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NaNoWriMo 2017: A Success

December 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Do you know what I like best about National Novel Writing Month? It really forces me to take the time to sit down and get a new idea out of my head and on paper. Well, not really paper but you get the idea. So far I’ve managed to get out four novels of at least 50,000 words. They’re not complete by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re really good starts for ideas that I’ve wanted to develop for years. Life gets in the way sometimes, you know?

I have a notebook full of ideas that I want to develop into novels or short stories, and the latest story I wrote from NaNoWriMo was taken from it. I think I’m up to 67 ideas that I’ve come up with? Either way, if I come up with an idea that I think is worth remembering and developing, and I don’t have time to work on it right then, I write it down in that notebook to get back to later. I called it “Zombie Projects,” because they’ll come back from the dead some day.

After two years of not participating in NaNoWriMo I managed to hit the 50,000 word mark on my fourth novel, and I did it in about 28 days. Technically it is actually 21 days since I didn’t write for seven of the days for various reasons. I finished the contest on November 28, with no small amount of relief. I really do love to do this, but it’s a lot of stress and pressure, and I always end up writing many more than 50,000 words because I will completely rewrite entire sections, which means that I probably came closer to writing 75,000 words in 21 days.

The story I wrote–and am currently in the process of writing, still–is called The Road That Leads Home. If you want to see the details of the novel as they exist on my NaNoWriMo profile, you can click here. There’s a brief synopsis (which needs to be updated a bit), and a rough draft excerpt of one of the important parts of the novel.

So what is it about? Well, I had this idea to write a science fiction novel about a half-human / half-alien girl who had to grow up on Earth, surrounded by people who hated her for merely being only half-human. For the longest time I had no idea how to approach it, but two things really fell into place that helped to finally launch it. The first was attending a panel at the science fiction convention Escape Velocity, in which one of the panelists asked if we could get into touch with the “other” within ourselves in way that doesn’t honor our humanity or humanism, but changes and transforms us. In other science fiction aliens embrace the human within them or human ideals to resolve conflicts of identity.

Take, for instance, Commander Spock from Star Trek. His cold, logical alien demeanor is constantly pitted against the empathetic humanism of Doctor McCoy. Conflicts between them, and those of identity that Spock experiences personally, are often resolved by Spock getting in touch with his human side, and holding as a virtue the ideals of humanism. It seems as if Spock needs to abandon his alien parts. Aliens in science fiction are meant to destabilize our own identities, to throw our own views of ourselves into question. We can use them to analyze our behavior and our philosophies, but because we think so inwardly when we think of aliens we never really imagine something truly alien.

My story was not an attempt to imagine something truly alien, but to look at the development of Spock and say, “Huh. Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a character who specifically rejected humanity and humanism?” Could we maybe use that as a way to move beyond self-congratulatory–even conceited–celebrations of humanity and explore someone coming to terms with their identity by embracing the otherness within them?

So how do I get there? The second thing that fell into place was attending a lecture by N. Katherine Hayles called “Why We Are Still Posthuman.” I had heard of posthumanism before, but never really explored it in depth apart from one aspect of it called transhumanism. This lecture really helped me to connect to dots that led me to develop the central conceit of The Road That Leads Home. Being human is contingent; it’s an historical and cultural construct. What a human is, and what it takes to be one, changes over time–it’s constantly in flux. Humanism is often constructing and bounded–in the world we live in now, one with cyborgs and Google Glass and other technological wonders, our definition of what makes a human is expanding every day and we’re not even aware of it.

So I wanted to write a story that deconstructs the boundaries in humanism, exposes its limitations and its prejudices, and tries to find something beyond it. In my novel, humans don’t really react well to that, and why should they? They’re being asked to abandon the idea that they have a special place in the universe, or that there’s something special about them in their very nature. The very existence of my protagonist is one that is a threat to them and any philosophy that puts humans front and center.

