On Dreams and Writing

Over the years, some of my best out-of-the-box plot elements have comes from my visits to dreamland.

On a recent occasion, coming out of the dream, I realized there were a few nice touches for the plot of a book I was writing. Quickly reviewing the highlights, I swam back to wakefulness. I suddenly realized the memory of the dream was not coming along and I turned to dive deep into that realm again.

This time, even as I tried to clutch the salient points more firmly into my consciousness, the thin veil dissolved to such a degree that I could recall nothing but a singular scene. With a sigh, I returned to reality with mostly empty hands, wishing that I could have somehow translated the dream – remembered fondly but without substance – into terms real enough to maintain their form in the light of day.

On occasion, I have remembered a thread or two of my dreams but, for the most part, they slip away beneath the weight translation into this world.

Every now and again, however, I can retain a single image from the dream. Not just a picture but the thousand words attached – emotions, background, and so forth… that which usually accompanies snapshots from one’s daily life.

If it is striking enough, it can be extended into a short story, as I have often done. In one instance, a singular and very strange image translated into a novel to explain the scene.

Most times, however, the dreams slip away before I can retain any useful information. But, I will keep dreaming…

Stupid People

I am certain we all have complaints about “stupid people” we encounter. You know, those people who do not seem to have a lick of sense, incapable of handling even the smallest simplest tasks.

Yeah, we all know people like that.

Even so, most of these people consider themselves pretty smart. They have the tools they need to get through their daily life without bringing the entire world crashing down on all our heads.

So, we have this bitter conundrum: stupid people thinking they are really, really smart.

Believe it or not, that is ALL of us.

I used to complain bitterly about the drivers on the road. Almost all of them seemed to be driving in a haze, not paying attention to things around them and being a nuisance – a very dangerous nuisance – to others on the road just trying to get to… well, wherever it is they were going.

Admittedly, I still complain a bit about bad drivers but not as much as I used to. I have come to realize WHY they are such poor drivers: most people simply hate driving.

Some of them hate it with a passion! There is any number of things they would rather be doing and driving is never very high on their list even though it is a necessity in the modern world.

I, on the other hand, love to drive. I am always checking the mirrors, knowing the traffic flow around me, using my turn signals properly, and so forth. I can usually tell when a driver is going to turn long before they put on a blinker or hit their brakes. I try to stay completely in tune to my surroundings when propelling a lethal hunk of metal at high speeds on a public thoroughfare.

Most people drive completely oblivious to their surroundings. Not a judgment, just an observation.

Many complain that the distraction of the cell phone is what’s to blame but I can vouch for the presence of inattentive drivers long before there were these modern distractions. The radio, a newspaper, a book, animatedly talking with a passenger in the vehicle… all these distractions served the same blame function as the cellphones of today, and we have had them for years.

It is not the fault of the cellphone, it is the fault of forcing people to get behind a wheel when they would much rather be doing something else; anything else!

We are not all wired to do the same things – probably why auto-driving cars will be such a boon to our autophobic drivers.

This is not all just about driving. This same pattern is to be found in other areas of our lives proving that, once again, we are all wired differently.

In my case, it is in interpersonal communications.

My wife, being a teacher, has plenty of skills in dealing with people.

One day my wife was talking about an interaction she had with an irate parent. After describing the problem, she asked how I would handle it.

I gave it my best shot, as they say, but it wasn’t very good. My wife told me then how she handled it to create a positive outcome for herself, the student, and the parent.

Hm, I thought about it, trying to comprehend both the steps and the line of reasoning. After a few minutes I had to ask her to repeat the steps she took.

And five minutes later, I was still struggling.

The method she had chosen was so far removed from the way my mind is wired that I could find nothing about it to latch onto. Try as I might, it just kept slipping away like some dream faintly-remembered on waking.

Given enough time and coaching, I could probably manage to, if not learn that technique, at least evolve some sort of workaround solution my mind could hold onto.

This is a thing I think many of us struggle with: cutting each other some slack about what we are doing in the world as opposed to what we think others perceive of us.

