Planting Ideas and Watching Them Grow

The process of generating ideas and expanding them is the most fun for me. I’ve always been an idea person. I also like trying to find the possible basis for an idea. For example, what’s the source for a story like Shutter Island? I think of it as a combination of the process of going insane, investigating the supernatural, and solving a crime. That was fun. Never thought through that story idea before. It explains it for me, but that probably isn’t the truth.

 

All ideas start as a seed from something we see in our daily lives. It doesn’t have to be something completely external. Frequently, it’s something that resonates with something inside. Anyone else witnessing the same event doesn’t feel the same way you do. Once the idea is planted, it can either grow or die right there. That process is the same, no matter if it’s a story idea or something that makes you see the world differently.

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Ideas come in two fashions. We have an epiphany or just a realization/new idea. An epiphany is a realization that you can’t go back from. An idea that changes everything, and there’s no way back. This happens to me generally over an internal struggle I’m having.

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A few years ago, I struggled with reawakening my emotions. My writing was emotionless and felt inauthentic. I needed to remember how it felt to really feel. Then things started building gradually up to something, an epiphany. I started seeing changes in my writing. I wasn’t struggling like I once used to, figuring out what a character should feel. I knew how those emotions would manifest externally. I started feeling more useless than I have in a long time. I stopped blowing off emotional passages in books. And then, the epiphany came. One night I was ridiculously bored. Then this horrible feeling took me over. I felt intensely hungry, not for food, but everything I had denied myself. Things like friends, honesty, connecting with people, and being myself. I felt angry and sad that I had denied those things for so long. Then the epiphany came. That was everything I was hiding from for most of my life. That was why I was afraid to feel. I knew I would never allow myself to return to hiding. Nothing would bring me back to that scared kid hiding in the dark.

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Finding a new story idea has a fraction of that energy. Ideas come from connecting two tidbits of information you’ve learned. They are two things you’ve never put together before. For example the Earth and teleportation. That’s how this one came along.

 

The Earth is really one big machine that can teleport.

 

And combining Wiccan rituals with technology.

 

Ritualistic technology: A different society of humans with slightly different technology. Wiccan tech fusion.

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Those ideas can grow into something bigger if more thought is applied. The ability to put together two things you’ve never put together before is free association. I personally employ meditation to help enhance free association. Frequently, I ask a question to myself. What are issues average people go through? An idea prompt if you will.  Am I good enough at something? Rock star and nerd. A famous rock star holes up in his bedroom practicing during an after party. I prepared an example from my list of story ideas.

 

For a while, I’ve been toying with the superhero genre. How to change everything that’s going on around superheroes into something I want to write? Combing everyone with powers, superheroes, and aliens experimenting on humans for amusement. I got aliens drop masks across the globe and everyone gets superpowers. Where’s the story conflict? Superpowers make everyone do bad things. One person is trying to turn everyone back. The mask didn’t work for him. He lost everyone he cares about and wants them back. The superpowered want to stop him.

 

I kept expanding and got this.

 

Superhero mask idea #2. Masks fall, everyone gets, everyone keeps. Except one guy the mask doesn’t work on. He keeps looking to figure out how masks work. He was relevant scientist that can reverse engineer the device. The masked put someone on him to stop him from finishing or kill him. Dr. Good set up a dampening field against physical manifestations of strong powers, strong enough to kill. Toxic powers and non-harmful physical changes allowed. Everyone lives in fear of the Evil Eight or some coalition of evil masked. One of which, Scarlet is a shaper, mind hacker, and love toxic. She watches him work trying to kill him with bodies she puts on. She accesses his mind and temporarily becomes them. She turns into his super brilliant PhD student and actually helps. It doesn’t hurt Dr. Good was crushing severely. She gets a kiss and thinks she won. He escapes with an antidote he worked from a sample of her toxin. He gets back to work. Other evils turn up. He watches them outside. They drag him out. Right before he dies, a Mega shows up. Megas are people with prior inclinations and super-super powered so they stop caring for masks, evils, goods, humans, aliens, and life. They’re all powerful and don’t care. This Mega is unfathomably strong. He plucks everyone up to his cloud palace. Masks stop working. Mega turns everyone to help with his mind hacking and shaper abilities. Scarlet helps most as anyone he needs. Mega descends and enslaves everyone. Scarlet falls in love with Dr. Good. Dr. Good defeats Mega, masks, and evils. Scarlet driven insane. Masks bolster each other. With weakened masks, she can’t keep everything straight. Mask has fused to face. Dr. Good turns Mega to save her and almost looses himself. Scarlet brings him down. After Dr. Good becomes himself, Scarlet leaves him. Or maybe she has already fallen in love as herself.

