Monthly Archives: January 2013

New Feature: Facebook Author Page

The obligatory traditional author bio pic...

The obligatory traditional author bio pic…

At the urging of some friends and those students who can’t add me on Facebook because they’ve yet to graduate (this is my rule, and a good one), I’ve created an author page where Cyberspace can essentially devour me whole. When I get up the nerve to do a reading or to schedule a book signing, this is where the information will be. You’ll also find updates there that are too mundane or brief to be included in this space. If you’re one of the many subscribers that follows this blog but are not a WordPress user, this page might also be a more convenient place for you to drop me a line.

I’ve added the link to the sidebar. Feel free to drop by and smash that “like” button if you feel the urge. I hope to see you there.

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Filed under Fantasy, My Writing, Science Fiction, Writing

The Importance of Symbolism

Mjolnir

Whenever the term “symbolism” comes up in my English class, I hear a collective groan that is normally synonymous with detention or the suggestion of a looming research paper due date. My seniors tend to get over it once I force them to read a novel and create their own symbol to represent it, but in the meantime, getting “buy in” for this concept during a guided reading is like performing a root canal while deep sea diving the Mariana Trench. My classes can walk the grounds of Old Main, and I can point out different images that may signify something, but the effect is seldom much better.

If we watch a film together, however, the students instantly and innately grasp symbolism. I’m beginning to wonder if this visual-spacial requirement has to do with all the technology of our postmodern age, or if it smacks of this generation’s lack of connection with the self.

Or maybe they’re just hormonal teenagers that aren’t ready to consider that a tree entirely dead on just one side represents duality and dichotomy.

Half Dead Tree

Jumping to that conclusion is easy until I have the dream conversation with them. This usually happens after we’ve read Conrad or Hawthorne or have discussed Palahniuk. (Yes, I teach Palahniuk. Bite me.) Nearly everything we dream is symbolic, and as our dreams are the playground of our unconscious minds, symbolism must then be deeply couched in what makes us individuals. It’s only when we consider this connection that we can understand how grasping this “English trope” truly enhances and affects our lives.

  rain

This morning, after three days of rain (something we don’t get much of in my part of Arizona) and no sign of it letting up, I decided to go for a run (something I don’t usually do). This would just be insanity if I didn’t understand the rejuvenating aspects of water, or the concept of symbolic baptism that I’m always explaining when we discuss The Count of Monte Cristo. I was one with my body and nature, which is a pretty big deal for Captain Cyberspace here. None of the things that have been bothering me lately mattered.

I was clean, empty, free.

At least I was until I had to get into my car and realized that it looked like something from an episode of Hoarders. With symbolism in mind, I began to wonder if this cluttered death trap did not represent me in some way. They say a master of symbology can walk into a person’s bathroom, take a gander, and tell everything there is to know about him or her.

As someone who considers himself pretty adept at reading signs, I decided my car represented all the baggage, the proverbial “junk in the trunk” I’ve been carrying around. So I cleaned it all out. I had basically given up on it after the kids destroyed the upholstery, but it really isn’t so bad. Driving it like that had been getting me down, but it wasn’t until I realized that I was still connected to the rolling junkyard that I had the motivation to do something about it.

Sunrise

These sunrises I’ve come to take for granted living in the Southwest? They mean something too.

I want to say to my students that they’re living the most epic movie they will ever see–life. Each of them is a main character, and just because life isn’t scripted doesn’t mean that the images that dominate our lives don’t contain some deeper meaning. Reading literature isn’t just about literacy; it’s about learning how to live. I want to say these things, but this is what makes me “the eccentric weirdo”. Sometimes, especially lately with the Common Core Standards cramping my style, I feel like I’m surrounded by an army of Gertrude Steins. They chant their insipid mantra, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose! A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose!”

red_rose_flowers_wallpaper_hd-t2

Really? Is that all you see?

I see love, life, romance, vigor, the heart’s true bloom. I see passion and innocence juxtaposed within Nature, which enables us to understand human nature. I see something as delicate and evanescent as a dream. I see everything that makes life worth living.

I see beauty.

Keats wrote, “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty–that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

When one understands symbolism, the beauty of the world is not merely skin deep. Decode, decode, decode! Smell the roses. Watch the sunrise. Dance in the rain. Clean your hoardermobile.

We could all use a little more beauty, a little more truth.

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Filed under Education, Family, Rants, Reading, Writing

Of Inspiration and Influence

With RealLies coming out in less than a week, I feel it’s important to give credit to those works and individuals who have most influenced me. Many writers act like what they create is entirely original, as if they write in a vacuum, but I think most fans know better. Most agents and publishers do too–this is why one popular pitch method involves comparing your work to a combination of previously published works.