We may think we are succeeding nicely in many ways while others are seeing only a dismal failure.

Not all of us can be Einstein – nor should we be – nor should all of us be expected by the millions of drivers around us to fit their expectations of a good driver.

Those bad at something you cherish might actually be very efficient plumbers, mechanics, cooks, bakers, seamstresses, social workers, dream-weavers, shamans, and so forth.

We can none of us be good at all things. A few things, yes, but everything, no.

We should each be allowed to be stupid in something because we all ARE stupid in something.

But we’re also very good at something else, whatever that may be.

And we should cut each other a little slack, okay?

the Prison of the Mind

I have seen quite a few tales that encompass the metaphor of being a prisoner in your own mind.

Films like “Nell”, “The Room”, and “Winter Ribs” tell the same tale from slightly different views, slightly different angles but essentially the attitude of blindness we have about any thing that is not within our worldview.

It is true that many people who do not open themselves up to the wide variant of events and possibilities the world can offer tend to have a closed mind. Yet cracking open one’s attitudes does not have to come about through travel. Nor does one have to eat a wildly variant diet – let’s say, grubs, goats’ eyes, or maggots – to widen one’s horizons.

Sure there are many who can gain some measure of this widened view by watching some television more educational than entertaining – Nat Geo and opposed to the Comedy Channel or Cartoon Network – but even this opening has to be exploited. Further research and experimentation needs to be done on the subject before one can even start to understand a differing viewpoint.

Usually, this further study would require reading as it is far easier to access books than the constantly distracting internet search engine and the amusing ads contained therein.

Even if one foregoes the reading printed materials and relies on the internet alone, one can still expand their horizons to a marked degree by staying focused on the search.

Most people, it seems, prefer reading only those commentaries with whom they agree. Such a course will not broaden any horizons, merely shore up the opinions one currently has, right or wrong. Depth comes from treading in other waters.

People who cannot or simply refuse to broaden their understanding in such a manner become a person with a closed mind. This is the metaphor of the prison of the mind scenario. And I see it around me in the world everyday.

In the stories, the characters are generally inhabiting the backwoods, the rural climes, or in other neighborhoods where the people do not seem to take much notice of their neighbors or anything else that does not inhabit their own closed little vista.

These stories are interesting in that they give us the beginnings of an understanding that our horizons need to be broadened, need to encompass a more inclusive worldview, transcending our former petty concepts of the universe and life in general.

Heck, I don’t even know if this is making any sense whatsoever.

Write the Final Draft First

A recent posting to a writers’ forum on LinkedIn asked what the best writing advice ever received?

For myself, it was the above: write the final draft first.

Of course, this does not mean that you simply sketch out the tale as fast as possible and call it done.

But if you work from the idea that it is going to need a dozen re-edits, it probably will.

If you write as though this was going to be your only version, you tend to take a little more time with the wording, setting, characters and so forth. It also allows you to keep working it while you’re “in the groove”.

When I come across a place where the word I want doesn’t come to me, I do not set the work aside to open the dictionary or thesaurus – that would interrupt the groove – so I put [XXX] and highlight it in red with some descriptor of the word I wanted, if it is not self-evident. And then I keep going.

In this way, the narrative is more cohesive and keeps to the same voice throughout.

As an editor, I have frequently been able to point out sentences or paragraphs writers have worked and re-worked until they “got it right” to themselves.

They are easy to spot because the reader can feel the flow of the narrative stumble a bit. I have even seen this in books by major published authors as well, though not too often.

When the flow of the story is moving along nicely, the worst possible thing is to create a section that pushes the reader outside of the story flow… unless that was what was intended.

So, if you write that final draft first, the continuity has a better chance of not being adversely accepted by overworking the plot, the story, the description or yourself.

Still, there are probably not a lot of writers who can follow this method.

And that’s fine.

Whatever works best for you is what you should use.

Writing as Self-Analysis

Though I often think of the characters in my stories (i.e. the characters in my head who speak their parts to me) as something outside myself, I know that is far from the truth.

All the characters are simply parts of me, personalities I have assumed over the years, attitudes I once had but have since, perhaps, grown out of.

