Anywhere you go…

In preparation for a bit of professional writing I made a map showing a rendezvous in Asia of two airships – the Copertino and the Wakefield. Once I’d finished getting the time markers along navigationally accurate great circle paths, I realized the work was wasted if I didn’t incorporate more of the data represented in the graphic within the text of the story.

This completely changed the beginning of the tale and, I think, will involve the reader faster. A much more in medias res start. I recently had an unrelated experience that, although it went remarkably well, I would have preferred it went “even better”. Once writers and editors finish with a piece it amounts to the same sort of wishing.

I’m very glad I caught this opportunity and that my habit of maps with stories served me very well in this instance.

Ministry-map-copy


for your delight at reading…

Chuck Francisco of Pop Kernal called Book I of The Eterna Files, by my very dear friend and business partner – Leanna Renee Hieber, “the Empire Strikes Back of Victorian paranormal gothic”.  I have described her work in reviews and on panels at conventions as being located four blocks west of the intersection of Poe and Stoker. Her work and many conversations with her have helped me make my own writing and thinking a bit more accessible; I have a tendency to range cerebral.

Ms. Hieber is a diligent and skilled crafter of characters you’ll want to include among the circle of your fictional friends. It is they who guide you as they make their way along the boundaries between this world and a stranger one. The ripples on the veil are not caused by a night breeze but the tendrils of death and dark fates.

both-books

Book II, titled Eterna and Omega launched today. The privilege of discussing and reading parts of it before the release was mine but it is now something you can share. I gladly and strongly recommend buying a copy. You may not be as certain about strange sounds around midnight after this worthy tale.

buy-it


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faites attention à le prelude…

Procrastination is the only thing we can do that we don’t put off to a later moment. Lack of action or progress is immune to that particular bad habit. Theories about why we delay generally distill to fewer than ten reasons. As this pertains to writing there are four essential factors.

• Will [___] be good enough?

There’s really only one way to find out. This is the virtue of making an effort. This element of procrastination has three main branches: A] Perfectionism, B] “Do I have the skill/talent to do this?”, and C] “Will anyone else find this interesting?”

Writing may not always result in gold but it does always count as practice. Don’t worry about an audience until the work is finished.

• As cool as I think [___] is, how do I know I still will x months from now?

I tend to rely on the notion that an actually good idea will return in due time. They’re never really forgotten and will have been refined (by the subconscious) during a hiatus. To a certain extent this is precisely the backburner on which A Song Heard in the Future sits.

For reasons that I assume are obvious my sense of heroism and patriotism tends to peak near mid-Summer. If a lull in writing hits then, I’ll harness my own emotion to explore what might cause characters to derive a sense of satisfaction – national pride or otherwise.

Though I don’t find myself subject to Winter doldrums many people on whom I rely as sounding boards do. If this causes a snag in inspiration or refining, I’ll spend snowy days pondering new locations.

If we learn something new everyday we can apply ourselves anew to a work-in-progress on a daily basis.

• I’m too busy for [___].

Arthur Golden worked on Memoirs of a Geisha for six years, research and writing included. J. R. R. Tolkien worked on The Lord of the Rings in several phases and over more than a decade. Pauses are justified and to be expected; they can be useful. What matters is returning to the effort.

• I’ll never be able to do as well as [___] again.

In all honesty the likelihood that any author (myself included) will produce a work that will sit next to the work of Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, or Madeleine L’Engle is probably rather low. If any work-in-progress stands such a chance, how can there be any justification for not devoting every feasible waking moment to its completion?

And if it’s really that good, and you don’t write it, do you really want to see someone treat nearly the same material and do it badly?

Additionally, there are plenty of authors who are famous for a single book. Sylvia Plath wrote only one novel. Harper Lee, until very recently had a single book to her credit. In Plath’s case, she wrote poetry; work on a novel can be done between other writing. With regard to Lee’s “sequel”, it is now known to have been an early draft of her more famous work.

The answer to each of the above is the same: Recommit. Allow yourself to be compelled. Welcome it and your demanding Muse. Neglect of their role as psychopomp for your dream projects only makes them more relentless and subversive in their prompting.

Note: Two other potential factors are not considered here: A] “I don’t know where to start/what comes next?” and B] True depression. In the first case, do consult your muse and in the second, please consult a physician.

A Venn diagram – more commonly called “those overlapping circles” – illustrate how distinct aspects of a situation combine to create variations. When one is completely enclosed by another it describes relationships like “While all squares are rectangles not all rectangles are squares.”

Venn-stuff

Though I’ve never seen it done, they could also be used as a checklist to circumvent procrastination. In converse, addressing each factor outlined above make the Venn approach a process of elimination rather than permutation

It may seem ironic to post here about procrastination when Astral is not yet finished. When not musing here work on the far future, detective novel is and has been in progress. Venn-in-reverse is offered here as a reminder to myself not to worry, not to fear. The mission and message are cause enough to continually recommit. For the most part, I’ve only been taking breaks to sculpt, attend/vend at shows and conventions, and note ideas to address – yes, later.