So let’s set the record straight. How did I come up with what my publisher refers to as “wild fantasies that eclipse life itself”? For a guy who currently makes a living deconstructing Chaucer and the Pearl Poet, it’s not really all that glamorous.

1) Gattaca

Gattaca

Dammit! Even the stairs around here are DNA!

One of my creative writing professors in college claimed that this movie was a failure because the viewer never truly understands the protagonist’s motivations for going into space. I’ve spent the last eight years trying to figure out how a man of such talent and intellect could miss the point so badly. In Gattaca, genetically inferior “invalid” Vincent must circumvent a genetic caste system that puts him at odds with his dream. He struggles against his family and later society to prove that one’s will, not one’s genetics, is at the core of what makes us human.

Gattaca is probably the most underrated film of all time, in my not-so-humble opinion. My concept of a genetic caste system that limits the opportunities of some individuals in a Sci-Fi universe definitely came from this movie. The how, the why, the how many, and the scope–that’s where I came in. While the situation in my story, “The Wolf of Descarta”, is much more complex, I never would have gotten there without Gattaca. It also gave this dreamer the motivation to fight the world to achieve his dream.

And as for why Vincent wanted to go into space? The final frontier? Is there a starker symbol for the greatness of humanity? I mean, come on…

2) The Matrix

What if I told you that you must understand allegory to understand The Matrix: Revolutions?

What if I told you that you must first grasp allegory to understand The Matrix: Revolutions?

Being a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I missed the great William Gibson and went straight on to the Wachowski brothers. I enjoyed all three of these movies for very different reasons, but the first film will always have a place in my top ten because it was my introduction to the cyberpunk genre.

Descarta’s Virtuon Gaming System (or the Dream Box in the novel) is based upon a set of questions I had about the Matrix. First, what if the Matrix could be anything? An RPG that never ended? A Jazz club from the 1930’s? A futuristic war zone with gunships wired into the bodies of their pilots? Second, what if people consciously made the choice to live virtually as opposed to dealing with their issues in reality?

Cyberpunk is about as underrated as a genre as Gattaca is as a film. I mean, what genre could possibly be more relevant right now? (My iPhone, which has a mind of her own, agrees.)

3) Final Fantasy VII

Come on, girl, do you have to be dead?

Come on, girl! Do you have to be dead?

I can’t honestly write anything about influences or inspiration without including Final Fantasy VII. My first stories were fanfics written in my Algebra class or over the phone with one of my (still) best friends during my junior year of high school. I could discuss the depth of characterization and how a poor translation made some gamers gloss over what a breakthrough this title really was. I could rant for hours about how the game includes references and allegories to world mythology (especially Norse), the Bible, Kabbalah, etc., but such arguments are better saved for the masters thesis on how video games can be literature that I will eventually write to piss off all of academia.

What “The Wolf of Descarta” takes from Final Fantasy VII is somewhat less apparent than these other titles. I learned from Tetsuya Nomura (designer) that a motley cast of characters works better than a bunch of doppelgangers, for one. I also learned the device of the love triangle from this game–a device which works well in stories but stinks to high heaven in real life. With Aerith’s death came the realization that sometimes a great story doesn’t have a happy ending.

I suppose I could have learned all these lessons from reading Shakespeare’s tragedies and Mallory (Le Mort d’Arthur), but for some reason this game made them stick.

4) My Professors at ASU

So many stairs...

Ah, G. Homer Durham Hall… So many stairs! Why do the elevators not go to the top?

I was fortunate that my college career included courses with two professors with actual industry experience.  These two saw something in me and took me under their proverbial wings. Without their continued guidance and support (eight years later!), I would have probably given up a long time ago. Their example is one of the reasons I’ve spent so much time in education, as well. The idea of being that milestone that helps one along to his or her goal is certainly compelling.

I actually wrote Descarta to surprise one of these two, a Sci-Fi writer who claims to dislike Fantasy, which was my first love. Creating a scenario in which the two genres must coexist became my goal and my challenge.

5) Emily

Are you going to take the picture, or is this about the socks?

Dan, are you going to take the picture, or is this about the socks again?

Whenever a writer produces anything worth reading, it must in some ways be personal. My mind conjures that old proverb, Write what you know. Descarta is, before it is anything else, a story about a man lost in himself that finally makes a connection with someone. When that connection is severed, he fights against the universe to reestablish it–because he knows it is these connections that ultimately give meaning to our lives.

This is our story, babe. I couldn’t have done it without you.

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Filed under Family, Fantasy, My Writing, Publishing, Rants, Reading, Science Fiction, Writing