None of my characters had have a revelation I have not had, an insight I have not already seen, or a bias I have not once felt or been the brunt of.

Yet while I am writing, setting out these varying viewpoints in order to create fiction and interaction, I am often pulled into new vistas I had not realized previously.

It is a process of understanding more about myself.

And, in the process, I can understand more about the world and the people I have encountered over the years.

Perhaps that is why I enjoy writing so much!

a Little History

This was for a young man who had just finished his first novel and was asking about my writing history… and so forth.

Congratulations on completing your first book in June. I finished my first volume in June as well, but it was in June 1970. I sent it off and the editor at Doubleday was excited but he could not get the rest of the board interested. After that, the volume garnered nothing but rejection slips.

My second novel, finished in ’73 found most of the publishers were now requiring agented works. So, I sent it off and got an agent excited about it. Still, a year later, there was nothing accomplished.

Agents, over the years, have liked the style of my writing but suggested I put my efforts in writing something more like one of the current bestsellers. But copycatting is so much mediocrity to me.

There has always been a lot of mediocrity in publishing as in other fields as well. Television series seem far too formulaic to be of much interest. Movies come out every year that are remakes of earlier successes. And do you think agents were looking for a Harry Potter type work before Rowling’s success? And she was not published by one of the powerhouse novel publishers either.

And how many publishers were looking for works similar to Twilight before it became a blockbuster success? The industry moves cautiously and is not willing to risk a lot of capital on something or someone “untried”. Much less on material that is too niche or too cross-genre.

Still, without financial success, I continued writing because I cannot seem to help myself. The stories well up inside me and I cannot help but put them on paper. Two different series have had a dedicated following of “beta readers” for several years. As retirement approaches, I thought of having a moderate source of income but I was still unable to interest agent or publisher in any of my cross-genre material. And having forty-five completed novels, the cost in time and materials was becoming too much for me to continue promoting them all.

I had toyed with the idea of a vanity press when my first book quit getting nibbles but I decided it was not about getting published, for me at least. It is about getting a project done and moved off the burner so another can take its place.

So, I went the Kindle route. People interested in the volumes have found them and I am free to continue writing more without having to find a publisher.

Thank goodness!

IN MEMORIAM — John Dalmas, author

In deep sorrow…

Most people may not have heard of John Dalmas but few who read science fiction in the last decades of the twentieth century can have missed his marvelous books of The Lion of Farside books, the Fanglith Series, or his military science fiction works, The Regiment, &c.

I first met the author while he was a university professor in the College of Forestry at Northern Arizona University. He attended a Scientology lecture on campus presented by my father, Rod Martin, and soon became a frequent visitor at our house.

Learning of my interest in writing, he invited me to a community writers’ workshop held once a week at the public library in Flagstaff. He would often read selections of his one published novel, at that time, The Yngling, as well as other projects he had underway.

He co-authored a novel with my brother, Carl Martin (Touch the Stars: Emergence, Tor Books, 1983), as well as one with my father, Rod Martin (The Playmasters, Baen Books, 1987), and he even used a chart devised by another of my brothers, the late Larry Martin, to assist the readers’ understanding the philosopy of the T’sel in the novel The Regiment (on p.209, Baen, 1987). He was gracious enough to proof-read a couple of my early novels and I had the pleasure of proofing a couple of his.

I only met his son, Jack, once but knew his daughter Jude well enough as my first wife was one of her best friends.

We stayed in touch over the years after I left Flagstaff, and he left as well to go to Seattle, where I got a chance to visit him and his wife, Gail.

Over the years I have been able to keep up with his output at the local bookstore. This was before the internet and I had no complete listing of his works, just nabbed one up when I found it. One day I picked up one called Walkaway Clause in a used bookstore. I wrote him and mentioned the find – it was several years old by that time – and he wrote back and asked if he could have it. Seems he did not get the usual author copies of that volume when it was released and he had never seen it. It took me a couple of years to find another copy in a used bookstore to fill out my collection.

Over the years, our communications have, quite naturally, gotten further and further between as his health declined.