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I wrote a part for book 2, The Trouble With Dreams about my process of choosing what to write in a particular scene. This is a short excerpt from The Trouble With Dreams. One notable difference, meditation instead of LSD.

 

The novel started with Drystan talking on the phone with a flirty client. Michael imagined a boyishly handsome guy of average stature, if a little thin. Melisande from accounts came around for the daily client information pickup. As a security measure, account information was on paper. It was a messy reason for their first meeting. Melisande was new to the company. Drystan was uncomfortable with the new recruit around. Fawn colored hair tied into a ponytail. A soft comfortable face to be around that wasn’t pretty enough to bring on thoughts of insecurity or so dull as to be bland. He felt like he had known her for years but they just meet. Later a fraudulent payee, brought Drystan down to her office. He spent a few minutes with Melisande looking over his shoulder. Drystan felt things he had never before.

Later that evening, they discovered they had been neighbors for a few weeks and never meet. Their relationship evolved into a deep friendship. A few things happened to draw them together, until they were having friendly dinners. A superstrom in Florida, where she was from, and getting locked out of her apartment after getting stuck jogging through a number of rain bursts, among other things. Michael remembered the getting locked out incident.

 


 

Drystan opened the door to Melisande drenched all the way through after jogging. He wasn’t sure exactly what was going on.

“Hi. I need my spare key. I got locked out.”

“Sure.” Drystan got his bunch of keys. “This is the sticky key right?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want help?”

“I really don’t care at this point.”

They walked next door to 117. Drystan dropped to his knees with her right near him. The key went in with some jiggling. A sideways push seated the key. A warm humid presence at his back was comforting. He turned the key with a grunt and the door opened. Melisande went inside. Drystan stood there looking at her. Melisande had removed her t-shirt, hung the dripping garment over her shoulder. With each breath, water dripped down from her equally wet sports bra. The drips smoothed out and rolled off.

“Do you want to come in, Drys?”

“What?” He cleared his throat. “No.” How much he wanted kiss her surfaced, but he couldn’t move beyond his doubts. Drystan thought about what could have been if he wasn’t anxious all time and a better person. He would have kissed her breathless, made her warm, and taken on some of her wetness. The images of what he wanted to do to her flashed through his head. Melisande had tried making the first move, but he freaked out. If he had the desire, she would accept him. He wasn’t ready, and it hurt.

Melisande said, “Thank you for everything, Drystan.” She held his arm.

Drystan wanted the feeling to last, but didn’t have it in him. “No big deal and you’re welcome.”

“Later Drys.”

“Bye.” He couldn’t bring himself to say her name. She shut the door and Drystan left hating everything he couldn’t do.

 


 

Michael ingested the drugged slice of LSD. He remembered the outline. A few more dinners and Drystan suggested they try dating. Getting Melisande to understand the semantic difference took some time. The first few dates happened without much difference. Their second kiss was far from perfect. Their first night together was embarrassing for Drystan. They ended up making out and fall asleep, clothes once removed.

Michael set aside his laptop, closed his eyes, and allowed the drug to take him into the story as Drystan, Melisande, or both. He woke up as Drystan, dressed in something comfortable. Finding her in his bed was freaky and oddly soothing at the same time. He made coffee, something Michael didn’t do in real life. He got the cereal. Then he saw Melisande, putting on the same clothes as the night before. Anything unimportant to the story skipped through. The cereal tasted like nothing except a starchy paste similar to papier-mâché glue. The coffee was good and the breakfast left her bored. Maybe they should go to that place around the corner. She suggested it to Drystan. He agreed.

