I read another book about writing as part of my DIY MFA. It’s Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon. He’s one of the authors I enjoy reading. I’ve only read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay so far. His writing was the third adult book I’ve ever read.
Maps and Legends in an anthology of roughly two dozen essays by Chabon. It’s about his thoughts and how he wrote his works. Throughout a few thesis ideas emerge. I’ll do my best to summarize those points. There’s a lot packed in 274 pages.
Successful writers bring new ideas that fit together well. Examples were the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the series His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the first to write about the detective with a series to characters giving their takes on event. All in the direction of unraveling the central mystery. Those nested story didn’t explore, distract, or rephrase that said before; they added information. That’s basically the difference between literary and the beginning of genre fiction.
In His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman a few key ideas combine to make a great story. Those plot elements, rules of the world, character traits all have to combine to enhance the story. Just serving as a wall the character faces and changes to overcome isn’t enough. That’s what happens so much in fiction. The cowardly face the obstacles that most challenges them. Feats of courage. Like how Froto has to leave the only home he has ever known. How Sam wants to be a good person so he goes. Every character is designed to be a foil to the things they face. Like Ethan’s struggle in Pines, Book 1 of Wayward Pines by Blake Crouch. His time in the military makes the resistance he faces in the small town that much worse. Or how Harry feels alone until he finds a community in the Wizarding World. I always thought my plots were good enough, but I’m missing a huge part. The resonance achieved by plot elements, character traits, and the rules of the world must play each off the other. I’ve been missing that key consideration so far.
The idea that ghost stories are the beginning of short stories. I would argue that a little bit. Sure they were around in the beginning. But previous stories aren’t always a direct blueprint for what comes after. Hauntings from sight unseen seems an obscure place for short stories to begin with. But isn’t something hanging in your thoughts like that in a literary story? Things lurk in your head from defining moments. Until you deal with them, they hang around haunting you. I agree that ghost stories could be the precursor to literary short stories. That connection could help when I get stuck. Maybe I’ll use it.
Fiction is the bridge between things imagined and things real. Fiction has fictitious parts. It’s in the name after all. But some things connect it with reality. That’s always something. How real the characters feel in fantasy. How some science still works how we think in science fiction. How the sky and the environment is normal in thrillers. But characters are the big things that make something real. Those bits of real are required for the reader to believe that somewhere out in the multi-verse the story is actually possible. In other words, fiction must always be relatable.
Something you’re exposed to serves as inspiration. It doesn’t have to be the most obvious things. If you look hard enough, ruminate hard enough inspiration strikes. Some things work better than others. It’s the writer’s purview to decide what stories to go after. Choosing could very well determine success or failure.
Maps and Legends fills me with hope for the future in writing. There’s a long way to go before I can’t progress further in writing. Writing and reading will never end up on the dust heaps of history. There’s more. Humble roots and inexperience don’t matter. Get your head down and write.
Everyone interacts with the media they consume in a different way. This is my interpretation of what this album means to me. A few places I’ll reference specific verses from AZ Lyrics as needed. I’m trying to make this a lyrical analysis in the vein of literary analysis.
This song combines rapping and singing. A lot of songs these days have that combination. It packs more details into the particular song. Basically, every song on this album has quick sung or spoken statements like this. It’s of note here because the first time I ever heard this enter pop was in a Dido album for 2015, then Bad Blood (Feat. Kendrick Lamar), and then on Ed Sheeran’s albums from + onward. And that’s a trend all over Pop and everything I listen to. I’m a fan of a lot of alternative pop, Halsey, Lana Del Rey, and others.
The song says I want to be someone you can always rely on.
“I wanna be your end game/I wanna be your first string/I wanna be your A-Team/I wanna be your end game”
By the way, Ed Sheeran has a song titled A-Team.
End Game is about two guys courting Taylor. Taylor wants to forget about everything except being in love.
First FUTURE says:
“You so dope, don’t overdose/I’m so stoked, I need a toast”
“You love it, I love it, too, ’cause you my type”
“I just wanna be/Drinking on a beach with you all over me”
Ed Sheeran says:
“Now well, when I was young, we connected/When we were little bit older, both sprung”
“After the storm, something was born on the 4th of July/I’ve passed days without fun, this end game is the one/With four words on the tip of my tongue, I’ll never say it”
The argument is history vs. new and flashy. Both are appealing in different ways, but love is still there no matter how it ends.
Every friendship is different. Sometimes everything clicks and sometimes you don’t know what’s going on, because everything is so restrained. And depending upon how much both sides want it to work it works or doesn’t. That’s not the same as love. Endgame makes me think of friendship though.
It doesn’t matter what everyone thinks, but the person there with you at the end matters.
This song sounds like a whispered confession to me.
The verses are about two relationships that she knew wouldn’t last. But still it worked at first and failed later on. I’ll ignore the news postulating the truth behind the lyrics. Digging too deep into the real lives of famous people disappoints me too frequently for it to be very worthwhile. I’ve read the news a little about the Famous scandal, Tom Hiddleston, Joe Alwyn, and Nicki Minaj. But that’s about it.
