Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Iliad of Inconvenience

This is not strictly a nod to MOV's Curse of Inconvenient Things, but I figured this was still a good excuse to reference it.

Anyway, "Iliad of Inconvenience" is just one of the many memorable phrases I came across while reading Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, and I figured it was as good a description of the way I write (and live) as any I've come across.  Big Dramatic Developments are the bread and butter of fiction (and the only way the news knows how to report anything), but it's not really the way life works.  Though I do tend to include Big Dramatic Developments in my stories, they're not ultimately the point.  It's really how inconvenience affects my characters (and again, my life).

I don't know about you, but I obsess over inconvenience.  I think a lot more people do, too, even if they don't admit or realize it.  It's about things not generally going our way in small and subtle ways, how our lives end up being defined by the paths we end up taking because of the choices we make (or sometimes simply from the available limited options).  I say I obsess over it because this matter of inconvenience is a matter of perspective.  By all accounts I have a much better life than a lot of other people.  I'm writing this on a blog, on a laptop (yes, I still use a laptop), any number of elements in that being entirely unavailable or inconceivable to those who would consider my life the veritable lap of luxury.

When I write a story, I don't particularly care to write about people who are the best of anything, or the worst of anything.  Some of them may be in important positions, are be considered important, but I don't approach them that way.  They're just people, and their problems are matters of inconvenience that they have to work around.  I don't believe in writing the Big Dramatic Developments that place someone in peril, possibly because I don't live that kind of life myself, and I don't particularly want to manipulate my reader that way.  If they have a response it's because hopefully I've helped them have a sense of my character's relatability.

The famous axiom is "show don't tell," by which it's basically meant that you must present your reader with a vicarious experience, something they end up feeling like they've shared rather been told.  I tend to get bored with that kind of writing, because we happen to live in an age where the visual medium is not only extremely vivid but pointedly more popular.  Why should I care to compete with that?  The visual medium is all about Big Dramatic Moments.  A story is a chance to explore something else, an Iliad of Inconvenience.  Small Dramatic Moments, if you will.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Real Clive Lockwood

I've talked before about how the names in "Lost Convoy" from Monorama came from actual people, most of them ones I knew personally and a few that I came across at the time I was writing it.  Earlier in the year I met the real James Ward.  Previously he was just a name on a business card.  Clive Lockwood, however, I knew personally, although not terribly well.

I was working in a bookstore, and I knew Lockwood as much from phone conversations where he would place orders as when he came in the store itself. He was kind of irritating, but he also had a sense about him of isolation, and that made him somehow endearing, sympathetic.  I turned him into a former priest for the purposes of "Lost Convoy," someone who had undergone a crisis of faith.

When I came across Lockwood again, I decided to talk to him, and it wasn't religion he ended up talking about but politics.  Turns out I was accurate at least in the sense that he has strong opinions, and he exists in a world that seems to have left him behind.  As a writer, it can sometimes be easy to treat real or imagined people as if they're just characters.  I try to be better than that in my fiction, but even I fail, and I think I failed Lockwood, no matter how close I was.  He exists in "Lost Convoy" one way or another, but the real Clive Lockwood seemed like far less an object of pity, which was something I'd stripped away when I wrote the story but started thinking again when I forgot what he was like when I knew him.  I still believe he exists in an isolated world, but more and more I think he wants it exactly that way, no matter how it might seem to others.  I'm a lot like that myself, which makes it odd that I didn't recognize that he should be allowed to live that kind of life, too.

I guess the whole point of my writing about him here is that I started judging him.  We all judge other people.  It's far easier o judge someone when you don't really know them.  I still don't particularly know Lockwood, but I know him better now than before.  The last time I saw him he was a customer.  This time I approached him simply as someone I'd known.  Writing for me is about rising above my base instincts.  I blurred that line when I wrote "Lost Convoy," thinking I could just play fast and loose with borrowed names.  I don't feel any differently about borrowing names now than I did before, but I will certainly think twice about thinking that I can freely interpret those I only think I know.  Next time I'll keep the fiction aspect very much in mind.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tales from the Space Corps (the mock cover)

With a little help from from Thrilling Tales, discovered thanks to the Geek Twins, I've got at the very least a mock cover for a collection of Space Corps stories that I plan to release at some point.  In addition to all the book-length adventures to come, there are plenty of short stories at this point, and I'd love to share those as well.  Initially I was going to include them as an appendix to Seven Thunders (like Tolkien did in Lord of the Rings), but it could be equally interesting to release them separately.