What’s funny is that this is happening today, even as you read these words. It’s unavoidable, and as we explore the impacts of technoscience on how we imagine ourselves and our place in the world. The emergence of new technologies that connect us to each other via social media changed us. The medical science that allows for organ transplantation changed us. The fact that we acknowledge the sentience and intelligence–not to mention rights–of animals besides ourselves is changing us. And this will only accelerate as time goes on. Humanism will not be able to keep up with that, which is why posthuman schools of thought (like transhumanism, for instance) are becoming more attractive to greater numbers of people.

We’re entering a brave new world. I think we should embrace it.

Before I close out this post, I want to include a small excerpt from my current rough draft of The Road That Leads Home. It’s written to be like a biography / autobiography, sourced from different types of media and put together to form a narrative of the life of my protagonist. Her name is Freya Jameson, and the excerpt is televised interview between a journalist and Freya’s fully human brother, Scott. Please keep in mind that this is a rough draft, and as yet contains rather blunt, unsubtle references and language–I’ll clear that up later. I just wanted to get the general scene written.


Charles: Welcome back to Detroit News Now. Sitting with me in the studio is the brother of Freya H’val r’ Earth’van, a member of the first generation of Human Hybrids. Scott, thank you for agreeing to speak with us today.

Scott: No problem, Charles. I’m happy to clear things about and set the record straight.

Charles: It’s good that we’re launching right into this, because I have a hard question right off the bat. What happened to Freya?

Scott: Can you clarify? Lots of things happened to Freya.

Charles: Why did she renounce her humanity and leave Earth?

Scott: Because she wasn’t human.

Charles: It’s a matter of record that she was a Human Hybrid. Her father—

Scott: Let me stop you right there, Chuck. Can I call you Chuck? You call her a Human Hybrid, not a human. Her whole life she was essentially told ‘you’re not really human.’ And people act surprised when she finally agrees with them?

Charles: Don’t you think that’s a little unfair? Not everyone feels that way about them.

Scott: No, absolutely not. You might not have directly caused her harm, but you are part of a media organization that breathlessly and repeatedly reported on the so-called ‘Hybrid Crime Wave.’ Don’t deny it, Chuck. For years you could turn the news on and the first thing you would see is one of your anchors reporting on some minor crime by one of the desperate people that were rejected out of hand by our society, next to some scary graphics, as if they were out in gangs, roaming the streets, murdering people.

Charles: The reporting on those crimes was problematic, yes, but that doesn’t—

Scott: Don’t give me that. You can lie to yourself, but we both know what it was. Tell me, Chuck, did you have to clean up your sister’s busted lip after some jerk broke it open with a rock to the mouth? Did you have to endure the scorn of other people merely for having a sister that was a little different? Did your grandparents tell you that they wish you had died in the womb? Don’t tell me this isn’t about how much we pushed her to that.

Charles: So you’re saying that she blames everyone but herself for what happened to her.

Scott: Excuse me? I’m sorry, it sounded like you were implying that Freya was responsible for what we did to her. Are you going to blame her for almost being raped next?

Charles: What I’m saying is that we know she was radicalized at some point in her early twenties. There is evidence that, for a time, she advocated for violent separation from the human race for all Hybrid Humans. Are you denying that she became a public danger?

Scott: Absolutely. See, this is so like you [censored]. She didn’t advocate for a violent separation, and that you’re still claiming that tells me you never actually cared to listen to her.

Charles: Well, then, tell us, Scott. What did she advocate for? What did she mean by, ‘we must free ourselves of the shackles of humanism, forced on us against our will by circumstance of birth. This isn’t a struggle for human rights—a racist term—it’s a struggle for the rights of all thinking and feeling creatures in this Silver River. There will come a time when we all must ask ourselves if we prefer benevolent subjugation under the yoke of humanism or the bullet.’

Scott: Can you finish that quote, please?

Charles: Don’t you want to answer that?

Scott: If you don’t want to finish the quote, I will.

Charles: Answer my question. What did she mean by that?

Scott: I’ll finish the quote.

Charles: Answer my question.

