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Saturday
Jul162011

The Real and Writing

   So it's been a while!  I just got a new job working in the molecular genetics department at the university hospital.  It's kind of funny, but I feel as though I've come around full circle to my original intentions in going to college at UNM. 

    Once upon a time there was a little goth girl who aspired to be a marine biologist.  No, I'm not kidding.  When I was a kid I loved dolphins and whales, sea stars, squid, sharks, anglerfish with their bioluminescent lures, all that stuff.  Okay, fine, I still do.  One of my first attempts at a novel was when I was about 10.  I planned on writing a "biologically accurate" tale about a dolphin who was separated from his pod and had to travel all over the ocean to find them again.  It started with his birth and, surprise, surprise, he was separated from his mother by tuna fishermen.  Well, by the nets separating the pod, dolphins getting caught in the nets, the boats chasing them off, etc.  Actually, though, the way I wrote it was very brutal because I had been watching graphic footage on the Discovary Channel of the fishing boats (via protesting groups), and wrote exactly what I saw.  It was incredibly sad.  Most of the pod died from drowning (the poor little protagonist saw their corpses caught in the net as he swam by crying for his mother...PTSD ensued not too long afterward), or died after being hauled onto the boat and their bodies were tossed back into the sea. 

   Still friendless at this point, the little dolphin encountered sharks where he lost a portion of his dorsal fin (more PTSD) and got lost.  I think after this he fell into a deep depression and finally made a friend out of a crab or jellyfish or something.  I can't really remember, but it was something really small that was a pain in the ass to keep around.  I didn't know what to do with the dolphin after this and felt I'd taken on much more than I could handle, so abandoned the project.  I mean really...what can you do with a baby dolphin who really isn't weaned and is swimming around with a jacked up dorsal fin in the middle of the ocean talking to a jellyfish?  Logic tells you that the little guy is doomed.  Maybe even at 10 I knew better.  I think the whole thing is saved onto a floppy disc for my Apple IIc in my closet and is probably irretrievable at this point.  (sigh)  Oh, well, that's beside the point.

    So I've loved marine life and even at 10 years old was on some eco conservationalist kick.  When I first went to college my plan was to study marine biology in Seattle.  Reality struck me when I realized that unless I was super lucky and managed to get a job in some marine park or zoo, or could get tons of grants, most likely I would be working for the government testing the ocean for pollution levels or doing horrible projects like one I heard about while I was there.  Get this: in order to test a new method for oil spill clean up, some brilliant neanderthal proposed dumping tons of crude oil into a "sectioned off area" of Puget Sound (ie- there are floaties on it to keep it from spreading over the surface, but it will still sink, and birds can still land in it, fish will still swim in it, etc) and lighting it on fire.  Yes this was actually proposed and was in the newspaper.  Fortunately someone grew a brain and shot it down.  I wept to think that as a marine biologist I might have to do something like that, or test the water after. 

    Onward back to NM where I attended UNM with a major in creative writing and now a minor in biology.  After much though, and much plinking away at my keyboard in Seattle, I came to the conclusion that my passion was and always will be writing.  Here's a funny thought.  1996.  Not too far in the distance past, yes?  I was still lugging around my old Apple IIc to type on.  It went to Seattle with me.  (I believe it had its own purpose there.  Secretly it may have been stalking Bill Gates.)

      So my intention was to fuel my science fiction writing with my biology minor.  I am a firm believer in the "write what you know" mantra.  If you know nothing, you can write nothing.  If you don't know it, research it.  So what better way to write about the science that I love so dearly (genetics and cellular physiology was included in this because I found these loves in Seattle), than to keep up with the times and find new material every day?  Well, education is one thing.  Granted it inspired me because I could actually now understand what I read about, and I could put it into a format that others could comprehend.  Or, I could pick and choose.  What helped even more, however, was just reading about the current issues, or even past issues and applying them to the present.  Always adding the "What if?" inspired me greatly. 

    Where my education fit in, and where it continues now, is in how I can interpret the material and make it believable.  By working in the lab, I can write a totally believable story with a researcher, or geneticist, or anything having to do with a lab in a general way.  I know where to go and who to ask for information to help when I get stuck.  My job is my lifeline.  But that's the obvious. 

    Or is it so obvious?  Sometimes it seems like far too many writers take their readers' suspension of disbelief for granted.  It is so easy to look at a picture of a beaker, or a sword, or a gun and write about using it.  It's even easier to read someone else's description and paraphrase, esp. if it's of a place where you've never been.  A far different experience, however, is to actually use that beaker, or that sword, or that gun (and not to kill someone, smart asses).  I can't tell you how much difficulty I had in writing "Kraysh" when I was trying to describe the forest using NM field guides and online pics, and then winter came and I went backcountry skiing and took my notecards with me.  Those descriptions wrote themselves after I went into the woods myself.  It was the same writing "Scourge of the Bone Cages".  There is no way I could have written that if I hadn't even swung a Japanese sword. 

  Now I'm not suggesting to study something for years to master it before writing about it.  For example, in the case of the sword, just pick it up and actually swing it.  Go to a class or two.  The first couple are usually free anyway.  Shoot a gun or two.  It makes a world of difference, and the readers will appreciate it.  I know I do.  Actors study dances and movements for weeks, sometimes months for roles.  I believe as writers that we are obligated to our readers to give them some semblance of authenticity, too.  At least as much as our tiny little purses will allow anyway.           

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