Friday, February 26, 2010

Well Rounded vs. Brilliant

This is a question that has nagged me for as long as I have been a father. I know I have loads of talent, and not just in one particular area. I have demonstrated excellence in areas as diverse as writing, mathematics, chess, soccer, baseball, basketball, guitar, piano, photography, and many other lesser skills.

I have done well enough to have played chess against most living world champions, gain a masters title and win a U.S. Amateur co-championship. I was offered a professional contract in soccer when I was sixteen (my mother wouldn't sign it since it entailed me having to move to Mexico City). I won every single competitive baseball game that I ever pitched. However, I have never become elite in anything. That doesn't concern me too much. I have some 'what if' moments about several of my hobbies, but I enjoyed being passionate about so many things.

The problem is with my children. I believe they are becoming passionate about many different hobbies precisely because they see what I have done. It worries me that one or both of them might have been able to become something truly special if I had only supported them in narrowing their focus to one particular skill. Sure, the idea of being 'well rounded' does sound politically correct and nice. However, when I truly admit the truth to myself, what matters most to me about our history on this planet are those who did something to stand out - the Michelangelos and daVincis and Mozarts of life. It bothers me to think that one of my sons could have perhaps had the chance to be such a person and I incidentally got in the way of this.

If my sons had never demonstrated any particular talent for anything, I don't think it would worry me. But, they have. They both show signs of having the same musical talent that I got from my father. My older son shows great talent for artistic endeavors. I try to support him in this, but it is a difficult area to know where to focus. He loves constructing astonishing things with Lego’s, but that isn't something one can normally strive to excel in. He does well with drawing, so it makes me wonder whether I shouldn't invest in a top-notch computer graphics program, where he just might be able to stand out as an artist. My younger son is far more competitive than the older, and has shown stretches of brilliance in several areas. When we lived in Beijing, he was by far the best striker in the soccer league. The second best scorers in the league were a pair who scored 8 goals on the season, while my son easily took the trophy with 15 goals. I haven't prevented him from continuing, other than the fact that my job has taken me to two countries now where he simply couldn't play. I think those were three critical years that he lost there.

Okay, so I just try to tell myself to be happy that they are great boys and well-rounded, talented individuals. It's just that I will always wonder what could have been with them, just as I do with myself.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Opening Don'ts

I ran across a post in Absolute Write today that I liked. It was about openings of stories that are so overused that agents may reject your story on sight just for this reason. The post mentioned 1. waking, 2. looking into a mirror, and 3. beginning with dialogue. It challenged posters to come up with an opening that used one (or more!) of these three, but do it well enough to merit consideration rather than instant rejection.

I liked the challenge, especially since I had already been considering rewriting an old short story of mine. I had not intended to begin the short story with one of these three no-nos, but I figured I would give it a try. This is what I came up with:

"I'm going to kill them all today, so I need you to unhook your mother."

Javier rolled his eyes and eased himself further into the folds of the couch. He glanced at the nearest wall speaker. "Kill whom, father? I've never heard you joke before."

"I don't joke, as you well know. Now do as I ask and unhook your mother. Before one o'clock please." The calm voice always irritated Javier; it was meant to simulate the way his father had sounded when he had been physically alive, but it lacked proper emotion.

"What do you mean? Who are you going to kill?" Javier shrugged his slim shoulders. "How can you kill anyone anyway?"

"I have a way. No matter. Meshing is destroying the world. I'm going to save the world by killing them."

Javier leapt to his feet, his face pale. "The meshers? You can't do that. That's...what...twelve billion people. Madre de Dios!"

"One o'clock. Unhook your mother."

I wrote this short story called, "All Meshed Up" about a year or so ago. I was never quite happy with it, though I thought it had a lot of potential. There are only three characters. The main one is the young man, Javier, who was until recently a mesher himself, until his father managed to get him unhooked. Meshing is the newest form of addiction. It came about when it became possible to connect one's mind directly with the Net. The experience was so powerful that many came to prefer meshing to actually living their own lives. They purchased special beds that could autofeed them and take care of their waste. Many would simply never detach themselves.

Javier's father was a legend. It was he who had finally developed protections so strong that viruses of all sorts could no longer infect the Net. He had had a hand in developing the mind/data interfaces (called 'slots') that everyone now wore just behind their left ear. Secretly he worked on perfecting the downloading of mind data into digital format, so when he died he continued to live on within the Net.

Javier's mother became a mesher herself. This was nothing unusual considering that by the time the story begins more than 80% of the people in the world are meshers.

Although I am still tinkering with this as a short story, I have really decided to fold it into a sci-fi novel that I have been fleshing out, set in Moscow in the year 2138.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


In a comment to a previous post, a friend asked why I don't end my chapters with cliffhangers. It's a good question. Ending a chapter with a cliffhanger is one good way to build tension and keep a reader wanting more.

The reason I don't have cliffhangers is due to the method in which I have chosen to write my novel. Many methods work great with cliffhangers, but not the one I chose to use. I fell in love with the way George R.R. Martin wrote his Song of Ice and Fire books, and that is what motivated me to finally sit down and write my book. He rotates each chapter among the main POV characters, and he does so in a generally time sequential manner. This is the key to why there can be no cliffhangers, or at least why there can be no cliffhangers of the moment, such as a character's head on a block, the axe ascending into the air, end of chapter - does the character die or does something happen to rescue him?

See, this doesn't work when each chapter is supposed to follow the others in time. I can't have something happening right at this moment, then write another chapter about a long sequence of events happening elsewhere (and perhaps not even on the same day), and then return to complete the cliffhanger that would now be happening prior to the chapter I just wrote. No, I have to be honest to the space/time continuum! So, I try my best to have suspense about forthcoming potential events, but I can't do so using the cliffhanger.

If only I had one of Martin's books with me here in London, since I have a lot of free time on my hands. I would go through and look at how he ends his chapters to see how he manages to keep up the suspense despite not having cliffhangers. I've been reading 'A Game of Thrones' to my sons (just finished it actually), but I must admit I wasn't paying close attention to this particular point as I was reading.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I feel bad at blogging so little lately. I was sent to London to deal with some (hopefully) minor medical issues, and I just haven't had any inspiration to write about anything. I miss my family, and the weather here has not been great (it could be worse though!). I've done the obligatory walking around to see the major attractions, but I've done all that before (this is my fourth visit to London). It is kind of amazing how one can be surrounded by hordes of  people and feel so lonely. I sit in restaurants every day, and nearly every seat is full, yet I have no one to interact with in any way. I wish I had family or friends here with me to enjoy this fabulous city. Fortunately, in June we had already planned to come to London with my family for a couple of weeks, mainly to see Green Day at Wembley Stadium and Pearl Jam in Hyde Park.