It’s My Birthday and I’ll Snark if I Want To

I turned 60 today.  I know, right?

I was raised in a very large, multigenerational family of Democrats, in the bluest of Blue states.  It’s my heritage; it’s who I am.  Despite that, I was often told that I’d naturally become more conservative as I grew older, because that’s what people do.  Sixty years on now and I’m still wondering when that day will occur.

Nothing is preordained.  We are the authors of our own life stories.  We determine our stories will end.  Our choices matter.  Our beliefs and convictions matter, and should not be so easily discouraged just because people say that’s what happens when time marches on.  So here are a few convictions of my own.  My blog, my birthday.

I believe the spark of divinity dwells in us all, regardless of politics or worldview.  Regardless of identity, ethnic heritage, where they come from, or who they choose to love; monogamous or poly; trans, gender fluid, or cis.  Our ultimate goal is to come together–as one people–not divide ourselves farther than we already are.  We only have this one planet.  It’s not very big, but there’s room for us all.

I believe in and fully support the 2nd Amendment.  I also believe there is no earthly reason for the private ownership of assault-grade weaponry, whose sole purpose is to kill as many people as you can, as fast as you can.  There is nothing in the Constitution to suggest even remotely that this was the Framers’ intent.  Not one word.  Anyone who disagrees is invited to point out exactly where it does.  Take your time.  I’ll wait.

I believe that anyone who discriminates against an ethnicity or culture in the name of national security has lost sight of what it actually means to be an American, or have we learned nothing since the time our Greatest Generation imprisoned 120,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps simply because they looked–wow–Japanese?

I believe family-values evangelicals did themselves irreparable harm when they elected a president who openly refers to his daughter as a “nice piece of ass”, and boasts about grabbing women’s genitals.  How exactly do we justify that to our own daughters?  Our sons?  Our grandchildren?  How do we tell them this is okay?  Because clearly it is…  Church folk said so.

I believe refusing goods and services to anyone because of their sexual identity is not an exercise of religious freedom.  It’s just being a dick, and that’s not okay either.

I believe that patriarchy is wrong on every level.  The idea that men are gifted with ultimate authority over home and society simply because they have nads and a penis would be laughable were the results not so toxic and dehumanizing.  “The man is the man because he’s the man.”  What?  How’s that again?  And shame on anyone who has taught their daughters that this is just the way it its.

Lastly, to all who get their news from Fox, please stop.  You’re embarrassing yourselves.

So no, none of that sounds particularly conservative.  I’m still proudly Blue.  But maybe I’ll check back in another sixty years just to make sure.

Advertisements

Random Musings

Convention season is coming around again.  I can smell it already.

My flash piece “A Child’s First  Steps at the End of the World” has been picked up for publication in Quantum Muse.  Flash is one of the more difficult story forms to get right, at least it is for me.  All of my earlier attempts sounded like really bad haiku.  Can white people write good haiku?  Can white people sing gospel?  The mind reels at the vagaries of the universe…

Just spent the past few hours listening to  German death-metal.  I’m not sure, but I may have inadvertently summoned the Dark Lord.  If the apocalypse comes later today, my bad.

The Writing Experience is approved again for the spring quarter at Tacoma Community College.  At first the class ran for six weeks, and afterward I thought “That wasn’t enough time!”  I expanded it to eight weeks, adding new material.  When it concluded I yowled “OMG!  I thought that would NEVER end!”  So now I’ve cut it back to six weeks but am keeping the added material.  I just need to figure out how to squeeze it all in.  Bonus points if my favorite student Dennis enrolls again, because he brings candy.

My new favorite phrase is “What is this fuckery?”  It sounds properly Shakespearean.

As always, more to follow…

 

 

 

Out of My Head 7: Depicting Emotions in Fiction

  1. Emotional Resonance

Often called the B-Plot, but that’s really not true.  There’s nothing secondary about it.

Life is run from the emotions outward.  You run the risk of losing your audience by working from the intellect only (technique), disconnected from body and spirit.  Your world isn’t real because of the plot points that built it.  It’s real because it feels real.

There must be a core of strong and genuine emotion resonating at the heart of every story.  Without it, the narrative will feel flat and out of balance.  Your readers may not know why they feel this way, but they will know it to be true.

Balance – addressing the needs of the body, mind, and spirit (emotional wellbeing) in equal measure.  Note that balance doesn’t mean perfect.  Out of balance leads to rich characterization.

At any given point in your story, ask yourself “What are my characters feeling right now?”  Then convey that through their words, tones of voice, body language, physical action.  Do you have to share all of this with your readers 100% of the time?  No, but as the writer you need to know how your characters feel because it will color everything that they do.

All that said, badly written fiction can actually succeed because of strong emotional appeal.  Examples of this are Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, and anything directed by Steven Spielberg.

 

  1. Family Dynamics

The ups and downs of family drama are shortcuts into your characters’ head space.  Mom issues.  Dad issues.  The struggles of the middle child.  Example: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”  They’re universal.  Use them.  The advantage here is you don’t have to explain everything.  Your readers already get it.

 

  1. Evolving Roles in the Post-Patriarchy

Women aren’t more emotional than men.  Men are emotionally stunted.

The manly man (traditionally) doesn’t emote.  He’s stoic.  He’s a rock.  He’s eagle-eyed and level headed.  Depicting him as excessively emotional doesn’t ring true.  Patriarchy regulates men’s behavior, attitude, personality, even appearance.  Men who don’t fit into the mold of traditional masculinity either have to hide their true selves or face ostracism.  Men have always had more external freedom than women, but this came at an internal price.

However–today, right now–we’re in a time of transition.  The old paradigms are being completely redefined.

