Struggle, fight, but keep the story moving

Can I make a confession?  I have never suffered from “writer’s block”.  For all the fiction, non-fiction, intelligence reporting, and documentation I have written, I have never been intimidated by the blank page or empty display screen.

However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have struggled with format, with wordsmithing, and trying to impose my will on that of my characters.  Over the years, though, I have learned that writing something is better than writing nothing.

In my current effort, a novel I have tentatively named ‘Clarice’, I am struggling with how to proceed.  Do I write the story to my other stories, continuing to create a sort of interrelated dystopian universe, or rework the eighty-two pages written so far to be something new?  The characters are fighting me on this.  They seem to know where they’re going, but they haven’t as of yet condescended to reveal their destination to me.  They have hinted that it will be a little town called Cartersville, Florida—but that’s another story entirely.

And while we’re at it, I chose the name ‘Clarice’ as a placeholder until I discovered the heroine’s real name—44,726 words later the name hasn’t changed.  The problem is that I can’t hear the name Clarice without immediately thinking of sweetmeats, fava beans, and a nice Chianti (Damn you, Thomas Harris!).

If you have a favorite name for a girl born into poverty in coal country, let me know.  I’ll have a talk with Clarice and she might agree to change her name to benefit the story.  Who knows?

So, how do I handle it when I’m struggling with my characters?  First of all, I don’t discard anything.  This way, if I need to, I can easily step back to an earlier version and keep writing.  Whenever I’m done writing for the day I save the current file with a unique revision name both to my local drive and to the cloud.

The next day, I save the file with  a new name and start working.  You can see from the image what I mean.  If you aren’t quite this disciplined, that’s fine.  I’m pretty anal about it after spending one career as an intelligence analyst and another as a  technical writer.

The point is to keep writing.  Write every day.  Write something.  Then fight your way through until you arrive at the story your characters want to tell.  Don’t worry about it being clean or being perfect.  There will be plenty of time for editing and finessing the mechanics.  The story is everything.  Without the story, you might as well leave the page blank.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Before God

The first contact was quiet, obscure, and by any conventional standard quite unremarkable.  It required only a breath.  Whatever concept scientists, writers, and other visionaries of the ages may have had about the event, this wasn’t it.

I wouldn’t call it serendipitous, that first contact.  It was not, by definition, random or by chance, and it was not necessarily a happy circumstance.  Whether or not it was beneficial would be for later generations to decide.  But there was the fact that when contact did occur, it was carried on the wind to a child.  And that was the significant thing.

Children, especially very young ones, are non-binary. Binary thought is something children have to be taught.  Binary thought doesn’t come naturally to children, but it seems essential to adults.  The reason it is essential, of course, is that it helps adults establish the spatial and temporal boundaries in their lives.  Yes/no, true/false, in/out, black/white.  All ones and zeros.

The binary structure is carried on through all legal and religious paradigms.  Legal/illegal, saved/unsaved, living/dead, heaven/hell, start/finish, beginning/end.  To have a binary relationship, of course, there must be an incompatible opposite.  So if there is an alpha, there must also be an omega.

Furthermore, for whatever state we are in, we must have a beginning and an end, such as birth/death.  For this reason, the Bible begins with “In the beginning” and concludes with the end of the world.  In the same way, and for many of the same reasons, scientists developed the theory of the “Big Bang” and theorize about the death of the universe.  If the universe began, therefore it must also end.

Now besides having a compulsion to categorize their existence in binary terms, humans also share a compulsion to codify their categorization.  They did this first in the form of storytelling, then in writing.  So when they codified their understanding of the genesis of the universe, they rightfully attributed its design and complexity to something other than themselves.  This something other, they called God.

Because they knew that they weren’t capable of creating the universe, and they also weren’t capable of conceiving of an entity that was completely unlike themselves, the God they created was given human attributes.  God could be possessive, angry, jealous, creative, loving, gentle, forgiving, brutal, and even genocidal.  In other words, God is us.

And we look at the universe through the filter of “us”.  We search for planets like ours.  We hunt for alien life with characteristics from our own experience.  We have a difficult time conceiving of an entity or a space that is boundlessly infinite.  And yet.  There it was.

