In my last post I discussed briefly how writing has become my top priority, what I am most about, and it’s some thing that I still struggle with a little. Tomorrow I ship off back north, stopping briefly in Minneapolis to sleep after a fifteen hour drive before continuing over to Black River Falls, Wisconsin to attend a psychedelic trance festival over the week’s end. Believe me, I know that I am going to have a phenomenal time, as I have every time I’ve attended music festivals at that camp ground, but right now? Right now, and for the past week? I haven’t been able to shake the thought of, ‘But just think about all of the writing that I could be doing during that big chunk of time in stead!’ My room mates go out dancing pretty regularly, but me? Shit, man. I got work to do, and need to save my money any way.
I don’t feel like I’m punishing my self. Writing on a regular basis hasn’t been difficult for me lately. I’m having tons of fun, really!
And it’s not just fun. It’s fulfilling. I’m not just creating, giving life to fictional characters and worlds. I’m flexing my philosophical muscles in ways that I can’t when tackling practical, real-world issues directly. Say what you will about thought experiments; this is good practice for me.
I’ve learned a lot through my writing, and it’s developed me quite a bit as a person, not just as a writer. My favorite example is that in Shyfted Dreaming: Shades of Gray August taught me that ‘nature’ is a relative word, that arguments from natural order are rooted in logical fallacy, and through this that prejudice against homosexuals is exactly that: prejudice, unfair bias. I don’t mean that I created a form of my self that was more ignorant than I was at the time in order to showcase my arguments against bigotry. I actually mean that I did not know how that conversation in the book was going to go and that when it was finished I was surprised and forced to rethink my teen-aged beliefs. This led to an other change of thinking on my part within the same series, as Alizia, my favorite character, was a strong ‘Mother Earth knows best’ enthusiast, and yet I had to admit that she was wrong, and let that be, thus realizing that I must value my logical argument over friendships and love.
Within the same series, due to the vastly different culture from any on our Earth, I was forced to perceive religion in new ways (arguably with more tolerance) and consider many different styles of living. Consider them from the perspective of their owners, that is, and this empathy brought me to be more open-minded about transgender (as many characters can change the form and function of their bodies at will), non-monogamy (little concern for lineage and conservation of resources), and self-expression (again, the burnt users can look how ever they like without having to pay for or suffer surgery or being pierced by needles). These topics were not discussed directly within the Shyfted Dreaming trilogy, and I had yet to form solid beliefs, but it was a start, and these topics are big deals that the characters of my latest work, with the working title of ‘There Is No Time’, are actively struggling with.
When I first realized that my writing had a pattern of philosophical thinking, it was due to the metaphysical and existential speculation streaming through Shyfted Dreaming. The first big questions came pretty early on in the first book: What is real? How can we know? Why does it matter whether we know? Deeply emotional lucid dreams and visits to fantastical worlds will throw those at you. Later on came questions of how to choose friends, of what kinds of relationships people ought to value. This arose from the protagonist stumbling in to bonds with others simply because some one was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the right time, and were forced to solve problems together. The protagonist realized later, after returning to find an established shared home of all of these people, that he didn’t even know them very well, and had romanticized those that he thought that he did have connections with. The love interest has been imprisoned longer than she has interacted with him, and the realization of this is painful. The absurdity of ‘save the princess because that’s what heroes do’ came with full force; with the realization that he could have fallen for any of these fantastical women, but had been drawn to Alizia Perdue Dergahn by chance, he chooses to embrace his freedom and completely disregard his ‘hero’s destiny’. Concepts of balance and order make him wonder if the world might need a villainous god to keep things interesting, to ensure a constant stream of conflict so that intellectual beings can do what they live for: solving problems. The story goes on to lead us to wondering about what power is for, why it’s worth it to risk being passionate about any thing, and what it means to be good or evil.
Per haps three years after finishing Shyfted Dreaming, having spent those years dedicated to no single writing project, I decided to focus my attention on finishing a sort of prequel. “O” continues the presentation of existential issues concerning identity, purpose, and will, but on a very different world and with a very different kind of narrative. The biggest difference for me, though, aside from the writing style, was the shift towards a focus on ethics and politics. Metaphysical wonders are still there, but are more familiar to the characters, so take a back seat. It was through “O”, Chijirihaden, and The Harpist challenging the secret tyranny of the vedivexti, or wall people, that I came to realize the nuances of freedom and order. Often I found the arguments of their enemies very frustrating (because they were too well-founded), and I feared that I would have to have the heroes admit to being ass holes and go home.
That is one of the most satisfying situations for me as a writer, when the plot feels compelled by the characters, that I’ve lost control of the events to them. A concept in my current work in progress that has my constant attention is how one of the main characters took a wrong turn through time and accidentally wound up in solitary confinement for a month, dying of disease in the cold and the dark. I had just thrown together some behaviors of her captors that seemed pretty dramatic and went from there, not realizing right away what this meant for my character’s development. Poor Jinzin. The one that was supposed to be the most bright-eyed, cheerful, and innocent became a dark, distant, cold, schizophrenia-spectrum-disordered, religious voice of reason. Yes. You read that correctly. She’s crazy and prays to a god that she’s never met and highly romanticized, and yet she’s also become the most serious, ‘stay-the-course’ fellow. I was worried at first, but the party dynamic is so much more interesting now!
The other thing that I like to showcase in my stories is how people work and develop of course. I majored in psychology after all. As some one who sees psychology as an art more than a science, and how art is very closely tied to philosophy, this is not only necessary to good story-telling but to good involvement of philosophical concepts. Jinzin’s desensitization and isolation are particularly interesting stimulants for deep discussion too, because she finds her self thinking about relationship styles and traditions of sexuality, and in general is more willing to play with new ideas, as being afraid of ideas has become absolutely foolish to her. She is the first of the four to lose interest in her family ties, realizing that the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb, and that relationships lacking a sharing of ideology are relationships that are weak.
With my most recent work, I had taken a lot of time off from it to figure out my own issues, so a lot of the concepts within it that are important to me are ones that I had already spent a good deal of time thinking about in order to directly better my life. This is quite all right, though I do miss the accidental education, as it has allowed me to focus more on synthesizing the ideas of important philosophers directly and on developing atmosphere and mood. I’m much more interested in the presentation of sentiment and intimacy (not sexual, really) now than I was when I was writing my first book, and I’ve become aware of how delicate and needful of attention that is.
So, yeah. I never could have kept interest in writing, had I not discovered the meaningful side of speculative fiction, had I not learned to see science fiction and fantasy as speculative. I didn’t even start reading fiction again until I came across the fact that The Once and Future King has a lot to say about morality and tradition, and may not have remained hooked, had I not discovered Sophie’s World. There are thousands of philosophy and psychology texts out there, though, so why not just promote those? Well, as you probably know, people often prefer entertainment to education, and the two work best when blended together.