Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Tiger in my Boat

I went to see a movie last week.  "The Life of Pi."  It wasn't what I expected it to be.  
The trailers and commercials I'd seen for the film made me think it was some sort of animal buddy movie.  It really wasn't.  It was a much more serious film than that.  It was also a much more beautiful film than I was expecting as well.
The movie is about a teenage boy, nicknamed Pi, whose family is moving to Canada along with the animals from the zoo they used to run in India.  They are going to sell the animals to zoos in North America and use the money to start a new life.  
During a storm, however, the ship capsizes.  Everyone is lost except for Pi.  He makes it to a lifeboat that is cut loose from the ship.  A zebra, broken loose from its stall in the hold, jumps in the boat, breaking its leg.  Later, an orangutang from the zoo, named Orange Juice, is pulled on board after floating over on a bunch of bananas.  
A hyena comes out of hiding from under the life boat's tarp.  It kills the injured zebra.  The orangutang slaps the hyena on the head, momentarily forcing it to hide.  But it leaps out and kills the orangutang as well.  As the hyena turns back toward Pi the zoo's bengal tiger, named "Richard Parker" after the hunter that brought it to the zoo, charges out and kills the hyena.  This leaves Pi alone with the tiger in the boat, struggling to survive.  
The line in the movie that struck me as the most important came from the younger Pi's entry about the tiger.  In the end, he decided, that his father, a pragmatic man of a skeptical nature, was right about the animal.  It had no soul for him to reach.  It was a wild creature, deadly and dangerous, that would kill him to survive if it needed to.  
But Pi's discovery was keeping the tiger in the boat with him kept him focused and alert, which was what he needed to do in order to survive.  Keeping the tiger alive, by catching it fish to eat, and training it in order to come to an accommodation for their mutual survival, gave his life purpose and meaning.  When the tiger leaves him at the end of their journey, it saddens Pi to realize the tiger wasn't his friend, but that the tiger's presence was what kept him alive, even as it threatened him.  
I have been thinking a lot about this.  About what the tiger in my boat might be.  
In such a allegorical movie was this, the most obvious answer was "mortality."  The knowledge that one day I will not be.  It is what gives me the will to get up in the morning to go to work, to get the means to survive.  
But this seemed too simple for me.  And I don't feel any desire to befriend my mortality the way Pi did the tiger. 
I then thought that maybe there were multiple tigers.  That each facet of our lives had something in it that drove us forward.  At work, for example, I am driven by the expectations of my clients.  I want to make them happy, for doing so will bring me their business.  When they express their appreciation for my efforts on their behalf, a rare and glorious thing, I am warmed inside.  But I know that my clients are not my friends.  They can, just like the tiger in Pi's boat, turn on me if I make a mistake.  They keep me sharp.  They give my life at work direction and meaning.  
But this answer also was unsatisfying.  My work ethic, which my clients benefit from, was not born the day I started working for them.  It was an aspect of something else.  Like the blind men of legend feeling the elephant, it was the snake-like trunk of a larger creature.
Or maybe I should say, the sinuous tail of the tiger.  One aspect of something else.  
There was scene in the movie, near the end, that gives me a clue.  After Pi's boat washes up on Mexico's Pacific coast, and the tiger disappears into the jungle, Pi is taken to a hospital.  While recuperating, men from the insurance company that covered the ill-fated freighter that his family and the animals were riding on come to question him.  Pi tells them the story of his journey with the tiger.  They look at him as if he were crazy.  It's too unbelievable a story, they tell him.  
So Pi tells them a different story.  There was originally four of them that survived the sinking of the ship.  A sailor, who broke his leg when he jumped into the boat.  His mother, who they found floating on stored bananas from the ship's hold.  And the ship's cook, a mean-spirited, selfish and bigoted man.  With the sailor sick and dying, the ship's cook decided to kill him, to put him out of his misery he said.  But it proved that he only killed the sailor to use his body for bait to catch fish and for food for himself.  When the cook's evil nature was revealed, his mother slapped him.  The cook was momentarily stunned, but then grabbed his knife and stabbed Pi's mother, then tossed her body overboard for the sharks.  Pi, seeing his mother's body being eaten by the sharks, became enraged, he told the insurance investigators.  He grabbed the cook's discarded knife and stabbed him, pushing him overboard as well.  He spent the next several months, alone and struggling to survive as his boat sailed across the ocean.  
