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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GK

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Generating Ideas is the Most Fun I have All Day

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GK

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The Sum Of An Empty Life

I praise the master, David Foster Wallace.


Walking in through the industrial-designed door, passing over the id scanning arch, reaching up to my forehead for a quick itch when something forgotten returns. Security wants me in for a new badge and posterity pic, some mundane ritualistic occurrence right over there at the guard’s station. On my way, a few sips halve my remaining third cup of lukewarm coffee. Norm as the badge says, parses the screen before him for my id scan, relevant data, and why I should stand before him. The mute Norm points to a lighted X just beyond the faux stone securities desk. A blinding flash of light averts my gaze with the classic id pic’s grimace.

 

Someone trapezes back and forth over the security scanner, each time flashing bright red sans alarm, until the gate arch engages green, the pacer crosses over, and approaches the stone faced counter alongside me. A hand on scapula tells me this person — whoever he is — knows me, but I haven’t seen his visage yet. I turn to Brian Whalen, the glassless math geek, college roommate, the always confidence of someone born with good looks, cleft chin, meaty eyebrows, the remembered mane trimmed to something corporate worthy, a bow tie with the black suit on white, a briefcase, and a bear hugger (familial trait). There it is. My face blushes with the blood rush from a breath dislodging bear hug.

 

I wait over, by a couple of sunk-in chairs festooned over the lobby, while Brian sorts his badge issues, drinking the dredges of the bitter waker-upper, and plotting the incidence vector for a cup tossed into the open garbage, toss, and yes. Next, dispossess myself of this grey messenger bag and wait for the approaching Brian. He settles within the low-slung chair opposite, assuming a similar crouched position, rid his black combination briefcase onto the equally low table. Then the reason for the wait.

 

“Brian, last I heard, you were in academia. What happened?”

 

“Well C, it just wasn’t working out. Everything just stagnated after the first year or so. There just wasn’t that much there for me any more.”

 

That still deviates form who Brian is, the existential one, and the perpetual idealist magniloquent scholar. There a memory comes across of Brian’s, always with me as the subject. He’s probably getting something from me, regrets and maybe rationalizations. The same things I quest to know. His college girlfriend, now wife of one child, laid out on a breezy fall day, in a yellow, blue flowered dress under a cream waistcoat, marred with a line of blood matching a mid-thigh laceration, head tilled back almost over possibility, and sharply at that, bent along one spot, eyes staring to me situated at her back, crying, moving mouth devoid of all sound, and her hand in mine. Her hand, chilled to the bone and sweaty, throbs in my hand with life-giving pulse. A slow inexorable deterioration follows, circumvented, really forestalled by squeezing onto her clammy hand. Each time again results in a desperate journey to rescure the febrile beat to life, always there, but generally assumed. The fear, guilt, debility, panic, and fear of losing her push everything else away. The spectrum from blue through red flashes across my face, cold light, lacking any warmth. And I’m back with Brian.

 

He just stares across at me in disbelief from what he received.

 

“Brain, how’s everything else, otherwise?”

 

“Everyone is great. Lizzie, our three-year old defines overzealous in terms of practical anything.  Meagan enjoys the city.”

 

“Well, Brian I’m nowhere near as put together. About the only thing set is work, at this here quant.”

 

“C, it’ll be a big change from non-Euclidean topography in relation to EM, G, and QFD.”

 

“Later, Brian”

 

“Later.”

 

Brian departs, leaving behind his briefcase. I burden the messenger bag over one shoulder, the rumored man purser being me, and add his mini-legal-sized-suitcase. “Brian!” He just waltzes across the lobby at speed, stops, and searches for who called his name, while I eat away at my ETA. He locates me at a mere 3 feet away, where I stop, lower the brief case (sic) the remaining 6 inches to the floor, and slide it across with the outside edge of my left shoe’s sole.

 

Brian shakes my hand. “Looking forward to work under the same corporate overlords, C.”

 

“If we’re not careful, we could become one of them.”

 

Brian looks surprised. He retrieves a red knife handle from his pocket, switches out the blade and brings it over our hands, then he seizes. His knife arm flings out, launching the knife. Amidst violent contractions that send each muscle stiff and jumpy, his knees buckle and pull me forward with him. His hand pops off with a red impression. I just grab his briefcase, tuck it under an arm, and grab his abandoned knife, all after scanning the empty lobby.

 

I skedaddle out into the dwindling sidewalk. People walk all around while I head north beside the empty street — all in pastels, green, yellow, red, blue, violet, and orange. The people ferrying umbrellas dominate with a few unprepared and drenched into black stained coal miners — clothes and all. The rain falls down in little black rivulets suspended from the heavens, black rain today. The pastels remain mostly unblemished, except near the street and sidewalk, where footsteps and vehicles would splash up. I just continue soaking up the rare drop or two. All my fellow walkers weep tremendously, like spigots turned on within each eye, releasing not a steady drip, but a laminar flow exuding hence from the entire lower eyelid just brimming over. This viscous outpouring stains a triangular swath following the contours of body and cloth.