“I can feel the flames on my skin/Crimson red paint on my lips/If a man talks shit, then I owe him nothing/I don’t regret it one bit, ’cause he had it coming”
And having a relationship with a playboy is doomed to fail.
“I never trust a playboy, but they love me”
“You gotta leave before you get left’”
A playboy goes through relationships like clothes. Each partner is used and put away for greener pastures with another partner. And the cycle continues. Then throwing names sometimes help.
“But if he drops my name, then I owe him nothin’”
There’s a reference to witch trials.
“They’re burning all the witches”
I was watching a video about the witch trials on OZY. Apparently a majority of woman prosecuted were widows that inherited property. And that seems what this is alluding to. Wealth makes you a target.
The chorus is a few repeating lines:
“They say I did something bad/Then why’s it feel so good?”
That line really puzzled me. According to this avowed Pentecost I talk to, bad things feel good because humans are corrupted all the way through. I dismissed that off-hand. Then maybe the outside appearance of doing bad and everyone outside the situation isn’t entitled to an opinion. That’s my interpretation of what this means.
People can twist things around to make you the bad guy, but that alone can’t make you a bad person.
This song sounds different than everything else on the album.
It’s a few layers of Taylor’s voice through the chorus. I heard something like this in an older Halsey song, Empty Gold and another from Badlands: New Americana.
It sounds like a gospel you would hear from a church choir.
Love is equated to a drug, madness, and a lifetime addiction.
“Don’t blame me, love made me crazy/If it doesn’t, you ain’t doing it right/Lord, save me, my drug is my baby/I’ll be using for the rest of my life”
I agree with those associations, and they aren’t new. Love feels good. And the connection makes people seek out love. And loving someone isn’t sane, omitting the wide acceptability of love. Fear of giving another person so much power to hurt you has a widely recognized name “fear of commitment”. And people look for love all their days, if a few things haven’t gone wrong.
This song is about the search for love. And that’s basically life. That’s why so much media out there is about finding love, holding on to love, and finding peace after love is gone.
One line was interesting.
“I once was poison ivy, but now I’m your daisy”
I think that’s about how before everything looked horrible, and now she’s happy and in love.
Love is something we will always need, and pursuing it isn’t a crime.
This song uses a whispery voice to differentiate thoughts from what’s going on outside.
It starts with wondering if everything is alright.
“Dive bar on the east side, where you at?”
Then later everything is going fine.
“Long night, with your hands up in my hair/…/Stay here, honey, I don’t wanna share”
The chorus is the most telling.
“Is it cool that I said all that?/Is it chill that you’re in my head?/’Cause I know that it’s delicate (delicate)/…/Is it too soon to do this yet?”
That asks if it’s too soon for me talk about this. Do I feel closer to you than you feel to me?
That’s frequently my experience with friendship. I’m an oversharer. And sometimes that tanks a friendship before it’s actually a friendship. Blogging is the perfect way to overshare, hence this blogging journey I’m on. I’m tangled up in anxiety deciding what to share. Is this too much too soon? And when’s the right time? How will I know?
Relationships will always be complicated, but that’s one of the things that make a relationship work, that back and forth.
This song paints a clear picture in my head of a Whodunit stage play. The victim is the lyrics of Famous. And possible perpetrators standing around, Kim, Kanye, and Taylor.
“Don’t like your tilted stage/The role you made me play”
“You said the gun was mine”
Then it goes on a little about betrayal and reversals of fortune.
“I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams”
That line implies that Taylor isn’t the party at fault. Everyone is casting her as an actress playing the villain.
“The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama/But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma”
The rhyming of drama and karma really impressed me at first but a few other words rhyme with drama. Pharma, parma, Dharma, and diorama.
The chorus is odd if you watch the music video.
“Look what you made me do”
That’s basically the justification people use when the do something they question inside. But the music video is about her rebirth as a new character for the media. That doesn’t really feel evil. It feels weak. The events didn’t cause the transformation but coincided. It feels like a woman balancing between being weak and being bitchy. That bugs me, but still I fall to that position as a gut reaction. I think most people feel that gut reaction, but it’s more important what we do after.
Sometimes things are meant to be a certain way, and nothing can change destiny.
I’m trying to forget our troubles, but that’s just not possible.
This is something that happens to me. Everything has two emotional routes in your reaction. Positive and negative. Love and fear of rejection. Jealousy and happiness. Anger and sadness. Boredom and self-loathing. Laughter and embarrassment. Everything has that duality. That’s why stories like Mr. Hyde/Dr. Jekyll, Dorian Grey, and superheroes work so well.
Life happens, and the outcomes can’t be changed too much.
This song didn’t make sense for a long time before I read the dedication in the Taylor Swift Target Exclusive Magazine Volume 1. It’s written for a baby. That explains a few things. And the writer’s want to make it possible that the song is about an adult I think. That’s a really far stretch though.
