Writing Prompts from the Universe

Thunderstorm over Corfu

“Without disruptions in life, where would we be?” ~ Sarah Gadon

Just lately I have found inspiration for my second novel from some unusual places.

A week or so ago, my husband and I watched My Mother and Other Strangers on our local PBS station. It’s the story of the narrator remembering his childhood during WW II in Northern Ireland. His reflections are about his mother an English woman living in a foreign land. For the most part she’s lived a happy life, teaching at the local school, helping her husband with his grocery store, and pub. Then the Americans establish a training base for flyers nearby. Rose, the narrator’s mother, is most affected by the arrival of the Americans, though the entire village is disrupted by prejudice and resentment.

In the first episode, the base liaison officer, Captain Dreyfuss meets Rose Coyne on her daily walk by the lake shore. He surprises her by quoting her favorite poet and that more than anything disturbs her efforts to be content in a place she never felt she truly belonged. They meet again when Captain Dreyfuss is looking to establish a relationship with a local person with whom he can work to solve issues pertaining to the base and their presence in the town. His intention is to ask Rose’s husband Michael to be that person, but due to Michael’s schedule, Rose ends up taking on the role.

As I was watching Rose’s awakening to the forgotten parts of herself she left behind when she married, I felt I could understand her. And Rose’s experience prompted me to think about Jenna, Morgan, and the other women in the novel I’m working on in a new way. They are all struggling with being a women in their respective time periods. It’s such a complicated situation for each group of women. I want to show how my characters deal with their personal and political struggles. How does their involvement in their respective women’s movements affect their families, and their communities?

Life can be capricious. Sometimes it’s just a little thing that happens to disrupt our view of ourselves but when it happens it feels like a tsunami. All the pieces of our nicely constructed lives fall apart and we have to decided to rebuild it exactly as it was before, or build something new.

Then last night Barry and I were watching the third season of Shakespeare Uncovered, again on PBS. The segment we watched was about The Merchant of Venice, a play Barry and I did his first year in college. It’s how we began getting to know one another. When the segment was over, Barry said, “I don’t remember us discussing, or stressing all those layers of meaning in our production.” And I had to agree with him. It was forty years ago, after all. But having just directed a Shakespeare play last spring, and taking two classes studying his plays, I have to say that Shakespeare was a master of intertwining many themes into his stories. One director and cast could pick one play, do it every year or so, and still keep learning from it.

And listening to F. Murray Abraham talk to cast members, directors, and scholars about the play, sent me back to my novel. The best stories, in my opinion, have many different themes, like all of Shakespeare’s plays. I guess that’s why we have used stories for centuries to teach our values to our children, define our cultures, and figure out the complexities of life. The stories that survive do that so well that we can still relate to them centuries later.

I want to write a story like that one day. I’ll never be Shakespeare, but if I keep practicing writing, I may write a story that will live on past my lifetime. Is it presumptuous to have such a goal?

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I’ll have another post for you next Saturday. Have a fantastic weekend.

Lucinda Sage-MIdgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news on the audiobook version Lucinda is working on. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Arrival/Story of Your Life

Earth from the Moon

“If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?” ~ Louise Banks in the movie Arrival

“Science fiction is very well suited to asking philosophical questions; questions about the nature of reality, what it means to be human, how do we know the things that we think we know.” ~ Ted Chiang

“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it and welcome every moment.” ~ Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life”.

I’m a big fan of science fiction television and movies. Books and short stories not as much. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it has to do with the science jargon. In a movie, I can read body language and facial expressions to see the underlying meaning of the scientific dialogue, and tune out the stuff I don’t understand. By reading the the physicality of the characters, I can tell if the proposed theory has the possibility to get the characters out of their dire situation, or not. That’s all that matters to me.

That’s not to say I hate science. Some of my favorite documentary series are on NATGO, the Science Channel and PBS. There is something so appealing about the abstract nature of science that I love. On the other hand, I’m terrible at math, so a career in science was not an option for me.

However, the true reason I love science fiction movies is because of what Ted Chiang says in the above quote. Science fiction, and even fantasy, allows us to explore philosophical questions at a safe distance. Asking those questions within the context of an exciting story helps the pill go down easier.

In American society, we’re mostly about getting things done and not so much about exploring why we’re doing them. Questions like “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” aren’t usually addressed on the evening news. Oh, there may be the occasional article, or magazine asking those kinds of questions. But in our Puritan/cowboy culture, doing is prized above following some inner guide and searching for meaning. Philosophical and spiritual pursuits are often considered sissy. At least they were for much of our country’s existence. I think that’s starting to change now.

In the last thirty or forty years lots of teachers and institutes have sprung up around the country and the world that encourage us to dig deep, heal our wounds and discover the above questions for ourselves. These new ideas are trickling down to every day society. I use as evidence the highest rated movies of the last few years that have hidden in their battle scenes that destroy New York, or London, those deeper philosophical questions that can’t be answered by a quarterly report or rating on the New York Stock Exchange. The characters of those movies are dealing with existential questions of who they are and how they fit into the world around them.

The movie Arrival, while not ranked in the top ten movies in terms of income, has a meta score of 81 on Internet Movie Database. The audience grew once the movie was on pay-per-view, or the pay channels, which indicates to me that people are connecting with entertainment that asks, “What does it mean to be human? Are there other ways to view existence? Is time linear? Is it possible to change the past or influence the future?”

“Story of Your Life,” (and Arrival) chooses one of these big questions to explore. If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you make different choices?

The basic story is this: The question of whether there is other intelligent life in the universe is answered when several ships appear around the planet. They don’t appear to be hostile, but just why they showed up is a mystery. Linguists and physicists from all over the world are deployed to each sight, along with a huge military presence as well. The big questions the world governments want answered are these: Why did they come? and What do they want from us? The story version doesn’t answer those questions, which I find appealing. The reader gets to decide what the prolonged encounter means and just what effect it will have on the course of humanity when linguists, like Louise begin to see reality in new ways.

But in the world of movie making there needs to be a clear progression of complications, even threat, and the film makers assume the audience wants to know why the aliens showed up. I like the way the screenwriter, Eric Heisserer, took the main questions asked in the short story and ramped up the urgency for Louise and Gary to find out the purpose for this highly unusual visit. Fear is a huge factor in human existence right now, and that juxtaposed with the way Louise begins to understand the aliens and their mission is a great plot device.

I also like the way Heisserer translated the changes in thinking that happen to Louise as she learns the alien language. In the movie, Louise and Gary have a conversation about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. The theory that the language you speak determines how you think, and how you see the world. It’s in Louise’s altered way of seeing all of time happening at once, which is the way the aliens view reality, that helps answer, at least for her the main question. She begins to see all that will happen in her life, and she decides to embrace it. She doesn’t try to change it in any way even though some of it is heart breaking. To show Louise’s experience, the movie is structured in a non-linear way. Another thing I love in books and movies.

I could relate to Louise, because for a very long time, I’ve wanted to learn another language. And just recently, I’ve felt confined by my old patterns of thought. Maybe finally taking the plunge and learning that second language will help me see everything in new ways.

One more thing I love about this movie is that it adds something most alien invasion movies don’t have. The aliens are making contact because thousands of years in what we would call our future, we will help them in some extremely important way. To do that we humans will need to learn to work together. Movies that show a hopeful vision of humanity’s future are always high on my list of favorite stories.

If you haven’t read the story, or seen the movie, I highly recommend both. In my opinion, it’s always good to ask ourselves questions about who we are and what our purpose might be. Sometimes watching movies and reading stories that ask those questions can help us get insights about our lives and the world in which we live.

Thanks so much for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it very much.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.