Sunday, May 31, 2009

#WriteChat on Twitter

Right now I'm participating in #writechat - which is a rather cool Twitter phenomena. Every Sunday writers form a free-wheeling chat group in the Twitter stream that weaves in and out of other conversations. Topics are about writing: inspiration, mood, tips, techniques, publishing, etc. For those new or unfamiliar with Twitter, the chat/microblogging platform, hashtags are used to separate out topics and make them easily searchable. If you have software like the Tweetdeck on your computer you can actually create a 'group' for any topic you want to follow and it separates them out for you, regardless of whether you follow that person or not.

One of the recurring topics on #writechat is often how such conversations help inspire writing or writers. I don't really find that to be true. Actually I tend to think of such activities as a bit of procrastination from the act of writing itself. After all if you're reading a bunch of 'tweets' about writing and then jumping in yourself you can hardly be busy at work.

That said I still think it's a very valuable tool. One of the reasons I'm a big fan of collaborative writing is that I'm a social animal. Traditionally writing has tended to be a lonely business with its fair share of misanthropes in its austere and often dusty ranks. Activities like #writechat connect up different writers to each other and shake out the cobwebs. So even though it doesn't always lead me to more or better writing, I would be the last one to deny the benefits of just hanging out and getting to know other writers.

And for those that argue that they can see no point in Twitter it's definitely one of the better uses of the application. It is an excellent Petri dish for meeting and breeding new writers and just one of the examples of how Twitter can be used in a good way to increase connections between people, rather than magnify the modern malaise of alienation, as many detractors of social media claim.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thoughts on Immortality

kingsI received a copy of a trade magazine in the mail that I used to write a regular feature for as part of my last job. My feature was also always the cover story. The new issue included the latest of these regular features, now, of course, written by my successor. To read the magazine presents a seamless tradition. There was and is no byline on this feature. To the casual observer there has been no change at all. Life goes on within and without me. Holding a copy of this magazine in my hand led to some bittersweet reflection about the footprint that we leave in life.

I am one of those vain animals that has always longed to leave my mark upon the world - some tangible proof that I was here, that I existed. Perhaps it's not just simple vanity or a purely self-centered self-interest. I have always been captured by history, and in particular art. Beginning with the evocative fossilized remains of the first human footprints to the air-brushed (yes, air-brushed - they would blow the pigment from their mouths over the back of their hands as they pressed them to the cave wall) outlines of human hands along with graceful renderings of animals in the Lascaux caves we leave our prints on the more durable materials that compose our world.

Pharaohs and Kings had their names and idealized images carved into monumental stone so that they would live eternally in the hearts and minds of those that followed, but even the humbler of our species created marks to trace their path by. If you observe closely the stones upon which ancient stone masons worked you can see the lines of their tools etched into the stone like you can see Van Gogh's brushstrokes on canvas, even the bristles from his paintbrushes, more tangible even than the signature. Greek potters began the cult of personal identification by beginning to mark their wares with a signature much like earlier Ancient Egyptian stonemason crews also left their 'team' mark on the stones.

As we advance in time artists, scientists, philosophers, and more began to leave their names more indelibly than kings and priests. Eventually even more humble people make footnotes in the history books, the images, and the remains of our various civilizations. In my research of the American West I come across hundreds of such people, moments of their lives captured in birth certificates, newspaper reports, tintypes, and inscriptions in the family bible.

Our popular culture worships celebrity and notoriety, which is sort of the dark underbelly of the shining desire to leave a tangible traceable mark upon history; a trail that can lead from one moment in time to another and allow people to make connections between the past and the present and feel the wash of history flow through them as something real and relevant. Celebrity can be a vanishing thing; here one moment and gone the moment after.

My impulse to write or make art is inextricably tied up with my desire to one of the threads of the fabric of the world. It's a desire for a tangible immortality that transcends time or fleeting fame. I was here. I existed. Perhaps it stems from doubt about the existence of an afterlife, or perhaps it's just natural hubris, but when I look around me at my achievements past and present there is really only one way that I feel I have made a unique contribution to the world, and that is my community site Pan Historia.

However how indelible can a web site be? I know that I have touched hundreds of people, and that I have made a difference in some of their lives that will be remembered all of their lives, but how about the future? I believe this question can be asked of the whole of the internet. It's very nature is ephemeral and ever changing. Who tomorrow will remember communities like Pan Historia or even MySpace or Facebook? Where are the graceful strong carved lines in stone? How can I rest assured of my immortality when in a the flip of a switch all that I have worked for is gone forever with one electronic wink? Achievements on the internet seem as brief and fragile as human life itself.

Proud as I am of my personal achievements I do feel like I am rushing headlong to the abyss, and I don't know what is on the other side. Desperately I crave the book that I can cradle in my hand, put on my shelf, and know that it will be here after I am gone. Books burn, degrade, rot, or get recycled, but surely one such tome can survive the ravages of cruel time to carry my name long after I am gone? Some future person will happen upon it on a dusty shelf in an obscure second-hand bookstore, a throwback to a gentler slower past, and there will be my name, my words, and it will be as if I still live.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jack of All Trades

"Jack of all trades, master of none."

There is something compelling about being considered good at everything, and yet... I long to be a 'master' of my trade. The problem, for me, is my own nature. Neither side of my brain seems entirely dominant, and the entire world is full of wonderful things I want to do. Having started a new job my head is now full of botanical genus and species and tables of environmental requirements and micro climates.