Let the Muse court you. She’ll bring you flowers.


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Perilous by pelorus…

I wouldn’t be the first to describe the difference between hard and soft science fiction. In fact, Tor provides a quite reasonable guide.

From the advent of sci-fi there have been at least two camps. In general, Jules Verne suggested the grand adventures technology might make possible while H. G. Wells and Mary Shelley offered cautions about the potential consequences.

Roughly a century later, the voyages of the USS Enterprise might have begun nearer to Verne. The final frontier gradually became less about exploration of a boundless sea and more an unending series of tensions played out upon it. If not Wells’ territory, certainly near the neutral zone.

How much attention is paid prevailing scientific theories depends on balancing the needs of the story. The world-building for Astral has been to provide an understanding of the hardship the characters have faced before the story begins. The action takes place on a world quite distant from Earth so part of this process has been devising reasonable rules and repercussions for faster-than-light (FTL) travel.

In soft sci-fi FTL simply works at the often literal press of a button. How long the trip may take, what fuel is used, and some understanding of what laws of physics are being broken and how never enter the picture. As the genre approaches the other extreme, nothing superluminal (neither travel nor communications) happens; light not only has a speed limit but it’s one that’s part of the definition of the universe. In between there are warps, jumps, and hyperspace – and that’s where Astral sits presently – on a scale from 1 to 10, somewhere near 5.

NASA is exploring the possibilities of EM Drive and, while decidedly thrilling, the realities of that are now firmly in the realm of scientific speculation rather than speculative fiction. On the other side of the coin, hyperspace will be forever associated with the Star Wars franchise – at least in the mind of this author.

Making something sound like science can give rise to La Forge syndrome:

“The phase inducers are connected to the emitter array. The override is completely gone and the pattern buffer’s been locked into a continuous diagnostic cycle.”

I’m not a mathematician and I don’t want to run the risk of actually getting some critical math completely wrong. Similarly, I’m not ready to plant a flag and reclaim luminiferous aether in the name of voyages extraordinaire. Some time was spent in study of certain theories of Henri Poincaré and Hendrik Lorentz. While this did not result in a formula it pointed (perhaps tangentially) to answers I can use.

The characters would not be making hops of several light-years in less than the blink of an eye. The farther the actual distance traveled it would still take longer. In Astral a trip from Earth to δ Pavonis would take between two weeks and nine months depending on the equivalent of a warp factor or calculations from a navicomputer. These durations compare to a single Atlantic crossing by steamship at the dawn of the Victorian era or three such journeys under sail combined during the mid-1700s, respectively. A hop of even one light-year would depend on finding a shorter distance than Euclidean geometry would permit.

Ultimately there’s no actual need within the story to know the precise settings of any phase inducers. In the original Star Trek series, the set designers put the label “GNDN” in several places. When asked what this stood for they replied, “Goes nowhere, does nothing.” This in-joke can also serve as a warning to a writer. When it can’t serve the story it can’t be included.

People don’t usually talk about travel unless something goes wrong. Otherwise, a long car trip is reduced in the telling to roads taken and noteworthy sights along the way. With all of this in mind the only reality of FTL travel that matters is what impact they may have on the characters who undertake a crossing.

Astral Space

Non-Euclidean geometry, in strictly mathematical terms, does not equate to things Lovecraft. But while traveling along any weird topology suggested by an extradimensional, self-intersecting manifold what might be seen if looking out a portal? What do the characters think it means? Does it shape their point of view without twisting it to madness?

The navigation of Astral may be in Verne’s spirit but the story winds up at the intersection of Wells and Shelley.


Mirror, mirror…

Authors frequently make the claim they are able to hear their characters speaking – about their own motivations and the world into which they find themselves planted. This is usually not meant to indicate the actual lines of dialog that may appear in the fiction although that can certainly result.

The longer an author, and hopefully any reader, spends involved with the story the more the characters begin to behave like real people. They inform the author precisely who they are as if conversations or interviews with them had actually taken place. If resisted, the writer runs the risk of presenting them merely as puppets.

While world-building and developing some of the science for Astral (working title), many of the intended characters have begun having arguments with each other in a non-dialog manner. The political situation that has grown out of the “realities” of FTL travel and genetic engineering has resulted in the citizens of Dalim entrenching themselves as opposite camps. I have to admit a bit of surprise at this. No author with whom I’ve ever talked mentioned this aspect of character talk.