“That I got drunk and made fun of the way you talk.”
Because isn’t that what we do when we imitate baby talk.
“You should think about the consequence/Of your magnetic field being a little too strong.”
Aren’t we all drawn to the cuteness of babies?
“And I got a boyfriend, he’s older than us”
But isn’t that something you could hypothetically say to a baby when talking about an older person.
“You’re so cool, it makes me hate you so much”
This sounds a lot like that phrase “something makes my face as smooth as a baby’s bottom”. Those anti-aging commercials make me feel like they speak to the jealousy and slight anger that the young are young. And that’s a far stretch too.
“You’ve ruined my life, by not being mine”
That reminds me of the joke some people used to make about children: You’re so adorable, I wouldn’t mind taking you home with me.
”’Cause look at your face”
That really doesn’t mean a thing unless that face is a universal symbol of cuteness, or being gorgeous. Because people can be pretty in different ways.
“That I’m talking to everyone here but you”
That seems like something you would say to a baby, right?
“If you got a girlfriend, I’m jealous of her/But if you’re single that’s honestly worse”
Isn’t that another joke people make? A baby having the responsibilities of an adult. Like a job. Maybe a girlfriend. That’s basically the premise of Boss Baby.
“Ocean blue eyes looking in mine/I feel like I might sink and drown and die”
I have sometimes experienced this jealousy for a baby with it’s whole life ahead and all the open possibilities. And sometimes a wish that things could’ve been different when I was younger. Basically that’s the question “would you like a do-over? Would you do the same things again?”
Love between her and someone else that remained her secret.
“I, I loved you in secret”
“My, my love had been frozen/Deep blue, but you painted me golden”
She’d wilted from love, and his love made her capable of love again.
“I could’ve spent forever with your hands in my pockets/Picture of your face in an invisible locket”
The way she loved him meant she was okay with loving him and keeping it her personal secret.
“You said there was nothing in the world that could stop it/I had a bad feeling”
He’s in love with her, but she didn’t think it would work out.
“And darling, you had turned my bed into a sacred oasis/People started talking, putting us through our paces/I knew there was no one in the world who could take it”
They were together, then people started to find out. That pulled them apart.
“But we were dancing/Dancing with our hands tied”
They can still spend time together, but not together like we were.
“I, I loved you in spite of/Deep fears that the world would divide us/So, baby, can we dance/Oh, through an avalanche?”
She still loves him. Can they be together again? At least they’ll have this. She would do anything to have this.
”And say, say that we got it/I’m a mess, but I’m the mess that you wanted/Oh, ’cause it’s gravity Oh, keeping you with me”
Everyone still sees the love between them even though they aren’t “together”. They are perfect for each other. It was inevitable they would be together.
“I’d kiss you as the lights went out/Swaying as the room burned down/I’d hold you as the water rushes in/If I could dance with you again”
If they end up in the same room again, she wouldn’t be afraid. She wouldn’t allow anything to between them.
The part about loving in secret used to be me, except it was a secret kept from me too, for years. I have experienced romantic one-way love and could never act on it. I’ve had to be satisfied with hiding it away like this song starts. Sometimes I feel like I’m living with my hands tied because of Duchesne muscular dystrophy. If I could be normal, I could do so much more.
Nothing should stop love. Until you realize that’s the point of life.
This song is obvious in meaning but a few things stood out to me.
“Our secret moments/In your crowded room/They’ve got no idea/About me and you/…/Made your mark on me/A golden tattoo”
No one see what’s between us, but it’s deep. We love each other.
This reminds me of the way social gathering feel like to me. I’m really good at one-on-one conversations and suck a talking in groups.
“All of this silence and patience, pining and anticipation”
This is longing for something.
I long for a lot of things but mainly getting cured.
“I don’t want you like a best friend”
I’ve always thought that was the ideal way for love to develop. Best friends falling in love.
“And if I get burned, at least we were electrified”
It doesn’t matter if this relationship implodes, at least we had these moments.
Basically my philosophy for life is “it’s better to have loved and lost than not having loved at all.” Or “it’s always better to know any experience even just once”. And not repeating it might as well hurt like hell, but it was worth it. My life has a lot of lasts. Last time I walked. Last time I breathed for myself. Last time I talked.
“Everyone thinks that they know us/But they know nothing about”
People know what we allow them to know. And they can never know/understand everything even if we tell them.
“Even in my worst times, you could see the best of me”
I can never do wrong in his eyes. He loves everything about me.
How we are together matters. And what everyone thinks doesn’t matter.
It’s about a New Year’s party that’s a microcosm for how to love.
“There’s glitter on the floor after the party”
The party was fun but it’s over now. We have great times together, but after.
“Don’t read the last page/…/I want your midnights/But I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day”
After the party, the good times are over. That doesn’t matter. How we are together when things aren’t so good really matters. It doesn’t matter how this will end, but right now we love each other. That’s what matters. I don’t want lose you, because we are great together.