Scott: Don’t interrupt, Chuck. That’s rude. Here we go: ‘…humanism or the bullet. If we can’t free ourselves of the chains imposed upon us by those who would call us Hybrid Humans while denying our humanity, we must cease to be that which we are now, and through the violent revolution of the self, set out on our own. Henry David Thoreau once said that ‘we need the tonic of wildness,’ and I am here to tell you my brothers and sisters of common heritage that we are athirst of home, country, and community. We need to drink of the tonic of wildness and discover our own country in the stars.’ Where do you see a call for violent separation of the human race?

Charles: She literally mentioned a bullet.

Scott: Obviously a reference to Malcolm X’s speech ‘The Ballot or the Bullet.’ The second part of the quote, which you refused to read to your audience—which I find both unethical and dishonest—gave it context. She wasn’t talking about a violent overthrow of government or attacking people in the streets. She was talking about a radical reinvention of the self, embracing the otherness that had for so long been forced on her by us. She said, ‘if we’re to be dismissed as other, let us embrace the otherness. Let us show them it won’t be an albatross around our necks, but an identity. We’ll define ourselves as other than human. I’ll define myself as other than h’tro. What will you drop in order to embrace the otherness in you?’

Charles: And you don’t see how that makes her look bad? You don’t see how that might turn people against her? Doesn’t that, in actuality, confirm people’s feelings about her?

Scott: Do you know what Freya would say to that?

Charles: Please enlighten me.

Scott: She would say that what they fear the most, what they find the most repulsive, is that she turned her back on them—on humanism—and embraced something foreign and strange. It was a rejection of the very thing that they denied her, that they constantly told her she wasn’t good enough to possess. It’s not about her, Chuck. It’s about them. It’s about you and me, and your audience sitting at home. They constantly said that Freya wasn’t like them. All she did was embrace that.


Thank you for reading!

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A-to-Z Challenge Day Seven: Grandparents

April 8, 2014 2 comments

This post is coming late because today is my grandmother Margarita’s birthday. Like me, she doesn’t like big to-dos and would rather have a relaxed celebration with a few close people. I actually feel I take after her a lot and that’s actually something that makes me proud. She’s a strong, resolute woman who cares for her family.

And this gets me thinking about what my grandparents mean to me. Certainly they nurtured me and gave me much, and I appreciate everything they do for me and have done for me. I love them with all of my heart and it’s hard to think of one thing to really focus on with this post.

I could talk about how all four of my grandparents contributed something to who I am, and made me, me. I have good memories of my grandpa Don, a farmer and mechanical wizard by nature. I don’t have so many good memories of getting up at the crack of dawn to go out into the fields when autumn rolled around. But sometimes I appreciate the experiences.

I grew close to my grandmother Janet before she died a few years ago in a car accident. It’s still hard to write about this because it was so sudden. I remember when I was told about the accident. I left work early (I was a park ranger at the time) and rode to the hospital with my mother. I remember sitting in the waiting room with my uncles while we were waiting for news. I think we all suspected the worst, which was why we were telling jokes and my conservative uncles were teasing me.

Sometimes the thing that sticks out the most about what happened after that is silly. It’s a clock. My grandmother was wrapped in a blanket on a metal table. An intubation apperatus was jutting from her mouth and bits of gravel were imbedded in her face, stuck there from the impact after she was ejected from the car. My father was talking to her and sobbing–and that memory is heartbreaking for me. But that clock…it was stuck on 9:38:43. It ticked between 43 seconds and 44 seconds, as if time had stopped.

But what I like to remember is that she and I talked about Harry Potter and looked forward to the new movies coming out. And this is what I remember most about all of my grandparents: the stories.

I think all of the stories that I heard from them fueled my love for all stories. My grandfather Ramon could talk your ear off about, well, anything. And I really appreciate that sometimes. He has stories about serving in the army, about his father getting his American citizenship in Italy after he was wounded in World War 2. He has hilarious stories of his youthful antics that I hope someday to turn into stories.