She showered first. Drys ate his cereal and watched TV to keep his mind off the fact that she was feet away. It troubled him now, even though she was bathing a few additional feet away the day before. It was frustrating he couldn’t take her when she wanted. If he had been more of a man then or now, they would be so much closer than they already were. He was mad at his impotence. Drystan got a glimpse of her dressing through the open bathroom door. It felt exciting and risqué, basically anything could happen. They left the apartment after Melisande made a short trip to her apartment.

Breakfast arrived at the dinner that Michael could see as if he was actually there. Drystan extended his hand to meet hers. He still wanted to feel closer to her, so he moved around to the other side and slide across his plate. Holding hands wasn’t enough. Drystan held her leg and drew circles on the inside of her thigh. Melisande held his forearm in tension. What if someone saw them and thought the worse. She relaxed after realizing she shouldn’t care, in truth, Michael realized it. With breakfast finished, she turned his head for a kiss.

Michael dived into Drystan’s head. His anxiety had taken root and begun to flourish. Worries flooded his head. What if we kiss too long? What if I gag at the taste of food in her mouth? What if I choke on spit? The worries grew more absurd. What if a car dives into the building and we don’t see it coming? What if an Earthquake cracks open the floor and swallows them? What if they weren’t supposed to be together? What if his true love was watching them kiss, and that ruined the possibility of true love? What if I ruined everything with my anxiety? What if I mess up this kiss? The worries swirling around were too much. He had to do something to make it stop.

Drystan slapped her. A small laugh echoed across the back of Michael’s head. Michael agreed it was funny, but did he want it to happen? It worked on a few levels. Drystan reacted to anxiety with a physical response. The slap is an effeminate gesture. He did something against his best interests, characteristic of anxiety, something that’s good in some conditions but generally self-harming. It worked as well as seating the key.

Melisande looked at him, glum and a hand pressed to her cheek. Drystan said sorry, I don’t know what came over me. A guy came up to Melisande, asking if she was okay. Another guy came up to Drystan lecturing him about hitting women. He froze and couldn’t say anything. The guy threw Drystan into standing. The lecture continued. Melisande went around or tried to. She spat out the words Let me go. She came to Drystan and held his arm. Once everything was smoothed out they left the restaurant.

Michael was ready to write something.

 


 

Drystan woke up the next day, forgetting who was sleeping next to him. The second set of breaths startled him. The buzz of worrisome ideas erupted through his head. The thoughts accrued, building pressure to the conclusion that it was Melisande. He turned around to see her sleeping there and felt relieved. The duvet tucked in around her neck gave him a deep longing to be there in its place. Drystan got out of bed and into something clean. By the time he devoured his first bowl of cereal, Melisande escaped the state of sleep. She came to join him in drinking coffee and partaking in cereal, which decidedly tasted of starch decoupage paste.

“Why don’t we go out for breakfast?” Melisande asked, spooning through the cereal mush.

“Sure, it could be fun.”

“That place around the corner work?” She was relieved with his agreement. Getting Drystan out the door, except to work reduced to a battle.

“Yeah, sure.”

“I’ll go in the shower first, my tub drain is choking.”

Drystan eat a little more sugary cereal, trying to keep his mind off Melisande through the open bathroom door. Drystan fixated on his inability to do the deed and give her what she wanted the other night. If he was a real man, nothing should have stopped him from the thing they both wanted. His feelings of impotence taunted him, a jeering list of inadequacies that made his life nothing desirable. He watched TV with her a few feet away bathing in steaming water. He wanted to make her hot, but the water would have to suffice. She was an additional three feet away every single day, but today the proximity was too much. Drystan swore. The TV wasn’t doing a thing for him. He watched it as drudgery with a pleasant view of her dressing through the open door.

Drystan excused past into the shower. It was his turn. Melisande told him she was off to her unit for a fresh change of clothes. They met downstairs and walked over to the restaurant down the block. The restaurant was just as Drystan remembered. Glass block walls, retro dining booths, bare bulb fixtures, neon menu signs, parquet floors, and regulars mixed in with some people they knew. They found an empty booth. The dour waitress took their order.

