Known Quantities in Fiction. Cheating?

Every once in a while, I write fan fiction. I’ve talked about it here before. I won’t say what I have written, or where (under my pseudonym) it can be found online, because strictly speaking, you’re not supposed to write it. Copyrights and such. But hundreds of thousands of people dabble in it.

I do so most often to get the creative gears moving when they have been slow, for practice, or because I just want to play around the the furniture without having to build an entire house myself. I build plenty of houses; sometimes I just want to play in the sandbox of writing.

There are also a few ideas floating around in my head for future writings that aren’t fan fiction, but that would feature, in the periphery, versions of actual historical people. Not historical fiction, probably alternate fiction best describes the ideas. But both those ideas, and actual historical fiction involving real people dovetail into the subject I want to address.

Anchoring what we write, as well as reading the result of someone else writing in the same fashion has near universal appeal. (Copyright issues notwithstanding.) There are all kinds of reasons for this I’m sure, but I think much of it has to do with both loving stories, and loving familiarity. The adventure of something new, but the comfort of something we know. It’s why series can be so popular to both read and write.

I read the book Jack 1939 by Francine Matthews a few years ago, and liked it quite a bit. Matthews tells the tale of John F. Kennedy working on a spy mission in, you guessed it, 1939 on behalf of Franklin Roosevelt. It was a fast paced and atmospheric spy novel. I don’t know, however, if I would have liked it as much if the protagonist has not been an imaginary JFK. I might have, but I have to tell you I picked up the book because of “JFK” being the main character. I’m a Kennedy fan, and hence I am familiar with him and his history. Having that incorporated into the spy scenario meant instant stakes. The mythical status of JFK before he was famous but still rich and well connected made me want to read this novel.

John Kennedy never did any of that stuff, of course. It’s a story. But is using him cheating? Does Matthews take a short cut by putting a well known historical figure at the center of her fiction, instead of inventing someone and making the reader invest in them? I don’t know for sure, but I’m not inclined to believe that. Kennedy being in living memory probably fogs things up a bit, and I don’t think as many objections would be raised by naysayers if the protagonist had been, say, King Richard the Lionheart, of England. In fact he has been a character in any number of stories, protected from criticism somewhat by the mist of centuries, as opposed to mere decades.

A book on my “to read” list is in similar territory as the Matthews work. This one involves a fictional trip taken by the late John Lennon. Again, it is the mystique and known quantity of Lennon that caught my attention in the first place, when the concept of the book itself may not have. Is this cheating? Is fan fiction? Is Stephen Moffet’s Sherlock? All are unique takes on known quantities from elsewhere, either real life or somebody else’s pen. In all cases I again say, it probably isn’t cheating.

People, historical and fictional, are all part of many stories anyway. Their lives, their influence on the world around them, the image they or the public cultivate around them. It all adds up to their own story, and the story of anyone their lives touch. It really isn’t that unusual to think that a fiction should arise around the depth of their lives.

Consider this; is it any different to base one’s story on a historical event than on a historical figure? Or to place Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz in any number of modern settings and places, (as has been done many, many times in various mediums)? If there is a difference with those distinctions, I don’t know what it is right now.

All by way of saying that all authors borrow, and reshape things that already exist. While one must look out for laws of slander, and of copyright, from an artistic standpoint, it seems fair enough game most of the time to me. Which is why I have done it, and will continue to do it in some of my potential future projects.

But if any of you write novel about me based on this blog, I will sue you.

A New Writers Group

Starting in March I will be heading up a small writers group which will meet in the theatre where I do most of my acting: The Black Box Arts Center. I don’t know how much interest it will generate yet, but I’m aiming for at least four regular attendees for this monthly meeting.

I’ve been part of several writing clubs over the years. One started out as very useful for me, but when an arrogant incompetent took it over from me and someone else without permission, I knew it was time to move on.

Even before that, I was tiring of the format, wherein sometimes merciless critiques were given by writers just as experienced or less as the author who submitted a story any given week. I have not been to a meeting in close to two years, and can’t say what it’s like now, (though the jackass I mentioned is still in a leadership role.) But I can say that leaders aside, it started to feel to me like expressing opinions was more important than the writing. I hope to avoid this with the group I’ll be moderating.