And I’m realizing as time continues its inevitable forward march that soon all I’ll have of them are the memories and the stories. That makes me sad, but it also makes me a little happy. They gave me them, and they nurtured my curiosity of history and their experiences growing up in a world I’ve only ever seen in documentaries. They gave me the thirst for knowledge and understanding, and instilled me with ethics and morals like honesty. I’ll always carry a part of them with me, even after they’re gone.

For that I am eternally grateful.

Categories: Geek, Life Tags: , ,

The Secret Inner Life of a Bibliophile

March 12, 2014 Leave a comment
Four new books to add to the collection.

Four new books to add to the collection.

I love books.

From the time I first picked up a battered copy of The Hobbit to the time when I discovered a deep affinity for science fiction when I first read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, books have been the center of gravity that my life has orbited around. I spent five years studying English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan for that very reason, learning how to grapple with the difficult ideas that literature often forces you to face.

Books are more than just literature, though. They’re more than just allusion and framing and metaphor. They’re human, and because of that, they represent us. Our hopes and aspirations. Our fears and malevolence. Sometimes it is easy to forget that books are more than just bound pages with ink. They’re the voices of people echoing through time. Who was the first person to tell the epic of Beowulf? How many times did the words “Hwaet! we Gar-Dina…” pass between the lips of a poet, strumming an Anglo-Saxon lyre, while people huddled around a fire, captivated by the stories of a Geat who defeated a horrible monster and later became king of the Geats?

We’ll never know, but these questions have always inspired me. I learned how to read Old English and that act, inspired by images of a tradition of poet-actors who passed the story down orally, opened me to more worlds of thought than I could ever have imagined. Kennings, which are particular to Old English, helped me to see how flexible language can be. Why adhere to a rigid understanding of words and definitions when our language was so adept at using words like heofon-candel, or sky candle, to mean sun?

There aren’t many ways to see just how powerful Old English is when spoken anymore. I was lucky enough to come across two videos by Benjamin Bagby, the opening lines of Beowulf and the battle scene with Grendel, which do a magnificent job of showing how the epic poem might have been performed.

Books are also physical. Holding a copy of an old book and feeling its weight is, to a bibliophile, an affirmation of life. The smell of the fragile, often yellow pages invokes a sense of wonder. We want to collect the books we love. I tend to collect different editions and printings of the same book if I can find them. Some time ago I started to catalog my books so that I could keep track of the different editions.

That's a lot of books.

That’s a lot of books.

I think I missed the deadline by a few...decades.

I think I missed the deadline by a few…decades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the things that’s absolutely wonderful about cataloging books is that not only does it allow me to show off a huge stack of slips that detail the books, but it also allows me to feel and hold each one. I have to open the book to get the information to put on the slip for the catalog, so even if I never get around to reading it (I do have a life outside of books and I do enjoy living it) I can take the time to appreciate it. The picture above and to the right is from a copy of David Starr, Space Ranger that I had recently purchased. Little things like these old order forms make me smile.

One of the drawbacks with book collecting is space. I have personally cursed the laws of physics more than once over the years as bookshelves were filled to capacity and storage containers to bursting with books. So now they exist wherever I can find room for them: under the bed, in multiple closets, and in various rooms.

Books next to the games

Books next to the games!

Piles of books on the nightstand...

Piles of books on the nightstand!

Despite the lack of space for the books, I don’t ever imagine I’ll stop collecting them. Every time I go to a bookstore I have to stop myself from grabbing up stacks of books (lest I drive myself into bankruptcy) and carting them to the counter. Collecting books isn’t just a hobby or a passion, though. In many ways it is like the accumulation of money; a kind of cultural and intellectual currency to expand the mind and enrich the soul. They allow you to connect and communicate with people that may be long dead, adding their ideas and perspectives to your own.

The search for books is the search for knowledge. Fiction can teach us about the perils and pitfalls that we must face by our nature as humans, just as nonfiction can guide our learning on history and science. We become more than what we were after we learn. We improve ourselves and we pass that on to those that come after us. And that’s the open secret we bibliophiles know. Books, like ideas and knowledge, are precious.