Life Has No Schedule

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I went to World Con 76. Their convention is much like the San Diego Comic Con, except there aren't any big Hollywood celebrities, you're not forced to move with the crowd because there aren't 150,0000 people attending, costumed super heroes and villains don't roam the convention center, and the con centers around books. Specifically SFF, science fiction and fantasy. This is the group that gives out the Hugo Award for the genre, which is like getting an Oscar. So much of fiction is riddled with romance, because that's what sells, so it's heart warming to see an organization dedicated to SFF.

I was excited to go to the Hugo nominees' readings where the authors read a selection from their own books. There might have been sixty to eighty seats, but they were all taken, so I had to stand. I didn't care. I wanted to hear excerpts from great writers. Then we were told that the fire marshal wouldn't allow us to stand as it was a fire hazard. WhatchutalkinaboutWillis? I had a clear path to the door had there been a fire. Still, I and the other standers were asked to leave. I suggested to the room we bribe the fire marshall, but that wasn't well received. Especially from those seated. Bastards. Joking...things like bribing or paying off porn stars and Playboy models ain't my thing.

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I decided to go to a talk about how aliens might think. The panel was made of two university professors whose specialties lay in human consciousness, and a SFF author who studied AI at MIT. Her name is SL Huang, which I assumed was her pen name, since the panel kept calling her Lisa. She sort of had this Natalie Portman thing going on. Dating has been hard for me, so maybe my celebrity crush was manifesting itself in some way. But I checked out her website, and she's quite an accomplished author. She had to be in her thirties. She looked younger, but Asians don't raisin.

Then my insecurity reared its ugly head into my mind. Here, I'm writing an article that will likely never be read, had been going to a writing group work-shopping my second book when the first one isn't even published, and still trying to get representation from a literary agent. Loser!

Breath...om...Keyser Söze...

I reminded myself that life has no schedule. Except that things are born and then they die. I know, real insightful. It seems people need to plan everything that happens in between these two points. I have to graduate high school in order to go to college, then I can get a job and earn enough for a down payment for my first home by this age. I'll need to meet The One soon if I want to have kids because I don't want to have them too old, otherwise I'd be too old. Eventually I'll have to change jobs every now and then so I can get the requisite pay increases and save for my retirement. And I do want to leave something to the kids when I die because they're my children and that's what a parent does.

In the span of 105 words, I've scheduled my whole life. All of that, by the way, is crap. Life has no schedule. Some people die before they're born. Others die after more than a century has past. A lucky few make it big in their chosen industry. A majority do not. Some people earn their way in. Others do not...ahem...the Orange One.

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My writing group and I had been interviewed and on a podcast. One of our writers had an interesting story. He volunteered at the San Francisco Writers Conference where he set up and tore down rooms for presenters. He set a room once for an author who pulled out binders full of rejections letters from literary agents that had amounted to hundreds. He eventually made it, but it was through sheer effort and not giving up. In contrast, a dozen agents rejected JK RowlingKathryn Stocket, who wrote The Help, was rejected by 60 agents. The point is that different people make it at different times. And because we as humans are very bad at telling the future, we don't know what's coming around the bend. Had Stocket given up on the 59th rejection, she would have never found her current agent and her ensuing success.

Does that mean you should never give up? No. I think there are circumstances that may indicate ending something is good. I had given up on acting because I fell out of love with it. My best friend and I had decided not to open our own martial arts school after planning and working on it for a couple of years. So far a reason to give up my writing hasn't presented itself to me. Having a never quit attitude doesn't guarantee success, however you define success. But you'll never succeed if you don't start or give up too early. And be cautious about attaching your happiness to circumstance. Not making it in any industry doesn't affect your happiness.

Life has no schedule.

Why Read?

Writing groups. What is it about writers? As God is their witness, they declare they are writers. Some want to write. Some write. Some don't but say they're writers. And if you join a writing group, shouldn't you give your best feedback? In the end, it may not be useful, but at least try your best. Right?