The food found them sitting quietly and looking at each other. They began eating. Drystan felt cut off from Melisande sitting across the table. A feeling of watching her with no connection whatsoever, she could have been any other woman at that point, and he wouldn’t have felt any different. That wasn’t true. He needed some acknowledgment from her. Drystan stretched his arm out to her. Inching closer, brought them to meet. Drystan felt an immediate reassurance that she was still with him. The feeling fled as quick as it came. He wanted more.

Drystan motioned his intention to sit beside her. With her nod, he switched places. He held her hand at a spot on the bench between them. Interweaving their fingers together became a great thing for Drystan’s self-confidence. There now was something irrefutable about the allowance to do that. They went beyond friendship — not that he didn’t know that — but it nullified the ability for his anxiety to interfere.

Drystan grew more daring and cavalier than he knew what to do with. The warmth from her bare lower thigh called to him, the smooth hot skin inches away. Drystan climbed out of her hand and walked over to her thigh and landed below the hem of her skirt. Drystan satisfied his hunger, unable to think of anything he wouldn’t want to do to her. He needed more but that wasn’t the place. His index finger split off and wandered up her thigh. He took to tracing his finger around in a circle.

Melisande couldn’t believe what Drystan was up to. She had to practically seduce him the other night and nothing came of it. This was the Drystan she wanted then. There was nothing they could do there. She held his wrist tight, but thought naught should come of it. Nobody was looking under there. Drystan kept it hidden, but Melisande was almost driven crazy by the sensation. She wanted him and wasn’t sure about waiting until they got home. She laughed at the feeling. With the food done, Melisande turned his head to her with a smile. They kissed.

Drystan enjoyed it for a moment, before the thoughts returned. What if this was all a big mistake? Something he would regret for life? An unforgivable grievance because he wasn’t ready for her? He wasn’t ready to grow as a man. That relationship wasn’t something he deserved. The guilt of falling for her. The questions grew more illogical and worrisome. What if Melisande wasn’t the one for him? What if he was missing the girl for him right now outside his apartment window? What if a garbage truck tore through the intersection and killed them as they kissed? A kiss of death. What if a massive Earthquake split the ground right below, swallowing them whole? The worries build and grew to immense proportions, making him ready to do anything against them.

Drystan slapped Melisande across the face. The sound lingered in his ears. Melisande looked up at him, her hand pressed to her face. She couldn’t understand what happened.

“I’m sorry.”

She looked worried and held her hand there. Drystan took out his wallet, counted up fifteen bucks, and a guy came up to Melisande. “Is everything okay here?”

That was all he heard before another guy came over to him. “What’s your name son?”

“Drystan.”

“Well, Drystan we don’t treat women that way. Do you understand me?”

Drystan couldn’t bring words to his mouth.

“We have to respect each other or everything degrades to primal instincts. That’s something neither of us want. Speak up son.”

He began poking at Drystan’s shoulder. “We need you to stop hurting women. They deserve respect. Respect keeps us civil. Civility is what we want. I don’t see that here. Say something.” The guy threw Drystan up with his collar.

Melisande was explaining the situation. Seeing Drystan standing there shaking, she tried to get to him. The guy in front of her held her back. “Let me go!” she spat out, laced with venom. The guy let go, startled. Melisande went to Drystan. She was angry with the other guy for saying “bitch,” under his breath, as if she couldn’t hear him.  She held Drystan’s arm, explaining that it was a big misunderstanding. They were fine. Everything was good. The two guys backed away after some additional explanation. Melisande turned Drystan’s head to kiss him and waited for the panic to leave him. Drystan threw his money on the counter. They both left.

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That’s basically the final step in the creative process from an idea to prose. Editing is needed after. I wish I could type faster. I wish I could write more. I have more ability to type than ever before. Maybe it’s enough. I’m thinking of writing a lot of short stories with the ideas I’ve come up with and a book or two. It’ll be fun.

What Game of Thrones Does Well

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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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.