“You squeeze my hand three times in the back of the taxi/I can tell that it’s gonna be a long road/I’ll be there if you’re the toast of the town, babe/Or if you strike out and you’re crawling home “
It started out simple but I could tell it was going to be something. I’ll be with you through good, bad, and everything.
“Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you/And I will hold on to you”
Remember what we had, because it was something important that you’ll want to remember, and I’ll never forget.
“Please don’t ever become a stranger/Whose laugh I could recognize anywhere”
I don’t want to lose you and just remember what we had.
This is the ideal love I have in mind. Finding someone that sticks with you through good or bad.
Love is about choosing to be together no matter what and mutually not wanting it to end.
reputation is a coming to maturity album, becoming a fully fledged adult by accepting you can’t make everyone like/understand you. That’s the difference between adulting and staying a whiny adult. Everybody won’t like you, and what you do with that informs a lot of your future.
This album is all about accepting that perception of other people. Two people can grow together. What people think can change a little (…Ready For It?). We look for the person that will be with us at the end. I doesn’t matter what people think, if it can work (Endgame). Sometimes people won’t understand and nothing can change that (I Did Something Bad). There’s nothing wrong with looking for love, because it’s something people do (Don’t Blame Me). We can’t know everything in advance, but that makes life interesting (Delicate). People get what’s coming to them (Look What You Made Me Do). Life happens and what we do can’t change much (So It Goes…). (Sometimes things happen that change us in strange ways (Gorgeous). Things happen and only those involved in the matter have a say (Getaway Car). We find love in unexpected places that might not be approved of by everyone (King of My Heart). Love between two people doesn’t have to be known by others (Dancing With Our Hands Tied and Dress). Sharing something can ruin it (This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things). Everything else going on doesn’t matter except in the way we feel about it (Call It What You Want). Love is something special that can be elusive but well worth it (New Year’s Day).
New Year’s Day sounds a little like what people expect when two people in love don’t ever have plans to get married. Like how Gorgeous is a little about babies.
I’m listening to Taylor Swift on repeat since the release of her sixth album reputation a few weeks ago. I have always looked up to her as role model of success and creativity. That seems a little ridiculous when I started writing at 23, a full six years after Taylor Swift made her debut. It seems impossible I’ll ever get anything published at this point, but I’m going to try. A lot of things motivate me. So far, I’ve never been able to get those reasons all fleshed out on the page. This is my attempt at doing just that with a few references to Taylor Swift’s musical journey as seen through the eyes of a fan.
reputation has a deeper theme that becomes clear after listening to Taylor Swift’s previous albums. There’s a big difference between the version of you that’s projected out to the crowd, and the real version people close to you see. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust discusses various identities you go through as you change and grow through life.
reputation then goes a step further by saying there are multiple ways to see that duality. The difference between the best version of you and the worst version, light and dark for the sake of brevity. Then the version you put on social media and the real you. That feels like a cheap attempt to tap into the current Zeitgeist. The songs aren’t about fabricating an identity on social media. I admit showing that with music is tricky. But Taylor Swift accomplished that in You Belong With Me (from Fearless). Turning that into a whole album is very difficult.
And the lighter parts are easier to share than the darker parts. That’s because of the social unacceptability, and the fear that indulging in darkness can make you into a horrible person. Of course fearing you’ll become evil is a sign of goodness right?
The struggle is finding the courage to be yourself with people spouting their ideas of who you’re supposed to be.
I could make this into a post supporting that conclusion. The cover booklet of reputation starts with a brief note explaining the meaning of the album. That storyline feels superfluous.
This is about my experience with that transformation. Starting overly concerned with what a few people thought to not caring what other people think about me.
As a teenager and until a few years ago, I would say I don’t care what other people think. I didn’t fit in with other kids. Those themed days we had in high school. Well, I didn’t participate. I didn’t stay in the corner assigned to disabled students. I wanted to go to regular classes with non-disabled students. I was in all Honors classes. I scored academically like a normal students. For all intents, I refused to be typecast. That seems like not caring what other people think, except that was what my parents expected from me.
My parents never put pressure on me to achieve academically. I was just trying to be like my parents to feel closer to them. That’s something I always wanted to feel, love. Pursuing the same aspirations made me feel closer to them.
I always craved affection in a tangible form.
In order to feel something from the reticent displays of affection provided by my parents, my unconscious amplified my emotions. That way I could feel close to them. That’s the biggest problem I face, extreme emotions. It’s even bigger than my physical condition of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I’m not trying to level charges against my parents. They tried the best they could and the best they knew. Without them I wouldn’t be alive today. There’s no doubt in my mind.
Those extreme emotions made me very clingy to friends and people in my life as a kid. That meant my friendships didn’t last very long. It was an intense friendship in my mind but really annoying to my friends. It was frequently like the friendship between Erika and Clementine in Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty which I happen to be reading at the time of writing this.
Then I went into the phase of just following approved behavior.