I've written my experiences with writing groups. They weren't good. But sometimes things that do not work out has its reasons. Here, it had led me to work with a writing coach who opened my eyes to just how crappy my writing was.

Now that my work with her is almost over, I needed a way to see if all of my edits and revisions worked. And a friend contacted me about joining a private writing group where we could workshop our pieces. What timing.

There are four of us, so two writers submit pages to be read each week by the rest of us. And then the next week the other two writers would submit pages. One of the guys couldn't make the first day, which was fine. Life either gets in the way or shits on us sometimes. I'll call him Walt.

We're three weeks into it, and Walt and I had submitted pages. I spent a lot of time going though his work, giving him mechanical corrections and suggestions, writing detailed notes of what I thought needed to be worked on. And I made sure my handwriting was legible. I'm sorta like a doctor where my writing can be illegible. Even to me.

I wrote my first drafts in longhand. There had been many times where I turned my notebook upside down, inside out, used a magnifying glass, trying to decipher just what the fuck I had written. My thoughts moved so fast that my writing tried to keep up, and in doing so my words looked like old leftover spaghetti.

Anyway, this past Saturday we met in this cool cafe on Market Street close to Union Square in San Francisco. And the group chose my piece to talk about first. Two of the writers gave me really good feedback. They told me where they got confused, where they saw some inconsistencies, told me what they liked and didn't like, specific things that I could use. Walt, on the other hand, said, "I normally don't read this stuff (fantasy)."

"You wouldn't be writing to me," Walt said.

Ah. Awesome. Good to know.

Walt continued, "For me, I need to know why I should read this. Instead of creating this whole new world, this story could have been told with regular people."

Not showing up the first day and reading my first three chapters doesn't help your understanding of my story either...

Walt yammered on about my piece, then gave me some generalities, none of which I could use, and then said it was well written.

In other words, he didn't read it. Or at most, skimmed through it.

So the question was, why read any kind of science fiction or fantasy? When real world fiction, taking place in the real world, is plentiful in real bookstores around this great nation of ours that's real.

I was listening to a personal growth lecture a long time ago, and the speaker brought up Lord of the Rings. Why would a speaker of enlightenment do this? He said that there's no guarantee when it comes to our goals and dreams, so all we can do is move toward them one step at a time. But what we can have is hope. Because it's in our despair that our dreams can fade and disappear. Lord of the Rings is really a story about hope. Hobbits, the smallest creatures in Middle-Earth, do the seemingly impossible. Frodo Baggins is tasked with holding the most powerful ring and resisting its evil influence, while trekking across Middle-Earth, avoid getting killed by the Orc armies, and destroy the One Ring in Mount Doom. Frodo doesn't know how he'll accomplish this, only that he needs to, so he sets out on foot with hope in his heart.

Another example is Star Wars. Luke flies into the trench of the Death Star, and he hears the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi say, "Use the Force, Luke. Let go, Luke." Luke turns off his targeting computer. We, the audience, already witnessed another pilot miss using his, and we intuit that Luke needs to trust himself. That somehow his own wisdom will guide him. In a way, the Force symbolizes that wisdom and that we should trust our own.

What Walt may not understand is that all stories are quests. Whether the quest is for love, revenge, balance, or world domination doesn't matter. It's in that quest that teaches us something about ourselves. It's in the ups and downs of trying to destroy an evil ring that can show hope. It's in our trust of the magical Force that we see that wisdom resides inside all of us.

And science fiction and fantasy allows the storyteller to remove the boundaries of the real world, and let's us use fantastical things to showcase truths of the human condition.

Pot Holes

It was Bigfoot!

It was Bigfoot!

There are few things that could ruin a leisure drive. We’re not really concerned about traffic because we ain’t not going no wheres. I know. Bad grammar. Fresh air, people watching, feeling the freedom of driving, not being tethered to anything, maybe enjoying a cool drink, spending time talking to the love of your life, listening to her laugh, sigh, breath all add to the serenity of a leisurely drive.