I want my group to be about encouragement. Inspiration.  I want those who come to it to feel more likely to write something than they otherwise would have felt had they not come. While ruthless critiques have their place, I think for many people, especially those who have not written much at all, such an approach is more likely to shut down, not open up. So that’s not how this group will work.

I don’t mean to suggest everyone must love what anybody writes. I do intend, however, to focus more on getting people to write, and allowing people to read the result, and less on why a story fails as a piece. Authors will be given the chance to ask for the ruthless comments, but they won’t be required. Tough love can be found elsewhere as needed, too.

Writing prompts and exercises will be part of this group as well, because I feel that even those who are too intimidated to write an entire story are often willing and able to find themselves writing whatever comes to mind based on a picture for 15 minutes. They can share that with the group or not, but in the end, once someone who is shy about writing sees that yes, they can indeed create something small, I’m hoping they will then conclude they can write something bigger, with more of a narrative to it. If so, sweet; the group has produced another writer. If not, no harm and no foul.

Publishing will not be emphasized on a regular basis. Some writing groups spend half of their time dissecting what is and is not likely to “sell,” with an agent or publisher. (As though that can truly be predicted with any certainty these days.) Writing and publishing eventually go together, if one wants an audience. The aspects of getting an agent or self-publishing are significant to someone who wants their work, “out there.” But I’m from the school of, “you need something written first, before you can sell it.” If you think too much about publishing before you even start writing, you create a millstone in my view. If something makes you more afraid to write, that something is not for you.

The venue also helps. The BBAC wants to reach artists in the community of all kinds, not just actors. The cafe or the library have their own charms for writers, of course, but I suspect that being in a small, non-profit arts center will go a long way in stripping off distractions, and getting attendees right into a creative mindset so crucial for art of any kind. A mindset that may or may not arrive as fully while the group waits for a moderator to get back with a latte that takes five minutes to make.

So, this will be another adventure in the world of writing which I suspect will help me as much as it helps other writers of any level of experience. It takes all kinds of groups, just as it takes all kinds of writers, but let’s see how this writer and this group work out with others.


World Introvert Day

So today is almost over, and I am just now realizing that it is World Introvert Day. Actually, perhaps in previous years I knew this, but it had slipped my mind. (Though it has only been around since 2011, according to its own site. In any case, how could I not at least post on such a day?

To begin with, you have to appreciate how a day dedicated to introverts is the day right after New Year’s Day, the first 10 minutes of which is perhaps one of the most extroverted 10 minutes of the year. All that confetti and hollering and drinking and kissing strangers and such. Though one could argue that by sunrise on January 1st things have quieted down for most people as they conclude that the holiday season is for the most part concluded, there are still parties and such to be had on the day itself. The day after the whirlwind of holidays concludes for most people, while also possibly one of the most depressing days of the year is in fact a good day to celebrate introversion. (Of course if you are one, celebrating being an introvert should be an everyday thing!)

I am of course an introvert, as you have to know by now unless this is the first time you have ever read anything I’ve written on this website. I’m also on the so called “high functioning” end of the autism spectrum, which in some ways enhances the effect. (Though not everyone who is autistic is an introvert, keep in mind.)

How much progress is being made in the recognition of the 50% of us that are introverted? There has been some backlash here and there due to the accusation of introverts believing they are somehow special, or fragile. Some of us of course are, but the recognition first and foremost that there are about as many introverts as there are extroverts remains for the most part unknown and unbroadcast. That alone indicates a lack of certain types of progress.

Many industries are still extroverted, and in fact just getting a job with any company tends to be an extroverted process. Small talk, interview, another interview, if you’re lucky. Study after study reveals that sad truth that more managers seem to be looking for individuals that are extroverted with charisma than they are people with the specific talents being sought at said job.

I myself am the organizer of a Meetup group designed solely for local introverts. This too is indicative of our still living in a high extroverted country in two ways. First, I started the group because almost no meet up groups catering to introverted type of social activities in my area. At the time, everything was bars and clubs, groups of 50 people and road trips at night to Baltimore or something. A whole lot of “not me” going on there. So I started my own meetup.