Being that strange was too painful. All my emotions became subdued and locked away. The resulting anger from suppressing everything turned inward. Wondering what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like everyone else? Why am I messed up?
That’s what we train men to be in this society. To suppress emotions we don’t deem acceptable for men. Anger is allowed. Slight sadness. And happiness. Everything else should be suppressed away or bad things happen. Being alone. Insults and perhaps the insinuation you’re gay. That means everything has to be converted to anger and thus become acceptable. Slowly that’s starting to change. Suppressing emotions is unhealthy. It leads to trouble expressing emotions, and difficulty explaining what’s going on inside. That leads to troubling things like suicide and loneliness.
Being socially acceptable is the goal of Taylor Swift’s eponymous first album. It’s about innocence, love, and anger that’s a little cute. That’s how this story starts. Fearless and Speak Now follow that same pattern and camouflages the rest.
A song like White Horse shows exactly what I mean. I wasn’t listening that close to the lyrics, but it didn’t sound sad to me. It sounded like it was saying I don’t want you anymore. The music video shows a sad messy breakup.
My isolation and social ineptitude continued through high school and three semesters of college. Then reality caught up to me. I have Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Around 18–24, people with my disease get into breathing issues. I got my first pneumonia. It was a few days in the hospital. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. My dreams of going to college were dashed. I tried summer classes and online classes. My health requirements were too much, 8 hours sleep and breathing treatments.
That sent me into depression.
My extreme emotions make me highly susceptible to depression. If you’re feeling too much, it’s easier to just tune everything out than deal with it. That especially happens when an onslaught of bad emotions hit me. There was nothing except clearing my lungs and airways, sleeping, stuffing my stomach, and watching C-SPAN. I was steadily losing weight from expending too much energy breathing. And I was home alone with a PCA, all day.
Three years into my depression, I got a trach. That was freaky for the first two years. I couldn’t sleep overnight because a nurse was sitting in my room. An emergency situation happened in the first two months, I couldn’t breathe. I got sick every few months after. It was deadly not to care, the way depression made me. I needed to mediate to stay calm and not go crazy from breathing through a tube that could clog at any moment. It was a new experience, having a trach and a ventilator to breathe.
There was one good thing to those first years with a trach. I got a stomach tube. Slowly I got up to weight. From 63 to 117 pounds.
My back is really messed up. It’s curved like an S because my back muscles weakened too much before my back was fused to a stable state. After surgery, my curvature was 50 degrees. That surgery happened when I was 15.
That means getting a trach tube to fit my curvaceous airway is tricky. My brilliant ENT doc found a trach that worked for me. Unfortunately, that trach tube is really tricky to change. With my curvature, any correctly fitted trach is difficult to insert.
My brilliant ENT doc had trouble changing out my trach.
There are several layers of flesh between the outside of the throat and the airway the trach tube sits in. So the doc pulled the old trach. He tried putting in the new trach. It was a ton of force on my neck. The connections between my airway and chest were hurting probably at five out of ten, but let me tell you that was nothing. The trach tube didn’t go in.
When changing a trach, they always have a smaller trach if the correct size can’t be inserted. That smaller trach went in. At that point, I hadn’t breathed for about a minute.
My ventilator was hooked up. The breath didn’t come. I had intense pain in my neck.
The trach had gone between the layers of flesh in my neck. The trach wasn’t in my airway. I told them I couldn’t breathe. I was looking at this innocent ENT resident across the room from me.
The doctor pulled the trach. He called for a trach tray to re-establish my airway. Luckily, that wasn’t required. My brilliant ENT doc got the trach into my airway finally. Then, I was breathing again. I remember the events with a precision that happens when you almost stop breathing.
I also remember what was going through my head. I looked at that innocent resident. I wondered what would be the emotional fallout for him, that fellow Indian if I died in that room.
I’ll ruin you.
At least my life would have a lasting mark beyond the heartache my passing would cause. I was desperate for my life to mean something in those last moments. I no longer cared if it would be something good. Facing death strips everything away and leaves behind something you can’t guess.
Then an eerie calm took over my head.
So this is the last thing I’ll see.
My vision went yellow. It was like looking through amber at the world. Then everything started to look normal again. The resident was scared. Man was he scared.
That’s probably projected emotion. In difficult situations, you project your emotional states on other people or things, effectively removing them from your person.
I stayed the night and had to be put under to get my correct trach put in.
That made me question my life. Which is common after what I experienced. Is this what I want? Sitting around and just surviving day to day. What’s the point? Keep in mind I was depressed around that time. That’s when I thought about what I could do. I have a ton of time to think about stuff when people do medical things to me. That became meditation, at first. Then something that had been a desire from years ago resurfaced. That dream was to write science fiction.
That’s when my transformation starts.
Taylor Swift’s trajectory radically changed with Red. That album was happy at times, but it was usually sad. The end of a relationship, liking danger, sadness, and the fact of love love being elusive. Off hand, I remember just a few songs that were happy, Begin Again, State of Grace, and Everything Has Changed.
