My Brand of Fantasy Magic

…isn’t really fantasy at all. Magical realism, perhaps?

I recently re-watched Constantine (starring The Man of One Face: Keanu Reeves), where the protagonist spends his life fighting to keep the balance between heaven and hell via magical relics, know-how, and insight into traveling to hell and back. He’s dark, brooding, quippy, and so self-destructive he’s dying of lung cancer. It’s a delve into what I consider magical realism: people, many people, believe wholeheartedly that the ability exists (even if it’s only for one person) to… insert random miracle here. Be it travel through hell, talk to the dead, turn water to wine, transform into a totem-animal, talk to rocks, converse with ancestors long dead, see auras, dowse, possess another person/animal.

A lot of people don’t. And that’s cool. A lot of people pursue religion as a form of self-government, so instead of spending the time to understand themselves, they look to religion: “This is bad (according to the Book), so I won’t do it.” It also kills multiple birds by creating a community of similar-thinking people, which reinforces the feeling of “this is right.” Which is cool. That’s what certain governmental bodies do. And we’re governed by many circles, be it personal, family, friends, religion, spiritual (separate from religion), communal, work, local, federal, world. And that’s just what I pulled off the top. This is a digression and I’ll stop it now. I’m trying to show how this also holds its own forms of power: any single one of these bubbles could specify “this is bad” and a person follow it simply because, well, someone says to. Even the “personal” circle. Which in itself is a form of mind control.

I had a simple purpose when I began writing twelve years ago: have fun, connect with people, share my thoughts. It’s still the same purpose, albeit a little evolved. My thoughts developed into something a little stronger: magic is real. Some magic is real. Not all. Magic Missiles and two hundred foot orc giants with enchanted tree trunks for armor isn’t. Science keeps trying to say it has all the answers worth knowing (while people touting Science as the new religion also try to say, like a marijuana enthusiast, Science has ALL the answers), but it doesn’t. Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said, “That’s what’s so great about science. You don’t have to believe in it for it to be true. It exists without your permission.”

Mostly.

I know enough about Science to know the importance of “observable” and “human fallacy.” I’ve been reading about human beings having more than five senses. More like nine. Pressure, balance to name two. It really doesn’t matter how often Science revises what truths it accepts as fact. What matters is it’s always changing in its definition, always updating its databases.

Next, to define science into two subcategories: hard science (physics for one) and soft science (psychology for two). I know too many well-meaning Science worshippers who put it all together. Soft sciences, the stuff our thoughts are made of, the stuff of our dreaming, of our extra-sensories, of our deeper knowledge, of our abstract pattern recognitions, is very wide open and mostly unexplored, despite the 100 or so years we’ve had to study it. Why? Unobservable. Or, difficult to observe. Assumptions based on calculations and patterns of tests.

Magic is a soft science. In fact, eventually, all that “magic” will fall into some sub-sub category of either a sense or quirk of one or two chromosomes in some errant mutative family line (or, you know, something a person develops through meditation and a proven set of practices). Since our realities are subjected to the extent of our senses, there is nothing–absolutely nothing–to say I can’t dream another person’s dreams, for example. Or travel a place constructed wholly of peoples’ thoughts, over time, like a great big living world placed overtop our own. Or fight constructs of modern religion with sheer self-certainty alone.

We all give off energy. That’s a fact. We exist because of it. Byproducts of processes going in in our bodies. We can’t see it. We assume the effect of said energy release is negligible to our surroundings simply because, since we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

I find a new awakening going on, in this culture. In this society. A long, long time ago, during the time of the birthing religions (200 BC to, say, 1000 AD), the understanding exploded of a second, third, and perhaps even fourth sublayer above the Real. This is the stuff of the new old religions. It is the backbone. Now that religion is failing so many people of this time of “Scientific Certainty,” they’re turning to Science and Atheism. Which is cool. They do their thing. As long as they aren’t killing in the name of Neil deGrasse Tyson, it’s all gravy.

The New Reformation, I guess, comes. Or a Second Enlightenment. I’m only sorry I don’t get to know it fully.

So the magic I use in my writing comes from a deep place, a sub-tonal to the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Gitas, and the Books of the Dead, and whatever else. It comes from a constructed place–a governing place similar to those I listed–where the reality is multi-faceted, science is currently too short-sighted to involve itself, and energy talks with the voice of long-dead preachers. The magic I use is energy, plain and pure, built up on the shoulder-plates of imaginative thinkers and socio-pariahs like Einstein and Twain and Jung who, in another century (or life), would be heralded as prophets or even gods.