Chocolate Dreams as Nightmare

A warm oak booth surrounds me. We wait in some eating place, Claire and I, holding hands across the narrow table. Someone drops off a plate of chocolate, containing one piece, shaped into a lightning bolt. We each grasp a side and break it off. The chocolate held on the precipice of our mouths, offers us a reflection of each other. We communicate words to each other by some inexplicable means. We know each other so well.

Are you ready?

What about you?

Do it.

Do it together.

We nod in unison. The chocolate falls off the precipice into the abyss below. We intensely look at each other, any wavering destined to failure as the chocolate tests us with temptation. I feel drowsy as the sinister effect starts taking to which I look more closely at her. Everything about that face, every describable detail fills my head. There must be something else.

I focus on her eyes. The cornea, a thin covering of a sensitive looking glass, shines back at me a mini reflection of the environs, a whole universe. The iris forever protects the pupil from extremes in light, gracefully changing to match the needs of its partner. Dark brown in its nature. They are incredibly more exquisite than that, the dance between varying colors of olive, ochre, and onyx. The iris is but a simple ring of innumerable complexity enhanced with a fade to dark at the edge.

The chocolate is too strong for me. This isn’t the end, tis more work needed between us. I drown in the taste, the extreme sweetness of white chocolate — nothing getting in the way, except more coco butter. The richness of it gives way to nutty flavor, the sweetness receding to a more complex sensation. The gradation moves to the darker end, flavors swinging further, more coffee like. A burnt taste takes over the amorphous completely. I can’t breathe.

I try to cough, signal anyone with Claire’s eyes closed in enjoyment. I rise up and find some help. Nothing working, I desperately return to the booth. Claire approaches me. My plight apparent, she grabs my arm with a soft touch so I feel pain and collapse.

A room meets my opening eyes, a room open to the high jungle, continually bathed in mist, moisture beading on the white walls, carved stone like. The small room houses a dozen or so tropical plants growing up from the ground. I sit at a table aside Claire, a table dominated by its floral inhabitance. It stands as a topiary cradling an iridescent glass covered tray. The perfect place for the resident moss, submerged in a pool of water, rippling and shimmering. Someone else sits across the table though I can never figure out whom.

“Mr. Abby, you have a swallowing dysfunction. I recommend monthly treatment with moss to prevent continually choking. Would you like to try some?”

The who opens up the moss habitat. I reach in the cool water — a welcome break from the hot, humid room — grasp a piece and let it disconnect from the colony. Still dripping, I position it under my tongue, wipe my face with the back of my arm, and shake it off. I fish out the moss and gently reintroduce it to the environment. Claire looks at me.

Are you ready to attempt eating something?

Yes.

Here’s a cracker.

Thank you.

The cracker goes in my mouth. The salt comes on first, the mild sweetness, and as digestion begins, grows sweeter. The crunch of the dry cracker, broken, breaking down into crumbs sounds through my ears until I chew everything out thoroughly as choking is not an option.

I swallow it in small portions. Everything goes well. First one is good, now, on to the next allocation, swallow, try to make it go down right, and fail. I can’t breathe. I try getting help. They aren’t looking. I try everything, nothing working. Claire holds my hand with both of hers, oblivious to my situation. I feel myself fading away.

The Influx of Technology and How it Changes Us.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Experience, Write, Publish: Thoughts on a Memoir

 

I’ve never been drawn to reading memoirs, autobiographies, personal essays, or creative non-fiction. It feels to me that people can say almost anything in those literary forms. Selectively choosing moments that fit into the conventional craft of writing fiction. It’s like those movies based on true events. The screenwriters dramatize the story and your left wondering what exactly happened and what was changed for dramatic effect. The truth is always elusive and that genre really makes it too apparent for my comfort. And anyway, my life is far from typical, muscular dystrophy, mediation, immigration, and intense emotion. Maybe that’s just a little too much ego there, but that’s the starting point.

 

2
A writer I’m following that writes great satire. I’m totally new to reading satire.

 

Around a year or two ago, things started to change. I discovered Medium for the first time. Medium is this micro-blogging site taking off right at the moment. It was a hidden writing community when I first joined. A lot of things changed from that time. Getting sold to Facebook and the introduction of membership. Medium specializes in creative non-fiction, point of view pieces, and lastly, fiction. Now it’s shifting to listicles like the rest of the web, sadly. Throughout this post, I’ll link out to the best articles I’ve read on Medium.

