In Which I Try to Convince Myself that I Am NOT Writing “The Bourne Identity” in a Fantasy Setting…

Several years ago I brought a sample chapter of my book to the writer’s group that meets at my house every month or so. After reading it, the first comment was, “This sounds a lot like the Bourne Identity to me.”

My initial thought: Damn.

“Whatever do you mean?” I asked, even though I could kind of see whatever they meant. Here are a few of the similarities pointed out to me:

“Well, the guy has amnesia.”

True.

“He knows how to use a bunch of weapons. Killing is instinctual to him.”

I cannot deny it. This guy’s a freak of destruction.

“He’s part of a secretive military group, members of which may be trying to kill him.”

Undoubtedly so.

“What about the vague and unhelpful shaky-cam flashbacks?”

(Getting annoyed.) You didn’t need to take dramamine before reading my story, did you?

So, I resolved to make some changes. Granted, the premise is very Ludlum-esque, but it’s set in a fantasy world with a magic system and all sorts of freaky creatures, so I think I have a chance. Maybe. If someone can read past page one without saying, “Amnesia? I’ve read that one before.”

New marketing strategy: Target amnesiacs to read my book. It will be like nothing they remember experiencing before.

Five years later, I’m trying to write a log line for this book, so that when people ask me what my book’s about, I don’t have to say, “Uuuuummmm,” or, “It’s…complicated.” (I don’t have a gift for spoken words).  I sent the log line to a trusted fellow writer, who’s first comment was, “It’s sounds a lot like the Bourne Identity.”

Five years. Nothing has changed.

The good news is, I now have a working log line!

“Hey, I hear you’re writing a book! What’s it about?”

“It’s basically the Bourne Identity in a fantasy setting.” (sigh).

Enjoy an honest trailer of the book I’m currently writing:

 

Brideshead

I just finished reading Brideshead Revisited, and one of the things that I found funny about reading this book was different people’s responses. They ranged all the way along the spectrum, from, “One of the greatest Catholic novels of all time!” to, “The story of a couple of guys boozing around at college.” It’s a marvelous story, both about hitting rockbottom and redemption, so I guess you could say both descriptions fit. I loved it. You get way too many religious stories in which all the characters are perfect. Where’s the conflict? Where’s the struggle, I ask you? Who’s going to relate?

There’s something for everyone to relate to in this story, I think, but most notable is the doubt that pretty much every character experiences, whether it be about their marriage, their place in their family, the religion they were raised in, their own goodness and worthiness. Deep stuff, people.

The jacket cover of the book boldly proclaims that “Evelyn Waugh developed a wickedly hilarious yet fundamentally religious assault on a century that, in his opinion, had ripped up the nourishing taproot of tradition and let wither all the dear things of the world.”

Eloquent words, but the common man of today cannot help but say, “What?”

It really depends on what you consider to be the dear things of the world, I suppose. As I read Brideshead Revisited, I began to see that these “dear things” are past days and simpler times. The theme of memory is very clear in the story, and in fact, the entire book, except for the first and last chapters, are the memories of the narrator Charles’ life ten years past. “My theme is memory, that winged host that soared above me one grey morning of wartime.” You can’t express your theme much more clearly than that.

The character who interested me the most in this story was Sebastian Flyte, a character closely connected with the theme of memory. From the moment he appears, he stands out, and the narrator Charles says as much. “I was struck less by his looks than by the fact that he was carrying a large Teddy-bear.” This image, at least for me, influenced the way I would see the character for the rest of the book. Sebastian has a wistful, childlike air to him, and his holding on to the Teddy-bear he becomes a visual representation of what people all tend to do in holding on to their past. Sebastian is a very nostalgic person, and it shows in his wistful way of speaking. “I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy, and then when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.”

Most of the other characters in the story don’t share his nostalgic, childlike outlook. Of all of his siblings, Sebastian is the only one who visits their estranged father, and he holds on to childhood habits like his affection for his nanny, calling his mother “Mummy,” and carrying his Teddy-bear. He stands out as a black sheep in his family from the start, and in a way he puts himself on the outside, when, approaching Brideshead, instead of saying,  “it is my home,” he says “it is where my family live.” He’s a flighty, brightly colored character who sees the beauty in things and the fun in the moment, but as the story progresses he falls by the wayside, and his family and friends see him as a burden and an embarrassment. As I read this book, I thought of him as the personification of the “dear things of the world” that the century uprooted.

Gosh. That was depressing. But, by his own admission, Evelyn Waugh got his pleasure from “spreading alarm and despondency.” And now, a blatantly stated theme in the style of Evelyn Waugh: My theme is despondency… that cloud that shuffles across the brain like a snail on a bedewed drainpipe one lackadaisical morning in the twenty-first century..

New Eyes (thoughts on “Dune,” by Frank Herbert

It was always a source of great embarrassment to me that I had never read Dune. I say “was,” because that was the past. This is The Now. I just finished an awesome unabridged recording by Audio Renaissance, complete with voice actors and the sound of haunting desert wind between chapters.

A quote from “Dune”

My love for audiobooks began with a snoring roommate. No number of objects flung in her direction had any effect, and I decided that if the thunder could not be silenced, it would be drowned out.

Overall it was a great experience, falling asleep to audiobooks, except for the times I would fall asleep and then wake up disoriented with no idea what was going on. One such incident that sticks in the memory was drifting off the the sound of Rob Inglis’ narration of the Two Towers, only to be jolted awake by his phlegmy interpretation of Gollum: “Filthy little Hobbitses! The thieves! The thieves! We hates them!” Another such experience was listening to O.J. Sanders reading “Catch 22,” waking suddenly to Yossarian hollering into my ear: “Turn, you bastard, TUUUURN!” They brought the story alive for me, definitely.

You know you’re reading a good book when it makes you see your own world with new eyes. This is what happened while I was reading “Dune.” On Dune, the most valuable commodity is water. Water is so scarce that the people of the planet wear special suits that capture all excess moisture to be drunk again.The people guard their water jealously.

A few weeks ago, the summer camp I’m working for went to Coal City for a week. One of the first things they told us was, “Don’t drink water from the tap!” Our first day, I made the mistake of thinking that if a waitress at a diner poured water from a pitcher, that meant it hadn’t come from a tap first. Let’s just say I was out of commission for the rest of the evening. We were provided with bottled water for the week (the small ones), to share with the kids in the  program as well. From the get-go I was reluctant to share my tribe’s allotted moisture with the small ones under our supervision. My three teammates and I went through an average of three cases every day, and I started to get annoyed when kids would take one sip and then forget about the bottle, leaving it on a table or inside a piano. In the spirit of Dune I found myself thinking these fools clearly didn’t want to survive if they left their water unattended.

What an amazing culture build, to create a society that revolves around something that’s so ordinary and common for us here in the United States. I think about Dune almost every time I drink water now. So, about eighty times a day. Thanks, Frank Herbert.