Armen Chakmakjian

Personal thoughts on writing…

In Literature, Science Fiction on January 22, 2009 at 2:09 am

So I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while.   I want to separate this topic from publishing and deal with that separately at some point.  For that topic I do need to do more research and get more involved with local writers’ community events so that I get some education (beside the plethora of stuff on the web, to which people have graciously pointed me).

When I was writing my book my first book, I threw everything into it.  Every synapse was firing, every thing I ever learned: allegory, analogy, cliché, metaphor, simile, historical figures, civil discourse, science fiction novels, comparative religions, dead family member characterizations.   All this made getting from beginning to end really, well not easy, but enjoyable.   Being somewhat of a romantic myself, it was easy for me to create archetypes for certain themes: out of control usurpers, plotting Iago-like villians, cynical enemies, wise mentors and the main character.

The main character was interesting because he started as a manifestation of my grandfather, and ended as the person I wished he would have been.  This was quite a cathartic event for me because even though he died when I was 7 years old, his death was the first person’s death about which I needed to deal.  In writing the book I have had to deal with the humorous stories while acknowledging the fact that he was human.   I’ve always had a here and now attitude for most things, however with him it has always been “then.”

Anyway descriptive writing, like trip reports, was always fun for me.  I would tell my story visiting customers as a “little do-good engineer” in the field as someone once described my writing.  Writing a trip report was something I looked forward to, because it allowed me to record what I thought was important or odd.   The narrative was the key.  Could I get the Armen in the story from the Airplane to the site to the lab to the dinner to the hotel to the office to the plane flight back and have something other than “We arrived.  We sat at the tester.  The customer was not pleased.  Here are the 43 issues we found.”  I read many trip reports like that.  Those trip reports are for the data driven.  If you are looking for something specific, you can index it and find it.  The problem was that most people could not make it through reading an report like that.  They were truly boring.  Lacking any editorial comments or some description about what they saw, the ennui weighed on your eyelids like sandbags.  So that was what I resolved to provide.   In the midst of it, I would describe the “event” of coming across and issue, who was there, why we were trying that feature et cetera.  Of course then I’d add the list of issues as an appendix, for the data driven.  This truly was a lot of work.

When I sat down to start writing Urtaru, it was not because I had actually wanted to start a novel at that point. Of course I always wanted to write a novel or two, but I hadn’t set a time.  Then the motivation came from a situation.  The story was that my younger son had a journal and had been writing a book for 3 or 4 years, constantly updating it.   It was a story inspired from his reading of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series and Lemony Snicket.   The characters got nowhere fast, but my son’s descriptions of staircases and secret doors and worlds were quite ornate.  When we got together with friends, I’d see all the 10-11 year-olds go off in a corner and they’d have a reading of his next chapter.  I found this all quite amusing.

On the other hand, his older brother, interested in the story from a familial point of view, thought the work somewhat childish.  So he set out to write a story.  He was imbued with Lord of the Rings and a series of fantasy novels that he and a neighbor were exchanging.  So being a little motivated to get similar attention, he started to write his novel.  After writing several pages, he had a great idea.  His main character was a Fantasy/Historical Bourne-like character that is figuring out who he is as his capabilities increase.  He handed me the first few pages and I read it.  It was like one of the BAD trip reports.  It was an outline put into prose.  All I could imagine was bullet items.   Immediately I started an intervention.   I said to him, “Write down what that character is thinking and feeling and seeing.  Describe or paint the situation so that people understand what is important in that scene.”

He didn’t take this well.  As I didn’t want to discourage him, I said to him, “Give me a half hour and I’ll give you an example.”  So that was when the first chapter of my book was written.  I had this story of my grandfather in my head living British Palestine, hunting with two Englishmen.  This was a story my father told me 3 or 4 times and it was always interesting.  My grandfather had a shotgun and spoke English and Arabic and Turkish and French and Italian and and and…So these men found him interesting and a good guide.   I wrote a fictional account of my grandfather hunting with two archetypal Englishmen.  The names I used were the real ones that my father told me.  The situation was real, but I obviously took great literary license and wrote 6 pages quickly.   I handed him my laptop and said, “try writing like this.  It’s not perfect but it is kind of what you want to do.”  I got a positive reaction and several questions and he got back to work.   I think it changed his attitude on writing because after that event he really took to history, narrative and his language classes in High School.

I, on the other hand, re-read my short ditty and said to myself, “Hey this is pretty good.  I ought to continue this.  I have a few ideas.  Let’s see where this goes.”  So I outlined an interstellar conflict with an Armenia at the center of it and started writing.   At about this time, after writing maybe 40 pages, there was a conversation at a holiday party with several friends, and one of them expressed interest in reading what I wrote.   He read it some time later and gave me positive feedback.   After that it was a race against time.   I was writing at every free moment.  On the beach in the summer, at Panera Bread in the morning before going to work, late at night in the dark.

I did have a hard deadline.  Simultaneous with this, I had started down the road to an MBA.  My first class was in September, and I needed to get this over with before that started, as I was worried that I’d have no time for it.   So I plowed through the final parts of the book and finished it this past summer.

I’ve started writing the second book, but I’m having a hard time putting in the time.  Lots of stuff going on in parallel.  I do have an idea of where I want to go.

Now here’s the funny part.  My older son just recently expressed an interest in reading my story, so I put the pdf file on a thumb drive and gave it to him.  Being the voracious reader, he’s been working at it for several nights.   He’s given me some major suggestions about getting the action earlier into the first couple of chapters to hook the reader.   He thought the courtship scene in Chapter 3 was old time TV corny.  He also said that my story is relatively fast moving and that he wishes I spent a little more time describing things because he enjoyed my descriptions and wanted more.   The circle is now complete, like Darth Vader said to Obi-Wan.  I’m getting advice from my kid.

The other thing that has been somewhat getting in the way of just writing the 2nd Book is blogging, which is also writing.   I’m getting practice writing, although it’s more like the trip reports than a Sci-Fi novel.  I’ve heard that writers need to read read read and write write write no matter what else is going on, so blogging serves some purpose.    So I’ll continue to communicate here, and hope that I’ll find my science fiction muse again and get back writing my story.


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