29 July 2010

Evil Comparisons! (Part I)

I finally got to see the new film Inception and I enjoyed it. When I first saw the trailer I knew I had to see it, though I did not really know what it was about. Just before seeing it, however, I happened to read a review online which gave more of the premise, dreams within dreams, etc., which made it even more intriguing for me. Having that set of tips in my mind, I could follow it very well. Also, I like to believe, I have developed skills in temporal dexterity as I created the Dream Land worldscape and so I could follow the plot twists better than the average movie-goer.

In Dream Land, the theme of dream vs. reality is constantly poking readers. Is our hero really experiencing this other world, or is he merely dreaming it? In Dream Land I, we tend to believe Sebastian Talbot, a.k.a. the Professor, may be an unreliable narrator who is fooling his coworkers into believing he can travel through an invisible doorway to another world, the planet Ghoupallesz. As the adventure develops we begin to believe him but when he returns after the big "mission" and is questioned by police regarding his missing coworkers, we are nudged back to disbelief. The guy is crazy, obviously.

Inception plays along the same lines, lines that I have to say I enjoyed. The universe created in the film is one in which we believe the fantastic is possible. I have tried to create a similar pseudo-realistic environment in the Dream Land series. Real people doing believably unreal things. In Inception, we travel with the cast's dream-selves into a dream they all share and interact in, then into a dream within that dream, and finally some of them travel into yet a deeper dream to finish the mission. I have personally had a few dreams that involved me dreaming I was dreaming within my dream--that's two levels from reality. That's the best I could do.

In Dream Land I, I began consciously creating a reality in which my hero does find a portal to another world; hence, what he finds is real. As I wrote, however, I began to realize that the plot also worked on another level: he is dreaming, not living, the experiences. So I allowed that dual-view to continue in a more deliberate fashion. I thought it might be fun for readers to keep guessing whether or not our hero is dreaming it all. Of course, that could also become frustrating to some, especially those who may be less patient with twists and further twists of the plot.

Now I worry that when this gets published, people will be saying "Oh, that's just like what happened in that movie, Inception." So I will be forced to declare that I had the idea for Dream Land back when I was a child. I have it documented. And the germ of the actual writing of the story was still back in 1993. Also, well-documented. Well, coincidences do exist, more so in the sci-fi realm. Nevertheless, there are plenty of differences between the dream theme (or "dream team"? plenty of opportunities for further play on movie and novel titles!) of Inception and my Dream Land series.

In the movie the dreaming is declared up front (well, after the opening teaser). In my novel, the dreaming is only a question: 1) the protagonist wonders if his experiences were just dreams, 2) the police question whether he was making it all up, i.e., dreaming it, and 3) the protagonist identifies some episodes as dreams, waking dreams, or even hallucinations. In the end, however, what is dream and what is reality is ultimately left to the reader to decide; I like to play both possibilities as fully and for as long as possible--an admittedly redundant statement, sorry.

The movie uses "dream" as a vehicle for solving DiCaprio's character's dead wife problem--which is reminiscent of his turn in Shutter's Island; he may be starting to be type-cast as crazy widower characters--and the corporate espionage scheme, which should be shocking to us, making us fear the technology that can insert ideas into our minds and make us act on them, believing that our thoughts are our own. Truly disturbing stuff.

(Part II is in regard to the original film Stargate and the subsequent television series.)

24 July 2010

New But Improved?

I managed to finish the latest, perhaps last edit of Dream Land I, trying to tighten and cut out unnecessary words--as we've always been told. I worry that for the first book it is too long to be accepted. I don't think there is much that is left that is gratuitous and cut-able.
I managed to finish the edit in time to pack and move half-way across the country to start a new job in 3 weeks.

After a lengthy job search effort in academia, seeking the elusive tenure-track position at a college or university, I have been approached by a school as desperate to hire someone as I am to be hired by such a school. It may be a perfect match in that regard at least. In other factors, not so much. I am glad that I am not in the middle of crucial series of scenes or an important chapter, then forced to stop for what may be a month or more.

But all authors need a steady job, right? If writing is what I do best--of those things I do; not to say I am very good at it, only that writing skills are slightly more developed than any others I have--I do not want to do that as a job all week. Then I would have no interest in writing when I am home and writing on my own time. Teaching others how to write, however, is quite a different matter. 

