Thursday, July 18, 2013

Comic-Con Special Edition: The Answer to Dan's Question

As some of you have already guessed from my tweets yesterday, I'm at Comic-Con.  My yearly pilgrimage into the realm of all things Geeky.  
I've lost count of the number of times in a row I've been to Comic-Con.  I know it's at least fifteen.  It's not twenty yet, I'm sure of that too.  Comic-Con has changed somewhat during that time, however long it's been.  It's gotten much, MUCH bigger, for one thing.  But there's a lot of it that has stayed the same.  It's that mix of the familiar and different that makes it a place I want to go to.  Like finding money in some pants you haven't worn for a while, I expect to find something valuable when I come here.  It may be a quarter.  It might be twenty bucks.  But I'll be able to make use of it.  
This year, it happened on the ride down.  
I took the train to San Diego, my third year in a row.  I was first in line to board the train.  A good thing, too, because Preview Night at Comic-Con coincided with opening day at Del Mar Racetrack, and that meant the train was going to be standing room only.  
The gentleman right behind me in line, a retired immigration attorney named, Dan, got to talking.  Polite, stranger-in-line, chit-chat at first.  The conversation became more animated when I found out that he has had Dodger season tickets for the last thirty-six years.  We ended up boarding the train and finding seats together, holding each other's places from the hoard of racetrack goers that we're hovering over us.  
At one point we asked each other what was taking us to San Diego.  Dan had a meeting between his church group, which does immigration work, and the border patrol.  I told Dan about my professional aspirations as a writer and Comic-Con.  Dan knew another person that was going to the convention and wanted to know what it was all about.  This lead to questions about my opinion on writing and publishing in general and about my own work specifically.  
"Can you tell me," Dan asked toward the end of this line of discussion.  "What is it you find most enjoyable about your work?"  
"Well, I...  I, uh...  Huh?"  
I asked Dan if he meant to ask what I found most enjoyable about writing.  No, it was what he had asked.  What did I find most enjoyable about the stories that I had written.  
I thought about it for a moment.  To my surprise, I was stumped.
I know what I like about writing.  I could tell him in great detail what got me interested in science fiction (I did, in fact, as a way of buying time).  But what about my own stories did I enjoy the most...?  Well...
To help me creep up on the answer, I started telling him about my most recently published story, Shadow Angel, which appeared in Asimov's last year.  The story revolves around a space-pilot who can't tell if he's hallucinating or being lead back and forth through time by aliens his employers want him to reach.  
One of the things I'm most proud about the story was my effort to put the reader in the shoes of the pilot.  To present them with a situation where all the "fact" are there, but which don't add up to one conclusion or the other.  One reviewer of the story said that it was confusing at the beginning, but that it rewarded the reader with interesting conceptualizations.  
"Interesting Conceptualizations."  I like that.  It's what I like about the stories I read as a kid, and the novels that made me want to do this same thing.  
The thing about the pilot's situation in Shadow Angel is that it's what I believe everyone's day to day situation is about.  We're all contained in these vessels of flesh, blood and bone, taking in information through our sensors as we direct ourselves toward whatever destination we have set for ourselves.  A destination that might very well be an alternative reality that no one else experiences but ourselves.  That is the conceptualization I wanted the reader to get.  Or something very close to it.  
As I've thought about it, I noticed that all the stories I've written that I like best have that quality.  Someone struggling to make a decision about what to do, knowing or being forced to face the fact that the data they have is incomplete, or faulty, or possibly even made up.  This insight has also clarified a story I've been working on for some time now that I've yet to complete in a satisfactory way.  I know what I need to focus on now to get it there.  I'm looking forward to working on it again.  
So, Comic-Con has come up good again.  It's definitely worth more than a quarter.  At least five bucks, maybe, in the found money in the laundry sort of way.  
Before we separated, Dan wrote my name down on a card.  He wanted to be on the look-out for my fantasy novel I told him I was writing.  In the event that Dan stumbles across this blog to see if my novel is published yet, I have this to say...
All the stuff I told you on the train?  Forget about it.  This is what I meant to say.  


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