So, he asked the insurance investigators, as well as the writer-character visiting his older self in the movie, which story do you prefer?  Both stories are consistent with the facts that can be proven.  The only difference is that one is brutal, ugly and meaningless, while the other conveys beauty and hope.  
"The one with the tiger," the writer answers for all of us.  "That's the better story."  
"Thank you," Pi replies.  "And so it goes with God," he continues, in keeping with the movie's theme that to believe in God allows one to see the wonder of God.  
For me, though, skeptic that I am, I think the answer is what the writer tells us.  The story with the tiger is the better story.  We all narrate our our lives, consciously or not.  Each of us is the protagonist of a narrative that runs through our heads.  
I think the tiger in my boat IS that narrative.  The story of my life that I tell myself.  As with any story I write, I want to like it.  I want it to be a fascinating tale filled with wonder.  Too often, I think, I make myself more of an anti-hero.  One not suited for, or capable of wondrous, heroic deeds.  
But given that this is a story I'm telling myself, why can't I choose the version that I like better?  Change the crises and challenges I face into moments where I found the way through to something better.  
Maybe its as simple as starting each day thinking, "Once upon a time, I stepped out into the real world with this tiger in my boat..."  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Rolls Royce 9

I've been on jury duty.  Five and a half days, in all.  It was an experience.  
The case should not have come to trial.  Everyone seemed to agree on that.  We weren't deciding anyone's guilt or fault.  We were going to decide damages.  
In October 2010, an attorney that lived in the Bunker Hill complex in downtown Los Angeles, where his office was also located, had his car parked in the downstairs garage.  His car is a 1985 Rolls Royce Camargue.  It was the first Rolls Royce to be designed by someone outside of the company, an Italian car designer named Paolo Martin.  Only 400 or so were built.  
On that "fateful night," one of his neighbors, a man who ran an import business specializing in Korean beer and food, drove home after a week long business trip to Korea.  He stopped in Korea Town to eat at a client's restaurant.  Someone drove his car back to his building for him.  He decided to park it himself.  
He hit his neighbors Rolls Royce in its parking stall.  He pushed it against a concrete support pillar, bending the frame.  
The insurance company for the neighbor that hit the car sent a check within a week.  But it didn't cover the estimate the owner received from the shop where it was being repaired.  Things got personal.  Both sides dug in.  We had to decide what was fair. 
"We" being the Rolls Royce 9.  
Not the Rolls Royce 12, you may notice.  At the end of the first week, five out of the fourteen people selected wrote notes to the judge and got themselves excused.  That's a sign of how things were going.  The judge told the nine of us that didn't write notes that we had to stick it out to the end.  
I could go on about the trial itself, but then I would be putting you through the same thing I went through, and I'm not a vindictive person by nature.  Well...  Actually, I am, but since the odds are that you, whomever is reading this blog, haven't done anything against me personally, I won't take it out on you.  
What I will do is present some of what I learned from the experience.  The first of which was this: 
Everyone has a "sure-fired" way of getting out of jury duty
The first thing most people said to me when I told them I'd received my jury summons was something like, "You wanna know how to get out of it?"  The answers are legion.  
One I heard from someone waiting in line to get into the courthouse the first day was, "Tell them it's against your religious beliefs to judge someone.  That you believe only God can judge people and that you are not God."  
One of my fellow potential jurors must have been behind me in line, because when asked that was almost exactly what he said.  "My spiritual beliefs don't allow me to judge people."  
The judge replied, "But in this trial you're not judging anyone.  You're determining an award amount."  
The guy was excused by the defense anyway.  
I found one good excuse online after the trial was over.  In a online news article about excuses for jury duty, it relayed one woman's attempt to get out of sitting on a murder trial.  When they asked if she knew anyone who had been the victim of crime, she told the court that she herself had been a murder victim.  
When the judge questioned her on that, asking if she was "sure" she'd been a murder victim, her answer was, "I got better."  
I'll call that the Monty Python excuse.  
Other advice on this topic given to me included asking the court to provide an interpreter.  Even if I spoke English, they are required by law to do so, and the annoyance will make them get rid of you.  
