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.