Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Direction I'm Heading

Writing "The Vimana Incident" was a blast, and "The Linen Butterfly" will probably be a very similar sort of story, if that gives any indication.

Already, though, I'm starting to feel the need to back away from trippy sci-fi/fantasy crossovers where competing narratives of self and reality are the norm.

I just want to go back to doing more normal stories for a bit.  I think I've already kind of said so but over the last few days it's been building to the point where I really need to ground myself.  The fact is, stories like these take a lot out of me because they require me to confront some of my most uncomfortable intrusive thoughts, dwelling for months at a time in a headspace where pretty much everything is in doubt.

I want to open up about something: I'm the kind of person who can get runaway doubts about anything and everything if I let myself.  I remember once I was cooking with eggs, and I managed to cast enough doubt on whether the eggs were real that I had to call Kobi into the room to convince me that we hadn't bought counterfeit eggs.  It isn't pleasant or fun living with a mind like this.  That's what severe, pathological anxiety does to you.

When my mind is already racing with these terrifying possibilities, writing these stories is a great relief, but I have to get out of that headspace now and then.

I don't want to cancel "Metroburg," which will probably be much like "The Vimana Incident" in some respects but longer; at the present time I don't feel I'm ready to take on that project though.

I'm really warming up to "Edouard and Le Mouche," which is more of a fun satire of adventure-themed period pieces than a heavy philosophical exploration into anything at all.  I think after that I might be able to tackle some more adventurous prospects.

"How Stands The Glass" might be another one worth getting into.  I'm liking how the project is shaping up.  I'm thinking the two brothers could be named Ephram and Alexander Walsh, but I'm not sure how authentic those names are for 18th Century New England.  Research time!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Creative Endeavors

This blog is primarily devoted to my writing, and writing has honestly been may main creative outlet since about 2010.  That year, I published "Basecraft Cirrostratus" and also wrote the first draft of my third (and yet-unpublished) novel, "One Could Do Better."

Ten years earlier, I had originally wanted to be an actor.  I had been involved in community theater since 1995 and thought I could make it as a professional.  I went as far as attending a high school for the performing arts, the Academy for the Arts Sciences and Technology in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  During this time I also began to experiment with writing, initially writing short plays and sonnets before attempting to collaborate with an artist in the UK on a novel (a project that later fell through, but inspired and trained me for later efforts as a novelist).

Ultimately, I began to have misgivings about how much effort it took for very little chance at success, and when I asked myself if that was something I'd like to do for the rest of my life, the answer was no.  When I signed up for Richmond the American International University in London to study literature and history, it was a foregone conclusion that I wouldn't go back to the theater.

Of course, there were other factors to my decision besides the poor career prospects actors face; I was starting to explore writing, I was very much in love with several people in the UK at various times, and in truth I felt a strong, visceral attachment to the place that I never did fully understand.  I spent a lot of time wandering the English cities of the north and east looking for medieval remnants and the Southwestern countryside, looking for a village that only existed in my mind.  This restless wandering, driven from some part of myself I never properly understood at the time, is described in "One Could Do Better."

During that time I also became an avid photographer, and I began work on "The Goldenlea." At last, though, the old specter of career prospects raised its head again and I began to question my choice to study history.  When I went back to the States in 2005, I tried to sell my photography but did poorly, and nearly stopped work on "The Goldenlea."

I took a one-year Microsoft server course at Horry-Georgetown Technical College which landed me a job at a small computer shop in Surfside, South Carolina run by a man who celebrated skilled individuals, but hated actually paying them (but must have been a huge Bush donor as he had mementos from the campaign all over his office including autographed pictures).  To date that was the only job I ever got with my now-obsolete training which proved that my one attempt to learn a "marketable skill" was a complete disaster.

Shortly thereafter I landed a job in Las Vegas editing videos semi-professionally.  I had made a series of short videos on YouTube including a re-dubbed version of "Voyage Dans La Lune" that ended up getting some small attention in the national press (the LA Times called it "Trippy.").  I also did some videos for Italo-Swiss producer and musician Salvatore Cusato, also known as Casco (including the long-awaited official video for his 1983 hit "Cybernetic Love").  But after Vegas, the video editing gigs dried up and I found myself delivering pizzas in North Little Rock.

It was there that I really began to turn my attention fully to writing, even as I tried to focus my attention on making as much as I could without a college degree after finding the faculty at University of Arkansas Little Rock very disagreeable and belligerent.  I had studied anthropology there and returned to my studies in 2010-2011, the faculty having now forgotten about how they felt about me, before relocating to Oregon.

2010 was also the year I published "Basecraft Cirrostratus," and wrote "One Could Do Better," and I began to feel like writing was something I was finally showing some promise with after years of trying to get something out the door.  It also seemed to be the one medium I did well enough to make at least small achievements consistently in, where I've found only brief, fleeting achievements in nearly every area of creative expression.

2013 saw my shift from anthropology to history as an emphasis on what will soon become a degree in social science due to the wide variety of subjects I have studied in trying to find an academic discipline that didn't frustrate me too much.  I finally grew tired of trying to make myself fit into whatever might pay and decided to study what I like, after so many years of fighting that decision.  That year also marked a shift in my writing toward exploring Gnostic themes, science fiction, and competing narratives of identity after discovering the works of Philip K. Dick at a very difficult period in my life.  While that won't be the whole of my output, and I'm going to need a break from it after I finish revisions on "The Linen Butterfly," it's a genre I intend to revisit from time to time.

And likewise with writing; it seems to be the only constant throughout the last fourteen years or so.  It doesn't pay very well and it has taken me a long time to hone myself to the point where I feel confident promoting myself as a writer, but I suppose all these years of experimentation have taught me that life's too short not to study what you want.  I've got a lot of water under the bridge now, but also a lot of life experience to draw on for my fiction that I didn't have when I first sat down to pen the first words of "The Goldenlea" in 2003.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Last Days of Guillaume de Longespee- Short Story

I like to speculate a lot, and I like to speculate on the hidden possibilities of history too.  As a historian, I can't take any such liberties.  Rather than try to defend preposterous theories, however, I feel like I can create a satisfying sideline writing historical fiction for my less-defensible propositions.  If I am to be an academic, I will be an honest academic and if I am to be a writer, I will be as sensational and histrionic as I dare, but I hope never to find myself in the unenviable position of being a sensational and histrionic historian by calling my historical fiction a serious inquiry.

Furthermore, historical fiction gives me a chance to become involved in the story, and lay down all semblance of objectivity to tell the story as I see it play out, using the skeletal scenario played out in the history books as a framework to improvise a story filled with human emotion.

This story was my first true attempt at historical fiction, as it defends the first preposterous theory I've thought worth writing about, and includes embellishments from medieval chroniclers, something I could never do in a serious history essay.  Anyone offended by the historicity of the story should remember that it is only speculative historical fiction.

Set in late 1225/early 1226, it tells the story of Guillaume (William) Longespee, illegitimate son of Henry II, he served various offices under four kings (Henry II, Richard I, John, and Henry III) but is best known as the Earl of Salisbury, a title he married into thanks to Richard's arrangement of his marriage to Ela, Countess of Salisbury.  In fact, he is best known as "Salisbury" in many texts.

Part of the reason I chose him was because not a whole lot of good material, fiction or nonfiction, has been written about him despite the fact that he was involved with some of the most important people and events in his era.  He was a major figure, for instance, in convincing King John to adopt the Magna Carta.  He is briefly depicted in Shakespeare's "Life and Death of King John," he's portrayed in at least one badly-dated Georgian novel "Longsword, Earl of Salisbury," he's a character in a recent children's book where he is made into a very cliche knight in shining armor, and he's a figure in several novels by Elizabeth Chadwick who claims to have channeled his Akashic Records.

I, claim no inspiration up front for my work except imagination and research (that may be why this attempt is a bit rough in my honest opinion).  While much of my source material is from Roger of Wendover's Flores Historiarum (including the scene where Salisbury sees the Virgin Mary in the rigging of the ship, a scene I turned into a subjective interpretation of St. Elmo's fire on his part), I also challenge Wendover's narrative with the fact that Salisbury is sick from the time he leaves Gascony, and he isn't cast adrift for three whole months like the Christian Odysseus Wendover made him into.  Instead, the whole "cast adrift for three months" deal is revealed to be part of an elaborate ruse to hide the fact that he is dying and knows he is dying for some months before he finally succumbs to his unspecified illness.

My one biggest error- and one I suspected was wrong from the start- was a source that had erroneously stated that Salisbury had been on crusade with Richard and was at the Siege of Acre.  By the best accounts I can find, this is based on mistaken identities in medieval chronicles and he was probably too busy for the crusades as one of the barons Richard left to run the country (hence his close relationship to John who was also not involved in the Crusades).

Also, I play with his likely age quite a lot.  I used speculation I found from the 1910 Catholic encyclopedia that he had been a close friend of Marie de France, which was based on his birth date being around 1150 as the son of Henry and "Fair" Rosamund.  However, he was probably born around 1176 as his mother is now known to have been Ida de Tosny.

But the reasoning behind the real twist in the story, I will tell at the end of this post because it contains spoilers!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On Trash

I realized something today as I rode the Max into downtown, my eyes for once fixed at a level rather than cast downward. I began noticing details I hadn't before, which usually happens. I had always assumed it was depression and anxiety that made me look at the world this way, but giving it some thought I realized that depression can't be the only reason I am more familiar with what's under foot than what's at eye level. Rather, what lies at the heart of much of my gazing at the ground is the fact that I'm fascinated by trash.

It's certainly shown up in my writing. In one book in particular- my unpublished novel "One Could Do Better"- the protagonist finds a scrap of paper on the streets of London with the titular phrase and, intent of making it mean something, turns his life on a dizzying tangent. That story is so true to my nature it hurts.

I remember once, as a child, when I would go up to visit my grandparents' lake house in Santee, South Carolina, there was an old mid-century garbage dump out in the woods that my father and I would explore. Mostly, we found interesting old bottles. Some were well-known, like the famous 10-2-4 Dr. Pepper bottles my father remembered from his childhood; others were bottles from long-defunct and forgotten soda companies, with names like Parnell's, Shivar, and Virginia Dare. Once, I even managed to find the bullet nose from the grill of a '49 Ford, a prize I still have among the huge amounts of things I've collected over the years.

It was all trash- at least in its own time it was- but by my time these were objects with value. I could easily turn around and sell the once-worthless chrome from that old Ford for maybe $100 or so, to some collector who would proudly display it in their man cave along with original signs from Route 66 and old Texaco gas pumps.

Trash, you see, is two things: it is temporal and it is subjective, and these qualities are interwoven. With time, the subjective value of trash increases, and trash becomes ennobled to the status of an antique, a collectible, or even- given enough time or the right circumstances- an artifact of a lost civilization, preserved behind glass thick enough to stop a bullet and kept in a climate-controlled environment. Objects, people, and ideas are only trash when nobody wants them; their essence, their essential defining traits, are unchanged, and their apotheosis from trash to treasure is purely metaphysical.

The Rosetta Stone- which I was fortunate enough to see in London in the 2000s- was nothing more than Ptolemaic trash that, given time, became ennobled to the status of an irreplaceable artifact. The medieval manuscripts I have worked with- which I deem to be a great privilege- were once trash made obsolete by the invention of movable print, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution (need I continue?) and the ones that weren't destroyed or discarded were forgotten and ignored until the last 150 years or so.

Stranger still is the way that those who work with trash become ennobled proportionally to the trash they work with. We esteem the scholar, the archaeologist, and the treasure hunter who search through yesteryear's garbage far above the dumpster diver, who searches through yesterday's garbage; the only difference between them, fundamentally speaking, is the number and type of people who are willing to invest in them a modicum of value.

When people become trash, they often pass away before their value can be unearthed, and the more alienated from each other we become, the more trash we generate as those we deem useless are thrown to the wayside. Like the mounds of good metal and paper we dump into landfills, we seem to generate such a surplus of human trash in this day and age that human life becomes cheap as the individual becomes expendable in relation to the whole machinery of production and consumption. The value of the individual- immutable and inviolable in our idealized presumption- meets with the same reality as lifeless things when faced with the brunt of industrial society's march toward the goal of producing for production's sake. Where men are regarded only as glorified machines, their worth is always measured in units of production. But on the whole the attitude toward them is apathy, or else ignorance, much as it is for the trash from last Saturday's picnic in the park. The world is full of broken bottles, crumpled cups, and crushed cans that can tell the sad story of exactly how and why they became trash.

But when ideas become trash, it becomes a tremendous anathema to unearth them, examine them, try to glean any morsel of truth from philosophies discarded wholesale without a thought to the value of their parts. The act of sorting through physical trash in and of itself is seldom a crime more serious than a misdemeanor, but the act of sorting through the trash of philosophers and thinkers whose ideas are out of fashion is often an unforgivable trespass for which the philosophical dumpster diver pays with their reputation and, in more extreme cases, their life. It is only when an idea is forgotten long enough for its merit to be considered in objective terms that the philosophical dumpster diver becomes an ennobled character, the scholar and exponent of a revival of old modes of thinking as if those ideas were, in fact, their own.

So it is that I walk with my eyes cast downward, forever scanning for that scrap of paper, lost trinket, detritus of the last century, and ideas overlooked by the present cultural milieu. I'm forever scanning for that piece of paper that, with a few simple words, will turn my life on some exciting, dangerous tangent that no one ever thought of, because no one considered it anything but trash until I came along.