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.”


“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:


Creating Vivid Pictures (a storyboard sketch)

During my time studying theatre, one of the most important things I learned about constructing a scene was creating “pictures.” This is a moment on stage that’s visually interesting if you were to pause it like a movie or take a snapshot. I try to bring this picture making into my writing as well. When beginning to write a scene for “The Epic,” as it’s come to be called in the absence of a proper title, I had a very vivid picture of of what I wanted the last moment of the scene to be like. It was so vivid that I later sketched it out like a panel in a storyboard.

The story is pretty typical, a fifteen year-old boy with supernatural powers that he struggles to control. He inherited this power from his mother, but they both have very different ideas about how to deal with it. The vivid picture is of the first time the son lashes out at his mother. He accidentally hurts her and destroys her garden.

The truth was she was terrified of her own son, and she knew that everything in him that scared her came directly from herself. Everything she had ever done, she had done because she was afraid. Afraid of being weak. Afraid of being powerful. She had thought she couldn’t fall any further. But she feared her own flesh and blood more than she feared death.

“I’m sorry,” Elijah said again. Then more quietly he asked, “Why am I like this? Why can’t I do anything good?”

Alene held him in silence. She knew that with a few words, she should be able to dispel all his doubt and frustration and self-loathing. But she couldn’t even do that for herself.


Canticle of the Sun

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.


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.

Character Inspiration Doodle: Ocean For a Heart

I’ve had this phrase in my head for a while now. I came across it while reading about empathetic people, and how they (we) often make the world’s problems and responsibilities their own. In short, we carry too much. And we give too much.

I’ve been writing a story for the past… I don’t know, decade. Which means it has evolved from my teenage years to young adulthood, and thank God the earliest drafts didn’t survive. The plot has been in constant flux during that time, mercilessly disemboweled on more than one occasion, and almost nothing remains the same from the original draft completed circa 2006 by a very proud high school student. Well, the Greats never said write your first draft well or at a reasonable age. They never said wait until your skills are honed to perfection. They said “Just do it! Finish it. Finish it!”

So I guess you could say I achieved.

But the one thing that has stayed constant through the years is the characters. I have a wonderful cast, and they’ve been with me for a long time. I kind of grew up with them. My favorite character I’ve ever created is a young man named Tol Clayman, who has an uncanny ability to see people’s physical, mental, and emotional hurts like a map in his head. He’s a very old soul because of this, and being able to see what his family and friends are feeling has been both a blessing and a burden, and it has filled him with incredible compassion, but also an incredible cynicism. 

It’s been very interesting writing as this character, who has the perfect tools to become an ultimate manipulator, but whose sense of integrity forbids it on most occasions.

First and foremost, Tol is a helper and a healer. He grew up with a troubled younger brother and was able to quiet some of the kid’s rages because of his gift, and this always made him feel useful. As long as he could help someone, he was doing what he’s meant to do.

As you could probably guess, at one point in the story, he fails, and something tragic happens to one of his family members as a result. Tol sees himself as utterly responsible and guilty for this event that even with all his power, he couldn’t prevent. He had put his identity in this ability of his, and discovered that he couldn’t carry the world on his back like he thought he was supposed to. He can’t save everyone. Reflecting on his failure to help, Tol wonders, “I was made to help and to heal. If I can’t help, what’s the point of me?”

It’s the burden of being the one who helps. Even when the problem or the hurt isn’t yours, you blame yourself when something goes wrong. You become caught up in the lives of others to such an extent, that it’s like the hurt is happening to you. It’s possible to lose yourself in this kind of mindset. Some people are so good at caring for others that they see caring for themselves as selfish. They have an ocean of a heart that can hold so much. 

This character has been an interesting journey of self-discovery as well. I dont have supernatural abilities, but I have a lot of the same thoughts about my purpose in life as someone who finds their identity in helping. I’ve been trying to learn that I don’t have to carry everything.Writing has helped me with this in some ways.

Pictures: “ocean for a heart,” and “giving hands” (Hannah Kubiak)