Flight of the Pegasus

The Flight of the Pegasus

A novel set against the backdrop of human colonization of a few score exoplanets needs details about ships and speed. While developing Astral I’ve consulted a few people who are more adept than I about mathematics, astrophysics, and CAD programs. Chris Newstead and his MOLIMI team are adept and amiable collaborators in helping me envision spaceships. The Flight of the Pegasus is not their work. Stay tuned for that. I’ve no doubt it will impress. Similarly, Roger Sorensen and Ben Adams have been providing assistance with a range of sciences frequently found in sci fi.

World-building in science fiction may involve knowing the star system one has selected has two suns and that the characters living on a planet there would cast two shadows. Letting the characters be more than shadows themselves means more than giving them a backstory and description. I don’t have images for the characters as yet but I know what they think when they look in the mirror.

orbits

The distances traveled and methods for the trip are not as important as really listening to a character’s tales of woe and joy upon reaching the destination. Speculation about future innovations and inventions matters far less than understanding a character’s perspective on their life and plans for living it — and hopefully well regardless of an author’s ideas about any obstacles.

It is part of the writer’s job to obstruct his or her characters. That’s what makes any story interesting. But muting those characters and/or depriving them of the thoughts and skills they claim to have is a disservice to them and a mistake in presenting their saga.

Jules Henri Poincaré was a true polymath of the Victorian–Edwardian era and one of the fathers of special relativity and chaos theory. He has become a new hero of a sort as I’ve been working on Astral.

Dr. Poincaré has been quoted as having said, “If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.” I’ve adopted a comparable point of view about what I must allow for my characters.

 


sententiae antiquae…

An admission of a bias in thinking due to the near-total immersion in Ancient Greek mythology and philosophy must be made. There is the concept of (Abraham) Maslow’s hammer, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Recently, the question arose in two parts of whether writers in this modern zeitgeist are consciously using elements of the philosophy of Plato (et alia) in their works of fiction. Parallels seem strongly evident; are they always intentional? Are the tropes of ancient thought strong and pervasive enough that even those who are not aware of their origins – or seeking them out – are almost destined to use them?

George Lucas is known to have based Star Wars on his study of Joseph Campbell’s work, which was in turn a summary of many others, Plato included. Similarly, Lana and Andy Wachowski may have based their Matrix (at least, in part) on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

IDEA

The reimagining of Battlestar Galactica (2003-2012) probably could not avoid using Greek myth as source material with many of the characters named after the Olympians. BSG also paralleled Ecclesiastes 1:9 and Peter Pan when Six and President Laura Roslin (among several others) presented variations of “All of this has happened before, and it all will happen again.” The verse in the Bible goes on to postulate “…and there is no new thing under the Sun.” – an idea about which I’ve previously railed.

The past week’s musing has given me a series of ideas that may cause me to adjust my perspective for A Song Heard in the Future, my novel-in-progress set 3.5 millennia ago.

Some scholars of myth believe that Teiresias was a well-known character before he was written into the tragedies of nearly all kings of Thebes, including the trilogy of Oedipus’ life. Of the dozen or so tales that include Teiresias and still exist only a small percentage of them could be said to feature him as the main character.

Hesiod is said to have written about the famous seer almost 2700 years ago but that story has been lost. At roughly the same time Homer also included Teiresias but as a shade in the Asphodel Meadows neighborhood of Hades. The intent in Song is giving Teiresias back the lost story of his life.

If an author’s themes are preordained, if there truly is nothing new, the task at hand is to make the best of it. To craft the best from it. If Song is reimagined based on last week, there’s a very good chance the book will be better. Oddly, it will also take a few steps closer to the reason for researching Teiresias in the first place. Psychic abilities have always fascinated me whether they exist or not. (And I blame Spock for it.)

A leap to someone in Ancient Greece who could see the future seems obvious but the road was not quite that direct. During my middle school years, I sometimes would construct fantasy timelines of reincarnations I might have had. My birthday was in mid-December of 1964; who died earlier that year that I might have been? And who just prior to their date of death? And so on… This fabrication of an uninterrupted line of past lives would extend as far as my knowledge of history would permit.

Something very like this led to Teiresias but I allowed the tracking and musing to move into legend and then myth, as records grew less authoritative. To my mind, the jury is still out on the details of reincarnation. I’m not sure we can be certain who we may once have been. Here the innumerable ex-Cleopatras have to be discounted.

In psychical research there is a term “anomalous cognition” that is meant to describe having knowledge without learning it. The best example of this may be the understanding some aspect of a dream without the establishing that would be required if the same plot were presented in fiction. Psychic studies go beyond that point but it means knowledge without a source or explanation. There had to be a word for the idea that we can retain knowledge from past lives, if any.

In the field of psychology (if I have this right), anomalous cognition is used to describe specific exaggerated reactions. As both science and paranormal research employ AC and with neither usage hitting the nail on the head, there had to be a more precise word. With all due respect to reverse dictionaries, they nearly always far short. Finding a new word is simple. Read more. Talk to smart people. Finding an extant but unknown word that precisely fits a specific concept is not so easy.

