A Familiar Letter

writer // poet // mindful

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Imagination Is Optional

We want to be overtaken by media. And look where we’ve gotten.

Movie theaters eight stories tall. World-destroying sound systems. 5k size images nearly practical.

We find breathtaking detail in video games. In Skyrim you just want to look at the scenery. You let the game anesthetize you into a dream state where reality ceases to matter. You could say we live our stories, melding into them. It’s become half vicarious, half not.

But we don’t live our stories. We immerse ourselves in them, sure, but not so far that life becomes the same as media.

Who knows what stories will look like in a hundred years? Maybe reality will become story. Entertainment turns into life, and life entertainment.

As I type this, I’m sitting by a bookshelf, contemplating the power in words. The work we do as fiction writers, the vital work of conjuring new realities, seems immutable. And to us it is a labor intensive task. We require immense imagination to create great objects of the mind.

Movies, television, video games — they turn off the imagination like water over a wicked witch. But they do immerse us. Imagination is optional.

Maybe books aren’t being usurped by movies and television. Maybe our collective lack of free time is usurping them, and this time sapped state causes a new kind of pain we can’t adequately describe. It’s a strained, new life that requires new types of culture to let us assimilate our experiences.

From this strained life comes a medicine: the new entertainment.

Exoticisim In Fiction And History

The exotic incites curiosity. But exoticism, looking for the exotic where none necessarily exists, can be poisonous.

“Exoticism, by definition, is ‘the charm of the unfamiliar.'”

I came across a brilliant piece on exoticism by Daniel Abraham. He feels ambivalent about searching for the exotic in history —

There’s a danger in looking for that in the literal world — within history.  And it’s something that screws us up whether we’re trying to put God into history or Lamont Cranston into Thailand.  But that doesn’t take away from the hunger behind it.  For escapism, for exoticism, for the idealized other.  I don’t think that desire is in itself pathological, and I don’t want to see it thrown out with the bathwater.

In Heart of Darkness, Marlow recalls about his childhood,

Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, `When I grow up I will go there.’ The North Pole was one of these places, I remember. Well, I haven’t been there yet, and shall not try now. The glamour’s off.

The Victorian authors – of which Conrad is only one – is full of this process of imbuing an outside culture or area with mystique. Wilkie Collins wrote The Moonstone. H. G. Wells wrote The Time Machine.

As this piece says,

…The concept of the exotic/exoticism can be traced back to seventeenth century Europe.  The nineteenth century construct of exoticism however, resulted from increased travel and exploration outside Europe to the East and Australia for instance.

It seems to me like this has a lot to do with putting people on a pedestal. As Abraham says, it dehumanizes the exotic person/s.


When you grow up, the world loses its glamor. Maybe that’s why speculative fiction sells so well.

Fantasy and science fiction add instant glamor to stories, in different ways. But their tropes make it comfortable. Genre tropes remove the reader’s discomfort. That’s perhaps the difference between pure escapism and escapism + substance.


I keep a tumblr of things that inspire me. Take a look if you’re so inclined. I’m not an expert, or even half an expert, so don’t ask me questions. (By the end of 2013 I’ll know everything about ancient history. (Achievable goals.)) I bring it up because a) I’m shameless, and b) what I put up there often has an exotic flavor. Often this means ancient history.

Ancient history seems very very exotic. But that can be amplified by the lack of information we have.

Certain interpretations of the medieval troubadours are quite exotic. But the best recordings we have are from the last few decades. Go back far enough into  Medieval France and your guess at what their music sounded like is as good as anyone else’s. For serious.

Anecdotal ghost stories illustrate how the lack of information makes a story. They come to the teller as fragments, without beginnings or middles or endings. People want to believe in them because of the unfamiliarity inherent in the idea of ghosts.

It comes back to people. When mystery is valued over people, things break.

The Problem With Learning Fiction

Give your novel 4 acts.

3 acts.

5 acts.

The number of acts is irrelevant.

Oh, and Don’t Forget Joseph Campbell.


Here’s the problem with teaching fiction: craft blueprints how to write with reader psychology in mind, but every teacher spins craft differently.

We don’t even have a common lexicon. Just a jumble of jargon-y words that overlap and confuse.

Most successful fiction teachers have a devoted following not because their students have found Writing Salvation through their particular program.

(*watches for tomatoes*)

The sales pitch won them.

