and Theo deals with grief. Both of them never feel they fit in where they are. That’s something I’ve felt, and I really struggled to find my place in this world. When I started writing, that feeling waned a little. The more I pursue it, the more it feels more like I’ve found my place.

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Photo by Andrew Preble on Unsplash. Picture enhancements by Graham Kar.

Hampden College, the setting of The Secret History is as far from New York, Las Vegas, Amsterdam as you can get. The Goldfinch goes on in Greenwich, NY, a suburb of Las Vegas, and Amsterdam. The Secret History is more action based but sometimes feels like a series of conversations in dream-like space. The Goldfinch is entirely internal with everything else taking a backseat. Richard, the protagonist of The Secret History tries finding the best path forward to achieve his goals despite everything thrown in his way. Theo accepts that his life will never be as he has expected. He has basically given up because he was broken at such a young age. Theo does his best to gain the approval of others. When he goes after his own ends, things backfire.

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Photo by Roberto Júnior on Unsplash. Picture enhancements by Graham Kar.

I enjoyed reading both books. Any fan of literary should read them, if you haven’t already. Their experiences shed light on what we have going for us. The stories are superb works of fiction, and say something as it was never said before. The Secret History and The Goldfinch.

 

Title photo credit: Shiro hatori on Unsplash

What Game of Thrones Does Well

For a while, I’ve been wondering what makes Game the TV show work as well as it does. The viewership of Game of Thrones has increased each successive year. Something about the show accounts for that. I tried for a really long time to figure something out, beyond the basic stuff. I hadn’t started watching the show up until a few months ago. Then a book gave me what I was missing.

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Historically, channels like HBO chose shows with a narrower market than network television. Fewer viewers, but more dedicated viewers. Game of Thrones grew far beyond the expectations. A fantasy series isn’t supposed to have 25 million paid viewers. Something special was there. This is my understanding of what makes Game of Thrones successful.

 

Most pieces of wildly successful fiction arrive in time to resonate with a trend in society. Take Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It was released at a point where it could get traction. The thriller genre was filled with long established authors. The readers wanted something new. That desire mobilized a high number of sales. Also, there was a push to talk more about the lives of woman. How the world’s expectations of woman could start to be discussed and deconstructed. The other aspects of its success are probably lost on me. A good story, prior books, and an established voice are all prerequisites, but lucky timing takes a book one step further.

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A few events can be inferred as the reason Game of Thrones was so successful. The fear of terrorism is increasing. It seems like every year, some terrorist action takes place. There’s increasing fear of allowing in refugees displaced because of war. Small groups of people have more capability to hurt others. The number of mass shooting around America is troubling. Everything just seems less safe. And Game of Thrones resonates with that uncertainty. The plot of Game of Thrones is basically who should be King. No choice of successor feels right.

 

This is a time of uncertainty. Russia is making a power play in Ukraine, Syria, and maybe even in America. The United States isn’t as powerful as it once was simply because of the active conflicts we’re involved in at this time. America has been in a continual war since 2001. Then the emergence of China as a superpower and the possibility of India joining that rank somewhere down the line. Such a huge shuffling of power hasn’t happened for a quarter of a century. Again the uncertainty echoes with the story of Game of Thrones.

 

The power of the internet is finally getting recognized. Everyone now has a voice to say anything they want. It’s highly likely that at least some like-minded people will agree with your voice. We’re in a world where anything can be printed with the authority of a newspaper without any truth based sources. There are so many distractions than ever before, and people are becoming numb to it. We want to go back to a time of less confusion. We want more clarity. That gives rise to the interest in mindfulness and other meditative practices. In the world of Game of Thrones, everything is much clearer. Everyone knows there place, whether Lord, King, or peasant. Everyone has clearer allegiances than in the world we live in. And it’s very difficult for one person to change anything. We find the stability comforting at times. Things changing about when we expect them to.

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The threat of hacking is troubling. The average computer user finds the whole thing unnerving. Everything that seems stable could suddenly crumble with a misplaced click. For years, we didn’t really have to worry about computer security. Now, it routinely hits the news. A big company is hacked and customer information is lost. The possibility that hacking played a role in the previous election. Sometimes wouldn’t it be nice if we could see our enemies coming at us? In Game of Thrones, you always see it coming. That’s all I could come up with at the time of writing this.

mists cover

Recently, I’ve been reading The Mists of Avalon. I found a ton of similarities between the book, Mists of Avalon and the TV show, Game of Thrones. Everything I’ve heard says the show basically follows the plot of the book. Game of Thrones is just a handful of iterations beyond Mists of Avalon as Mists of Avalon is a few iterations beyond Le Morte d’Arthur.  Both stories have a similar geographic and political setting. We have a High King or King of the Seven Kingdoms. Then a lot of Lesser Kings or Lords rule under the principle King. We have a wall protecting the Kingdom from Northern invaders. Then finally a horde attacking from across the sea. The Norseman or Dynerays fills that role.