Lighter than breath and older than our universe, from before even God existed, it drifted down from the infinite cold of boundless space to find a mind that had yet to know its limitations.  From that moment, the girl was something more.

©Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

The long weekend of Hurricane Irma

There is something comforting about seeing working traffic lights and being called into work.  Normalcy and routine in the aftermath of tension, stress, and physical discomfort can be a welcome thing.  Adrenaline in the face of hurricane force winds, rain, and flying debris can only keep you going for so long.

For any of my readers who have not endured a hurricane—and endured is the operative word—the experience is one that can’t be described in any meaningful way.  The genesis of the difficulty is that the experience is a very personal one.

Once all the preparations are done—boarding up the windows, stacking cases of water, and taking stock of food on hand—there is the waiting.  Waiting, no, there’s more to it than that, apprehension.  Imagine you’re trapped in a windowless box on a mouse trap.  You know that the box will be crushed, but have no way of knowing when, or if the whole box will be crushed or just part of it.  Oh, yes, and the invisible entity that triggers the trap keeps changing its mind about the how, when, and where of your impending doom.

Everyone deals with the waiting in different ways—anxiety, calmness, manic, anger, lethargy, and the list goes on.  Animals, reacting to changes in atmospheric pressure, exhibit many of the same characteristics.  How do I know this?  Well, this weekend my house contained four adults, thirteen cats, two rabbits, and three birds.  And that deserves some explanation, because that sort of sets the stage for this tale.

  • Four adults: Myself, my wife, my son, and his wife.
  • Eleven cats: My wife has seven inside cats and two feral cats. The feral cats live on our fenced in back porch.  My son and his wife have two cats.  Finally, two cats belong to friends whose vacation in the United Kingdom just happened to coincide with the Hurricane Irma weekend.
  • Three birds: my wife has two birds. The third bird belongs to my daughter-in-law.
  • Two rabbits: My wife has two rabbits that share the cat’s living space.

Fortunately, we no longer have the chickens, ducks, or an anti-social iguana.  If we did, I would have had to sleep on the porch and take my chances.  It is only recently, as a result of two heart surgeries, that my wife promoted me to the same level of care as the animals.

But I digress.  So, by Saturday afternoon, we were all in place.  Windows were boarded.  Power still on.  A/C blasting.  My son was casting Evil Bong, annoying his mother no end.  Winds were picking up, with intermittent rain.  Dinner was Chinese take-out.  The cats, especially the gray and white Sky, had begun to act strangely needy—perhaps prescient fear of a force they couldn’t possibly comprehend.

On Sunday, the winds picked up and brought more rain.  My Dewalt Worksite radio gave us the blow by blow both for the progress of the approaching storm and a new threat—tornadoes.  The northeast quadrant of a cyclone typically spawns tornadoes—and tornadoes, on the whole, are scarier than hurricanes.  Their devastation is localized, powerful, and uncontrollable.  The only way to prepare for a tornado is to not be where the tornado is.  And we knew that, hunkered down and awaiting the hurricane, there was no safe place for us to go.

All we could do is watch and wait and play a marathon game of Super Scrabble.  (Super Scrabble has twice as many tiles as regular scrabble.)  Sure, I know that the traditional hurricane game is Monopoly, just because it can kill an entire night to play, but we wanted something that would actually challenge us.  During the game, the power went off, then on, then off, then on, then at 8:30, power was down for the count.  By battery powered lights, we finished the game, but that was it.

Playing Super Scrabble by flashlight.

With the power, of course, went the Wi-Fi.  In the area we live in, on a good day, you get three bars of 4G by standing out at the end of the driveway.  In the house, under ideal conditions, one to two bars is possible, but during a hurricane?  The hurricane violated the easy availability of our technological connectedness.  The shared feeling of isolation was unspoken.  No updates for friends and relatives?  Not for hours.  Having ridden out hurricanes previously, we knew the drill though.  We switched our phones to ultra-power saver mode (pretty much just phone and texting), which would extend the battery to last from hours to days.  In the morning we would sit in our cars, charging the phones and trying to catch up on all the texts and notifications that amassed while the hurricane changed the face of Florida.

