The Missing Person Story

There’s always an attraction in the missing person story – the one who got lost, the one who got away, the one who vanished without a trace, the mystery guest, the B. Traven, the unknown unknown. It opens up a whole field of possibility, imagining what has happened, who that person had become. I wouldn’t go anywhere near a missing child story (or harm or frighten a child in any significant way in any story. I don’t really understand those who can do that), because the anguish to their family is all too real and nothing I would want any part of, but a grown-up who has deliberately disappeared – that is intriguing to me.

A side note, since I just remembered. This morning I heard on the news that somewhere on the order of ten million people have been displaced by the Syrian civil war. That this is true and happening right now makes me somehow really angry with the current American fad for Dystopias featuring pretty young things. People are truly suffering over there and it’s not glamorous or exciting or full of eye candy or costume changes.

Anyway …,

Some of those people have gone missing too. Missing from their towns and cities, missing from their friends and neighbors, and who knows what will become of them and their country.

My own trivial missing person story notion came from my new job. I am sitting where someone recently sat, doing the work that person only recently abandoned. He or she had done a good job, from what I can tell from their checked-in code, but I know nothing about the person, except that until a month ago, when anyone looked at this desk, they saw that person, not me. When the boss handed out these assignments, they went to that person, not me. And now there I sit. And now the assignments have my name on them. I have no idea where this person went, or why they left. I could ask around (in fact I did, and now I do know), but I kind of like the mystery. It’s a kernel of an idea that could be transplanted to a quite different situation. The ghost of the person who left, influencing the person there now. A Haunted Desk sort of thing.

Another side note. When I lived in Colombia I was struck by this routine on the very crowded city buses. When someone got up from their seat, and another person moved in to take it, they would wait some time for the seat to cool off, in order not to catch any diseases from the seat’s previous occupant. Seriously. If you just sat right down like a regular gringo you would get the strangest looks from the other passengers!

 

 

It’s Complicated

Watching and enjoying Orphan Black, a very exciting suspense-thriller tv series, and noticing that the essential ingredient that makes it work is that it’s complicated. It’s a tough trick for a writer to pull off, because the moment, the very instant the complexities begin to resolve, the whole structure can feel suddenly deflated. It’s just very hard to keep juggling all the balls in the air forever. I’m reminded of the novel Easy Travel to Other Planets, by Ted Mooney, which managed to pull it off to the extent that you knew there was a gun somewhere, but you forgot exactly where it got to, and then at the most critical moment you’re like, OMG where the fuck is that gun? I imagine that it takes a great deal of detailed planning to put together a story like this. Kudos to those who can.

Groan of Arc

Somewhat uncharacteristically, I’ve been watching a lot of Hollywood movies recently, and noticed that several of them tell their story almost exactly the same way. They begin at some critical juncture, then backtrack to show how they got to that point, and then take it from there to the finale. This was true for The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, Twelve Years a Slave, and Limitless. Every single time, the same formula. Now, I enjoyed all of these movies, so this is not a criticism, just an observation. Apparently, this methodology is in now in fashion. At some point it might become tiresome and so tacky that no one will do it anymore, in which case it could become a sort of nostalgia touchstone, like men wearing hats or lighting matches off of their fingertips.

It’s a commonplace among the literary online circles I follow that the artist must respect the audience, the writer must respect the reader, and may not for any reason upset the applecart. Readers do not want unsatisfactory endings. Readers do not want protagonists with whom they cannot sympathize. Readers want a beginning, a middle, and an end. Readers this and readers that. As a writer, you must give them what they want, and you can know precisely what it is they want by studying the popular writers who are quite adept at providing just that. But readers are also fashion victims, and what they want is what they want now. It’s clear that a bestseller from 1964 would not be a bestseller in 2014, not by a long shot, no more than a film or music from that year would have a ghost of a chance in the current market.

These literary forums and communities and circles are primarily concerned with the profession of writing, of course, and I don’t even know why I read or follow them, because the business of writing is of absolutely no interest to me, but it’s hard to find groups or associations of amateur writers like myself, amateurs who are also interested in innovation, creativity, experimentation, and just plain fun (if you know of any groups lie this, please tell me about them!). Writers in general it seems take the whole writing thing way, way too seriously. They remind me of carpenters, not even craftsmen but industry types, always fussing about today’s modern living room styles. How does one go about “world-building”? What are the essentials of plot development? Is it ever wise to introduce a female character without commenting on her cup size? You want to have a magazine for contemporary writers somewhat along the lines of Cosmopolitan magazine.

7 Sex Scenes That Seriously Sizzle!

Vampire Eyebrows To Die For!

The Twelve Opening Sentence Secrets of the Masters!