I wrote the most acceptable science fiction story possible and heavily obfuscated the darker elements. It was a crisp, clean, bright future. That doesn’t make a good story in itself. Then, I added memory and cryosleep elements to make a story. I thought I wasn’t good enough, so I wrote heavily wrought prose.
Some quirks were there because my parents have basically reversed gender roles. My father takes care of people better. My mom likes dealing with things instead. My father is more emotional than my mom. They even stand like the opposite gender. My mom stands on both feet. My dad favors one leg. That explains the strange gender roles I put in my first book.
I noticed a few other strange things. It could be argued that the supporting female character was actually the protagonist. In the length of the novel, she’s the hero. But in each individual scene, the main character, a man is the hero. Anyway, I enjoyed writing from a woman’s perspective more than I thought possible.
That’s based on me being hetero-normative. I can love women in a romantic sense. That extends to writing from a woman’s POV. I can’t have a romantic relationship with all the duties I need to complete for my survival. I even wrote a song that states my case. It will probably be really sad. I’m self-conscious putting it up here.
The Way I Remember You
You go your way
I’ll go mine
In the end what happens, who can say?
But I’ll never forget you,
The way I remember you.
Love escaped me in the dark.
Lost to the brightness of day.
Light wasn’t there for me then.
It never came my way without you.
I can never be without you
Not even for a day.
Everyone around us
Has only what we can dream.
We can only be onlookers
On what everyone else has seen.
You go your way
I’ll go mine
In the end what happens, who can say?
But I’ll never forget you
The way I remember you.
We never know when our time will come
It’ll not be in forever, but some day.
Until then, we try to experience what was lost
What we can never find again
The love of another we can’t be without.
The trouble we can’t live without.
There’s accusation in those eyes
Eyes I’ll never see again.
You go your way
I’ll go mine
In the end what happens, who can say?
But I’ll never forget you
The way I remember you.
That was fun, right?
If you love someone that’s out of your reach, than imitating them makes you feel closer to them. Like reading something, they like reading. Doing something they like doing. It’s like the fan wanting be like the star. And the closest you can get is falling in love. Which is what happened in Black Swan, this compelling psychological thriller movie that came out in 2008.
Nina wants to be a natural dancer like Lily. Nina dreams of sleeping with Lily.
In Taylor Swift’s 1989, she starts to own everything that has gone wrong. She might get hurt. People might not understand what’s going on. All that doesn’t matter, because she just wants to be herself. It doesn’t matter what that means to everybody else.
My second book, the Remember Sequel was an excursion into everything that Remember wasn’t. With Remember, I avoided sex. The characters from Remember were stumbling around in the dark while everything miraculously worked out for the best. In the sequel, they were self-aware enough to see the end and help it along.
I’d focused a ton on making Remember based in reality. That limited my science fiction. In the Sequel, I abandoned that constraint.
The first character I wrote in the Sequel was sexy in everything she did, like Tiffany in Truly Madly Guilty. And she was looking for something she couln’t have, durable love. She was a compelling character I enjoyed to write.
Taylor Swift’s reputation has more allusions to sex than her previous albums, in songs like Dress and So It Goes….
Wildest Dreams was the closest to that from 1989.
Then I started Book 2, The Trouble with Dreams. It has a deep thesis that a perfect life doesn’t exist. And involves more sex. Sex is one of those things that should be hidden away to make people comfortable, like religion, race, mental health, and sadness. I still didn’t have the guts to actually write erotica yet, but I had to read some not to accidentally write it. Labels mean a lot.
What’s in a name except meaning?
A few months ago I would have said nothing is in a name except a shared definition.
Then I finally wrote something pieces that looked professional. The first was kosher. Then second was PG-13. The fourth was erotica. It had to happen eventually, right? I have no firsthand experience, but it seems nice. And it’s a part of growing up. It’s the modern day’s rite of passage like hunting was long ago.
I can write whatever is required in service of a particular story.
The shedding of what other people think of me has been the biggest evolution of my writing in these five years I’ve been at it.
That’s one of the most used writing phrases out there. It’s become a cliché. But what does that mean? Banalities frequently stick in my head. There’s a bigger lesson to be learned from simple phrases such as that one.
Writing that reflects first-hand experience feels more real than pure fiction. What’s the cause of that feeling? I ask myself that question a ton. Why do I feel, guilty for example? That’s what meditation is currently for me. Why am I feeling this way? The feeling that something is real or pops off the page. What determines the difference? I need to know to write well.
My experiences seem far removed from the everyday life of most people, hence the moniker, Radical Thinker. That comes from a few personality quirks. I don’t listen to other people unless some avenue of proof is available. Of course, that precludes generally accepted theories like science and any reasonable thought process. Still, external confirmation. That process invites deep thought and learning stuff through observation. Add that to the differences in my emotional landscape discussed here. Adding that to my medical condition gives me different experiences than the average functioning adult. I bridge that gap by observing and using my imagination for the rest. Like going to work. Like dating. Like being in a relationship. Like playing a cello. Like having bipolar depression. Like basically anything within the bounds of reality.
