Monday, October 26, 2015

Alarmclock Freeway: writing the coming of age story in the midst of external disaster.

The coming of age story must included this: loss of innocence, internal awakening or self-discovery and some sort of external conflict as impetuous for the change. An underlying cultural or worldly event which is close to or drives the external conflict is even better. For example, Herman Raucher's Summer of '42 uses World War II as the underlying event. Likewise, Jeffery Eugenides in his novel The Virgin Suicides uses a more local event as backdrop for the story: the race riots and collapse of the auto industry in 1974 Detroit. Without the external tension, the characters may (not) have room for their growth because as bad things happen like the self-discovery and/or loss of innocence. This coming of age story works for us because at the heart of it, it's a process that we all know. Additionally, should there be a natural or cultural or locally grown “universal” disaster, then things become real for the reader and the reader can easily put their own experiences into the frame of reference and superimpose that onto the character.

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. Adults in my life often asked: “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” In a morbid way, this question seemed like an icebreaker for them. Incidentally, they all seemed to remember exactly what they were doing and with whom and where. Perhaps a modern day equivalent would be this question: “Where were you during 9/11?”

Now, let's think about the natural disasters that may affect us: Japan's 2011 tsunami, the tsunami of December 2004, Hurricane Katrina or the Haitian earthquake.

Let's think of cultural collapse: the uprisings of 2011 in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria. The deaths of long time leaders like Gaddafi, bin Laden or Hussein are the collapse of culture because with their deaths come new regimes, war, civil unrest and world aid. These deaths are cultural change.

Now, let's consider the local stuff: 9/11, King's Cross bombings, the Tokyo underground gas, Columbine High. These sorts of things have small (relatively) populations, but widespread news coverage.

I bring it up, the coming of age element and external disaster, because they make great combinations for story and conflict. These external forces shape young minds and young minds grow and develop and color individuals. From these individuals spring forth coming of age stories long after the writers themselves have come of age. It's reflection, and it's emotional.

I like to think that widespread paranoia (do we thank Senator McCarthy or President Nixon for this?) although not overtly obvious can shape the ideas of coming of age writers too. Here are a few widespread paranoia examples I like: the cold war, anthrax, Y2K, some fabricated Mayan cosmovision mixed on the Gregorian calender year 2012, and of all things, zombies. Do these aspects made good coming of age literature? Hard to say, but if enough writers push teenage-vampire-Mayan-zombie-apocalypse and add nuclear missiles and anthrax, perhaps people will believe in it too.

Whatever the case, I believe that in literature the loss of innocence in character leads to self-discovery, strength and realization. It makes for great reading. The external conflicts I also think are fun, they put it all into the universal perspective.

I was in the jungles of Mexico in September 2001. The events in New York affected me yes, but I was still in the jungles of Mexico. I slept through Y2K. And I think that the only thing to end in 2012 is the calendar of 2012, 2013 will be business as usual.

Definitely fun to read, more interesting for the characters and these things make great additions to the conflict within the story.

Awaiting the Dustbowl

Monday, October 12, 2015

In Search of Basho

Darcy joins us. For an instant I feel a homesickness that I'm reticent to share. I no longer hear the rain on the window panes.

Monday, October 5, 2015

My New Chapbook Available Now

Announcing Cockroaches and Geese
Available here

It's the ferocious animals
we want as spirits guides
bears and lions and eagles
but the best spirit guides
are often small
cockroaches and geese
one tells us to purge
the other to persevere

This short chapbook of about 2 dozen poems was originally part of The Sofia Ballou Project. Cockroaches and Geese is a three part narration based geographically in New Orleans, Denver and Tucson.