Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is...

Fear itself. (FDR)

I've been a bit busy to blog lately, and I haven't had much to blog about in my daily life. Writing is going slowly, as usual. But of course I'm going to make time for the Blog Chain. This time around, Kat picked a suitable topic for this time of year:

What are the primary fears that drive your characters? Do they battle aliens or gangsters or monsters? Or do they battle unreconciled issues in their lives? Which do you prefer writing about? What do you fear?

Amanda posted before me, and Eric will finish the chain tomorrow.

As I thought about this topic, I realized the main character of Across Two Universes has two main fears: that he will lose someone else he loves (since his mom was murdered at the beginning of the novel), and that he will lose his own identity and be forced to permanently play the part of Sean Quinn, the rock star Paul was cloned from. The monsters he faces are human, however. One is his great-uncle, whom Paul believes had his mother killed to make his life like Sean's. The other is Sean's own murderer. (Paul travels to an alternate universe where Sean is still alive in order to create a hologram of Sean, which Paul will need when he confronts his great-uncle.) Throughout the story, Paul tackles his fears head-on. By meeting his genetic twin, he confronts his own issues with being a clone and realizes he's still a unique person. As an actor, Paul is experienced in playing different roles. He learns to regard Sean's character as another role; the trick is keeping control in his own hands. But his weakness is his love for his friends; a threat to them could make him follow his great-uncle's wishes.

Many of Paul's actions are driven by the guilt he feels over his mother's death. His friends, however, fear more for his safety. They view Paul's attempt to save Sean from the man who wants to knife him as a suicide attempt. Their fear for him drives them to do things they wouldn't do under normal circumstances. One will face her own fear, one will acknowledge her true feelings for Paul, and one will betray him--for his own good.

I think external threats to characters often serve as a metaphor for internal fears, so by writing about one, you're also writing about the other. While I'm more interested in the internal lives of my characters, they often need something external to challenge them so they develop. Fear is not a bad thing in and of itself; it's a way of making sure we protect ourselves. It becomes a problem when we overreact to the point where we can't lead a normal life.

As for my own fears, I've commented on other people's posts about my fear of driving in ice and snow. I also don't like heights, although I can face them. I climbed to the top of Saint Paul's when we were in London a few years ago; I just clung to the walls when I reached the top (which is outside). But my biggest fear is something that's too nebulous to provoke a physical reaction. I fear for my son's future. When I read reports about global warming, overpopulation, and concerns about the future food supply, I worry what life will be like when he grows up. Will the climate be stable? Will there be enough food and clean air and water? How will instability in other regions of the world affect us here? Is what we're doing right now enough to head off a catastrophe?

Perhaps it's too bad we can't be afraid of global warming in the same visceral way we're afraid of heights.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I was looking at Facebook when I saw someone mention a social network for writers. Naturally, I joined. It's called Scribblerati, and you can check it out at the link. It was just started a few days ago, so membership is still pretty small. If you feel so inclined, help spread the word!

Monday, October 12, 2009

First Paragraph Contest

Like the rest of the writing blogosphere, I entered my first paragraph in Nathan Bransford's First Paragraph Challenge. The good thing about this contest is that it forced me to take a closer look at my first paragraph. Here's my original version:

As soon as Paul Harrison left the stage, he ripped the holoprojector bands off his arms. His skin had been itching since noon, but it appeared normal. The sensation reminded him of the way his skin tingled whenever he crossed between the two universes through the wormhole. This time, however, the prickling was disturbing, not invigorating. He couldn’t referee Hamlet’s final duel while scratching himself till he bled.

As I looked at it, I decided that 1) it wasn't deep enough in Paul's POV, and 2) while the wormhole mention was supposed to provide some intriguing background, it felt forced here. So here's the final version, simpler and more direct:

As soon as Paul Harrison left the stage, he ripped the holoprojector bands off and rubbed his arms. Why were they itching so much, and how could he make it stop? It would spoil the show if he scratched himself like a monkey during Hamlet’s final duel.

I don't know how it'll fare in the contest, but I think it's better. If you're interested, it's entry #814.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Japan: The Final Days

I just realized I haven't blogged since the typhoon. That wasn't intentional; I just got lazy.

Friday was my final day in Japan. I didn't do any lab work that day; instead, I got to tour two of my company's facilities. In the morning, I got to see the production and processing areas. In the afternoon, the manager drove me to the R&D site. It was about an hour away, but he bought a Beatles CD to help pass the time.

In the evening, two of the people I've been working with took me out for dinner to a hibachi-style place. The chef wasn't as flamboyant as one you might find at Ron of Japan, but the food was good, and that's more important.