My brand of fantasy magic comes from the coupling of intelligent thought and passionate realization, of fever dreams and deep stillness. My brand of magic is the extent of the human condition, of spirituality that exists for itself, of ripe power sieved through governing filters. And that’s just in the reality.

In my writing, it collects the results of What Ifs and runs tests until the pattern is undeniable in its repetition.

Sorry. Magic is a lot of things. For me, it must stem from reality. It must stem from science and its branches are religion. Its fruits are you and I, the readers and writers, and it’s more than simply an axe-like tool. It’s a whole undiscovered place, like a continent with slightly different rules. It’s a way of breathing. It’s a way of bleeding. It’s a way of interaction.

It’s so. Fucking. Sexy.

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I Dreamed Hard-Boiled

(Apologies for the constant Blog name-change. I’m looking for my voice, a little)

75% of the inspiration for my writing comes from my dreams. This is 98% why I write fantasy. Since I was 2 years old I’ve had vivid dreams and vivid nightmares, and I remember most of it. You can understand my confusion toward labeling my work fantasy vs something else simply because, in a way, I’ve lived it.

Movies are great. Books are great. I don’t write based off books (except for Dresden and an Animorph fanfic when I was a kid) or movies unless I’ve dreamed about them (which has happened).

Last night I dreamed I read (in the dream) a hard-boiled, gritty detective novel and, simultaneously, lived it through flashes of “real” characterization of the novel. Talk about esoteric; I dreamed that I dreamed about a book I never read.

I’ve always wanted to write hard-boiled (Dresden as example). I’ve always wanted a dark, brooding, antagonist main character in a world of absolute truths shrouded in layers of the socio-psychological and an animalistic need for survival. To try and find inspiration, I read historical fiction like Angel of Darkness and detective-heavy Sherlock Holmes and, even, Lovecraft’s dedication to the scientific method in his Meta sequence. Yet I’ve never succeeded in writing it. I chalked it up to not ever meeting, or knowing, a lover of detective fiction that could bounce ideas around with me, and tell me where I’m screwing up (if I even am! I might be writing it perfect, but getting all the negative feedback to convince me otherwise).

The dream was complicated, but as my subconscious often does, put me in an entirely different mindset than what I’ve been used to: it showed me what “it/I” liked while showing me a detailed writing style I’ve never had. Or, I’ve only had in my subconscious? In fact I had a conversation with the MC. Looking back on it now, it seems silly, but we were on a boat in the Hudson River (setting: Noir York?) after dumping a body and I asked him what he’d do next: pursue prosecution through the police or fighting through to the truth?

He looked at me, square jaw and four-day growth of stubble on his face, and said, “I’m not some emotional pussycat that fumbles around with personal motive and what I’m eating for dinner. I don’t stare into the bottom of my coffee cup and whine to myself how unjust this world is. I chew on the coffee grounds, I smoke cigarettes, and I sacrifice my body and hone my mind. You don’t reach this state without systematically removing all motivation, and motive, from your own life. My life is a mirror of my job; it has to be. Otherwise I’d be the body on the bottom of the river.”

Terrifying realization, this, because I had spent my writing life dedicated to busting the mystery’s balls instead of the character. It’s twisted, and possibly sick, but I have to work my MC to the bone before I can work my mystery to the bone. In fact, the mystery will write itself if the MC is carved away enough before the story starts.

I’ve never thought this way.

The reason I’m writing this post is because, in the past, I spent so much time trying to explain to people how I’ve come to the insights I have through sleep, and they laugh and say it’s impossible. Yes, I’ve read a few detective novels. Yes, I played Max Payne. But my thoughts wouldn’t have clicked the way they did without the vivid dream.

I know it’s unconventional. How do you work through your uncertainties?

The Importance of People in Writing

I’m a writer (if you couldn’t tell). I’m also an extrovert. By “extrovert,” I mean I gather my energy from others, and love being in public. I’m not a social butterfly, I’m not a partier, but I love to interact with others. I love to talk, too, but that’s beside the point.

A fortunate byproduct of this extroversion (or perhaps in spite of?), I’m also a social studier–something I have in common with my introverted, albeit social, fiancee.

We people watch. She from afar, me from up close and personal. Both of my brothers do it, as well (my older brother more than my younger). Some people might consider that strange, but it’s not a matter of being creepy and judging or anything like that. Our people watching is a practice in understanding the world.

My characters is the most important aspect of any book I write. I am dialogue heavy. I absolutely can’t avoid the interaction. I write about introverted characters that have to open up (story demands it!), and I write about extroverted characters trapped on a deserted island (Wilson, anyone? Anyone?), and of course I write about groups of introverted/extroverted and how they react to each other doing their things. It’s vibrant, and I feel every book requires developed, complex, intricate characters.