It can’t ever be the real thing. There’s something missing. The most impactful details are remembered. The rest is forgotten. Doing that in a fictional construct is really difficult. Those imaginings aren’t real. They fade away like a dream after you wake up.
I have two examples for you guys. First the song lyrics from Taylor Swift’s autobiographical song Out of the Woods.
That has the quality I was talking about. There’s just enough detail to seem real. It supposedly is. Two details. The camera and where they were. Giving just enough detail is nearly impossible without first-hand experience. The compilation of what should be remembered and what shouldn’t is one way to get the feeling of reality.
I have another example of feeling real. It taps into another method, the relatability of something. It’s from Ella Dawson’s blog, Post Grad Warriors. I’m a fan of her writing, read this for more.
That’s basically what happens to everyone after college. Sometimes you drift away from your college friends. And sometimes you’re bound for life.Sometimes you connect with people that were there in the background. Still, there’s connection. Still, there’s shared experience.
First, there was the music, strobe lights, sweaty people, and the way they danced. That’s more than three senses, but this is an overwhelming place, a nightclub. So three senses make you feel you’re there. More depending on how intense the situation is. Fewer than three if it’s boring like a long sink to the seafloor. Sight first. Sound next if it matters, or smell. Something along those lines.
That’s a change for me, this checklist of senses.
Something else showed up when I wrote a couple of short stories. I actually have relatable personal experiences. They’re all personal emotional experiences. That’s where my extreme emotions come into play. Exploring their root causes is an added tool given to me by mediation.
That started as figuring out how to write creative non-fiction. Read this one, that one, and that other one for more. I used those new skills to write this post for Medium and this other one for BayArt. Writing non-fiction helped this change come about. I’m all about cross-application of knowledge and lessons learned.
That carried over to fiction writing where it could. I’ll write up a short paragraph on the feeling of guilt I felt this morning. Here it is:
Guilt is that nagging feeling, the perpetual elephant stalking you from room to room, everywhere you go. It starts small, like the way big things always start. It seems insignificant at first. Then it grows and grows until it’s an elephant on your chest. It doesn’t have to be an elephant. Most guilt isn’t that severe. It’s a rock in your shoe that doesn’t go away until it’s dealt with. It’s an annoyance that hurts the more it’s in there. There are ways to scrub away the annoyance, the weight hanging around you. All it takes is an apology, but it’s not as easy as saying sorry. You get caught in the doldrums of your anxiety. Is an apology required in this situation? It’s not just you against your guilt. There’s another person involved, the one you wronged.
Are they hurt? Did the mistake bother you more than it should? Does the aggrieved see the wrong as you would, as you do? If not, there’s the pickle. Should you apologize and risk highlighting your mistake, your error. Well if you did, the elephant disappears, the rock vanishes. Then you get to pick up the cards dropped where they may fall. You have to move on and forget the turn in your fortune. What was once peaceful friendship became your torture for a while, but you mustn’t forget it. Those that forget are soon to repeat mistakes anew. Those that conjure the elephant, those that create the stone are always there. Never repeat the mistake, never call guilt forth. Mistakes are human, and we are human after all. But humans can change, and so can we.
There. My example of writing what I know. Guilt as the case is.
I finished reading How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frev. It gave me things to learn I frequently ignore. A few tips redefined a few things like what to explain and what to leave out. The book is about writing dramatic stories, not the literary I frequently write. My literary pieces have a strong dramatic storyline and a deep internal conflict. The lessons learned are invaluable in improving my writing.
The character must be fathomable. Explain their motivations, character attributes, and decision-making process. My writing process directly opposes this requirement. I establish a new thought pattern in my head to match the character I’m writing. That’s only possible because I’ve spent nearly a decade and a half mediating. Acting out physical traits isn’t something my diseased body is capable of. That mental model is as close as I can get. Thinking like your character makes the motivations, character attributes, and decision-making process apparent and self-explanatory. It should be second nature. Stuff that doesn’t feel wrong as that character. Everything except that particular action feels wrong. Putting that on paper isn’t tricky at all, except I never know how much to put down. This book helped a lot. Include everything required to understand the characters.
Each scene should be a story in its own right. The scenes should have all the pieces of a story. A beginning setting up the conflict. A middle of rising tension. Finally a build up to the conclusion. When a book has that it’s difficult to stop reading. A perfect example is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It followed that pattern. Each scene was a story in its own right.
There needs to be a connection of causality between scenes. Watch this, the best discussion on causality that appears in a feature film in my opinion. The events must require the events prior to lead up to them. A connects to B, then C. The web of causality must connect from one to the next. Again this is exemplified in Dark Matter. Of course, literary novels frequently forgo that rules. But getting things in line helps to justify those tangents literary is famous for.