After the game, my son went to bed—and slept through ‘til morning—while the rest of us held watch.  We sat on the couches, reading, while the radio provided the soundtrack.  Reading was more like staring at the words on the pages.  We avoided each other’s eyes.  None of us wanted to show that the storm had dominated our concentration.  With the radio on, the noise from the talking heads gave us something to focus on other than the sounds from the winds slamming against the windows.

Around 1:30 Monday morning, we figured that the “core of the storm” had passed us to the west.  It was time to call it a night.  In the dark of the bedroom, my wife’s anxiety and apprehension burst forth from the facade of calm.  In the absolute silence of a house free of electronics, A/C, and other white noise, all that remained was the power of the storm pitting its terrible force against all too fragile windows, frame, and roof.

After a night of broken sweaty sleep, in a stuffy house without A/C, in a bed shared with cats, morning broke and the damage survey began.  Standing water by the road.  A few branches down.  A couple pieces of soffit missing.  No big deal.  But there was something else: besides no power, no running water.  The county Emergency Operations Center (EOC) had sent out a notification that due to broken pipes, when water was restored, it would be contaminated and unfit to drink or cook with, for several days.

While we did have plenty of drinking water, there are other things water is used for, like washing dishes and flushing the toilets.  Okay, so the dishes can wait, but the toilet not so much.  If you’ve seen the Ben Stiller comedy Meet the Fockers, you might remember the adage, “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down”.  It was funny when Bernie Focker (Dustin Hoffman) said it.  Not so funny when it is applied in real life.  Not funny, but necessary sometimes.  The good news is that, just as we were about to implement that rule, we discovered that just enough water was getting through to refill the toilet tanks.

Getting back to the waiting.  Without power, the refrigerator was off limits, especially the freezer.  My son had a butane camp stove to cook on—or at least to boil water for coffee or tea.  You couldn’t cook a meal on it, and if you did, you’d create dishes you couldn’t wash.  Enter the miracle of peanut butter and honey—not refrigerated and nutritious.

On Monday afternoon, the house was getting too hot, remaining too quiet, and I suggested that we go for a ride to see how my son’s house had fared.  This probably wasn’t the best idea, but we needed to do something.  By this point no one was in the mood for games.  We were all yearning for normal.

Just a clue, we didn’t find it.

Headed down I-95 south, we ran into a backup of cars we assumed were headed back to the Florida Keys.  Good luck with that.  Lines of power company trucks, many from out-of-state was a good sign.

Once we got off the interstate, there were several other hurdles to deal with.

  • Traffic lights were out and the concept of a four-way stop at the intersection seemed to elude most drivers.
  • There was flooding on some streets. Cars that became islands were testament to the inability of drivers to remember that if you can’t see the pavement, you shouldn’t attempt to drive on it.
  • Virtually everything was closed (hardly unexpected), except for Lowe’s and a very few gas stations.

When we finally arrived at my son’s house, the power was off and there was very little damage (some shingles, fence damage, but nothing structural).  That was good news.  As we went to pull out of his driveway, his outside lights flashed on, then off.  Surprised, we watched with great interest.  It happened again, then again.  Certainly that meant that the power would be there by the time they returned, right?

We rushed home, packed them up and they sped on their way to power, A/C, Wi-Fi, hot showers, and a home cooked meal.  That was the game plan.

The reality was that the flashing lights were just a tease.  The power wasn’t restored until mid-afternoon Tuesday.  It was a letdown to not have power waiting for them, but in the end they got what they needed most, a good night’s sleep in a cool house.

Tuesday morning it was back to work.  And now we’ve come full circle, with something that imitates normal.  Now I wouldn’t say that my experience is anything near that of someone in the Keys, taking the full brunt of a Cat 4 hurricane.  Amp what we experienced up by 100 and you might get it.

Since this is being posted, obviously, I now have power and life has begun to resemble some form of normal.  And normal allows me to consider the issues greater than my parochial situation.  Those greater issues, not surprisingly have to do with writing, and how this experience might generate something worthwhile—another story or another novel.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

And then I wrote some romance

Every so often I like to share what I’m currently working on.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m working on the manuscript for a story tentatively titled, ‘Clarice’.   I’ve got around 42,000 words so far.  While story development is slow, because I’m pulled in so many different directions, the story itself is coming along very nicely.