That paradigm has been repeated over and over again throughout history. We have ancient China. The Great wall protected China from the Mongols. South of the Great Wall, we had a country ruled by the feudal system. Then that of Japan before the Meiji Era. Japan had a feudal system sheltered against foreign invaders by the ocean surrounding the island. After the Meiji Era, the feudal period ended. Then the case of India which was largely protected by the Himalayas. India had a feudal system before British colonization/occupation. Then the Greek civilization. Protected by the Alps, they also had a feudal system. I would probably even argue that a feudal system only arises when some wall or natural barrier protects the civilization from frequent outside attack. Nothing unites people better than a common enemy.

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Both stories are about the end of polytheism and the beginning of monotheism. In Game of Thrones, we have the Septons as the priests for the Seven Old Gods. The Melisandre for the Lord of Light, the one true God. In Mists, we have the Goddess and the Horned One. They each take on different forms depending on their duties. Then, the God of the Christian faith.

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There’s a character that’s capable of uniting people more than anyone else in history. We have King Arthur and Daenerys Targaryen. In Mists, Arthur unites the people of Avalon, the people of the Lesser Kings, the Hill People, and a few other groups. Daenerys has the backing of disaffected people from the Seven Kingdoms, a few of the Dothraki, a mass of freed slaves, a group of mercenaries, and she’ll probably gather more followers before attaching the Seven Kingdoms.

 

In both pieces of fiction, the side we’re rooting for always loses. The protagonist of Mists is frequently Morgaine or Morgan Le Fey. She is a representative of the Old Religion. In Mists, we know that Christianity ultimately overthrows what came before. Marion Zimmerman Bradley tries giving a positive end through the epilogue, but it still feels like defeat to me. We know it’s going to happen, but the side of the protagonist loses. In Game of Thrones, a few characters seem slightly better than the average. We invariably root for those characters. An idea about Game of Thrones is that the good guys lose and the most ruthless win. We can’t help but want the good people to win. Frequently that doesn’t happen, but we still hope.

We never really know who’s going to survive. That happened once in Mists too. In most TV shows, the show runners always survive. Captain Kirk is never killed unless they can revive him. Usually, disposable characters are invented right before they die. Game of Thrones changes that usual dynamic. Frequently, show runners or major characters are killed off. Granted that only happens in the last two episodes of a season, but one or multiple characters could be on the chopping block. That adds a little excitement whenever there’s a fight. Any blow could mean death.

hardhome bts white walker jon snow game of thrones helen sloan

I think Game of Thrones works because it came at the right time. Society is in such a way that people are drawn to the show this post has been about. And it tells a nearly timeless story. A country feuding on internal matters and forgetting threats from the outside. Good storytelling is of paramount importance. None of the other aspects matter if the story isn’t good in its own right.

 

The next question is, can that example be used to inform fiction writing? How do we write a story that resonates with society? I think it’s about luck. Writing something within a few months of an event is nearly impossible. I think luck is the only way. Knowing about the trends in society might help. Writing more books helps. Getting out helps. Knowing things helps. Writing different things helps. Getting something published, getting your name out there, finding an audience are all prerequisites of course.

 

What about writing an ageless story? There are already a few out there. A small force overcoming a bigger enemy. Someone triggering an event accidentally while trying to stop it. Getting people to join a cause and fight by your side. People surviving by hurting others. The darker tendencies that come out under pressure. That alone won’t get you anywhere.

 

I think I’ll just write what I feel passionate about. Maybe that won’t work so well. But just maybe it will.

The Influx of Technology and How it Changes Us.

Technology has changed so much in the span of my lifetime. From 1989 to 2017 isn’t that long, and everything before took much longer than the span of a life. In 1995, we were using Apple II’s and Windows 95 on absurdly expense desktops. A monitor a CRT monitor, a tube TV hooked up to a box the size of a handful of college textbooks. And no internet except that annoying sound of a dial-up connection that wasn’t easy to use. Then fast forward 5 years, and we have the first laptops that people actually use in everyday life. Then 7 years more and we have smartphones. Now almost everyone has a cell phone. It doesn’t matter where you look across the globe. In some places, they skipped the whole personal computer and went straight to phones instead.

