Hey gang – great news!
Charlie managed to score some plutonium (Karol made a point of not asking HOW), so pile into the DeLorean – it’s like a clown car DeLorean, designed to accommodate the entire Schmooze Blog readership – and let’s travel back in time to…late November, 2012, right about when this blog post should have gone up…
Greetings Schmoozey humans...if you are humans, as nothing having to do with normalcy or reality was guaranteed at our November Schmooze, where we discussed time travel, body swapping and other way-cool, reality-bending stories.
The turnout was a bit smaller than average, with 21 warm bodies in the room (perhaps the others were abducted by aliens…or forced to have dinner at their in-laws). We started our evening with a few announcements, and then the standard introductions.
What’s that you say? The intros weren’t so standard?
That’s right! In addition to saying your name and what you write, Schmoozers were asked: if you could travel to another time (past or future), when would that be and (briefly) why?
Here are some of the cool, creative answers:
- Renee would go back in time to tell the first female millionaire to manage her money better. Frustratingly, she wouldn’t tell us WHO the first female millionaire was!
- Richard would travel into the future, to August 15th, 2027 to be exact. Why? Beats us! You’ll have to ask Richard.
- Nostalgia for historically creative periods was a theme, with Laurie wanting to experience Gertrude Stein’s Paris and Paula opting for Greenwich Village, circa 1966.
- Josh, mischievous little-kid-at-heart that he is, thought it’d be cool to go back in time to get some dinosaur poop and then come back to the present and put a bag with the poop in it aflame on someone’s doorstep.
- Charlie thought it’d be fun to participate in Vietnam War protests – ‘cause apparently, that was a great way to get laid.
- Karol wanted to visit with Pete Rose in the early 80s and drag him to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.
- Jeff wanted to meet Sara Breedlove, AKA Madam CJ. Walker Who you ask?!? Check her out here: http://www.ladelta65.org/places/CJ.Walker.htm
Charlie kicked off the schmooze with one of his endless musings, this one on the meaning of fantasy, starting with a riff on Invasion of The Body Snatchers (technically a book by Jack Finney, but we all know that Charlie doesn’t read and has only seen the movies). Charlie’s assertion was that Body Snatchers is evocative because it addresses the deep nagging suspicion we all have that everyone else is in on some joke that we don’t get, but that it works as a story because, laid on top of that, is a fun metaphor to give the fears shape (communism in the 50’s movie; me-generation-self-empowerment in the 70’s remake). This led Charlie to muse on fantasy as a means of communicating primal fears and that led him to a truly disturbing discussion of The Uses Of Enchantment, a mind blowing deconstruction of fairy tales by crazed child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim.
Bettelheim says that fairytales show kids the world of meaning hidden within the world of skills, allowing them to face existential questions. Okay, so that part wasn’t so disturbing. But Bruno was just getting started: According to him, fairytales deal with existential questions through metaphor. Every cave is a womb, every drop of blood the end of virginity, and Snow White is a preadolescent girl who escaped the jealous wrath of her mother to hide out from adult sexuality with a group of 7 pre-sexual, phallic-shaped, work obsessed men whose job is to go into dark holes. Eventually, she gives into adult desire by eating the the apple and falling asleep, only waking when a suitable sexual mate, the Prince, arrives to kiss her and, well, you know…
Somewhere around the phrase “phallic shaped men,” a few of the new Schmoozers started eyeing the door. Frankly so did Karol… Actually, just about everyone did (except, oddly, Greg Pincus). Fortunately, Charlie was too wrapped up in his own brilliance to notice and quickly moved on to discuss Joseph Campbell (The Hero With A Thousand Faces; The Power of Myth), a philosopher and mythologist who says much the same thing as Bettelheim did, only using myths rather than fairytales.
The takeaway from both, Charlie claimed, was this: Myths, fairytales, and fantastic stories exist to get at things that would be either impossible or intolerable to address in plain, earthbound stories.
Karol followed Charlie’s excruciatingly long diatribe by sharing about two of her favorite books in the Way Cool genre. Both feature body swapping and time travel, and both stories deal with dark, difficult subjects in stark but palatable ways – frustratingly validating Charlie’s whole esoteric schpiel.