Let me know what you think!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Adopted Thought

The first thing you need to know about Yoshimi, as featured in Yoshimi and the Shadow Clan, is that she's an orphan.  I am not an orphan myself.  I can understand, though, not just because they're a common trope in fiction, but because they're ultimately alienated individuals, who either lost or never knew their birth parents.  The ones who don't end up in foster homes are especially alienated.  We have families as a social rule for a reason, because they're the first best way to understand why it means to live in society.

The aspect of the orphan mindset that Yoshimi most closely embodies, however, is adopted thought.  I define adopted thought as thought that is not native to oneself but rather learned from someone else.  Some people live their entire lives subsisting on adopted thought.  It's just easier to accept what someone else has told you to believe about something.  Original thought is rare.  Adopted thought is not inherently bad.  Some people will just naturally assume that what they consider their original thought is in fact adopted thought.  They internalize the behavior they observe in others.

This is a matter of the old nature vs. nurture debate.  In psychology this is the phenomenon of determining how much of a person's psyche is determined internally and how much externally, or in other words learned or inherent behavior.  Did you get it from someone or did it develop of its own accord?

To an orphan like Yoshimi, this is very much a pertinent question.  From the perspective I took, she would be rebellious of all attempts to be placed in a foster home (which she fights against through thirty-six of them) because it would be like replacing her parents.  How, then, would she know if anything that she becomes is from herself and her dead parents, and how much from the strangers who took her in?  She's afraid of losing a link that only exists now in her mind.

Yet as the story develops she's told that everything she is, all her instincts, have been inherited from her parents, abilities she never knew she had but she's been using unconsciously all her life.  Studies on twins, who have the exact same genetic material, have shown that when they're separated and raised in different environments develop, in fact, differently.  I wasn't interested in taking a strictly scientific approach.  Biologically we undoubtedly inherent certain genetic traits, obvious ones like facial structure, hair color, body type.  The children of famous individuals often have a hard time living up to their parent's achievements, but a lot of that is simply the typical impossibility of facing pressure of that kind directly.  Yoshimi is in the unique position of doing exactly that but without the pressure.  Although since most of the people she subsequently encounters knew her parents, it's simply a matter of her own necessary ignorance.

When faced with a blank slate but a given set of art supplies, there's only a matter of variance.  That's the story of writing.  No matter how different, every story is the same, and it's a fool's errand to try and prove differently, much less rebel and deny and reject.  In Shadow Clan Yoshimi encounters James Peers, who refuses to teach her traditional martial arts methods because he believes in a holistic approach, or in other words the nurture approach by way of nature, absorbing what will develop as it's experienced, using one's own instincts to take whatever form will develop.

In adopted thought, it's simply a matter of learning.  That's what education is all about in school, taking what's given you without question.  In original thought, it's an interactive experience.  You accept and reject and modify as you deem necessary.  Truth is not always obvious, even when it seems that it is.

The natural instinct of any guardian is to assume that the person you're taking responsibility for needs your guidance.  If someone like Yoshimi doesn't believe that, or fears it, then there's very little to be gained by the experience.  She's an orphan because that's what she is and what she believes she must continue to be.  There was always the chance that a family may have presented itself that broke all her barriers.  In fact, the complete story is all about how the people she meets end up being a different kind of family.  They're all struggling against each other, but the real trick is that they don't let that get in the way.  That's the true definition of family.

I have a problem with people who rely on adopted thought.  I think it always shows, and it's damn depressing, because they never realize it themselves.  It's not always a bad thing, but it's a phenomenon that causes more trouble than it's worth.  Yes, it helps everyone function in a common direction, but it's also distrustful of dissenters, and that's never a good thing.  You don't always need a sword to confront it, and maybe Yoshimi's real story is that she's awash in a sea of original thinkers who are all struggling against adopted thought.