Another friend suggested I tell them that I thought the whole legal system was built on lies.  The defense would tell their lies.  The plaintiffs would tell their lies.  I would then make my decision on what I thought were the most creative lies.  
My dad told me a good one, years ago.  He was a potential juror on a criminal case.  He made a point of staring at the accused.  When the accused caught my dad, a big ex-marine, staring at him, my dad drew his finger across his throat in a cutting motion.  
The accused pointed my dad out to his lawyer.  My dad got excused.  At least that what he told us happened.  
I can tell you, from personal experience, that it is not as easy to get out of jury duty as some people think.  At least not in L.A. County.  During the selection process I realized that the defense firm was a client of my company.  I raised my hand at an appropriate moment and pointed this out to the judge and the counsels.  
Their reaction was something like.  Yeah.  Ok.  Fine.  

Every day on jury duty is like the first day at a bad job
You have these people you're spending six hours a day with.  You don't know them.  They don't know you.  But unlike work, you don't talk with them about the thing that brought you together.  In fact, your admonished not to.  This leads to a lot of conversations that go something like...
"Hey.  How's it going?"  
"Fine.  And you?"  
"Yeah, fine."  They stretch their arms out and yawn.  "Just trying to stay awake."  
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
Eventually you do start to talk, about what you do for a living, where you go on your hour and a half lunch break, hobbies and such.  But you always have this...  THING, that you're talking around.  Something everyone knows about, but no one dare mention.  
That is, until it's time to deliberate.  Then I learned...
Jurors in deliberation laugh.  They laugh a lot
The bailiff that took charge of us once the trial was over warned us about waiting until she closed the door before we started laughing.  
Laughing?  We looked at each other.  Even though it sounded weird to us, I could see smiles creeping up on everyone's faces. 
Yeah, she assured us.  Sometimes juries laugh so hard and loud, the counsels can hear them through the doors, which are meant to be sound proof.  Like they're having a party in there.  Rarely, juries get into fights and she has to break them up and make sure no one is hurt.  But mostly, they laugh.  
She recalled a jury she served with last year.  They hit the buzzer to call her in.  When she entered the jury, it was empty.  Knowing there were only so many places one could hide, she went to check the restrooms.  She found all fourteen jurors stuffed in the women's restroom.  One of them, a professional photographer, set up a camera to catch her reaction when she opened the door.  They busted out laughing after yelling "Surprise!"
This was after a six week criminal trial.  
We didn't do anything like that, but we laughed together.  Once in the jury room EVERYONE starts talking.  Even the most quiet person that didn't say a peep to anyone during trial.  You feel like you are rushing from the school on the last day before summer vacation.  They all have something to say about what they saw or heard during the trial.  And everything makes you laugh.  
Eventually, though, you get down to business.  And that's when I learned...
Common sense is more common than I might have thought.
During the trial, even though we never spoke about specifics, we did say to each other, "This isn't going to take long to decide."  I said it as well, on a few occasions that week.  
In the back of my mind, though, I wondered if my fellow jurors saying the same thing maybe, possibly, might be seeing things differently.  I was afraid that we might find ourselves stuck over some principle, or just out of stubbornness as the parties had done.  
It didn't happen.  
Someone noticed that I took notes in two colors, blue for plaintiff questions, black for defense.  That impressed everyone enough to pick me to be the presiding juror.  
While waiting for the official forms and exhibit books to arrive, we started talking.  By the time they brought the stuff to us, we had eighty percent of it decided.  Even when opinions differed, it seemed that both sides had good points and were willing to listen.  
By the time we were done, everyone was in agreement on all the points.  No one was rushing just to get it done.  We were doing a job and doing it as best we could.
We buzzed twice, the signal a decision had been reached.  We went back out and sat in our chairs.  The clerk read off the form I filled out as Presiding Juror.  The defense had us polled.  Each 9-0 decision was recorded.  We were done before lunch.
When we went outside, the attorneys for both sides followed us out.  They shook our hands.  They asked us questions about their presentation, about what mattered to us.  They thanked us for sticking it out.  Neither side wanted a mistrial forcing them to start all over again.  The judge had mentioned they might want to do this.  I thought it unlikely, only if the losing side thought we'd screwed up.  But the curiosity seemed genuine and the gratitude felt sincere.  