Bam. Pot hole.

When we read a book, listen to a story, or watch a movie we’re in a similar mindset. We want drama, action, passion, adventure with none of the consequences. We may be invested in the characters, but we would never want to put ourselves in their shoes. Escapism.

Bam. Plot hole. OK. Nothing to worry about. Just like on our drive, one or two maybe three pot holes won’t ruin our enjoyment. But a dozen deep holes later, our experience will not only be marred, but we’ll not likely drive down that street again.

Ouch

Ouch

Prometheus has gotten so much flack for its story and plot holes that it has ignited the web. Just google Prometheus and plot holes and the result may surprise you.

There’s a special place in my heart for Alien. Not literally of course.

Hard Boiled

Hard Boiled

My 7th grade English teacher gave us a book report assignment and I had gotten my hands on the Alien novelette. She said she knew Dan O’Bannon, who authored the Alien screenplay, and were personal friends with him. I asked how, but I’d forgotten her answer. I know…bad, bad, bad. She asked if I wanted to write a letter to him and I said hellz yeah! Well, I just said yeah.

Then she asked my friend and I if we wanted to watch it after class. My friend was also a fan, but neither of us had seen the flick. We agreed and met with my teacher and watched Alien for the first time. The scene that everyone remembers and knows had left us speechless, scared shitless, where to this day any phantom lump in my chest or stomach ache brought fears of being infected with a chest buster. Fortunately for me it was nothing. Whew.

Dan O’Bannon graciously answered my letter and it’s something that I’ve been grateful for to this day.

Plot holes are to be expected in a story written by humans. It’s difficult to account for everything and have certain things not coincide. If we look at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, there exist societal classes. We see this with Ron representing the poorer class, while Draco represents the higher, noble wizarding family. But if there’s magic, why doesn’t one just whip their wand and create money? We don’t find out till later in the books that magic in Harry’s world can’t create wealth and food. Since we in the "real” world live in classes, we accept classes in Rowling’s story without questioning it. So our experience isn’t ruined.

Do I have a zit?
Do I have a zit?

But when I, and apparently the rest of the world, watched Prometheus, the major plot holes became the focus of our disgust with the film. And it’s these inconsistencies that ruin the serene drive that we all paid good money for.

Many on the net tried to defend the plot holes. Some made sense. For example, the moon in Alien was labeled as LV-426, but the crew of Prometheus lands on LV-223. Prometheus the movie was the prequel to Alien. But the mystery of where those chest busters came from started on LV-426 and is where so much havoc resided during the sequel, Aliens. Many called this a plot hole. Since the ending of Prometheus left much to be desired, it also may have indicated to us that this is indeed not LV-426. OK. I just geeked out there.

This same person also said this is science fiction. We’re supposed to suspend logic. No. We’re supposed to suspend our disbelief. Like the existence of sound in space, gravity in a spaceship, or an alien growing in our bodies as big as our arms without us knowing.

So here's a small plot hole. I credit this to Red Letter Media review. One of the world building scenes where Guy Pierce plays an old guy hologram (get it?) looks at actual individuals who he calls to the stage, then continues to look at them when those individuals are on stage. Either that was a mistake by the filmmaker, or that is some gawd dayem advanced holographic AI.

This sun tan lotion better work. I'm pale as a ghost

This sun tan lotion better work. I'm pale as a ghost

The first scene is also questionable. If the Engineer killed himself to seed planet Earth, supposedly, then why did the dinosaurs evolve first? Did writers forget about the over hundred million years those big lizards ruled the planet? Well, it could be argued the Engineer seeded the planet after the dinosaurs died off. Then how do you explain the vast different number of lines of the genus homo? Like homo erectus, homo neanderthalensis, and the slew of other homos? Don’t laugh.