Please note that I'm not arguing against foster homes or adoption, but rather the belief that it's okay to deny the identities of those who are entered into these equations.  It only ever causes trouble.  That's exactly what Yoshimi believes, and most of this is merely subtext.  The story of Yoshimi is a metaphor for how tough life can be in any context, no matter what you believe or what you're struggling against.


Please note that I'm writing about Yoshimi, as well as the Space Corps, all month long over at Scouring Monk as part of the A-to-Z Challenge.

Monday, April 8, 2013

(Formerly) Secret Origins of Yoshimi

All month long I'm participating in the A-to-Z Challenge over at Scouring Monk, talking about both the Space Corps saga and the Yoshimi Trilogy.

Today, as the title suggests, I'm going to drop some background knowledge on you.  I've previously done that here with Seven Thunders, where I explained how the neglected War of 1812 helped inform the structure of the story.  I like to do that in my fiction.  When I was writing The Cloak of Shrouded Men, specifically the individual installments Colinaude, the Angry Avenger (2004), Repose of the Eidolon (2005) and Cotton's War (2006) during NaNoWriMo, I would conclude each month by explaining the latest influences.  It was a fine way to finish writing a long work.  The entire back section of the Cloaked book is filled with a version of what I wrote in that regard.

Well, the story of warrior orphan Yoshimi was not something that came naturally to me.  I don't do action very well.  I write about the effects of a situation more than the situation itself, or in other words from a very cerebral vantage point.  In fact, the start of this secret origin perhaps shouldn't be so secret.  It's very much the story of another effect, the Flaming Lips album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.  It was my introduction to concept albums, my generation's very own.  If you've never heard it, I feel bad for you.  Anyway, that's the most superficial of secret origins to explore.

Another informs an entire element of the story.  Remember how I said I'm not much of an action writer?  Since Yoshimi by definition had to experience a lot of action, I had to come up with a more cerebral approach, and I stumbled into that approach because at the time I was developing the story I was working in a bookstore.  It was Hiroshi Moriya's The 36 Secret Strategies of the Martial Arts, a kind of Art of War for those of us looking to be more clever about it.  Each of the strategies are employed and quoted during the course of the story, and the specific number of them affected the story, too, including the number of foster homes Yoshimi endures early in her life and the key battles that must occur in order for the story to conclude (sort of like a video game!).  Additionally, I honored Moriya himself as a character; the book as a present Yoshimi receives; and the translator of the edition I purchased, William Scott Wilson, who ended up inspiring a character more important than Moriya's (although in the story one succeeds the other once again).

The final element is the final acknowledgement that, again, I am not a writer of action.  It was the movie Warrior, released in the fall of 2011, when I began writing the story.  Warrior is a movie about MMA (mixed martial arts) fighting, but it's not really about the fighting.  It stars Tom Hardy, who wins a lot of his fights without really having to try.  That was the pattern by which I had Yoshimi fight.  It was a clever way to avoid having to write a lot of intricate fight scenes.  Warrior, by the way, quickly became one of my favorite movies.  It's awesome in every way possible.  It also ended up affecting how I concluded Seven Thunders.  So, a very influential movie in my writing!

But again, if you're curious about the Yoshimi Trilogy, you should also be reading Scouring Monk this month.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Friday is Free Day!

During the Fridays of April several of my books will be free in their Kindle editions.  The most recent book is Yoshimi and the Shadow Clan.  It's the first book in the Yoshimi Trilogy.  There's also Terror of Knowing, a collection of poetry.  Finally, I also have Mouldwarp Press Presents #1 "Project Mayhem," an anthology of micro fiction that I had the chance to edit.  Its title is part of the fictional publishing venture whose questionable logo appears on the back cover of all three books.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The A-to-Z Challenge

On the off chance that I may have readers here that are not at all aware that I have another blog, I will note for the record that April is the annual blogging A-to-Z Challenge, and for my second year participating I've chosen to talk about characters and elements from both the Space Corps saga and the Yoshimi Trilogy over at Scouring Monk.  This makes it a perfect opportunity to learn more about both!  In addition to learning about these stories, you'll find out all kinds of things about how I write and what interests me.  Today for instance you'll learn about my obsession with Caspers in Space Corps and why there's a version of the name Marty in all my books.
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