The trip back home went fairly smoothly. Eugene and Alex picked me up from the airport. Alex just looked at me at first, but it didn't take long before he warmed up. And since we got home, I've been "the chosen one." The jet lag hasn't been as bad as it was when I got to Japan. I think it helped that I didn't sleep on the flight but was still able to stay up until bedtime. I took the next few days off to adjust, though. Alex is home with me tomorrow since daycare is closed with training. I have a spa day on Tuesday, and I'm visiting my best friend Wednesday; unfortunately, she lost her father while I was in Japan.

Anyway, I learned a lot while I was in Japan and got to experience new things. Still, I'm much happier being back home with my family.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


I think I may have mentioned how rainy it's been in Japan. Just about every day (except for the weekend), we've had some. Sometimes it's nothing more than a light drizzle, scarcely worth putting up the umbrella for. But last night they predicted a typhoon, and it was heavier than normal. As the manager drove me from work to the subway station, he told me I should call him in the morning if I had problems getting into work.

I woke up around 5:00 this morning to hear winds whipping outside my hotel window. It sounded like it raining pretty hard, too. But by the time I finished breakfast, the rain had stopped. Assuming I'd get to work without any problems, I lugged my bag to the subway station. I noticed right away there were fewer people than normal. But what I also noticed from the signs on the trains is that they stopped a station before mine. I had a feeling there was going to be a problem, but I took the train anyway. Sure enough, the train terminated a station too early, and there were no trains running in the other direction. I waited a bit to see if things were going to change, but then I called the office and explained the situation. Someone told me to take a taxi from my hotel, so I rode the train back to my station, walked back to the hotel, and found a taxi. It was definitely more expensive than the subway, but I got to work.

This was my last day doing lab work; tomorrow I have a meeting in the morning and a couple of tours in the afternoon. Some of the ladies from the QC lab decided to treat me to sushi. They brought me to a place where the sushi came out on conveyor belts and you were charged for how many plates you took. (We actually have something similar by work.) I tried a couple new things, including an egg custard. And after dinner, the subway station was back to normal.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

It's just about bedtime for me in Japan, so here's my current progress on Across Two Universes:

Currently On: Chapter Fourteen, Page 148
Total Pages: 292
Total Word Count: 93,000

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The John Lennon Museum

Before I left for Japan, our company president asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted to see while I was there. My answer, of course, was the John Lennon Museum. I was told it was too far away; however, my gracious hosts found a way to make it happen.

We left for the train station early this morning and took a bullet train (I don't remember how to spell the Japanese term) to Tokyo. After that, we transferred to two other trains before arriving at our destination. The museum is next to an arena and a public place where a flea market was being held. There was also a food court with a play area for little kids and a stage where a band was being filmed.

After lunch, we went to the museum, which occupies two floors of a building. It was very quiet when we arrived. The museum tour starts with a short film summing up John's life. (We were the only people in the theater for this.) Afterwards, you trace John's life, which is broken up into nine eras. Many artifacts of his are on display. There are several guitars, including his very first one (though it might have been a replica); a guitar with a concert setlist still taped to the side, and a custom one Yoko commissioned for him with a dragon on the guitar body. There were also school reports; magazines he made as a child; his Sargent Pepper outfit (complete with hat, boots, and scarf); personal items from the Dakota; gold records; handwritten lyrics; and many more things. Naturally Yoko's art work was also included; there were recreations of the art pieces from the art show where she and John met. I liked seeing her ceiling piece (with the word "Yes" on the ceiling.) There is also a white phone that she calls from time to time, but it didn't ring when I was in the area.

Being the diehard fan that I am, I went into this exhibit already knowing much about John's life. In fact, there were some areas that I felt were glossed over. The gate from Strawberry Field is shown but not explained. I didn't see any mention of Stu Stutcliffe, John's friend from art school. Cynthia and Julian are mentioned briefly in the Beatles era, but that's about it. I suppose it's understandable that a Yoko-inspired exhibit would focus on the part of John's life when they were together, but I feel that other important people in John's life deserve to be included too. Anyway, I did learn some new details. For instance, John's capital I's have such big loops they look like 9's. Since nine was an important number for John, that may not be coincidence. I saw several photos of John wearing a cross around his neck (that cross plays an important role in Across Two Universes). I also enjoyed seeing some new photos of John, especially from the househusband period. And of course it was great just soaking in all of his music. When it's been a while since you've heard Beatles music, hearing it again is like absorbing a nutrient you didn't realize you needed.

Other exhibits about John have made a point about reminding people how he died violently, displaying the brown bag with the clothes he was wearing when he was shot. This museum took a different approach, simply displaying the date of John's death in white letters on a white wall. Beyond that point is a "Forever" room, where you can sit on clear chairs and look at some inspiring lyrics from his songs. (I noticed all the lyrics were taken from his solo work.)