Sure, a species could evolve into divergent lines due to geographic barriers, food limitations, etc. But somehow homo sapiens made it, which coincidentally look pretty much like the Engineer. If I were to seed a planet with my DNA, I’d make damn sure it’s that exact form that evolves.

I don’t want to list all plot holes. They’re all documented. Here’s one place where you can find some: http://www.movieplotholes.com/prometheus.html

As storytellers, we try to minimize plot holes. I’m not sure if it’s possible to get rid of them all, especially when you’re writing sci-fi/fantasy. Just look at the Bible. But we should be able to at least get rid of the major ones and not ruin the experience of our audience.

BMOC

Ooh. Bunk bead

Ooh. Bunk bead

Sitting in my jail-like 6X6 cubicle, I overheard the new guy at our office, who charmed the whole lot, invite one of my team mates out to happy hour. Of course there was no sliding cell door that kept me from inviting myself. Footsteps swishes away as I wondered if I was going to be included in this exclusive outing. That would be a no.

Feelings of being the geeky, nerdy, lone Chinese kid, who people thought was smart, cheating off his paper (big mistake) came flooding back into my barreled chest. Too much? All I ever wanted in high school was to be the big man on campus. Not be smart. Psh.

That's it?

That's it?

Delving into the victim mindset was something I grew up with, so I knew it was just a reactionary moment of despair. Then I kinda laughed about it after drying my tears because I was meeting my mother later, and remembered that a five-year-old girl can hold her liquor better than I could. I wish I was joking. This leads me to my first point. Don't cheat off my paper. My book smarts is limited.

One of my friends graduated from the university with a Theater Arts degree. She had showcases in New York and Los Angeles and felt she belonged in LA. She had an offer from an agent to represent her, but she declined because she didn't feel connected to this person.

Holly's wood!

Holly's wood!

Now. To get an agent in Holli's wood is probably just as hard for an author in Litty's (literary) world. So I have to applaud her. In a world where the talent, yup, I'm part o'dat group, can be desperate to get representation, they'd take whoever shows a little leg. But the power comes back to the talent, still part o'dat group, when we choose who we want to be represented by. Because the whoever represents us talented must at the least love work.

This brings me to my second point. Know you're talented.

Raaaahh!

Raaaahh!

When I researched agents, I read their blogs to find the one thing I could relate myself or my book in my query letters to them. I had found one that I liked with similar humor to me. I was like, ommahgawd, were made to be. Then I read one of his posts, which went something like this: Many people play the piano for fun and never want to play in an orchestra. Why is it that people can't write for the pure joy of it without wanting to be published?

This guy's world must be really small. Most of the people that I know who write, write for pure joy in journals, twitter, blogs, and have no want to be published in the traditional sense. I know very few who would venture into the publishing world. Hmm. Maybe my world is small. For some reason his comment turned me off.

Why?

Maybe because I wanted to be that popular guy who everyone looks up at. Which is hard since I'm not that tall.

Jimmy! Sign my ti...shirt!

Jimmy! Sign my ti...shirt!

"Hey. That's Jimmy Ng! He wrote NIGHTFALL. He's like the J.K. Rowling of fantasy."

"Dude, man. J.K. Rowling is the J.K. Rowling of fantasy."

"Oh, yeah," I thought, while tapping my bottom lip.

Do I want to become popular in the high school sense? No. Do I want everyone to read NIGHTFALL? Totally. It's a dream of mine.

But it's an important question to ask. I wanted to write it because I thought it would be fun. It was. I want the world to read it and enjoy the exhilaration I felt writing the book. I serve so people may have a little bit of escapism.

Force or Not to Force

Chaos Theory...huh?
Chaos Theory...huh?

Today is 10/10/10.  When I searched for images based on today's date, here's what I got.  An explanation of chaos theory.  Kinda like writing.

Although, I'm not sure what the significance is. I thought I'd use it to announce that I haven't found that 'yes' from an agent who will help bring my story to the world, yet.