 

3
A listicle I actually liked reading.

 

I went there from a link on Facebook, originally. I don’t read news frequently, and Facebook mentions are what I go by. Reading the news feels too real for me. I logged in and found a few stories, not in the news like the refugee crisis in the Middle East. A POV piece by Piper Perabo visiting a midway point in the refugee’s path. That happened a few times.

 

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That POV piece by Piper Perabo as mentioned in the paragraph above.

 

Then I dived into the creative non-fiction and POV. It was a window into the life of women. Medium has a surprising number of things I had never been exposed to in my entire life. Pieces about the bad experiences that a ridiculous number of women have gone through, sexual violence. Things like rape, unwanted sexual attention, harassment, inappropriate gestures, and trouble with mostly men.

 

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One such piece.

 

 

 

My thoughts were astonishment. For a really long time, I couldn’t figure out how women even functioned in society. How could people get out of bed with the looming threat around every corner? Knowing it was virtually impossible not to run into someone that had done something like that in the past. It was unfathomable that was the case in 21st century America. This is America. How is it possible?

 

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The possible future state of America.

 

Sure we could blame so many things. The over-sexualization of American culture, women, and body image. But the cause isn’t the big issue. What can we do now? How do people still function?

 

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This is an article about Pick-up Artists and Ovid. I used it to help research a character I was writing for The Trouble With Dreams.

 

Simple. By accepting the condition as it is now. Continue with life as it is. And wait for change. Is that really what’s going to happen? So far it has.

 

13
A story of finding yourself.

 

I’ve basically gone on a rant of incredulity for the last handful of paragraphs. Let’s return to the topic. What changed after discovering Medium? Not much. I subscribed and tried writing a few things. After that nothing really changed.

 

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A story of not belonging.

 

Then I read Eat, Pray, Love. I’d watched the movie ten years ago when it came out. I didn’t think it was a memoir. The movie seemed too neat to be real life. Everything fit perfectly together and smoothly transitioned like fiction. I’ve seen a ton of biopics, but it was never so neat. I happily went on for years, bought the book, and eventually read it. It had always been a memoir. The book wasn’t as neat as the movie, but the events were rearranged a little, to fit conventional storytelling craft. I kept merging the images from the movie with images I constructed in my head. Reading to me isn’t a series of phrase but a series of pictures based on the written text.

Eat Pray Love

Liz started in New York and her messy divorce. The book spent way more time before the travel started. The mess with her rebound relationship. Then the happenstance of finding her guru and the Balinese Medicine man. With that, her travels began.

 

1
Got to love satire. For the longest time, I didn’t.

 

In Italy, there was so much more than food. Learning the language and living in a city for months. I never knew so much research went into a memoir. Liz explained why Italian is such a pretty language. I fell in love with Italian through reading it. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very enthused to read my first memoir. If Liz wasn’t so funny, I wouldn’t have finished it. I found the description of tastes wanting. I haven’t eaten solid food in years and wanted to imagine the tastes of Italy. The taste should run a few paragraphs in my mind. I was glad to see she asked the locals what was good. That’s the only way.

 

4
Ella Dawson. Written really well.

 

The Thanksgiving was a big difference between the book and movie. In the movie, they fell asleep in the dining room. But in the book, the turkey took way longer to cook than they expected. Turkey was for breakfast.

 

5
Another article I liked.

 

Then it was off to India and the ashram of her guru. India is a very spiritual place. The saying goes, you walk a few paces and run into a guru of some kind or the other. Gurus are that plentiful in bigger cities. Liz went to a remote ashram filled with foreigners and local devotees. I don’t agree with a few things. I have never learned from a guru and figured out meditation mostly in isolation. I don’t think a guru has to bless you to have a chance at enlightenment. Learning in isolation leads to a longer, meandering, and wandering journey to the same goal. Three months isn’t enough to learn a self-guided meditation practice. I have a lot to learn about describing meditation practices. When I try to explain meditation or my deep experiences, the person listening doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I’ve spent too much time in self-monolog and isolation, that explaining things in an understandable way is really difficult at times. Before writing a memoir on me, I need to learn how of write deep things in a way that other people get.