And then, they were gone.  After shaking one of the attorney's hand and watching him start to walk away, I looked around and found myself standing alone.  I caught up with a couple other of my fellow jurors on the way to the assembly room to get their certificates of completion.  Another was already there in line.  As we separated at the entrance, I said, "See ya."  Then wondered, "When?"  
I can not say I enjoyed my jury service.  My life still feels displaced.  It feels like 'normal' isn't the same normal anymore.  Whether it's a good or bad thing...?  The jury is still out. 
The members of the Rolls Royce 9 are: 
Mark - A retired police officer, whose wife was one as well.  They like to bike down the coast and take the train back to their home.  He spent every lunch break at the cafeteria on the top floor, the Panorama Cafe, looking at the view. 
Omega - Her name comes from being the last of four children.  She went to Julliard to study singing, a soprano.  She's sung the National Anthems at the Montreal Forum in Canada and at Dodgers' Stadium.  
Daniel - The youngest juror, I would guess.  Knew the most about cars amongst the rest of us.
Tray - Tall guy.  Was questioned a lot about a hit and run accident he mentioned during jury selection.  Sat apart from others during our breaks.  First time I saw him smile was when he arrived the day we deliberated.  
Blanca - Worked nights in a sewing shop I believe she said, and came to court in the morning.  Always arrived right before we had to start.
Eddie - Flamboyant dresser.  Two-tone hair, blonde on top and black along the sides.  Wore hats.  Came to court once with a bow tie made of little teddy bears sewn together.  
Michele - Lives somewhere in Pasadena, like me.  On her breaks she went to places like the L.A. Cathedral and MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art).  Conversations with her were often about understanding things.
Lizza - Quiet lady with long black hair.  Works in a bank, overseeing the tellers. 
And me.  
To my fellow members of the Rolls Royce 9, I wish you all the best in whatever trials life brings your way.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Next Big Thing

This is my first time in participating in an internet 'meme.'  As I understand the use of the term for internet activity, it is a game of tag of sorts.  Someone asks you to do something or tags you in some task, and then you tag someone in return.  
In this case I was tagged by my very lovely and supportive (though somewhat crafty) fellow Anticipation Writing Workshop colleague Sara Card.  It's call "The Next Big Thing."  Writers blog about their current project and then tag up to five others to do the same.  You can read Sara's blog about her current novel, "The Isle of Waiting" at
With gratitude toward Sara for inviting me to participate (especially since I rarely tire about talking about my writing projects), I would now like to invite you to read about my "Next Big Thing": 
What is the working title of your next book?  
A Spell of 13 Years.
Where did the idea for the book come from?  
It came from a disagreement I had with a fellow writer who was critiquing a short story of mine.  It was a story about someone that lives the last half of his life over and over again.  By the end of the tale, the main character discovers that what he thinks is his life is actually a simulation of the universe made by aliens in the very far future, and the only reason even that much of his life has been saved is because the aliens were more interested in the life of his son.  
The person who critiqued the story thought that I should have been writing about the son.  I disagreed, saying that my story was about someone caught up in something bigger than he was, something most of deal with from time to time.  
At the same time, I was doing a lot of thinking about fantasy novels and one of the classic tropes of high fantasy, that of "The Quest," where a team of important people, usually identified by their archetype, "Great Warrior," "Clever Thief," "Powerful Wizard," are traveling to some distant and dark place to recover/find/destroy/restore something to right the balance of the world and restore order.  
These two ideas, percolating in my brain, coalesced, and I came up with the idea of writing a fantasy trilogy about such a quest, but where the point of view character for each of the books would be a very normal person whose life The Quest was passing through.  The Wizard, the Warrior and the Thief, would be background or supporting characters in the protagonist's own story about how his or her life was impacted by the Great Evil the questers were trying to right.  
What genre does your book fall under?
The overall story for the trilogy is classic High Fantasy.  A Quest with a Powerful Sorcerer, a Clever Thief and a Mercenary with a Secret Past.  
Each book, however, will be more like an Urban Fantasy, although one set in a world similar to early Renaissance Italy.  The goals and objectives of the "heros" of each work will be more short term and personal, although they will be shaped, or perhaps twisted, by the background story that the classic, High Fantasy heros will be following.  I'm hoping to catch a nice blend between to the two genres, with the immediate objectives being something anyone can understand, with a background of world changing implications.  
What actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition?  
I had actually not thought of this prior to reading this question in the meme instructions.  I don't think in terms of movie actors when I come up with my characters' appearances.  I usually draw them people I know or met in real life.  
The main character, a young man about 17 years old named Enrico Paoli, looks like me when I was about twenty.  Slender, though well defined.  Incredibly adorable looking.  Anyone who knew me from that time will remember.  His older brother, Giuseppe, is based off of my best friend in Junior High School.  The Sorcerer looks like an older version of a friend I briefly shared an apartment with during my early days of going to college, especially the deep baritone voice.  And the family friend and cloth merchant that Enrico discovers is manipulating his family is based on the tow-truck driver who came to pick me up when I was stranded on the highway just east of Denver, Colorado while I was on my way to visit my family and see my sister get married in North Carolina.  You can read about that trip in a previous series of blogs posts of mine entitled, "The Road Trip."
If I ever do sell the movie rights to the story, I'll think about actors then. 
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your story?  
I would call this the logline, or pitch-line.  For my story it is: 
A magical plot forces a second son to enslave himself or murder to live his own life.  
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  
Hmm...  Good question.  I would like to go through the traditional route for this first book, finding an agent and getting it published through some established company.  I have met and spoken with a few self-published authors, and listed to other more established authors on panels at various conventions, about the pros and cons of self-publishing.  I know there will be stories I want to publish where I'll want the control that self-publishing gives to the creator.  Given the amount of time my "real life" leaves me, however, I would prefer to have someone else doing the leg work on getting my first novel to print.  
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  
I started writing the novel on November 1, 2010, as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  It is a month long challenge to write a novel length piece of work, 50,000 pages, in thirty days.  I had 75,127 words done by the end of November, but I was not finished with the novel itself.  The First Draft was completed on February 20th, 2011 and came in at a whopping 218,997 words.  
Needless to say, I've been doing a lot of rewriting since then.  
I have to say that the experience was something else.  When I started writing "Spell," I only had a main character in mind, the overall situation and the ending.  In fact, it turned out that the main character I was originally thinking about was actually the main character for the second book in the trilogy.  Normally, when I start writing a story I have a general outline or plot of how things are to go, plus background of the situation and the world or universe the story is set in.  With "Spell," all I had was my hero, Enrico Paoli, the "second son" of a well-to-do innkeeper and farmer, what he wanted and whether or not he was going to get it.  I was flying by the seat of my pants, discovering the story as I went along.  There were numerous days when I'd finish a writing session thinking, "that's it.  I'm stuck.  There's no way to go forward from here."  The next day, though, I'd start writing and then something would present itself, I'd work through the moment and be off and running again.  
I also discovered how much better it was to write in bigger chunks.  My normal daily output before writing the first draft for Spell was a few hundred words, about two pages a day.  While writing Spell's first draft, I was doing a couple thousand words a day, hitting a high of over 5,000 words one day while on vacation at my parents' house during Thanksgiving.  Today, I don't feel satisfied until I reach at least a thousand words by the end of my writing session.  
Basically, writing this draft changed my perspective on what I could do and how much I needed to get started.  I also showed myself that I could finish a really long story.  And it was great fun, to boot.  
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  
That's a hard question for me.  For one thing, I have to admit I haven't read that much fantasy in recent years.  I've focused mainly on science fiction in my reading.  Besides that, I can't recall a story like mine, where the main characters are so decidedly ordinary for a fantasy novel, amongst the fantasy stories I have read.  
The one novel that does come to mind that I can compare it to is the first speculative fiction novel I read, way back when I was thirteen years old.  "Tunnels in the Sky," by Robert Heinlein, was the book that turned me into a science fiction fan.  One of the reasons it hooked me was the fact that the main character was only a few years older than I was when I read it.  He was an ordinary kid, like me, that found himself stuck in an extraordinary situation, being stranded on a hostile, alien world.  This is close to the feeling or tone I want to strike with Enrico and his plight.