As if to further the suspicion that introversion is still not widely understood, I have had more than a few people join the group over the years who ultimately didn’t seem to know if they were in fact introverted. Some were actually quite guilty of high jacking conversations during our would be friendly open (and quiet) conversation meet ups. That doesn’t indicate a person is not an introvert, but it sure makes it more ambiguous than it needs to be.

And those aren’t even the extroverts who have wanted to join in an open, stated effort to “convert” us, and help us, say it with me come out of the proverbial shell. (I’ve come to hate that term so much, I cringed when someone in a novel I am reading said it.)

So the work goes on to chip away at the extroverted bias that governs American society. Progress is being made thank to folks like Susan Cain and other who author books and give speeches on the subject. But we have a long way to go before introversion, (still included as a determining factor when putting together a criminal profile!) is not seen as the deficit, but rather as the complement.

In the mean time, enjoy a meme I made some years ago that, if you are an introvert I am sure you can relate to.  Happy World Introvert Day.






Keep Moving in 2017

There are a mere few hours remaining in 2016. It’s a quasi-arbitrary metric, of course; plenty of people don’t use the same calendar to mark the years. Even if they did, what exactly changes, other than said calendar? Nothing, really.

Any New Year is a convenient marker for assessment of one’s life. It’s passing gives one a target at which to aim for changes and improvements. The change of one year into the next is all easier to utilize in this fashion when much of the world goes wild for it, if only for a few moments. In short, though New Year’s Eve isn’t really a thing in its own right, societies have made it a thing. If a concept helps people reset, or put something behind them, I’m all for it.

In fact, I use the time myself. I have a list of goals I wish to accomplish each year that I write up every New Year’s Eve and post to my wall. Writing goals, reading goals, fitness goals, even goals for recreation. Truth be told, I only achieved about 60% of my 2016 list. Previous years I’ve done much better than that.

I could share here what I did and didn’t accomplish in 2016 as per my list. I’ve done that in the past. Yet in the end, I’ve come to realize that’s a bit of a “who cares?” I care, of course, but I doubt it enhances the lives of anybody reading this blog. If it does, forgive me for skipping over it today. But it seems to me somewhat egotistical. Not much value outside of my own reflections on 2016.

Had their been something highly unusual or difficult I accomplished, I’d mention more, I suppose.

And my goals for 2017? I’ll share a few of those with you, not all. That at least has some accountability factor attached, though I expect nobody reading this is going to badger me about it through the year. Having some of them posted in public adds a bit of motivation.

I do plan to publish my third novel by the start of summer, which I’ll be talking about more as the year goes on. My plan is to also have the first draft of my fourth novel, (I haven’t even decided what story that will be yet) by the end of 2017. I’ve got a quota of short stories I want to write in the coming year. I’ll once again be practicing my one man show on a regular basis, now that I have revamped it somewhat. I’ll keep my eyes open for chances to perform it, but I will probably abandon active pitches to organizations. (Something I tried this year and did not succeed with.)

My biggest goal in regards to my writing I would say is my commitment to more promotional activity. Regular readers of this blog know that for various reasons I lack the ability to promote in the conventional manner. But 2017 must be the year when I pursue alternatives, even if it means spending some money. Even my most modest goals of name recognition and book sales have not been met with the methods I have employed. Something must change if I want anybody to read what I write. (And I do, sin that that may be.)

In other ways I hope to simplify in 2017.

The lesson though, is to keep working, keep trying, and keep doing what one does. January 1st is a nice built-in barometer by which to keep track of one’s overall advancement, but I say not to get too attached to it. We do what we do because we are what we allow ourselves to be. It’s a march towards our own destinies and possibilities that no calendar really should be allowed to alter. We get to where we are going when we get there, by continuing to move. Keep moving. So will I.

Happy New Year.

Repost: Yes Virginia, There Was a Writer

Every year at around this time I like to repost this blog post of mine from 2010, about the importance, and potential earth changing impact of writers and their work. You can find the original piece at