 

Around the corner and the next block up, a dirty yellow cab picks me up for a trip home.

 

(—)

 

I disembark at a glass fronted lobby of immense double-width doors. Inside the vestibule, meter high copper planters sustain floating lilies and the like, surrounding every wall excluding the elevators framed with stainless steel panels and the other set of doors opposite. I call the elevator with the electronic ping, wait for my ride, enter, and leave on six. A walk to the end of the hallway — past the doors leads me to my apartment. I deposit my keys, bag, and rain dappled coat by the door, liberating the knife and briefcase.

 

I scan my apartment for anything out of place, not that I’m expecting it. My set of four chairs and a couch (all royal blue) form the usual half-pentaform facing an ordinary sidebar. Only a push down on the top shows it to be a raising tv stand, hiding the complexities of components below sight.

 

A narrow interstice leads to an inch or 2 thick slab of frosted glass cantilevered on a tied up bundle of steel pipes stood on end. The black grease stained metal dining chairs serve host to black covered cushions. The black-trimmed straw-printed-and-colored rug underlay this eating ensemble.

 

On back, the beech cabinets contrast the piecemeal, random dark and light pattern of knotted and clean bamboo. A dark marble of almost black — veined in yellow and purple covers these said cabinets. I probably neglected the beech trim framing man-sized mullions on the three glass walls, dividing the apartment in two at the top of the doors’ height and segmented at 3 meter increments all around. The culinary grade appliances dwarf the standard kitchen fare with a twelve-burner, fold down broiler, pot-filling faucet, double-wide fridge with a sliver of a freezer, small dishwasher of course, and garbage chutes scattered around. The electrochromic windows are actually one contiguous pane bent at sharp 90 degrees on the edges and bends.

 

On the left, the solid bedroom doors hinge open from the remaining wall of trimmed glass. I ferry the briefcase onto the puce sheeted bed on a Japanese wide-edged bed elevation mechanism which requires kneeing into and rolling out of. I turn to the windows for the stair-stepped buildings down to the river, a quarter-mile away for some clue to the combination. A pain just then torments my left belly of such severity — I brace against the dresser. My thoughts dwell on what Meagan will never do again. Climb a flight of stairs under her own power. Feel her husband’s hand in hers. Heft up her daughter now and hug her in the future. Never being alone for even a moment further in her life, constantly forced company upon. My crying might be from the tremendous pain or tremendous sadness or inability except now to feel. The tears dry out and the password is one-three-seven-one-three-seven. Our shared dorm room number times two as if he expected all these happenings.

 

I press the latches, feel a slight jiggle of restrained rotation, and drag the cracked open briefcase over to the other room’s coffee table amidst the padded furniture. Opening the case as allowed shows three pictures, one of the three of them, one of his wife, and one of his daughter. Underneath is just a stack of blank printer paper awaiting toner.

 

I lean back in the plush couch to withdraw the knife, placing it alongside the extracted picture frames and closing the briefcase. I look at each picture for the associated memory. The first one shows the three of them laid out in a circle on grass, holding hands. I look up into the top-heavy branches, stripped save the uppermost foliage. The sun shines, slightly shifted (off noon) through swaying leaves. I look right to Lizzie in a pink sweater and jeans. She’s one of those kids born with pants on. Meagan lies to the right in red plaid with a beige skirt, legs crossed. The lush grass streams through my toes.

 

The next picture shows a before and after. First Lizzie cries at poolside while the swim teacher beckons her into the water, then swimming with some semblance to happiness. I remember Meagan telling me to do something instead of taking pictures every 5 seconds. We wrap Lizzie in a towel and settle her down. Awhile later, Lizzie successfully treads water. Meagan punches me and says “Jerk!” I say, “We can talk about how big a jerk I really am later.” I lean in and whisper this in her ear.

 

The last picture is Meagan waving from the top of a cliff. We were arguing which way gets us back to the car quickest. Meagan points with accusation at the trail map. “We are here and have to go here. This is the quickest way.” Tempers running high after ending up at a closed lookout following half a day travel suggests we both go the way we think instead of debating the merits either way. I go left and Meagan goes right after we both check our radios. I walk through woods, until a clearing shows me Meagan up on that cliff. We both end up back at the car. I chose the best way back. I grab the knife.

 

GK

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Inspiration for a Novel: Frustration with Science Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

This is the back description as it stands now.

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

Stay tuned.

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