 

This blog post isn’t about the technology, but what it does to people. What having an internet connection always at our fingertips does to us? That quickly gets to the idea that it matters what we do with the available tech out there. Technology is a tool and the effects are controlled by the user. The technology isn’t evil. The way we use it can be.

 

We’re connected all the time, and there’s an expectation that we’ll be reachable at most times. It seems unusual that someone can’t be reached unless they don’t want to be. But connection is still possible. And distance doesn’t mean what it used to. From across the world, it can feel like you’re in the same room. Using things like video chat, texting, e-mail, and phone calls. The latency, the time between sending something a receiving a reply, has really shortened. A letter takes anywhere from 3 to 7 days, and an e-mail takes a few seconds, and it’s free. Things could get even better with telepresence. Where you can remotely control a robot and facetime with anybody you run into or your robot runs into.

 

I should probably say I’m a smartphone Luddite, because I lack the physical ability to use one. I have a smartphone and use another person’s help to operate the device. I use a laptop with a drawing tablet and click with the other hand. That’s how I’ve written everything as a writer. The mental overhead of using an on-screen keyboard is exhaustive, but you can adjust to anything, right? I check my phone three times a day and that’s basically all the interaction I have with the smartphone thing.

adam-birkett phone gravel
Stock from Unsplash, Adam Birkett. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

The other side of that is the constant distraction. A smartphone is a device designed to get your attention when something important happens. I know phones have a ton of settings about when and how to get your attention. The issue with that is the average user doesn’t meddle with deeper settings except for ringer volume. We’ll talk about a typical user. The phone is always with you and asking for attention. Unlike an actual person, you don’t actually know why the device wants your attention. And the whole thing is addictive. I’m probably using too strong a word.

rosalind-chang phone upside down table
Stock from Unsplash, Rosalind Chang. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

When your phone rings, there’s a need to answer. After five rings, the person calling goes to voicemail. Something like a text doesn’t carry the same urgency. There’s more time between each action. There’s an associated sound when each message comes. And each time that beep goes off, you know a message came in. It’s basically training. The beep is slowly associated with a message and eventually what you feel reading a message. Reading a message feels good. And then we crave that beep. Sometimes something strange happens. You hear that distinctive beep, check your phone, and there isn’t a message. Or something else makes a similar beep and you suddenly feel happy.

 

And the beep isn’t the end of it. If you don’t check the message it really bugs you. You’re constantly wondering what the message says. You think of possible messages that could have come in. And you can’t stop thinking about it until you read the message. That all depends on how frequently you get messages. The novelty can wear off depending.

 

That device designed to get your attention is always with you. Quickly pulling you out of a conversation or anything you’re focusing on. This is happening more now than before.

 

We can be reached at any time. That’s a good thing when nothing is going on. Interrupting a conversation to check your phone is quickly becoming a social taboo. And a distraction that frequently follows us. Multitasking has taken on a whole new meaning. Younger people are slowly specializing in multi-tasking. Switching between different tasks decreases the ability to focus on one task. It never feels like multitasking reduces how well we do things. But multitasking is actually switching between tasks multiple times. Getting refocused takes a long time. And now we’re searching for the zone or flow state. Multitasking reduces access to that state. Imagine being in that flow state all the time. How would that feel? Probably how multitasking feels except the results are better.

juliette-leufke phone multitasking
Stock from Unsplash, Juliette Leufke. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

We’re slowly moving away from being present. Being focused on the situation happening right before you is getting really hard. Ignoring a text message is really difficult and impossible at times. Not checking your phone is tough. It takes a special kind of person to decide differently. It’s like saving money. We save money for some future event and have less in the present. The ability to save can easily separate poverty from a better life. And saving money is historically a difficult thing. Credit card debt, insufficient retirement funds, college loans, and adjustable rate mortgages are all symptoms of the inability to save money. And reversing that is going to be really hard. Not being present is just as difficult a problem to fix.