The characters are speaking to me during the day and whispering to me at night.  The width and breadth of action is increasingly expansive, the themes deep and meaningful, and the science—the physics—works to ground the story in realm of believability.

So here is a short extract from what I’ve most recently written.  I look forward to your comments and criticisms.


To say that Danny awoke would be a misnomer.  More correctly, Danny was awake.  Fully awake.  More awake than he had been in a very long time—however that might be determined—and that was good.  He wanted to be awake.  The smell of the leaves and the cool, crisp autumn air invigorated him.  For this moment, life was an enviable state to be in, and he wished he could make it last forever.  He was young and healthy and in love, with the entire universe waiting for him to achieve his destiny.

He was standing at the corner of Fifth and Main, with traffic humming by without a break.  And that was just so normal—people bustling down the sidewalks, cars honking, children laughing.  He was waiting for her, for Clarice.  This is where they met every evening after work.  She worked uptown, he worked downtown, and they met in the middle, just a few blocks from their apartment.

Danny paced at the corner.  He watched for her, straining to get his first glimpse of her.  That first glimpse would almost bring him to his knees, it made him so weak with love and wanting her.  He waited, afraid to look away—even at his watch—for fear that he might miss her, and that by missing her he might be lost to her forever.

Like a good soldier he stood his ground and kept his watch.  Then, from the crowd, as one might appear from a mist, there she was.  Tall, thin, and radiant, her long hair tucked under a knit cap.  She not so much walked as gracefully floated over the pavement.  At least to his eyes, there was no fault in her stride, there was only perfection in her walk.

As she approached, and his anticipation grew, he tried to remember when he first loved her, but he found it impossible.  It was like trying to remember his first breath or his first tear.  It just always was.  It was part of his being, and without it there was nothing.

When she arrived at the curb, traffic stopped.  He was sure it was for her that the traffic had stopped, that her stride be unimpaired, that her life be uninterrupted.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Writing on a deadline

I have achieved the American dream: One wife. One house. Two children. A dead-end soul sucking corporate job. My only legacy will be words.

Writing on a deadline.  After more than sixty years on this earth, much of that time spent writing meaningless drivel for others, I am finally writing for myself.  More than just desiring to write, I am compelled to write.  And I am compelled to write under a deadline.  And that’s alright.  I’ve done some of my best work under pressure.  And nothing provides pressure like knowing that your life has an expiration date.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not expecting to cash in anytime soon.  The thing is that since I had heart surgery last year, I have become increasingly aware about the importance of time and how it’s spent.  I mean, sitting around watching Netflix is fine, but creating stories that describe my thoughts, beliefs, and experiences is much more important to me.

Men spend their whole lives hiding themselves away under the cover of masculinity or propriety or societal expectations, and I’m through with that.  I write what I need to, and when I need to, because while I dance like no one is watching, the content of my stories is the one thing that I have complete control over.

So, does that mean that I’m giving up on the world to immerse myself in fiction?  Of course not.  The future, whatever it may be, is there for me.

Since our society demands that you can’t get nothing for nothing, I’m still working the same miserable job—and monetizing this blog by allowing certain ads—because someday I’d like to at least break even.  And I have my family whom I love and would be lost without.  Finally, I have a file of forty or fifty stories I need to finish and publish.  All these are forward looking, as I continue to be.

Looking forward, what’s next?  I’m about 38,000 words into my next novel (tentatively called ‘Clarice’), and what a ride.  And it is a ride, because quite often I have no idea where we’re headed until we get there.  I guess that’s the difference between deciding to write a novel and being compelled to write it.

Deciding to write a novel is like technical writing—and some writers do this very successfully.

  • Decide on the genre and plot.
  • Create and outline or a template.
  • Create the setting for the action.
  • Create your characters, including detailed physical descriptions and backstory.
  • Plug everything into the outline or template.
  • Edit, reedit, publish.

Compulsion to write a novel is more like having a fever—you just have to ride it out until it’s done with you.