 

9
A deep discussion well written by another writer I like, Emma Lindsey.

 

I don’t believe a set of holy words must be used as a mantra. A mantra should have the required associations in the mind. The final description of Liz’s experience with the divinity inside her wasn’t that clear to me. Some experiences can’t be put into words even by the best. I was nice to see the ashram through the author’s eyes.

 

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A perspective on defining something that shouldn’t need defining in a perfect world. 

 

The Bali part was about balance. I would state it as filling your life based on your loves. Whether it’s meditation, writing, and thought or meditation, love, and writing. Ketut and Balinese culture were strangely familiar to Indian culture and weirdly different. Liz had so many facts and peculiarities that I enjoyed reading. Meeting Filipe was interesting. Ex-pats are a microcosm of the world writ large if everyone wanted chill above all else.

 

7
Emma Lindsey figuring things out for us.

 

Her dealings with Wayan, another healer, and Ketut, the medicine man were interesting. Sometimes Ketut didn’t remember some things. And Wayan was a rarity there. She was divorced. The family is really important in Bali and acts like a compass to help navigate the world. Wayan and Liz were both divorced. Then Liz finds a way to help Wayan and works through the hiccup associated with it. Ketut teaches Liz a few mediations and many life lessons.

 

8
A possible answer.

 

The third to last chapter felt odd to me. It was a flashback to her first trip to Bali. Liz was silent for a few weeks on a remote island. She eventually discovered that her current life wasn’t working and she needed a change. It felt like an epiphany and it came in the right place. It was placed out of time, towards the end of the novel. The sequence of events in time doesn’t matter to the sequence of the memoir. The majority of the events should be in chronological order but a scene here or there is fine.

 

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Another article for book research.

 

The memoir worked like it was supposed to. Reading a genre before writing in it is essential to the craft. Not sure which ones I’m going to read. I have no idea when I’ll even write a memoir. Everything is up in the air. I’ll work towards getting my deep experiences across on the page. Sometime down the line, I’ll try writing a memoir, maybe. Experience, Write, you know the rest.

 

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A woman working through illness.

 

 

GK

Failed Story

 

This is the fervent work of two months, 42 pages, 28,451 words. It fits into the grandiose plan I had for basically an epic. This is 1/16 of my total plan. Get the plan here as pdf. This is way too much like a documentary. It details almost everything that happens in Inslee’s life for a period of two weeks with too many flashbacks. The writing seems almost horrible to me now. Writing it felt great at the time. TL:DR Inslee wanders through life dreaming of something more but never really getting there in any true sense. If you guys get through to the end, please tell me what worked. That would really help.

 

Later guys.

 

 

Inslee

 

I was trapped in a state between dreaming and awake. Everything felt like I was conscious, but I couldn’t exactly remember much after the fact. I woke with bits and pieces, feeling there was so much missing. He appeared in it, holding one of my near frozen hands. I pictured a bench by a duck pond, then walking around. I was so tired after, but sleep refused its company. I threw off my bed sheet and crossed my arms.

 

Closing my eyes for at least a few minutes changed nothing, except making me more awake. I looked up at one of the ribs surrounding the ship inside the inner hull.  High tension cabling joined almost every structural element to them. Everything above — as with every other surface was coated in some impact-resistant material. The overhead skylight showed a multitude of stars appearing overhead as if still on Earth but in a configuration suited to a nearly two-thousand-year journey from home.

 

I pulled the covers back over, hugged them to my chest, and arose from bed, wrapping myself with the cover. A tripped over to the only window by the foot of the bed. The hunched back of the ship truncated by the med bay wall and punctured by massive windows, crossed with invisible ribs. Spare pods barnacled the ceiling. On the deck below, eighteen flesh colored pods held the next three gens.