Dialogue should also follow the structure of a story. No conflict in dialogue means it can be rewritten or scrapped. Standard conversations we have every day can easily be reduced to one summarizing sentence. We talk about this or that.
Sometimes things go down. You come away reeling and need to spew everything to someone you trust. Those are the sorts of conversations dialogue should be. I noticed that in my first novel. The lunchroom conversations were boring to read but the arguments were impactful. Leaving out the daily dribble of conversation helped my story beyond measure.
Reading How to Write a Damn Good Novel and Dark Matter in a basic requirement for any writer. The theory expressed in the book about writing is exemplified in Dark Matter. Read both and get back to me. Kidding.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why didn’t you let your tears come? Don’t you think you’re cutting out emotion unnecessarily?
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.
This previous summer, I went to my ten-year high school reunion. I think the best thing is to describe how I was during High School. I was shy and more anti-social than anyone I knew. A lot of things that could have broken my shyness came my way, but I’d always been too stubborn to let it take. I made a few loose friends during school hours, and that was everything I knew about being social. And I was satisfied with that. Frequently, I was lonely and my imagination grew to fill the space. That’s how I coped.
Anyway, that was over ten years ago. It’s kind of embarrassing that I’ve been looking forward to the reunion for around five years at the point it was announced. I had developed a few ideas about reunions that likely fit with my emotional state through a vast number of years after high school. I had misconceptions about the whole thing. I thought two kinds of people went to reunions. First, those that had their best years in High School. That fit with the jealousy I had for people that could navigate the social landscape way better than I ever could. Then, the people that wanted to show everyone how they had changed since High School. I put myself into that group even though I hadn’t changed a ton until two-three years ago. I credit meditation and writing with those changes. Being ignorant in social matters doesn’t work for a writer, writing, and marketing. I was wrong. Popular media is way off.
I went as a test for myself and to see people from years ago. There were a few things I needed to know about myself. A personal test motivates me the most. I needed to check if I wanted to talk to people and could overcome my anxiety/insecurity/shyness. Basically, if everything I’d worked on was good enough. Also, I wanted to test if I could use my new communication device in a social setting with real world conditions. And if I could network and hand out business cards. And if having someone driving my chair worked good enough.
I went in with my nurse, a wheelchair driver, and the medical supplies I always have with me. I meet one of the people I’d wanted to see. We had a nice conversation, and I gave a business card. Success! And somehow I engaged in a conversation with someone new I never remembered meeting before. That has never happened in my entire life, if you can believe that. The device wasn’t loud enough in the ambient noise of the reunion. Using the device was much harder with the distraction of the people around but still manageable. A few people called my name and I smiled at them. I had no idea they wanted to talk to me until near the end. Communicating that to my driver was near impossible. I couldn’t think at my best in the slight crowd. I could’ve typed it on my device but it never occurred to me. At that point, I decided to go out to the patio for something different.
I meet the other person I’d wanted to see out there. The device didn’t work outside. I tried for a solid 30 minutes it seemed like. Then I figured out having the device up was sending the same message as if I was using my phone. I put the device down and returned to the person I was in High School. I silently nodded and smiled while other people talked in front of me and other people spoke for me. I wanted to talk the whole time though. It was two hours into the reunion by then.
I returned to the main reunion room. I would have to leave within thirty minutes to make it into bed sometime before eleven. By eight thirty, I had to leave. A have a ton of medical stuff to do before going to sleep. By the time I was back inside, people were beginning to get drunk. The late arrivals were sober still. I don’t drink and rarely eat anything through my mouth. A few people looked stunned to see me. Another test passed. I could finally read facial expressions.
I was disconnected from my emotions, facial expressions, and physical manifestations for so long that determining facial expressions in others was impossible. I always had intense emotions and during high school everything was buried for some degree of normalcy. That hid a large part of the social learning most people were going through in the teen years. That reunion night, I read facial expressions and responded with my own instinctually. I got the expression of stunned then surprise. I hurriedly looked away as she looked into my eyes. Accidentally, they moved up in an eye roll. If anything, I was too honest. You’re surprised I showed up? Well, I don’t care. I’m here, deal with it. At that point, I didn’t have anyone else I’d wanted to see.
I wanted to talk to people that used be unapproachable. I could use the device indoors. Typing up phrase before hand is a must at parties and crowded places. Sometimes reading the communication device is easier than hearing what it says sometimes. The backup system is abysmal in comparison, allowing people to speak for me. I need to drive my chair around. Body language is a huge part of social interaction. It’s not something that can be delegated.
It was a learning experience, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll fix all the mistakes I made. I rarely make a mistake more than once these days. I’ll figure out this social stuff like I figured out everything else. Nothing can stop me. Hard work can get you anything. Here are a few words about change from Tony Robbins.
“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I started. First, I made a reference image from stock I found on Unsplash.
I drew shapes.
I merged and divided shapes so everything was at a depth of one layer.
I colored the squares.
I made shadows.
Finally, I blocked out the text.
I combined all the layers.
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.