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"My, aren't we optimistic, Joseph? A FAQ for the readership of pages you're only starting to write?" Perhaps it might seem so, yet site statistics indicate that the readership is already here, and these questions have already been asked elsewhere, repeatedly, so I thought that I might as well get them out of the way. In some cases, the answers represent hard earned experience that I really wish I could have gained more easily, and so I post them for the benefit of those who might be about to make the same mistakes I did, at the beginning. In other cases, they come as answers to some not very sound assumptions that I've seen people pushing in an aggressive manner.
"Not very sound assumptions? I didn't see you put an IMHO behind that."
And why should I have to?
I've never really thought very highly of the concept of "netiquette", for the excellent reason that I've never had a good reason to do so. The fact that, from time to time, I'd encounter a little cyberthug who would decide to "teach me a lesson" for ignoring its dictates was not and is not a good reason, and it's the only reason anybody ever gives - "indulge us for the sake of peace". It still wouldn't be a good reason if any of these people ever proved to be a real problem on his own, and they almost never do. Two weeks will pass, if not less, and who will even remember the names of any of these people, or what on earth they were screaming about? Was it ever worth remembering?
They might never forget those of us who have minds of our own, but we can well afford to forget them. You might notice that there's no mail link on this site.
What are these assumptions, then?
That the reality of a fictional world must reflect the author's beliefs about the nature of the real world, for one of far too many to name. I started to explain to somebody why characters from one of my story cycles would not be appearing in another, aside from the fact that as a reader, I don't tend to like crossover stories, in which all gets too self-conscious and cute, more often than not. The problem was the logical incompatability that would come out of the differing theologies of the fictional worlds in question. The first story cycle is set in a world that is devoid of anything supernatural - no deities, spirits, magic or any of that. The second cycle is set in a world in which not only is the supernatural present, but it keeps breaking into people's lives. It seldom does so in such an unambiguous way that the characters are sure that they know what has happened, but there is that disquieting sense of being in the presence of something not understood that reason will not let go away, if one pays attention and thinks about the odds. To have a crossover story, then, I'd have to have two contradictory facts be true at the same time, and there is no way for me to write my way around that.
If one is very, very casual, one might think that an out presents itself on examination of the first cycle: the stories appear to be set in a parallel universe. The layout of the city I describe doesn't mirror that of any city on earth, and the city is next to a body of water that sounds a lot like Lake Michigan, which would limit the possibilities of where the city could be on this earth. Personally, I haven't decided, myself, because I don't think it's going to matter. Again, no crossover - nobody's going to be traveling between that world and any world more closely resembling the real one. The stories set in that atheistic reality won't have any science fictional elements either - no aliens, no psychic powers or starships or saquatches, or anything like that. Since there will be no sliding between timelines or universes taking place, for me to give a firm answer to the question "is this a parallel universe" would be like a landscape painter dabbing pigment on the wall, to show us what's outside of the frame of his painting. My answer is that these stories take place in a parallel universe, only if you want them to. You can be frustrated by this, as some readers will, or you can choose to think of it as my invitation to be a participant in the creation of the story, as you experience it.
What is clear is that even if we do choose to put the stories from the first cycle in a timeline parallel to that of the second cycle, that we still won't be able to salvage the logic of the crossover story. G-d, if He exists, is not touched by anything taking place in the physical world. Therefore, if He exists in one timeline, He exists in them all. These "parallel universes" supposedly match each other up to a "point of departure" - an event that differs between the two - therefore if G-d were to ever involve Himself in one universe, the changes He brought forth would be mirrored in the second timeline prior to the point of departure, implying that He was there, as well - how can actions take place in the absence of an actor? But G-d, if he is here, is immortal, so being present prior to the point of departure, would have to be present following it.
"Perhaps we are looking at the gods, instead of G-d, and they are neither immortal nor invulnerable?", one might ask. "or maybe G-d is there, and He never acts on the world". In which case, He becomes something utterly unlike any deity ever worshipped, as far as I know, and as external to the plot as would be those parallel universes I'd be refusing to commit myself to. Irrelevant, and therefore left out. As for gods who come and go, does the supernatural, taken in its totality, do the same? I can already think of a story written by somebody else in which that is sort of true, magic leaving the world because of the depletion of something called "mana", but the supernatural in my second cycle isn't like that. It seems to just be part of the way the world works - asking when it would go away would be a little like asking when light was going to stop casting shadows. This leaves us back where we were, with no way to make the characters in one cycle real in the world of the other, without destroying the logic of both. No crossover, then, and that is just as well, because the tone of the two cycles will be different, and characters from one would be lost in the other. Fair enough, if a little overexplained?
Apparently, it wasn't for somebody, who immediately started talking about how he disagreed with my atheism. As hard as I tried, I just couldn't get this fellow to understand the concept of something just being a story.
"If it's just a story, then why do you worry about the logic of the theology in the backstory? Aren't you taking this all a little too seriously, yourself?"