Another book came to mind while writing this: "Tigana" by Guy Gavriel Kay.  The similarity stems from both his Peninsula of the Palm and my Twelve Realms of Nao, the land where my story is set, being based on early Renaissance Italy.  Furthermore, from what I remember reading it years ago, there is very little overt magic in Tigana.  The story is primarily concerned with the result of a massive spell cast upon the land, where the name and history of the country of Tigana, where the book gets its title, have been removed from the minds of the populace.  In Spell of 13 Years, there is also very little magic displayed directly, but the impact of the supernatural infuses everyone's life and understanding of how things are.  At least, that is the sort of feel I'm going for.  
Who or what inspired me to write this book?  
Another hard question.  I've been writing so long, the act has become such a habit, that the answer could be as simply as "I woke up.  It was time to write."  
For Spell, though, reframing the question to, "what inspired me to keep writing such a long piece and not stop and give up?" the answer would be that it was just so much fun I couldn't help myself.  Writing Spell of 13 Years the way I did reminded me of when I was a teenager and first discovering Science Fiction and Fantasy.  There was a sense of exploration and discovery as my fingers typed out things about the world I didn't know a moment before.  There was a sense of intrigue as a character would appear at the inn, and I KNEW that he or she was important, but didn't know how or what they would do next.  It was like playing one of the many adventures when I started playing role-playing games, about the same time I started reading speculative fiction.  The difference was that writing Spell allowed me to be Game Master and Player and all the Supporting Characters all rolled into one.  The inspiration to keep going came from how much I liked the characters I created and how much I wanted to find out what happened to them.  
What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?  
You're not going to let me go easily are you?  OK...  Well...
If you, as a reader, is looking for something that is both familiar and different, I think you might enjoy my story.  
If you like reading about food and cooking, which seems to hold a more special place in fantasy novels than science fiction for some reason, I have some scenes I think you'll enjoy.  
And over the course of the trilogy, I am planning on exploring my own personal perspective on the difference between "Magic" and "Religion," which is central to the overall story. 
Does that answer the question?  
Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to peruse my Next Big Thing, A Spell of 13 Years.  Next week, I suggest you stop by the sites of these, my writing colleagues, for their Next Big Thing: 
Ann Dulhanty and Dennis Coleman are marvelously supportive and talented members of my Anticipation Writing Group, which is hosted on LiveJournal.  
Ann has been working on an urban fantasy she is currently calling "Odds of the Gods."  Ann comes up with some of the most unique and specific metaphors in her writing that I've ever seen.  There is no "cold as ice" with her.  More like, "as cold as an insurance salesman's sense of humor," though much better.  I'll let her tell you more about her current work at her website:
Dennis has worked in the Hollywood entertainment industry for years.  His Next Big Thing is a movie script with the title of "Genesis Jones and the Case of the Genocide Virus."  Dennis has impressed me with his ability to combine different concepts in interesting ways.  I'm looking forward to seeing what he's come up with this time:

Saturday, January 05, 2013

A Taxonomy of my Insanity

I've heard it said that "insanity" is doing the same thing, over and over again, expecting the same results. 
OK.  I'm insane.  Not any great surprise there.  I've suspected it for a while now.  There are other metrics I could us to bring me to the same conclusion, but this one will work for me now.  
Every year I do the same thing: I decide what I want to see for myself in the coming year.  I set up a list of goals and resolutions to achieve them.  I write them down.  I tell people about them, to help encourage (force?) myself to follow through on them.  
The problem is that every year, it seems that I am writing down the same goals.  I am promising to follow through on the same resolutions: I want to write more stories.  I want to get more published.  I want to finish my novel.  I want to be a full time professional writer.  And I keep trying to come up with schedules, schemes, plans, etc., to make these things come true.    
I want to stop this repeating cycle.  I want to change things.  Doing the same thing as before isn't going to work.  Nor is it going to make me any more sane.  As I mentioned before there are other metrics beside this by which I can be counted amongst the "not so normal."  But in this area, at least, I will be... Well, if not more sane, then at least I'll be applying more method to my madness.  
To find the new direction, the new method that I seek, I have decided to get to the basics.  Why do I do the things I do?  Why do I NOT do the things I WANT To do?  If I am rationalizing my behavior to myself and others, I should at least know what is really going on.  At least that's what I think.  It's the difference between making love and masturbating.  Nothing with masturbation.  The distinction should always be clear though.  