  • Wake in the middle of the night with a thought that might be a story thread and scratch it down on the notepad you keep by the bed.
  • A few weeks or a year later, read about something, or hear about something, that triggers a relationship with your late-night thought.
  • Mull over the relationship for a few days, until it grabs you and you find yourself scribbling notes down on a notepad, envelope, or any paper that’s handy.
  • Start writing from your notes. Add more words.  Any words will do.  Write more and more, remembering that it doesn’t have to make sense to you, not yet.
  • Step away. Have a drink.  Mow the yard.  Watch some TV.  Do this until your mind is completely absorbed by the story swirling in your mind.
  • Return to writing. Feel the characters ooze out of your pores onto the page.  Close your eyes and see where they are.  Become overwhelmed by their emotions and desires.
  • Give the writing over to the characters, let them drive the plot, let them drive your fingers.
  • When you can catch your breath—assuming you and your characters survived—edit, reedit, publish.

Which is it for you—decision or compulsion?  Do you have forever or are you under a deadline to finish?  What makes you put down the TV remote and grab your pen?  What makes your creative juices flow from your mind to your page?  And when are you going to get that story published?

So many questions, so little time.  Start writing now!

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Politics, religion, eating, dancing and drinking at Heidi’s Jazz Club — What a night!

So, I’m sitting in my office listening to Warren Zevon sing ‘Carmelita’ on Spotify, and thinking about a conversation from Wednesday night.  I took my wife to Heidi’s Jazz Club in Cocoa Beach to celebrate her birthday, and we met some friends there — Janet and Phil, and Ted.

In between eating, dancing and drinking, the conversation inevitably turned to religion and politics.  They say that there are certain topics that any social conversation should avoid, but it seems that these days, religion and politics are invariably linked.

But I should have expected it.  I mean, Phil and Janet used to go to the same church we went to in Cape Canaveral.  And one of the reasons that we both left was that the pastor insisted on mixing his Trump-centered world view with the Gospel.  We have since found a new church where the pastor doesn’t cloud his preaching with his political opinions.

Our friend, Ted, hasn’t left the old church — and that’s fine.  Everyone deals with their situation in the way that’s best for them.  Unfortunately, during this conversation, he was caught in the middle.  You see, Janet has some very strong opinions both on politics and religion.  I agree with some, and don’t agree with others, but I don’t want the discussion one-sided and repetitive. That’s what these discussions tend to be.

If you believe something, or in someone, great.  Now tell me why, and give me a cogent argument as to why I should believe it, too.  Skip the name calling and rhetoric, and provide a credible source — if your source is the internet you may leave now.

And, no, the Bible — whatever Bible or holy book you may quote —  is not a credible source for anything.  A credible source is one that consists of a primary source (someone who actually heard, saw, or did something) and at least two independent secondary sources (sources whose reporting isn’t based on the primary source).

Of course, our discussions at Heidi’s met none of these criteria.  And I’m getting tired, not just of this, but of the constant nonsense on the internet, the TV, and everywhere you turn.  It’s all religion and politics, all supported by many opinions and very little fact.

Is it any wonder I spend my free time contemplating what happened before the big bang, before the universe was condensed into a grain of sand, then exploded into the everything we experience?  Before there was anything, was there something?  I strongly suspect that there was.  But that’s just my opinion.  I have no facts, no primary or secondary sources to back that up.  That is why what I write is fiction and I don’t try to pass it off as fact.

So if you ever Heidi’s on a Wednesday or Friday night (that’s when Steve Kirsner & Friends play) and you see me on the dance floor, please don’t start talking about religion or politics.  Talk about sex.  Sex is another one of those “forbidden” topics, but I’d rather talk about sex than religion or politics.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.

The Dark Tower, Stephen King’s magnum opus, has fallen!

Note: This post contains spoilers.  If you haven’t seen The Dark Tower, you may want to keep reading.

The Dark Tower series has been hailed as Stephen King’s magnum opus.  It is the brilliantly written story of the last gunslinger, Roland Deschain, and his quest for the Dark Tower, the pinnacle at the center of Mid-World that holds all things together.  To tell the story, King penned seven epic novels (eight, if you include The Wind Through the Keyhole, but Dark Tower purists might balk at this.):

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of the Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower

 With the groundwork having been laid, let’s turn to the film adaptation of this massive, oh so carefully crafted, series.  I don’t know if the screen writers (Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel) actually read the series or if they were simply given a synopsis and a few catch phrases to work with.  Whatever process they used, they missed the mark.