Not really. I think about such details because I'd rather write a good story than a bad one. Let's say that as a sculptor put down his chisel for the last time, revealing the piece he had just created, you found that unlike the model, the woman portrayed in the sculpture had seven toes on her left foot, one of her eyes was half an inch higher than the other, and her vertebrae indented inward instead of outward. Would you accept this on the basis that "it's just a sculpture" or might you suspect that this wasn't a very good sculpture?
Writing, like visual art, often seeks to attain a likeness, a simulation of reality. The medium is different, words and the logic behind the words being molded to one's ends, but the principle is the same. For me, as an amateur learning to do this to not worry about the logic of his plots would be to be as the art student who, wishing to do representational work, to not worry about studying anatomy. To do so wouldn't be to show that I had gained perspective, it would be to show that I was lacking in motivation.
I am not unaware of the fact that there are those who would take pride in such a lack of motivation. I'm also aware of the fact that there are those who breathe in their wisdom quickly, and effortlessly, if not very inexpensively, out of a bong. To use attitude or poorly crafted philosophy as a narcotic might not do as much physiological damage in the sort run, but it remains an unhealthy way to live, and that is what they are doing.
"Bit of a nerd, aren't you, my hobby loving applied mathematician friend? I understand that you don't even want people to drop by to say 'hello' while you're journaling."
If you wish to use that word, you are free to do so. I'm not sure that it applies in my case (having been to a science fiction convention and noticed that I didn't really fit in very well), but I'm not afraid of it. Why would I be?
Given that the currently fashionable notion of coolness centers around the living of an unsustainable lifestyle and the near total absence of an inner life, to say that one does not live up to it and expect one to feel bad about that failure on one's part is something like breaking the news to somebody that he is, in fact, a man and not a tapeworm. To which my response would be to thank the speaker for noticing, and roll my eyes the moment he departed. Such people consume without creating, living at the expense of others, much as a tapeworm does, with at most limited awareness of that which is around them, or concern for the nature of their surroundings. While they won't literally wriggle through excrement, what they do seek out and surround themselves with could aptly be described in those terms with, perhaps, one difference. The intestinal parasite does actually find nourishment in his surroundings, and couldn't really live anywhere else. The overgrown adolescents who I find myself expected to envy and emulate are merely behaving self-destructively, meaning that the worms have shown greater signs of wisdom.
"Friendly sort, aren't you?"
As friendly as I ought to be, and then some, judging from the number of times I've found my patience poorly invested in somebody. Maybe rather too much so, but I do learn from my mistakes, and that's not a bad thing, even if it does prove inconvenient for some people. But to return to your earlier question, that's not what my request to not drop by and yell "hey Joe, how's the journaling going" is about, or why I absolutely refuse to tweet my position when I'm writing. If I'm really into what I'm doing at the moment, I might hold up my hand and signal to you that I'd like this conversation to take place later, and expect you to respect that, but for the most part I'm fairly approachable when I'm out. No, the point is that I'm trying to blend when I'm journaling, because I'm working from observation. If you tell people that they're being watched, they aren't going to behave normally, and one can only tell a story about trying to write a story so many times before the self-referentiality gets old. About once, I'd say.
You might notice that none of the characters in my stories ever seem to be writers, and that I never play an actor on stage. There's a reason for that.
"So you're spying on people?"
Only when the Illuminati or the Trilateral commission hire me to do so. Or am I one of the Illuminati, given that one of my degrees is in Physics? I keep getting confused on that point, probably because I start fading out whenever somebody tries to clear it up for me, usually after he's just gotten done tightening the tin foil cap on his head. He'll do this while I fight the urge to explain to him that conductors only stop static electrical fields, and sit back and watch the panic build as he sees that the thought control waves have been hitting his brain unimpeded, all along.
I have no idea of who these people are, and neither will you, after I put my observations to use, because the characters start out as composites and then evolve into themselves, over a series of rewritings. The point of the observation is not to tell you what somebody was doing when he was in a place where he had no reasonable expectation of privacy, but to keep the character's voice from being a mere echo of mine. He should sound like himself, move like himself, think like himself, and by basing these things on a study of people who really do exist, I move closer to creating somebody who could exist.
"What's the point of this?"
To keep all of my characters from sounding and acting just like me. What I'm looking for are patterns of speech to echo, mannerisms to give to the characters, points of view that aren't my own. One can get some of this out of other people's writing, yes, but there's a danger to getting all of it that way. Think of the affected way of speaking and moving mockingly associated with the "theatre artiste", often by the "theatre artistes", themselves. I've seen the class exercises that can produce those affectations - actors in training studying other actors, as the actors they're studying, themselves, study still other actors who've been studying them. Any deviation from normal, unaffected human behavior is only going to be amplified by this feedback loop, and the deviations will become habitual, if not addressed.
Art should look to life, not to itself, even when it is amateur art.
If you choose to visit my other sites or check to see if I've managed to place some actual material on the main page for this site, you can still get back to your ring later by using the link to the global webring return page from whichever site you find yourself, as long as it is one of my sites. If you see a link to something called a "local ring return page", use that - it helps you find your way back to any of the rings to which a page on that site belongs, or to the global ring return page, if you need to go there. As you're going to need to, to get back here, if you go offsite.