I'm in the middle of a re-structure of my volunteer staff system at the community interactive fiction and role-play site I own and run. The ins and outs of refocusing people to create an even livelier and more community orientated site is a highly creative and rewarding task for me. Dealing with all the different personality types is challenging but in a really good way.

I still have a ton of little programming tasks to complete.

So when I sat down about fifteen minutes ago planning to write a little fiction for one of my collaborative novels I found myself unwilling. Over and over again I have pushed the agenda that to be a writer you need to write. Fortunately for me I have other outlets for my writing. Fiction is the left brain of my writing persona. Writing my blog or composing clearly written legible staff agreements that communicate my intent successfully is the right side of my writing self.

Writing is the one thing that I do that ties all the other areas together. Since my community site is online my only method of communication is through the written word. It has forced me to hone my skills. That, in turn, has synergistically impelled my fiction writing to new heights. Talking about any of my activities via my blog whether it be gardening, writing, or painting allows me to continue to sharpen my quill day by day.

The act of writing in all its forms has become essential to the core of me. I may be jack of all other trades, but in the end I aspire to be master of one. Wait ... what does that remind me of?

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Evolution of a Collaborative Role-Play Character

I recently posted another installment of fiction from my character Red King on my fiction blog and it occurred to me to explain why the character was named the way he was named in a short introductory note, but when I reflected upon the answer it occurred to me that there was a more there than a short sentence could reveal.

My character 'Red King' is quite old. I have been writing him in various collaborative fiction pieces for almost nine years now. He has had various incarnations. The story of his development is a good example of the creativity and fluidity of collaborative fiction characters as well as the various inspirations that lend a hand.

Starting with his name: I always thought the name 'Red Adair' was rather dashing. For those of you that don't remember Red was a famous firefighter dealing with highly dangerous oil rig fires. Not only was he a real life hero but he had a great name. Naturally I couldn't just lift it from him since he was a living person at the time that I was inspired so I started looking for a last name that would fit 'Red' as well as Adair did. 'King' came to mind easily as I am a poker player. At first I resisted the poker/chess connection but it presented such great visuals to my mind it was irresistible.

At Pan Historia we use 'avatars' to visually represent our characters. The sources for these avatars can come from movies, art, advertising, or television, as well as original artwork by those that are graphically talented. I favor movie actors for the diversity of images available. It gives me the pleasure of feeling like I am casting a movie. I have always used Sean Connery for Red. When Red was first created he was a detective for a fun little collaborative game we used to write at Pan Historia called The Marlowe Detective Agency (the less details the better, I always want to revive this one).

After that collaborative novel expired he went on to appear in various other novels that required a detective or cop character with varying degrees of success. He started aging quite naturally and over time the avatars reflected an older Connery. When I had the idea for story behind The Midnight People it wasn't obvious which characters would fit for it, but I still wanted to use my regular stable. I have a tendency to keep a good character and use him over and over. Other writers at Pan often opt for creating a new distinct character for each novel or story they participate in. I like recycling because I like working on a character over the long term. By placing them in new settings I can explore other aspects of their personality that might not be revealed in one set of circumstances over another. Putting a detective into a fantasy novel was something new and challenging for me.

The premise of The Midnight People is that faeries and the stories about them are real. They exist in a dimension just outside of our own. Their world is fading and dying because of the lack of belief by humans and our negative impact on the environment as the faery kind are closed linked to nature. To solve their dilemma they create themselves as changelings in the human world, and once 'awakened' to their true selves they begin a great war against humanity. The Midnight People takes place in two intertwined storylines both before the faery invasion and after it: the waking and the dreaming. The Waking is in the past and the Dreaming (that the wakers dream about) is their future.

In the past, the Waking, my character Red King is Red King a retired detective with tragedy in his past. In the Dreaming he is King Nuada, the Red King of the Tuatha de Danann, once known as The Silver Hand.

For inspiration for his 'faery' persona I grabbed some Celtic myths. King Nuada was the first king of the Tuatha de Danann who lost his kingship when he lost his arm. He was able to regain it when a new arm was fashioned from silver for him. I presumed that much of the history from mythology was my character's back-story, but I then I added a great deal more as there were several thousand years in between until we arrive in our own century where the Waking and Dreaming storylines take place. Thus he has a new younger Queen, Aisling, when the story of The Midnight People takes place, as well as relatively young daughters in faery years. It turned out equally well, for my choice of Connery as avatar, that Connery has frequently appeared in movies with an Arthurian theme.

For the same novel I recycled my Ancient Egyptian villain Itet. Itet was an odd name for twenty-first century character in the Waking half of the story and so it became Ian Itet, but some of the Egyptian influence remained in the Dreaming when I assumed that if faeries were real they existed back in Ancient Egypt too, albeit with different names and beliefs around them. In my mind there needed to be an explanation for Itet's odd sounding name that didn't match any known faery belief system. It seems, then, that recycling characters can actually help me find solutions to creative fiction problems that bring new ideas and new concepts to the stories adding a little more originality.

For those of you experienced in collaborative role-play fiction writing I hope I have shed some light on my ideas and inspiration. For those of you new to the genre I hope you will be curious enough to explore it more.