But I've been told that I can't force a tomato plant to grow by yelling at it, throwing money at it, or by giving it an ultimatum.

"Grow or I'll send you to your room!"

Attack of the killer tomatoes, attack of the killer tomatoes...

Attack of the killer tomatoes, attack of the killer tomatoes...

The tomato will grow on its own with the right environment. Basically, dirt, water and sun. Dirt is pretty much free. Water is cheap. And so far no one is charging for sunshine.

Is getting published, breaking into Hollywood if you're an actor, finding your soul mate, soul searching for your passions like growing a tomato?

I was talking to a fellow writer from work. He's a rabid reader and especially loves fantasy. I'd talked to him at the beginning of summer about his book and he had finished writing chapter five. He asked me how long it took to write mine. I said about four years.

A few months later, I asked him about his progress. He said he was at about chapter five. So either he's been doing some serious rewriting, or he hadn't written much. We had gotten onto the subject of forcing art. He still loved the idea of his book, loved writing, but needed some balance in life. I asked if he used an outline, and he said he wanted to, maybe it would help the flow of his writing and story.

Steven King starts his books with an idea and writes until it's finished. John Irving starts his book with a very detailed outline. He needs to know where the story is going before writing.

Who's method is right?

Both.

I told my friend to find a method that works best for him and just go with it. He agreed but stated that he didn't want to force the creative process. I totally agreed. But is knuckling down on your work forcing?

With any creative undertaking, the artist only has to provide the most minimal of ingredients. Just like the tomato plant, it just needs dirt, water and sun. Everything else happens by itself.

Damn it's cold up here.

Damn it's cold up here.

One of the challenging things about writing fantasy is the creation of things that doesn't exist in our world. Many fantasy writers use Tolkienesque creatures, which is great. My story came to me outside of that, and I've spent a lot of time wondering what to call the different things in my world.

My process was simple: I ask the question. Like, what do I call this bug that my character eats? Then I wait. Sometimes it comes to me immediately. Sometimes it comes to me in a month. Nevertheless, it comes to me.

But it comes to me not just because I ask the question, but because I show up for the answer. I spend a lot of time each day fantasizing about my world. I imagine the feelings each character goes through. I think about the conversations they have, their goals, and their character arcs. Since the majority of my days are spent at work, I tend to find a lot of dead time that allows me to do this. Don't tell my boss.

The point is show up. I show up to write. I show up to think. I show up and work. Forcing something would be like sticking strictly to my outline and not coloring outside the lines. Have an outline, but let the idea sprout. Let little surprises in. Let mistakes enter. For those are the things that can make any artistic project grow into something amazing like a tomato plant. Just watch out of the killer tomatoes.

Are You Honest?

A couple of weeks ago I'd met up with a friend I hadn't talked to for over a decade. He used to be an instructor at the martial arts school I'd taught at. Read about my opinions about that in my bio. bruce_lee_head

We're both writers and we'd talked about writing the story that calls to us. With all the vampiric stories that are being churned both in the publishing and film industry, I don't blame people for jumping on the band wagon.  But the point of being an artist is to express your soul.  And if your soul says write a vampire story, then write a vampire story.

When it comes to finding out what you want to do with your life, what story should be written, what path you should take, you need to be honest with yourself.  How do you be honest with yourself?

First of all, are you honest with other people? I'm not talking about being a saint, never telling lies, never doing anything wrong. Were human. But do you care about what other people say about you? Do care about what other people think about you? Do you put all your stock in your status in life?

Why is this important?

Because any of this, namely your ego, can block your true self.  You become motivated by the things that seem important--the size of your house, the German car in your massive garage, the name brand clothes you wear, the title of your job, bottled water.  Do these things matter?  That's for you to decide.  Do they matter when it comes toexpressing yourself honestly? No.