After we finished going through the exhibit, naturally I had to buy some souvenirs. I was amused by the John Lennon action figure but decided it was too big to buy. I would have liked to buy a copy of Real Love: The Drawings for Sean, but it wasn't for sale. Maybe I can find it on Amazon. I wound up with a bunch of photo postcards, a keychain, a pen, and a book of John's drawings about his visits to Japan. I had my picture taken with early John; Oscar joined me for that one. (I forgot to bring him with me yesterday, but at least there's now an Asian sighting of him.) We also spent some time in the lounge, where you can read books, listen to music, and watch DVDs.

When we returned to Tokyo, we walked around a famous shopping area for a bit. It was extremely crowded, and the shops catered to younger and hipper people. Still, it was a great place to people watch. We then returned to Nagoya and had dinner at yet another restaurant where you cook your own food. This time, we made things called something like "okonomakyi" and "makjyi." (Those words are probably misspelled.) Cabbage, meat, and vegetables are combined with dough and cooked on a griddle. The closest analogy to Western food is like a potato pancake.

That's it for today. It's close to midnight, and I'm tired from all the stairs at the train stations. But I'm very happy I was able to fulfill one of my dreams today. Imagine that.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Journeys

Well, not only is it time for another Blog Chain, but I get to start it. A few days ago, I blogged about the start of my journey to Japan and how journeys can play an important role in fiction. I'm feeling lazy, so let's expand on that topic:

What kind of journeys do your characters make? What effects do they have on the characters and the plot? Also, if you wish, please tell us about one of your personal journeys and how it changed you.

Since I'm already blogging about my trip to Japan, I won't discuss the last part. Instead, I'll focus on Paul's journey in Across Two Universes.

Paul's parents work on a spaceship, so he travels with them as they travel through a wormhole into an alternate universe. But although he's been visiting this other universe since he was born, he was never allowed to leave the spaceship. Once Paul learns he was cloned from a man in the other universe, it becomes inevitable that he try to meet him. It is not an easy journey; the other time travelers are reluctant to let him go, and once he escapes from them, they try to track him down. Earth in the Twentieth Century is much different from Paul's, and he experiences culture shock as he tries to get around in a new world. But all of these difficulties teach him new things about himself and the friends who accompany him. (They get different things out of the trip too.) Paul will need the strength he finds on this trip to face the antagonist at the end of the story.

That's all I have for now. Tune in tomorrow to see what Eric has to say.

To the Temples...

Today I finally got to see something else besides the lab and my hotel room. The manager I've been working with took me on a half-day tour of some of Kyoto's famous sites. First, we took the subway to the train station, which also has a big shopping center. While we waited for the train, I found some model silver cars for Alex. (He's currently obsessed with silver cars; whenever I bring him to daycare or pick him up, we have to look at all the cars in the parking lot.) We rode one of the bullet trains that brought us to Kyoto in about 35 minutes. We ate lunch (fried rice and noodle soup), and I bought a lot of souvenirs. Then we went to a nearby hotel to join the guided tour.

Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan, and it still has many shrines and a shogun's castle. (It has so many historic sites the U.S. refrained from bombing the city during WWII.) We were only able to visit three shrines at a rushed pace. They were still pretty impressive, however.

The first shrine we visited was a Shinto shrine. The high point of this shrine was the garden, complete with several bridges. Next up was a 12th-century wooden shrine with over a thousand statues of Kannon. We weren't allowed to take photos, but the ambiance was quite impressive. It was like an army of gods. To visit the final temple, we first had to walk up a narrow street lined with shops. It was worth the climb, as the shrine had a great view of the mountains. The water at this temple is not only pure; it's supposed to grant health, wealth, or wisdom, depending on which stream you drink from. (Yes, I had some, but I'm not saying which stream it was.)

By the time we finished, we were pretty tired. We took the bullet train back to Nagoya, and another co-worker took us out for dinner at a Korean barbecue. Here, you were able to grill your food at the table. Some of it was a bit spicy for me, but it was still very good and very filling. No wonder I'm about to fall asleep!

Another Misadventure

I mentioned before how I would tell the taxi drivers where to take me by handing them a business card. That worked well until yesterday morning. The driver consulted his map a couple of times, then pulled into a convenience center and made a phone call. Then he drove for a bit and stopped again. By this time, I was already late for work, so I called the manager over here to tell him what was going on. I even handed my cell phone to the driver so my manager could give him directions. He still drove me around in the middle of nowhere. We finally managed to get close to the area, but he still couldn't pinpoint the spot. Finally he stopped to talk to a woman walking by the side of the road and convinced her to guide us to the right spot.

When I told this story to some people last night (they had a small welcoming party and fed me sushi), one of them suggested the taxi driver took me for a ride. It's very possible, as he charged me at least twice what the trip normally costs. However, he did turn off the meter before we got to my destination; you would think he would charge me for every inch if he really wanted to gyp me. Perhaps he hit a maximum fare. Still, the more I think about it, the madder I get. I hope that doesn't happen again while I'm here. I don't need to speak the language to show him I'm angry.

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