Sure, Roland (played by Idris Elba) repeated the Gunslinger’s Creed—I do not aim with my hand—and the writer’s snuck in “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed,” but both were from The Gunslinger, and used out of context.

And speaking of context, yesterday my wife and I had lunch with a couple who had seen The Dark Tower, but hadn’t read the books.  Our friend, Janet (not her real name), said that she liked the movie because it showed the conflict between good and evil.  Her husband, in comparison, said that while he liked the like the action, the film left him with more questions than answers—like, who were all those people with the zippers in their heads?

And therein lies the real problem with The Dark Tower adaptation.  The screenwriters provided inadequate backstory for those unfamiliar with the novels to explain the action, and not enough story for those who are Dark Tower disciples to make it credible.  At the end of the film, I just sat there, slack jawed, wondering if I might have fallen asleep at some point and missed all the salient plot points that made the novels epic.  I have been assured that what I saw is all that there is.

I guess what really disturbs me is what has bothered me about almost all of King’s adaptations: How, in good conscience, could someone with King’s stature—especially considering that this is his self-proclaimed masterwork—buy off on a rendering that is such a poor reflection of the master’s craft.  I just don’t get it.  Was it about the money?  Is King so struggling financially that he must settle for giving his fans a bone and not a steak?

Well, I guess we can just file this under an opportunity lost.  Maybe in a couple of decades the story will be remade properly, a seven or eight film saga that it deserves.  Lord of the Rings got it and even Harry Potter.  (And, yes, I know that certain liberties were taken with both series to get them to the big screen.  But even so.)  Certainly, The Dark Tower deserved better.

And with that being said, I’m trying to decide whether to see It in the theater or wait for Netflix.  My head says to wait, but my heart tells me that the remake of It must be better than the 1990 TV Mini-series with Richard “John-Boy Walton” Thomas.  But that is a story for another day.
© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

Stop it Netflix, you’re killing me!

You know, sometimes I get a little nostalgic for the days with only three or four channels on TV.  There wasn’t any recording or streaming.  If you didn’t like what was offered, the TV went off.  But what did that leave you with?  Reading, board games, or your imagination.  No, conversation was really not an option—at least not in my house.

And in that nostalgic fantasy I tell myself that if I didn’t have the distraction of five hundred channels plus Netflix and Amazon Prime, I’d be writing.  Yes, the great American novel is only one off-button away.

Sure it is.

Now I don’t want you to think that I have anything against what’s available on cable or any of the streaming services.  They are as good as the show you watch.  And I must admit that some of the writing—especially for the British and Australian shows—is very good.  Even binge worthy.  Many of the American shows (especially commercial TV) leave me unimpressed.  They are formulaic, simplistic, less than innovative.  But they would have to be for a country that elected, well, you know who.

But binging, I mean just the idea of watching seven seasons of some show—any show—almost seventy hours of your life, immobile and semi-catatonic, in front of your flat screen is daunting.  I mean, what a waste, and yet I do it anyway.

Yes, I admit it.  My first binge was The Killing, 44 episodes back to back, barely taking time to eat or sleep.  Then came another and another.  My wife and I are currently watching The Doctor Blake Mysteries.  And I want to finish watching Shameless.

But I also want to finish reading 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History by Jay Winik.  And I haven’t even started Hung, Drawn, and Quartered: The Story Of Execution Through The Ages or Giants: The Dwarfs of Auschwitz.

And I need to finish the novel I’m currently writing.  Have you ever considered what happened before the big bang?  After reading this one, that question will haunt you forever.

So what do you do?  Binge or not binge?  Write or not write?  Read or not read?  Life is messy and complicated, and tomorrow I go see the Dark Tower even though I know it won’t be like the books and the ending will probably leave me disappointed like virtually every other Stephan King movie adaptation.  And don’t even get me started on Under the Dome TV fiasco.

Well, they can’t all be Lord of the Rings, just as we can’t all be Ernest Hemingway or J.K. Rowling.  But we can all watch Netflix and wish that the story we are watching is our story.
© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Our Dystopian Future is Now

Back in 2011 when I first published Any Tomorrow I was concerned that the publishing environment wasn’t right for a dystopian epic, even if in the end, there was a glimmer of hope for mankind.  For many of us, hope was in the air and there seemed at least the slightest chance that the world might become a better place.