Anne Frank and Me by Cherrie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld tells the story of a present day teenager who goes on a school trip to an Anne Frank exhibit and, after gunshots cause a panic in the museum, whiplashes through time and space and wakes up a Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied Paris.
In Sherman Alexie’s Flight, a troubled, part Indian boy finds himself on the verge of a violent act, only to be shot back through time, briefly emerging in various violent moments throughout American history.
Interestingly, both stories begin with a contemporary kid who’s become doubtful of or desensitized to violent atrocities in the past. Generally speaking, this makes both main characters more relatable to today’s readers. When the characters travel back and experience the violence first hand – but through the eyes and mind of kids living in the present day – the impact is perhaps greater because it prompts readers to imagine themselves facing these awful experiences themselves. Both protagonists begin their journeys with much to learn, and both come through their experiences all the wiser and more able to make better choices in their own, real lives.
After Karol was done waxing poetic about the two books she’d brought, she and Charlie did something completely unusual (for them anyway) and definitely Way Cool – they turned the meeting over to Schmoozer Richard Manning, who, as it turns out, is pretty mush a fantasy/sci-fi expert, having been a writer/producer on TV’s Farscape (among many other Way Cool TV series.
He shared a number of great tidbits with the group, starting by explaining that a new wave of sci-fi in the 60s and 70s has since been replaced by what’s called “speculative fiction.” In speculative fiction, you take something from the real world, alter it, and figure out what would happen. Regarding world building, he said that both the wonderful part and the dangerous part is that you can do anything you want. And while he realized, in his own writing, that he didn’t need to know what was around every corner, he did need to stick to a certain “ice box logic” (a term borrowed from Alfred Hitchcock, meaning that the story should make sense as you’re watching it, but it’s okay if there are some loose threads that occur to you later, as you’re taking a chicken out of the ice box). The original Star Trek TV series was apparently notorious for “pulling solutions out of their back pockets.’ That sort of thing won’t fly with today’s more demanding sci-fi audiences.
In the “truth versus plausibility” equation, Richard learned that plausibility was actually more important. There was a particular scene in Farscape that was technically accurate, but it was a scene fans constantly cried foul over – because it seemed implausible.
An interesting way to tackle this conundrum (and a Way Cool tip overall) is found in this quote by John Cleese:
"You don’t have to explain the rules. You have to explain the exceptions.”
(Apparently comedy and sci-fi aren’t that different!)
Karol also interspersed some awesome tips on world building from prolific, local-ish YA and middle grade author, Kathleen Duey.
Check out these two fantastic interviews with Kathleen here http://writermorphosis.blogspot.com/2012/09/each-one-teach-one-interview-yamg.html and here http://writermorphosis.blogspot.com/2012/09/each-one-teach-one-interview.html.
With all this knowledge being laid on us, Charlie and Karol thought it’d be fun to try to put it to use in a writing exercise. (If you missed the November Schmooze, here’s your chance to “play along.”).
The writing prompts were:
- Rewrite a scene from a story where your protagonist has “swapped bodies” with another character (maybe the antagonist or a marginal character).
- Have your protagonist travel back in time to a pivotal moment from his/her back story (e.g. her parent’s first date; his rejection from a crush in third grade, etc.).
The Schmooze wrapped up when Karol, against her better judgment, let Charlie have the floor again to discuss graphic novelist Chris Ware’s newest creation Building Stories a boxed set containing “14 distinct books, booklets, magazines, newspapers and pamphlets,” all of which address the goings on inside one big city apartment building. Ware created it in this form to approximate the way we experience life, with past, present and future all mixed together in our heads, vying for our attention. Charlie felt it applied to the topic of the night because the form was wayyyyy outside the box. Which is ironic, considering it actually, technically…WAS A BOX!
That about covers it, Schmoozers. Let’s all pile back into the DeLorean. Charlie and Karol need to get back to the present. They have the February Schmooze to plan (yeah, right, like we’re not going to be cramming all our research into the day before!).
And hey – if you SIMPLY CAN’T WAIT for the February 13th Schmooze – Fifty Shades of Schmooze: The Sex Schmooze – we could always let you borrow the car…
For those of you willing to wait – keep passing the open (DeLorean) windows,
Charlie & Karol