 

I moved over to the door as it opened and out onto the grated walkway. This followed with the usual unpleasantness of bare feet on grated floor. I reached a space in the rail and stepped off. I floated weightless while the ship gradually lowered me down. The blanket stayed with me, unaffected by grav through everything. I landed beside the first row of illuminating pods and proceeded over to the corner most pod, the home of DB. Pressing a spot on my left shoulder, generated a set of bedding in my hand, which I laid down besides the pod. I lay down beside DB.

 

He looked peaceful in the pink glow of the pod with one arm under his head and the other hand at his chin. All of us on ship now pod or otherwise would’ve spent a minimum of twenty-five years dreaming life away before consciousness with a saved neural scan. Dreaming without any outside experience ended up a jumble of user generated stimuli. They were almost empty vessels awaiting a consciousness or experience. DB dreamed with his brilliantly green eyes running around behind closed lids. I remembered him best as the moody lyricist of thirty, wandering from quarters to job with notes hanging around and the occasional rendition. His hair was growing in nicely in the month it had.

 

I couldn’t help but think about one of my kids, Trish as she liked to be called most of her life. She inadvertently exposed herself and half the crew to radiation, myself included in one of the labs. At the time, the hands-on three-year-old required almost two weeks in pod. The consensus was consciousness in pod helped avoid developmental issues. Two weeks exceeded all known cases. We deployed a pod into the shared three cabin space for the family. Removing the pod’s outer covering allowed interaction through the confines of treatment. When everything righted, Trish couldn’t experience the biological imperative of sleep without the pod. We reintroduced the pink pod lighting, gel mattress, and soothing white noise with the plans of future dependence removal. In about ten years, everything returned to normal and pod consciousness hereby regulated to ten days max.

 

Looking at DB, sleeping, and thinking about Trish delivered me safely into slumber. A few sc later, the ship lights came on. The black and white clarity of darkness replaced with the multicolor coherence of day. I rewrapped myself in sheet and returned to cabin just as the Captain came around for pre-day checks with the night flight crew.

 

Read More >>

 

GK

Story Engineering: Getting Down to the Story Mechanics

 

Larry Brooks is a published author that has writing classes/workshops. In Story Engineering, he shows us what he teaches his students about writing fiction. Apparently, writing a screenplay is very easy in comparison. Books out there detail the rules required in an acceptable screenplay. Larry Brooks has brought that over to fiction writing. If you ignore the condescension of organic writes, the book brings a needed insight to novel writing.

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Story Engineering starts with an argument against the formulaic nature of planning out a story using his components. The difference between art and putting matching things into a formula is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant while reading it. That’s one of the few things not explained in Story Engineering. I figured out a possible explanation. The various story elements, concept, story structure, character, theme, writer’s voice, and scene construction have a synergy between them. Each element builds on another. For example, first person, solitary confinement, weak mental state, and being alone is inhumane. With first person, we are with the inmate at all times. There’s minimal interaction with other people. Add the weak mental state and there’s a compelling story. Add examples of what other inmates in solitary confinement come out as. That makes a pretty good story right?

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Concept is the central question of the story. Story structure is the pacing of the story. The author does a really good job of getting this point across through the book. What plot event should happen at certain points throughout the story? Several movies and books are discussed as examples. Every book and movie I remember follows the plot events. I’m not sure about the timing yet.

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Character is presented as a personality selector you would use in The Sims. Different characteristics that can be tweaked to show the universality of humanity. Figuring out how each characteristic affects the others is where the art part comes in. Then the character arc. That was completely new to me.

 

I use a few lines of research to understand how characters operate. First, observing people and imagining what goes through their heads. Talking to people and looking for the motivations. Deeply analyzing my psyche through meditative practice. And method acting in my head. What would this character do if that happened?

 

Theme is the meaning behind the story. The story can give an opinion or explore a question. Figuring out what to say helps put it into the novel.

 

Writer’s voice is something that needs to be discovered through writing and trying different things. Scene construction states each scene has a mission. The scene needs to be short enough to accomplish its mission.

 

Reading Story Engineering will forever change my novel writing. I was already close, and now I get it for the first time. Larry Brooks knows his stuff. Great book Mr. Brooks.

 

GK