 

The internet gives us access to information that would be unimaginable twenty years ago. A quick internet search could define verdigris in seconds. A fraction of a sec faster, you could remember if you already know the answer. The information in more readily available than ever before. It’s like the argument about calculators. Sure they make students terrible at mental math. They don’t need to do mental math every day. They know addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Practice changes nothing. Well, using a calculator for basic stuff took longer than doing it in my head. It was difficult for me to operate a calculator and do the math on paper. Practice is the only thing separating any of us in my belief.

prateek-verma phone sunset
Stock from Unsplash, Prateek Verma. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

Looking up something isn’t everything. Memorization isn’t the mark of intelligence. In it’s simplest terms intelligence is how quickly you can bridge various things you’ve learned, and use what you have learned. The more disparate those ideas you connect moves into genius territory. That ability to make connections isn’t easily taught. In fact, we are taught specialization and compartmentalization. That goes to the fact that researching something isn’t the same as understanding. Memory versus intelligence. Take an encyclopedia. You need to know some things before using such a tool. Like the ability to read, and the ability to spell the topic you want to find. Knowledge helps you acquire more knowledge. Looking up something is throw away knowledge. It’s like studying for a test and forgetting everything. There’s no real point unless you use and understand the knowledge you find.

edho-pratama phone lookup definition
Stock from Unsplash, Edho Pratama. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

This recent push to understand something quickly without too much effort is bothering me. Things like infographics, listicles, and tweets. They offer this tantalizing proposition of understanding something complex very simply. Infographics help show complex things in a way people understand. Except, a portion of the data is lost in the process. And the source can easily distort the data in that way. They choose what data to show and present it in a different way. Listicles bug me. They very rarely drill down to anything of substance. They thrive on presenting a wide array of information so that something works for the reader. Listicles promise understanding, a feeling of belonging, and quick/easy knowledge. They deliver not much of the promise generally. When there’s something useful it’s small.

 

The internet gives everyone a voice. You can find viewpoints you’ve never been exposed to. Like what it’s like to be a woman in tech. What it’s like when someone steals your cultural identity? What is it like to have an STI? What is it like having BPD? But there’s also the flip side to that. We frequently set up situations where we only hear the people that agree with us and completely dismiss other opinions as foolish. Then the nastiness that anonymity brings out. People frequently say stuff remotely through the web they would never say in person. #Gamergate, Trumpism, Fake News, Alt-Right, and so many other things wouldn’t be possible without the internet.

mark-solarski google pixel phone upside down
Stock from Unsplash, Mark Solarski. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

The change in technology over my lifetime is massive. Now we have to figure out where to go from here. It’s a personal choice how we use technology. We have to decide to take in the good and search out what we’re missing. The goal is to understand people and not alienate them. The future is bright if we take it there. The world is filled with possible catastrophe around every corner it seems, but it’s up to us. We have to choose for ourselves where we want our little corners of the world to go.

 

Featured image stock from Unsplash, Roland Larsson. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

Book Cover Contest

Recently, I ran into an advertisement for a book cover contest. I don’t usually try entering contests. The need for structured competition feels a tad bit ridiculous to me. I have nothing against people that enjoy competition. It’s just not for me. I prefer keeping an internal tally of my improvement over what I’ve done before. Competing with people I believe are my betters in my mind, can sometimes motivate me.

 

Keeping up motivation through a competition is the hard part. The way it’s supposed to work, doesn’t work for me. Nonetheless, I followed the traditional structure. First, I amped myself up with the thought that I would win. Every time I wanted to stop, I braced on that mantra, I’m going to win. And there was always fear. If I didn’t win, I would be crushed, and I’d never want to do something like that again.

contest web

Anyway, I had to design a special edition book cover for Dan Brown’s next book, Origin. The rules were simple. Include some text and make it the right size. Choosing what cover design to make was the difficult thing. If I supremely made a cover of something they didn’t want, it wouldn’t matter how good it looked. I could design anything I wanted. Making something they wanted as the cover was the hardest part. I needed details on the book. Those were sparse. Origin is the sequel to Inferno. Origin was about modern art. That was everything we got.

Day 1

In addition to entering the contest, I wanted to learn Adobe Illustrator. I had two months to submit a book cover. I choose what to make. I decided Origin was about something Biblical like the other books in the series. I knew the protagonist would be Robert Langdon. And modern art. I wanted to make a cubist picture of a guy for the cover. Then add the text and block out behind it, like a reversed redaction.

Day 2

I started. First, I made a reference image from stock I found on Unsplash.

day-4

I drew shapes.

day 5

I merged and divided shapes so everything was at a depth of one layer.

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I colored the squares.

7

I made shadows.

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Finally, I blocked out the text.

9

I combined all the layers.

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Ultimately, I didn’t become a finalist. I learned a lot and probably won’t enter another book cover design contest again. My cover was over-designed. I frequently over-complicate things. The focus wasn’t the legibility of the text. I focused too much of the cover picture. If I make another book cover, I’ll fix all that stuff. And my design wasn’t what they wanted.

 

These are the finalists.

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Thank for reading.