What does this mean?  As a writer, you have a much greater opportunity to tell stories that weren’t easily accepted in the past.  You can explore male characters who defy conventional definitions of masculinity, or female characters who defy conventional definitions of femininity.

An emotionally aware man isn’t a wuss.  A strong woman isn’t a bitch.

Men and woman together are equally responsible for bringing about and sustaining a post-patriarchal narrative.  The stories you write can be exemplars of this.

 

  1. Love Scenes

A love scene is not about sex.  A love scene isn’t even about love.  It’s about the relationship.

A relationship of love contains affection, trust, respect, honestly, playfulness, commitment, an entire spectrum of feelings that can’t really be defined.  All are parts of the relationship.  A love scene between two characters demonstrates these qualities.

“I love you” doesn’t always have to be said on the page.  It isn’t essential to a love scene because it’s already there–it’s the emotional context of the scene.

A love scene is not always a scene between lovers.  Most of the time it isn’t.  A love scene is between two people who love each other: parent and child, brothers, sisters, grandparent and grandchild, friend and friend, teacher and student.  Romance is but one aspect of love; there are countless others to explore.

 

  1. The Hard Throbbing Stuff

David Gerrold:  Sex scenes are embarrassing.  They’re embarrassing to write.  They’re embarrassing to read.  And most of all, they’re embarrassing to publish.  This is because people will assume you’re writing from experience.

Every time you write a sex scene, you’re telling people not just that you think about sex, you’re also telling them what you think about sex.  It is a very public admission of a very private part of your life.  And no matter how many times you say “It’s just a story”, the fact remains that you are the person who sat at the keyboard and imagined it.

So don’t force it.  Be honest!  Don’t feel like you have to include a sex scene just because it sells.  If you’re not comfortable writing sex scenes, it will be evident on the page.  Your reader will know.

What comes before the scene is important.  What comes after is most important.  Again, you’re going for emotional resonance.

The effective sex scene is not about sex.  It’s about the passion of the moment.

Gathering No Moss

Lots of goings-on this month.  Random, and yet not.

I’ve moved nineteen times in my adult life.  It’s one of the curses of being born with insatiable wanderlust, I suppose.  Nineteen changes of address in eleven different cities, five counties, two states.  Packing, cleaning, movers who don’t show up, mountains of boxes to stumble over.  And books–may I point out–are goddamn heavy!  So we just done it again.  Twenty times now, and no longer counting.  Packed up the cat and moved to Des Moines, half an hour south of Seattle.  And in Washington, the “s” in Des Moines is sounded.  Just the second one though, not the first.  Des Moinez, with an emphasis on the z.  I have no idea why.

My proposal for a fiction writing practicum has been approved by Tacoma Community College’s continuing education program.  (Much closer to Des Moines than our old place in Lake Forest Park.  That’s a win for the commute!)  We will be offering the class in the spring quarter and again this fall, potentially at the Gig Harbor campus, too.  I will be teaching as well as writing the curriculum based on the “Out of My Head” posts here.  Go Titans.

“Cold Ink” sold to Beneath Ceaseless Skies this week, the seventh of my Clockwork Millennials cycle to be published.  This one has lived in my head for a long time–like, a really long time.  Thirty-plus years maybe.  The narrative trappings and plot points varied over the years but the story itself–the core of it–and the girl at its center, always remained the same.  I’m glad to finally send her out into the world.

I’ve been listening to the Pippin soundtrack lately.  I always wanted to play Pippin.  I still feel like him (there’s that pesky wanderlust again) but the reality of the calendar says I’m just seven years shy of his grandmother’s age.  No idea how that happened.  Plenty of time for reflection later, though.  I just moved and have to unpack all these goddamn heavy books.

And Then This Happened…

Publisher:  “I think what you’ve got in that dream sequence is awesome.  Love it.  But as a rule I don’t like dream sequences.”

Me:  “Okay…?”

Publisher:  “So I want you to keep everything that’s in the dream, but rewrite it so that it’s not a dream.”

Me:  “But the dream is prophetic.  None of it actually happens.  Not at this stage of the story, at least.”

Publisher:  “Yeah yeah yeah.  You’ll figure it out.  Awesome, though.  Love it.”

Me:  (muttering) “Great googly moogly…”

 

 

Out of My Head 6: The Rhythm of Fiction

Narrative flow has three elements: story rhythm to separate plot from random strings of events; action and reaction in equal parts (yang and yin); and movement, either internal or external.

“Stories have to move.”  You hear that all the time.  What does it mean?  Stories are journeys.  They have to end someplace other than where they began.  Movement is what gets you there.

  1. Story Structure is rigid (the traditional pyramid):
  • First crisis
  • Exposition
  • Second crisis
  • Transition (optional)
  • Third crisis
  • Undercutting (optional)
  • Climax
  • Result
  • Close

The traditional pyramid is static.  It’s driven by the requirements of the plot, but it doesn’t flow.  One step lurches to the next: first crisis, second crisis, third, crisis, climax, resolution…  Movement is what flows between the steps.  It’s generated by the dynamic interplay between action and reaction, the give and take, the yang and yin, be it internal or external.

  1. Story Rhythm is always in motion, diagramed as a continuously expanding series of loops:
  • Goal
  • Action
  • Disaster
  • Reaction
  • Dilemma
  • Decision

The decision leads naturally to the next goal, followed by action, disaster, reaction, and so on.  The loops get bigger with each repetition as jeopardy escalates to the story’s climax.  They’re driven by character.  This is the try/fail cycle.

ACTION (Yang): goal, action, disaster

REACTION (Yin): reaction, dilemma, decision

Story structure is the skeleton that supports rhythm’s muscles.

Plot is what drives the story.  Character is what drives the plot.