Listen. For Guaranteed Success begin with a critical juncture somewhere in the middle of the story, then backtrack from the beginning until you get to that point, and take it from there! It worked for nearly every Academy Award nominated motion picture in 2014. It can work for you too!

Angela started into the abyss. Jumping would solve at one of her problems, but would Arthur ever understand? Fuck Arthur, she decided, and took another step towards the edge.

buh-bye

 

 

Working Title: Close to Nowhere

Sometims you come up with a decent title, but no story to go with it. In this case, we tracked it down and found only one pop song with the title, so it’s clear ground, more or less. I don’t even know why this compulsion to write yet another story, and that’s precisely what it is, in my case, a compulsion, an addiction, nothing more, and it comes and goes “as ceaselessly as the tides” (though not perhaps as regularly). So for now it’s input mode in the old yin and yang of the thing, low tides and high tides, and any day now a story might pop up that fits the working title.

And now the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and all the recent talk about the out-of-fashion-ness of ‘magical realism’ is taking a timeout as people honor that great storyteller and come to recognize that this so-called magical realism was really a way of merging journalism and fable in a place and time where journalism by itself was far too dangerous and fairy tales by themselves were far too innocent. Telling truth through lies has always been the secret weapon of the storyteller, probably from as far back as storytelling goes, and writers of Latin American fiction in the eras of brutal military rule had no other recourse. In current times perhaps they no longer have the necessity, but that doesn’t diminish the old hard realities. Today we can have books like 2666 but back then such a catalog of outrage would have met a different fate for its author. Instead you had the leafstorm and the evil hour, the sailor who fell from grace and the colonel to whom no one writes – myths disguising truths.

 

 

I’m So Sick of the Middle Ages

That’s my new song, to the tune of the song “I’m so bored with the USA” by The Clash. Seriously. I finally tried to watch an episode of Game of Thrones (aka Porno Hobbit), thinking it couldn’t be half as bad as that guy’s hackneyed, clichéd, terribly boring writing, but it is! And maybe even more than half. But the people are so pretty it’s almost Beverly Hills 90210 with a 21st century adjustment in the tits and blood department. It was fitting that I tried to watch it right after trying to watch Anchorman 2, where the best line was “Why tell the people what they need to hear? Why not tell them what they want to hear?” and this medieval bullshit is apparently something a lot of people enjoy. I’ve just had a little too much of the Middle Ages for one lifetime, I suppose. 

Even more data courtesy of Amazon’s KDP

For those indie writers who have books on Amazon, the KDP site just got even more dataful with some new charts and stuff! They’ve added a Sales Dashboard with settable date parameters that breakdown your book sales versus book loans versus free downloads. I stretched out the timeline just to see what that would look like (although it only goes back 90 days, which is a shame. I’d like to see it go back further), and was a little startled to see that one day in March I had more than 300 downloads – turns out they were all from the Dragon City series of books, so they must have been featured on some website or mailer somewhere, and they’re getting some decent reviews and ratings from that spike. Mostly my books average around 20 downloads a day (almost all from the 22 free titles they still (gratefully) have going on there). Anyway, seems like as good a time as any to post the fourth cover of Snapdragon Alley, #44 in Children’s Science Fiction on Kindle right now.

snapdragon_cover4a

 

Data Wars

I’ve been thinking a bit about data lately, partly because it’s all over the news, from the NSA to Facebook&co to the “new” allegedly fact-based reporting of Vox.com and FiveThirtyEight.com, partly because I’ve been toying with some aspects of the subject in my Abnormality series of silly stories, and partly because it’s become a part of my day job. Some people seem to be concerned about the sheer amount of it, although a billion tons of dog shit is still basically dog shit. It takes some seriously sophisticated software to pull meaning out of the heaps, and it all depends on what the heaps contain in the first place. Some of these worries are just misplaced – massive amounts of data about oil changes are not going to cause trouble for anyone – and most of the uses of personal data can be broken down into three major categories: stealing your money outright, trying to get at your money through advertisting, or screwing you over because of political affiliations. The first and third of these are truly genuine concerns and it’s impossible to be genuinely secure from threats, even if you never use a computer or a smart phone. We are all in the pool and “they” can find out pretty much anything about us if “they” really want to.

There are people trying to use big data to make predictions about stuff, but it seems to be clear that predicting the future is always fairly futile no matter what information you have. Aside from spying, theft and marketing, I wonder if there is much genuine use at all for all the petabytes of data that are being generated and stored every day. I would like to think of something more fun than calculating what percentage of someone’s paintings feature one or more trees or what percentage of love songs actually contain the word “love”. I guess there’s a lot of “low-hanging fruit” like that. Data will be used for good and for evil, I suppose, but most of all it will be used merely for the hell of it.