To figure this out, I've decided to ask myself a series of "Why?" questions.  I hope the answers to these questions will show me the way I need to go.  I hope that someone's comment to my speculations may help me as well.  
Which brings me to the first question of this New Year:  
Why do I spend so much time and effort writing speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy)?  
A lot of quick answers come to mind right away.  Such as: 
Because it is what I like to read.  
Because I've been doing it for so long now, I don't think I can stop.
Because being a science fiction writer is how I identify myself to those around me.  And if I stop I'll lose that identity.  I'll lose the thing that makes me different, makes me special.  
OK.  That last one has something more to it that just a quick answer, I think.  Being different, being "special" is important to me.  I don't like "normal."  What's so special about normal?  There's some irony to that question I think.  But there's a hint there.  A clue.  A signpost...
Because I don't want to die, and writing about the future, about worlds I'll never really see, gives me the sense of living forever.  
That's a recent answer.  It popped into my head sometime during the last couple of weeks.  Like the identity issue, I've not explored it all that fully, but I put it out there.  
Because speculative fiction shows me where I ought to be.  
That's an answer thrown out there to see if it sticks to the wall.  It's a recollection of how I became a science fiction fan in the first place.  As a boy of about thirteen years or so, I was already following the path to nerd-dom.  I was studious.  I loved reading, histories and biographies.  I was a member of our school's chess club, never lower that third on the rankings list.  When uncles, aunts and grandparents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd tell them I wanted to be a doctor.  I said it not because medicine interested me more than anything else, but because it was the smartest, most different occupation I could think of the first time I was asked.  When everyone seemed to approve of the answer as much as they did, I just kept repeating it.  
Then a classmate showed me a copy of a book he was writing by someone named "Heinlein."  He told me about something called "science fiction."  He intrigued me enough to go the library and check out a book by the same author called "Tunnels in the Sky."  
I sat up in bed all night reading that book from cover to cover.  It changed me (Warped?  Twisted?  Liberated?) in ways that, as this blog demonstrates, I'm still trying to fathom.  
It took me about four or five years to admit it, or even realize it, but reading that book made me want to write stories like that.  There were other signs (symptoms?).  I became an avid role-playing gamer, buying the first copies of Dungeon & Dragons, Traveller and any other role-playing game that came out.  I was the one in our group that game-mastered about eighty percent of the time, because I was the one writing up the adventures and scenarios that we played.  
I stopped telling my family I wanted to be a doctor.  When they reminded me of that previous declaration, their faces colored with the first blush of disappointment, and asked me why I was no longer pursuing that goal, I shrugged and said, "I dunno."  Maybe they put it down to me becoming a full-fledged teenager.  The truth was, which I didn't tell them at the time, I was trying to figure out how to be "there" all the time.  There in those worlds I imagined.  On spaceships.  In dark tunnels, lit only by the light of torches struggling to stay alive against drafts as cold as death.  Looking upon the face of gods.  Seeing the death of stars so distant their light would never reach Earth before the universe itself died.  
I remember asking one of my gaming friends if he thought there would be some way to make money playing those games.  He looked at me and shrugged.  "I dunno."  I wonder now if he was thinking the same thing I was, but was too afraid to admit it.  
But that is straying off into the realm of "why not?"  Plenty of time for that later.  The why of it, though...  I think I'm remembering something that I forgot.  
No...  Not forgot.  But was ignoring, maybe.  Yeah.  Even as I feel a sort of tingle going through me, a band of warmth like a tentacle pulling tight around me, I can feel myself squirming against it.  Just like those times, when I became a "big boy" and Mom hugged me in public.  "Mahaamm..."  Breaking free even though there was a part of me that didn't want to.  
It makes one vulnerable, doesn't it.  THIS is what I want.  THERE is where I want to go.  People looking at you askance.  Especially if you are in the throws of middle age, never married, still banging away at keyboards in the wee hours of the morning.  
But that is a consideration for another time.  Right now, I think I've recalled my answer.  In as succinct a way as I can put it: 
Why do I write speculative fiction?  Because my native dimension is "elsewhen" and I need to find a way back.  
Like I said, there's more than one metric to gauge insanity.