When I went to the San Francisco Writers Conference, Richard Paul Evans, one of the keynote speakers said something that really hit home. Especially since he's a New York Times bestselling author.  He said write your truth.  Don't hop on the bandwagon. Don't be a follower.  Lead by leading.

Bruce Lee said the same thing. Honestly express yourself.

Look at the things that you're drawn to.  Do you love music?  Any particular kind?  Try that out.  Do you love software programming?  Try that out.  Do you love selling?  If you have an affinity for houses, maybe you should be a real estate agent.  Or if you love helping people get healthier, maybe you should try physical therapy, personal training, nursing.

Is there a common theme that runs throughout your life?

For me, I've always loved stories.  And I always loved fantasizing, putting myself in action movie roles, imagining what it would be like to be betrayed by a close friend, finding myself in a fantasy land where I'm a warlord.  Since my sophomore year, I've tried to write novels.  But when it came to deciding a major in college, I never thought of majoring in English or creative writing.  Why?  I'm not sure.  Maybe the things I had to go through as a person lent itself to writing the series of novels that I'm writing now.

I'm not angry about it.  Nor do I judge it.  I realize that I have stories to be told, and I'm telling them.

How Old Are You?

One of the things I had to be clear about was the cultural elements of my fantasy. Is marriage a common thing like it is in our world?  Are there family dinners?  Or do people fend for themselves?  Or is it more like a socialist society where the bounties are shared?

In creating my world, I borrowed from different cultures.  Not that I studied any one of them in depth.  I didn't need to.  The elements I chose were used to convey an overall philosophy without explicitly writing it.  A couple of examples:

In the Matrix, the real world is not the real world.  And the world after being awakened was due to a choice of taking the red pill.  The whole movie is about choice. 

In Karate Man, aka Karate Kid, the man who believed in himself and was of pure heart won out.  Not the one with the bigger muscles and or more experience.

Fast and Furious is interesting.  If you gots the most fastest cars, the bestest finest chicks, and the deepestest voice with big ass muscles, then a plot or a message need not apply.  This is kinda true for Transformers.

Age just happens to be an important element.  For example, a toddler is referred as someone who's in the morning of their lives.  As they move into the coming of age, which just happens to be different for every one, they've entered the afternoon of their lives.  And as you may have guessed, once wisdom settles in, the person strolls into the evening of their lives.

There is a reason I refer to age this way.  And it ties neatly into the culture of the provinces.

I think about age a lot because so many people place some sort of limitation due to age.

Look up a guy named Randy Couture.  He's a UFC fighter who's currently 46 years old.  He takes on guys over a decade younger and wins.

One of my ex-employers said once he hit his thirties, his metabolism slowed, he got fatter, and felt tired.  He failed to see that as he grew older he did less and less.  When he dated his wife, they went out a lot, went on vacations, took walks.  Now that they're married with kids, they stay home a lot more, barely take any vacations, and any type of physical exertion has been removed.

Age had nothing to do with his physique.

I'm 37 years old.  I workout four times a week.  Yes, I like to look good.  So I'm a bit superficial.  Nothing wrong with that.  There is a more pertinent reason why I exercise.  When I studied kinesiology, one of my teachers was a physical therapist.  All of his clients were senior citizens, his specialty.  He said something that never left me.

"There's one truth about human beings.  You'll leave this world the same way you came in.  Bald, drooling, and pooping in a diaper."

I pressed my lips together, pondering what it's like taking a dump in diapers.  Then he said something that totally changed my view on exercise.  Exercise will improve the quality of life as we enter the evening of our lives.  I'm not sure if I'll do a number 2 in diapers.  I don't spend much time thinking about that.  But I've made sure exercise has become a part of my life.

Luckily, my family, my mom included, has embraced that as well.

One last thing about age.  I've now encountered about half a dozen men who shy away when asked how old they are?  WTF?  It's one thing that women shy away from this subject.  But men?  Is this a growing trend?  Have they become sensitive about their age?  Grow a set of brass balls.