The perfect storycraft resource exists in theory. We just haven’t found it yet. We might never.


Anxiety overwhelmed me in high school. It still does at times. The only respite during those endless days came to me out of an obsession with Buddhism. One day I sat at the bench in chemistry class and went into a mindful state, and for a moment everything became bearable.


If life was Twitter, then mindfulness is looking away from your Twitter stream and noticing the stuffed animal below your monitor. A plush animal. He looks forward and his fur is light and dark brown.

Below you stands your desk. On the desk lies a keyboard and mouse.

When you lift your head your neck stays relaxed. The computer monitor glows.

Nothing exists except your neck, the desk, the keyboard, the glowing monitor, the mouse, and the stuffed animal.


A wise dude, the Buddha, said to be mindful. I’m no Buddhist but I plan on being mindful every day. When you are mindful, life simultaneously slows down and begins – a refuge in your mind.

Tolkien = Fantasy but Fantasy doesn’t necessarily = Tolkien

I heard one author say the other day that she was “yet another Tolkien imitator.” She had just come out with a fantasy novel, apparently complete with castles, swords, (time travel ok thats different sort of) and a map that could have come from page 1 of The Hobbit.

This is known as Medievalist fantasy, and was popularized and brought into the mainstream by Tolkien. It would be naive to underestimate his influence on succeeding generations.

I read the Lord of the Rings in elementary school, and grew up with Peter Jackson’s Rings trilogy. So I’m definitely not immune. I drew maps of fantasy worlds obsessively after reading Tolkien. I made up languages that were actually ciphers, but I didn’t know that. I wanted desperately to make a universe like his.

I certainly didn’t understand the unique circumstances surrounding Tolkien’s creative process. As a philologist, he studied languages (that’s what philologists do, I’m told). He was deeply invested in the state of English lit and English mythology, and was dissatisfied with it. So he set out to create his own. However, he made the languages first, and then the worlds and stories to fit around them. Not the other way around.

If I said the word FANTASY, what first comes to your mind? Swords & sorcery, castles, wizards, elves, dwarves, dungeons & dragons. Perhaps, perhaps not.

How about: The Arabian Nights. The Epic of Gilgamesh. The Bible. The Iliad & Odyssey.

All of the above have heavy fantasy elements in them. Fantasy is as old as literature itself. I think it’s time we started thanking Tolkien for what he’s done, and then politely shelving him, in search of more distant shores for ideas.

Tell me what you think.

My first draft got Bullied in School

I’ve started spewing out my first draft scenes, instead of meticulously laying down each word. If you commit to the idea of rewriting, then it makes no point to care about what you say in the first draft.

Just tell the story in your sloppiest, stupidest fashion and don’t give a flying fuck if its feelings are hurt. Slay, butcher it, just make it weep. And unleash your inner sadist.

Neurotic & Delicious

There’s something weird about being a neurotic. When you want to be liked, so very liked, then doing something like blogging out your mind’s dung heap might be the last thing on your mind.

People might not like you. Maybe you haven’t had a shower. And you’re making a vid on youtube. You feel dirty inside.

But then again, we’re the narcissistic generation. We’re supposed to do this. We’re all playing the same game. Building a legacy, whatever. But that’s just me being a neurotic again.

No rest for the weary.

Writing Under Shadows & Weight

Shadows flit around us as we write, sometimes more times than others. I know I’ve got them. And with enough shadows, layer on layer, they weigh down the air, every keystroke, every breath.

Anxieties arrive at the tips of your fingers, and no matter what you say to yourself they remain there. Sizzling.

My way of coping with the fear tends to be focusing on the word. Being present there with them. Mindfulness.

What’s yours? You know you want to comment this post. Go on. Go on.

Book Review: Banished: The Gods Among Us, Book 1

This book reads like a cross between Beowulf, the Epic of Gilgamesh and The Clan of the Cave Bear, with a twist of fantasy. The result is a compelling story all its own, and it’s a ripping-yarn page turner that expresses quite a lot of complex content in a short amount of writing, and it’s all accessible on first read.

I found myself drawn to keep reading and I can’t wait for Banished, Book 2. If you like fantasy with a mythological bent, this is an intriguing and rewarding read. So just get it!

Note: I downloaded this for free off the Kindle store however the views I express are my own, regardless of price.

Find author William Deen on Twitter @WilliamDeen

His website is at http://authorwilliamdeen.blogspot.com/