I was hoping to hear soon that one of his historical novels from Swedish history had finally made it to print but it seems, now, that may never be happening.

If you have never read his works, I recommend you check them out. Some are available free online. All of them are good reads, in my opinion. I will probably be re-reading my collection again in the near future.

Those volumes and my memories are all that’s left of him on this side of the pale.

Thank you, John, and farewell.

Clueless and Classless

I have a neighbor with a large green field where his cattle graze daily, lazily keeping the grass trimmed.

This neighbor has never gotten involved in any political campaign that I have noticed before but this year he was interested enough to put up some very large signs in his field for the candidate he supports.

Within a week, someone had gone into the field and torn the signs down.

Yeah, I know… You’re probably thinking it was those clueless and classless supporters of Trump who did the dastardly deed.

Except these signs were for Trump.

So it was a clueless and classless supporter of Hillary who did the crime.

Many times, especially in recent elections, we hear much about the veterans throughout history who have fought – and died – to ensure us the rights we have, like voting for the candidate of our choice as well as supporting that candidate.

Now, I will admit that I do not support Trump (nor Hillary, for that matter… preferring to throw my vote away on another) but I cannot imagine the mindset of a person who thinks it is quite all right to break laws in support of their candidate. Veterans fought for our legal rights, not the right to break into someone else’s property and damage their goods just because we disagree with them.

“Clueless and classless” seems to own neither party this election.

Avoiding Comfort Zones

Experts on thinking tell us that people normally think the same things day after day after day after day. Their thought patterns have worn very deep ruts into their neural synapses and they rarely stray from “safe” and “comforting” thoughts, even if they are worries or concerns.

I am the opposite. Where I may shy away from the thrills associated with sky-diving, hang-gliding, and the like, I enjoy going into mental concepts and constructs that are out-of-the-ordinary.

Normally, when people encounter non-traditional world-views that cause theirs to go “pear-shaped”, they step back, shake their head, and go another direction.

I love my mind going pear-shaped! The sense of stepping through a portal and waking in a different dimension, some parallel universe where “up” and “down” are bizarre concepts waiting for you to decide what direction, if any, to which they might refer.

Reality IS what you conceive. It stems from your mind and your concepts and your judgments. Your world can only be as rich and diverse as you allow it to be.

Most feel safe within the small confines of their reality. You know, those same eight corners of the box they call a universe?

Step out! Live a little on the wild side! Grab hold of your hat and a firm handrail.

Open your mind and watch the pear shape forming.

And rejoice in the freedom.

Having a Positive Impact

Wanting to have a positive impact in the lives of many is an admirable objective in life.

Many like to take up the cudgel and go do battle with the dark forces of evil, whether the specters appear in environmental or economic vistas.

Having been among the homeless at one time, I know for certain that the bleak picture painted in the media is not completely correct. Food and political atrocities are major problems, of course, but many people who have what we would consider as absolutely nothing can still be quite happy because they are with family and do not have to depend on material things to sustain a degree of security.

In our western society, it seems the majority have a materialistic attitude, especially the young, where everyone seems more intent of getting the latest iPhone or tablet than helping out the less fortunate. But you have to remember that many of the “less fortunate” are actually living very happy lives unaware that not having these “things” is a deprivation.

Still, wanting to help is admirable. Though most governments and charitable organizations throw money at the problem, the solutions can be achieved much more simply.

I am not talking about campaigning to change societies. Although the social conditions that lead to homelessness and poverty are like some mammoth Gordian knot, progress can be made on a smaller scale without having to move heaven and earth.

As a writer, I could write marvelous copy to draw people’s attention to the issues and the types of solutions that could blah, blah, blah…

As you can tell, that is not my idea of a productive method.

Artists understand better than politicians and lawmakers how to leverage hearts, how to motivate people to DO something rather than sit passively.

I am not saying my works will do any such thing but I can only hope that something I have written will reach a person in need of it.

Yes, that would be nice – like the author in the movie “Lady in the Water” – to know you had an effect.

But I really write because it makes me feel whole.

Sad, I know.

I’m so selfish.