Just yesterday, while exploring Plato’s ideas, I discovered the word anamnesis. This is precisely what I find fascinating in anomalous cognition while not preferring the term. What you knew in a past life is something your education may serve to remind you of that past knowledge.

Plato suggested that we are reincarnated based on what we know. Ultimately, aisa (“αἶσα” meaning “destiny”) doesn’t matter in our thinking and work. It is how we think and work that remains our own.

Maybe there is nothing new under the Sun. When Song is published, however, I’ll invite you to curl up against a tree and read it in sunlight. If it surprises you – that may disprove predestination. If not, welcome back.


On the clock…

The most frequent description of the character arc for a protagonist is called the Monomyth or The Hero’s Journey. This isn’t really an outline for the story. It presents an invitation to a date with destiny and is a road map for the main character. The story is about the destiny itself.

In an article I read recently, the claim was made that all the decision-makers in Hollywood are aware of this formula. That’s probably true but impossible to confirm. The article in question went on to imply that adherence to the monomyth is expected. If so, the audience is reacquainted with the Hero’s Journey with each and every story – even if they’re unaware of the structure. Does this mean members of the audience are indoctrinated to expect the monomyth? Are they evaluating stories based on this – even unconsciously? Is there value in exploring alternatives to this structure (made famous by Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler)?

Clock

Imagine the Hero’s Journey as a clock. Let’s say our Hero starts at Noon and ends at Midnight. It’s going to be a long day. She or he begins and ends at a metaphoric home. The first hour of the story shows us the world the Hero lives in, what daily life is like, and what responsibilities he or she has.

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By 2:00ᴘᴍ, however, comes the introduction of a crucial shift in those responsibilities. The Hero spends the following hour presenting reasons that this change (and the new work it represents) can be done by someone else or avoided entirely. All the while, particularly between 2:00ᴘᴍ and 3:00ᴘᴍ, the Hero learns more about the situation and perhaps just why things were not ideal earlier that morning. All of the lessons during this hour are meant to illustrate not only that the Hero has a date with destiny – said date is an undeniable obligation.

2

People fear change. Our Hero is no exception. Until about 4:00ᴘᴍ, the Hero has been experiencing the stages of grief, in a sense. The day has provided shocking news. The Hero has attempted to deny the news and to bargain a way out of dealing with it. As the duty to respond grows inevitable, our Hero finally gives it serious thought and begins, at least mentally, to prepare to deal with it.

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Perhaps for the sake of emphasis or as an actual intervention, someone arrives to kick the Hero into the real world. It is 4:00ᴘᴍ. This is the mentor, who may have arrived with a useful tool to present as a gift. From 5:00ᴘᴍ to 8:00ᴘᴍ, everything the Hero experiences is new. This is a total immersion and each skill the Hero learns is applied immediately of necessity. There are failures during this stage, of course. The Hero may even experience doubt and seek to quit.

4

At about dinnertime, some stories introduce a specific woman. She may seek to lead the Hero off the new road. Alternatively she may serve as a second mentor. This means the presentation by point or counter-point of the same theme. Depending on the manner of the character, the same line of dialog can be encouragement to quit or to continue. Note: If such a character is included here the author should be careful not to present this woman as a stereotype and cypher. If this sort of message must be delivered to the Hero and the audience, the messenger doesn’t have to be a woman. There’s a risk – as the monomyth is traditionally presented – of an approach to misogyny here.

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By 7:00ᴘᴍ the Hero finally knows what’s really going on and what must be done. The date with destiny is set at 8:00ᴘᴍ and the Hero’s determination is now a true commitment. Of course the Hero wins. That is, very probably, why she or he is the Hero of the story. At 9:00ᴘᴍ, there’s a reward for all the trouble and injury along the way.

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But it isn’t Midnight yet. The defeat of the villain is only partial and the payment for service may be intended as a another distraction. The Hero is unaware of this and it’s been a hard day at work – including overtime. There’s been an unexpected bonus. Ten o’clock. Time to go home. The way home is filled with obstacles. There may even be a race. The victory back at 8:00ᴘᴍ left loose ends. The road home proves the lessons have been learned and the skills are now an intrinsic part of the Hero. The transformation is genuine.

big ben

This final triumph comes at the Eleventh Hour and there’s an epiphany following. The Hero’s reward is reinforced by this event and the last steps home complete the transformation. As the clock strikes Twelve, the check is cashed, and it can finally – actually be time to celebrate.

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All this to say, the author is not bound to this structure any more than the hero should be considered a slave to the story. If there is no choice, there is no story. If it is true that all good stories following the monomyth it is important to remember that all bad stories do as well. What matters more than compliance, then, is how the tale told departs from the formula. Going off the clock is part of what makes the story worth telling and memorable.


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