So, as the future replicates the past, I will again be teaching first-year college students how to write, reviewing and/or correcting techniques not perfected in high school, and perhaps also changing their attitudes about writing.  It's a living.

Writing is a way of life.

20 July 2010

So it's like this . . .

My computer's anti-virus application warns me that if I go to my blog I could get harmful viruses. Is it my blog or my anti-virus that's the problem?

That made me wonder what I had written that could be so dangerous. Forced me to check this blog and, hence the inevitable, to write another entry. 

My intention originally was to write about my writing. I am currently revising the first volume of my science-fiction trilogy. There is a bit of irony in that I did not plan a trilogy when I started what has become the first book. It is also ironic that since completing the second book--by which time I had planned a third book--I have thought of further adventures that could become a fourth or even a fifth book.  What do you call a 5-book series?  A quintology?

I titled the first book "Dreamland" because I got the idea in a dream (back in December 1993) and decided to continue the dream vs. reality motif throughout.  Then I discovered others had used the name already.  There was a sci-fi novel about Area 51 and the Roswell aliens titled "Dreamland". There is also a book about the history of the Coney Island amusement park called "Dreamland".  So I changed my title, ever so subtly to: "The Dream Land".

So now we have the "Dream Land" series.

I'd had the idea for many years. I could even say it went back into my childhood when I fashioned creatures from pipe cleaners and yarn and role-played some of the adventures. It was embarrassing to state that for a while, but now I am comfortable with revealing the secret origins of the Dream Land series. I still have a bunch of the little mouse-like critters in boxes of childhood "memories".

The re-start of the idea as a book came in that dream in December 1993. Earlier in the day I had purchased a cassette (does that make my life look old?) of Enya's first album, The Celts.  I knew nothing of Enya at the time; the titles of the songs and the cover art compelled me to buy something I guessed I might like. I did. The strangely evocative music was like nothing I had ever heard before and it cut into my mind.

I heard the music playing during that dream, a dream in which I saw a Zetin maiden riding a Jepe (accented characters are not allowed in blogs, it seems) on a barren slope high in the mountains. That dream became one of the opening scenes of Dream Land I--as readers will no doubt recognize.

Prior to the music and the dream, I was having difficulty finding the right place to jump i nto the story. That is, the right place to begin. After the dream and the scene I quickly wrote upon awakening, I decided to set the first chapter in the IRS service center where I had once been employed. I chose to have our hero (who is NOT the same as me, though he often tries to imitate me when I am at my worst) have the same dream while napping during the graveyard shift's lunch break. Bingo! A plot was hatched.

Flash forward: After finishing the second volume I became aware that the first book was not as well-written as this second one. It lacked focus, sharp dialog, and what some might call a coherent story line. So I went back to punch it up, to make it the equal of Dream Land II. 

One thing I did was add a prologue where our hero discusses a dream with his psychiatrist. The reviews I received form agents and editors suggested my protagonist was not "sympathetic". Of course, we need to be able to identify with a character to go along with them through the story. I thought the prologue would show him in a more sympathetic way: a man who has had hard times and is struggling to make sense of the world--as many of us do daily. The scene with the Zetin maiden follows. That scene becomes a lightning rod which gets him to wake up and take action: he must rescue his long lost love from the clutches of the evil Zetin warlord.

Such as it is in sci-fi and sword/sorcery fiction. And yet, I didn't want it to be quite the same. I wanted to keep it grounded in "reality" somehow, so readers will feel a different connection, something more akin to a real Earthling having a real adventure in a real place which happened to exist through an interdimensional doorway.

14 July 2010


Once upon a time someone told me that when one is bored one should write about being bored.

Many attempts to start a blog ended with a few snarly remarks or a well-intended but too flowery, poetic, or overwritten fluff piece on the socio-political issue of the day. That truly caused boredom.

Now I have been inspired to try again. The topic of this blog will be my writing. I may share excerpts of my "serious" writing here, but this blog is going to be mostly about my writing, rather than the writing itself. How I do what I do. Why I do what I do. Why I keep doing what I do. What I should perhaps be doing instead of what I do. And so on.

In the event I publish something, people like it and want to know more about me or my work, they can turn here. Perhaps they could "google" me. That seems to work both in school and in the movies.

So here goes....