A TV series that was recently canceled, called Lie to Me, takes this “people watching” to a CIA-esque micro-expression level: the series was about a whole corporation dedicated to figuring out who was lying and who wasn’t. Now, they limited themselves because (unfortunately) whoever was in charge of the whole concept behind it didn’t have much training in the subject, or the producers ‘blocked his/her interest for more mundane, audience-pleasing repetition of eye twitches and hair scratches.

People watching is my mental exercise. Where scrabble or crosswords or fluid dynamics are some people’s mojo faucets, watching people is mine.

Whether they’re happy, or whether they’re sad, frustrated, lonely, insecure and hiding, insecure and trying to make the best of things, etc., is something anyone can train themselves to see. Avoiding eye contact is another big one for me (my father’s an engineer, but he’s also pretty dedicated to manners and politeness. In fact, he showed me a book he had on manners: he got me started on this whole, ‘understanding people’ thing).

You don’t have to go to a park to do this, either. You don’t have to go to a library and stare people down, or even invite five friends over for poker night (although that’s an excellent way to begin). All you have to do is turn on the TV and watch a reality show (Jersey Shore Not Recommended). An awesome show for this (and my latest passionate interest) is Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. You get a control subject (the straight guy), who is clearly missing something in the confidence/self-respect department, you get five very confident gay guys (sans Carson. He’s a mess), and you have a plethora of environmental subjects that come and go throughout the show (family/friends/girlfriends). If you prefer to not watch this show (I don’t see why you wouldn’t like it, but some people are too busy/disinterested in fashion/house organizing to care), you can watch Ghost Hunters/Ghost Adventures (the latter is an excellent study in Leading the Eyewitness), What Not To Wear (eh), or even COPS (yes. I said it. Cops) to figure out ticks.

It’ll do your writing a world of good, and I, for one, can never get enough. Perhaps it’s my extroversion, but the more I know about a person, the more dynamic he/she becomes. Every single person has a “motive,” every person has an environment, and they’re all ticking like clocks.

The more you know about them, the more you know about yourself. And vice versa.

Poetry Should be in Every Writer’s Bag of Tricks

I had an emo stage when I was very young. I called it: High School. Growing from that (relatively normal) stage in my life like lichen on a damp grave, my love for poetry grew.

I’ll be the first to say it wasn’t a normal love for poetry, or a “poet’s” love for poetry. I never spent hours on rainy days reading my favorite Dickenson or Cummings. In fact, the only “short” poetry I ever read was required reading in class.

Poetry wakes something different in my mind than prose. It is a puzzle, or art. It is an environment, or a state of mind. It is Milton, and Dante, and Longfellow, and Poe. My favorite poetry isn’t the violin string too taut to play casually, but the violin so used it’s got a soul.

So I wrote. I can’t write short stories to save my life. They always start short, but end long, long, long. Always. My poetry was my short story: most were dreams, some were snippets. Short shorts. Some were whole ten-page encounters. And of course they started off emo, writing about my woes. The worst kind of blues imaginable. I fell in love with Persy Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, puzzled out Dante’s Divine Comedy (as best a high schooler can), and understood Milton’s Lucifer (as best a Catholic can).

I still write poetry, from time to time, although I realize that only when I’m alone (without a partner) that I write anything of substance or personal value. I’ve never been published in poetry and don’t expect to be, because it isn’t an end of itself: it is a brilliant tool to understand words, understand the fluidity of the English language, and of course to expand your mind.

Poetry is zen prose. I learned so much from it. It’s easier for a person to “dumb” writing down to his market’s reading level than to expand it out to truly stretch a thought to encompass the emotional state of, say, an abused child attending his abusee father’s funeral. It’s easy to say, “he had dry eyes. He felt sad, but distant.” It’s not easy to write the path.

Some of my last poetry before I met my (then girlfriend) fiancee:

I breathe like a fever-beetle, and staunch Lilac’s hemmoraging
Warbridled and brackish, kindless and kinetic, a halo of red
A ring of posies; do you see the subtle taste floating in the sea of star?
We are all of us sick and stranded. I am a well. Fill me.

It’s clearly not accessible. It’s complicated, and filled with what some would label “cryptic,” a series of themes and symbols that have evolved meaning for me. Like a painter, perhaps, focuses on the human form for years, or a specific color of paint, or… apples.

I personally feel every writer should have a grasp of poetry. I don’t care if you’re a journalist, a textbook writer, or science fiction novelist. When I feel particularly pent-up, I dive into it to try and better understand myself.

~x