Fast forward to 2017.  My current novel—tentatively named ‘Clarice’—while I was hoping for a simple sci-fi tale about a girl and the alien symbiont living inside her, the story has turned darkly dystopian.  Although I didn’t intend it, I think that the dystopian turn is particularly appropriate in light of the current global  political/economic/social atmosphere .

[And that’s as far as I will take that…  I have made a commitment that, although it might fun to fuss and fume about the current political anarchy, that discussion needs to take place elsewhere.]

For long time readers of this blog, I believe that I have mentioned in previous posts that I have an exercise I find particularly helpful when trying to envision the dystopian future.  As I drive along the highway or back roads, I imagine the trees stripped of foliage, the houses in shambles, and the road emptied of traffic.  My dystopia is one in which the world is in a slow burn.  Desolate wastelands encroach upon the few remaining cities where the inhabitants adapt to living  in hell.

I perform the same exercise with people, surprised?  As I talk to them or watch them, I strip them down to their lowest common denominator.  I try to imagine them in the worst of all possible worlds, because it’s only in that situation that the facade of normalcy is sheared off.  Remove all the world’s expectations, all the cause-associated false fronts, and what’s left?  There is only the need to eat and sleep, to survive from one horror to the next.

Does this mean that in a dystopian future, there won’t be love and kindness and self-sacrifice?  Of course there will.  It’s almost a requirement of humanity that someone in the future have some redeeming qualities.  And while it is certainly possible for a novel to portray human nature as it truly is, who wants to go down that path?  We all get enough of real life in real life.

For the writer, the importance of writing of a dystopian future—and I know this is true for me—is that writing about that the endless pain, the darkness that never ends, and the debilitating nothingness of the wastelands helps me to get that part of my life out of my life and into a fantasy world.

Writing about the terrible aberrations of a serial killer or sexual excesses of a sociopath assures me that while I can see those things in my mind and even, perhaps, take some visceral pleasure in both their crimes and their punishments, I know that’s not me.

As a writer, I hope you can understand the genesis of my stories and as a reader, I hope you can empathize with my need to share my dystopian fantasies.

© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.

What’s on my bookshelf

Back in the days before the internet, when there were only three channels on TV (four if you got PBS), information was derived primarily from books. They were made of paper, could be heavy, and were often awkward and inconvenient to carry. Despite this, a physical, printed book carried a certain authority.

The physical printing process was long, the editing meticulous, and production was expensive.  A thick volume or multiple volumes caused a sense of awe.

I remember well a high school field trip to New York City that included a visit to the largest book store I’d ever seen, one that made our local Walden Books seem pathetic by comparison.  It seemed to have miles of aisles crammed with titles that promised to reveal the wisdom of the ages.  And that’s what I was after, the wisdom of the ancients, forbidden and dark, and very appealing to a student in the occult-crazy early seventies.

In that book store I found Montague Summers’ The Malleus Maleficarum and  The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor Lavey.  These books, among others, opened my mind to the validity of alternate philosophies and religions.  They didn’t turn me into a Satanist, but they helped me to see that there were other paths to consider.

The different paths away from the mainstream, and what I found along them, were the genesis for what I write.  Whether it be about an alternate dimension, a psychopath, or love in a dystopian future, it all began with expanding my world view through books.

For writers, books beget books, and the key to begetting your best work is diversity in the books that influence your storytelling.  Writers get their inspiration from a variety of sources, chief among these being other writers.  Having access to a rich and diverse library–either yours or the one down the street– is, in my experience, absolutely essential.

For instance some of the books on my bookself include:

And I haven’t even mentioned Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, or any of the other fiction writers that have played a role in my writing.  I could go on and on, but I will leave that for another post.

You can see more of my influences on the What’s On My Bookshelf page.  How many of them have you read?  What interests do we have in common?  How has your reading influenced your writing–or desire to write?

The list is far from complete and less than authoritative, but it will be, hopefully, growing in the next few months as I have time to add to it.  You might also note that although each of the books listed on the page has a link to, that isn’t a recommendation to buy that particular edition or format.  I just linked to the edition that I have.
© Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh.