How 3 makes 5

•September 3, 2008 • 2 Comments

THUNDERCATS ARE GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have been waiting to say that since I first saw Juno.  And now I can:  my wife and I had our third child on Monday morning.  It’s a boy, and he was 7 pounds 15 ounces, just like his older brother, coincidentally.  Their big sister is thrilled, and everyone is happy but tired.

Web Fiction Guide

•August 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Hey everyone.  I’ve recently begun a new project with a team of other online writers, called the Web Fiction Guide. It’s essentially a resource for readers, where we collect links to online fiction and post reviews.  We’re also interviewing authors.  It’s a fun ride:  you get a quick library for fiction, alongside a five star rating system of what’s good, and what’s not worth your time.  The reviews are by seasoned writers, instead of just drooling fanboys or trolls with grudges.  You get different opinions, and different genres, all in one place.  Check it out!

Shakespeare the Feminist

•June 14, 2008 • 6 Comments

Now, you might be reading that title and going “What the? Shakespeare came from an age steeped in chauvinism and treating women like property.”  People in a class I took in university thought he was particularly hard on women.  Lady Macbeth gets cited as an example, because she asks that her feminity be taken away so she can commit murder.  Hamlet’s Ophelia commits suicide, so does Juliet, and Cordelia (of King Lear) and Lavinia (of Titus Andronicus) are treated even more harshly.

So how is he a feminist?

Through subversion.  Shakespeare is a sneaky writer.  Almost every single one of his contemporaries spent time in prison for criticizing English rulers, government and tradition.  It was really easy to end up in trouble for such views, or for religious heresy.  You had to be very, very careful.  Shakespeare found a way around it.  The illusionist’s trick of “the hand being quicker than the eye” and diverting your attention elsewhere while he pulls off a “magic” trick. 

When Shakespeare wanted to criticize English traditions, he showed them in a play about Rome, like Titus.  Because England had ties to Rome historically, and admired and emulated their culture.  They were an Empire too.  He couldn’t get in trouble for mocking England, because England never got mentioned in the play.  How do I know that Will liked subversion?  Because of his plays.  Hamlet in particular talks about the power of plays, wearing masks, and manipulating people.  In King Lear, Edgar disguises himself as Tom of Bedlam, and passes honesty off as insanity.  The Fool in Lear is also an honest character, whom no one takes seriously because of his role.  Shakespeare was essentially saying “I can be as honest as I like, within a play, because you won’t believe it.  You’ll think I’m merely playing.”  But, all the time, an audience’s minds are absorbing information and ideas, and brains don’t know the difference between truth and lies, sarcasm and fact.  They just absorb information, it’s up to the conscious person to interpret ideas later.  But they’re still absorbed.

So, what does that have to do with feminism?  That’s actually easier to prove, than my little theory about Shakespeare enjoying hiding things in the text.  It’s quite simple.  Cordelia is brutally killed, Ophelia pushed into depression, Juliet forced to kill herself, and Lavinia has things done to her that no one should ever read about.  The audience may or may not have cared, on a societal level.  Women were treated as property all the time.  But two things happen in Shakespeare’s plays.  You are deliberately led to feel sympathy for characters in tragedies, for one thing.  You mourn Juliet and Cordelia, you feel sad for Ophelia and Lavinia.  You care.  That’s the first thing, and it’s easy for a modern audience.

Such empathy might not have been easy for a male-dominated British society.  However, here’s the second thing:  Shakespeare’s actors were men.  So his audiences might or might not think “hey, she’s a girl, who cares what happens to her?”  Or, maybe they still felt bad.  But in their brains, their unconscious minds would go like this:

“Hey, Juliet’s a guy! (of course, it sounded more like Elizabethan English, I’m paraphrasing).  You can’t abuse a guy!  Lavinia’s a man!  You can’t attack or rape a dude!  That’s not proper behaviour!  Someone should start a duel!  That’s unacceptable for honour, for justice, for society!”  Their brains would pull a switch.  Unconsciously, if it’s wrong to hurt a man, even when they’re playing a woman, then maybe it’s wrong to hurt a woman, too.  And so society begins to shift.

Of course, it helped that Queen Elizabeth was around and liked the plays.  When the head of your male society is female, things have to start changing a little.

Why am I bringing this up?  A) I like Shakespeare and studied him a lot.  B) I’m subversive too.  On the surface, No Man an Island is an adventure fantasy with some spiritual and religious themes.  On deeper levels, it’s addressing things that I think are errors in theology and churches and people’s perspectives.  I do it subtly.   I also use traditional writing tricks about characterization and plot, and subtly use them in new ways to trick readers with preconceptions, until I ultimately lead them towards the truth in the story.

Want an example?  188. Rewind – Literature Debate is a great example of what I’m talking about.  Sonja criticizes the “Special Child Syndrome” in literature, like Harry Potter being a special orphan with a destiny.  Well, Ethan comes across as one of those in much of the story.  There’s even a prophecy about it.  But everyone’s story makes that individual special to themselves, and if they become aware of it, you get an Everyman story, which is a very different thing.

I’m sneaky.  That’s what I like best about Shakespeare.

No Man an Island Clues

•June 7, 2008 • 4 Comments

I can’t give away everything about the final meaning of No Man an Island, now that the story is complete.  That would ruin some of the fun of seeing people speculate, and it would also destroy some of the plans for my ultra-cool sequel, now being written.

I will answer questions to the best of my ability.  But, to be honest, some of those answers are already in the book, some of them are in the sequel, and some of them are to be found only in the reader.  To a large extent, NMAI is structured like a meditative labryinth, with each suceessive twist and turn leading inwards to a spiritual insight, and taking you back out again.  What that insight is, well, that’s really individual to each reader.  And it might not happen for some, most, or all readers.  It’s just part of what I hoped and planned for.

So ask me your questions, I’ll tell you no lies.  But the truth, that is a tricky concept.  I’ll do my best.

But here are the chapters that best point the way.  I’m not providing links, because the NMAI Table of Contents has them all:

The Novel

The Ending

Different Car, Same Day

Gwen:  Ethan’s Stories

Gwen:  Ethan’s Journal

Gwen:  Mistaken Identity

Gwen:  Searching

The Wilderness:  Nightmare

The Wilderness:  Deja Vu

The Opening

100. Gwen

Pilgrim’s Progress:  Young Love

Enigma:  Morning Mystery

Enigma:  The Search for Clues

All of Rewind, but especially Literature Debate, and Born on the Wrong Planet

then 209. Gwen to 216. Gwen: Stalemate

Psychomachia – a word worth looking up

all of Lost

all of Clarity and The Beginning.  Two Key Words:  Samsara and Maya.

Happy Hunting:  Now, on with the questions!

And the winner is…

•May 30, 2008 • 3 Comments

For anyone following my blog and stories, you’ll know that I’ve been polling to decide what story to start on June First.  The poll, and the stories, are at www.gavin7w.blogspot.com.

Well, unless something drastically weird happens in the next twelve hours, it looks like the winner is The Surprising Life and Death of Diggory Franklin.  It was a working title, but I think I’m going to go with it.  General Patton said it was “better a good plan now than a perfect plan next week” and it’s all I’ve got.

It was a surprising victory.  The western story, The Untold Legend of Jonah Chalmers, had an early lead, but Diggory found some support somewhere and one by a single vote.  Considering I tried to keep the race close by voting for Jonah, stir up some controversy, it actually wins by two votes.  The Samaritan Project was a distant third place.

Diggory will be a bit of an experiment for me.  I don’t have a lot of backlog, whereas No Man an Island was a completed novel.  I’m going to be running under the gun, writing chapters on the fly, and hoping they work.  It should be fun.  It’s also the story with the least amount of planning, and the least clear story arc, so we’ll see how I do flying by the seat of my pants.

The good news for me is that I have back up stories if it doesn’t go well.  But I’m going to do my best to get this story going, and to have fun with it. 

More Casting Decisions

•May 22, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I decided on some new casting decisions for our imaginary No Man an Island movie.

Shannyn as RebeccaKate as Dorothy

For Dorothy and Rebecca, Kate Bosworth and Shannyn Sossamon.  Which means Kate isn’t playing Hope anymore, but Keri Russell is perfect for the part.

Keri as Hope

And, a new choice for a younger Genevieve, or an older Gwen:  Jennifer Morrison from House (I’ve been watching season one on DVD, and I like her character, Cameron, a lot).

Jennifer Morrison Jennifer Morrison

On Storytelling: Serials, Episodes, and Structure

•May 18, 2008 • 9 Comments

This post came about after some thinking from a comment on No Man an Island.  The link to that discussion is here.  My thoughts on the subject seemed larger than a comment on a chapter there, so it’s here as one of my rants.

I really enjoy the online community of readers and writers, and the opportunity the Internet affords for discussion.  Having comments on each chapter of my book, NMAI, has helped me to become a better writer.  I think it has also made my book more accessible and enjoyable for the audience.  I also take some pride in the fact that my most frequent commenters all seem very well read, and some of them are in fact writers themselves. 

One of the commenters, Lethe Bashar, asked about whether I had every considered providing episode summaries, every few chapters, in order to be more accessible to new readers.  He himself has done this on his online story.  I think that it’s a great idea for an ongoing serial, or episodic story.  Comic books and television shows have this quality, and often have captions or clips to summarize previous stories that are relevant to a current issue or episode.  It lets new, casual viewers jump into the storyline that long-term viewers are already aware of.

For television shows, which can have lifetimes surpassing decades, it is necessary to be accessible in order to draw a large audience.  Comic books have the same longevity.  They can’t expect someone new to buy the first issue, or rent the first season.  They have to give them a reason to be interested NOW.  Online comics and serial novels can have the same thing:  their characters have rich “lives” with multiple episodes, and new readers can enjoy new episodes without having to read all the history.  And, the neat thing is that internet stories have archives, so you can always spend the time to catch up.   You don’t have to go buy the first issue from twenty years ago at great cost, it’s freely available.

I respect that kind of storytelling.  Smallville, X-files, ER, Superman, the X-men, whatever.  I like ongoing stories that have interesting “right now” episodes that are complete and tell a short story, but also have underlying subplots, character development, and over time build a mini-mythology.

However, No Man an Island is not designed that way.  Form and function are inextricably linked in any medium.  Any story has a beginning, middle and end.  A series stretches the middle, so that the meaning of the overall story plays out over a long period of time, as underlying themes.  The episodes in between, however, are like short stories.  They have their own beginning, middle, and end, and they have their own small meanings.  These small pieces contribute to the overall meaning, but can also have a meaning of their own, and exist semi-independently.

There is nothing independent about the structure of NMAI.  From the very first line, everything builds towards the final sentence.  It constantly refers to itself, builds its own symbolism, and ties events in one time period to seeds planted in another.  Chapters might be “out of order” regarding chronology, jumping from 1994 to 2001 to 3000 B.C. and then to 2015.  But the meaning of the plot is going in order, the way it is meant to be understood, the emotions it is meant to evoke.

It’s part of the tradition of literature, stretching back to Aristotle’s Poetics, where he discusses the function of plays.  He defines art, and its purpose.  Art causes the audience to respond with feeling to the object on display, whether in painting, sculpture, literature or theatre or music.  Tragedy’s function is to create a catharsis, taking the awful things of life and giving them structure and meaning, so that the audience might suffer with the characters, and then resolve the suffering and feel better.

No Man an Island is a journey for the audience, from one step to the next.  They are being led to experience particular emotions, ideas and understandings.  To some extent it is supposed to be a spiritual labryinth, in the meditative tradition.  A place to let go and be lost in an experience, that leads you inwards to some central enlightenment, before leading you back out into the world.  Chants do the same thing, like the Jewel in the Lotus, the rosary, or a Muslim’s five times of prayer a day.  Structure leads our minds to a point of thoughtless understanding of the whole.

If you read only a part of NMAI you miss steps.  Some chapters might indeed be interesting on their own, for their own sake.  But you would miss out on the greater structure and meaning and emotion.

In other words, an episodic story is like a quilt, each piece has its own appearance, meaning and history.  Together, they create a whole, but they also have a meaning when they are apart.  But a complete story, like To Kill a Mockingbird or Hamlet, is like a painting.  You aren’t going to understand it by examining the brushstrokes — you have to step back and see the whole thing.  Then, the individual moments or brushstrokes can be appreciated for their technique and placement.  But individually they mean nothing.

 

 
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