Monthly Archives: April 2017

When the audience becomes the speaker

I attended TEDxPortland this past weekend, and in addition to being blown away by Emma Mcilroy’s TED Talk (seriously, we gave not one but two standing ovations during it), I got to try out a virtual reality rendering of what it feels like to be on the TEDx stage.  Earlier they had brought out a special camera to the actual stage, and on cue we started clapping and cheering.  Then during one of the breaks I was able to put on the VR goggles, look around, and see the speaker’s perspective.  If the visuals had been a bit sharper (or if my eyesight were a bit better), I might have picked out myself to the left in row G, applauding for myself.

Being both an audience member and a “speaker” in that shared moment is analogous to a writer’s responsibility to embody multiple points of view.  And not just of different characters but of both author and reader.  Yes, we must pace that stage, populate those seats, aim the spotlight.  Then ultimately we should consider the effectiveness of our moment frozen in time, preserved for consumption by readers in times, places, and situations beyond our control.  In that sense, the reader is not the audience member but the user donning the VR goggles, deciding where to focus their attention.  Scanning the crowd for a fuzzy yet faintly recognizable rendering of themselves.

Also, the experience reminded me of a story draft that’s been waiting patiently for me to revise, plus an unfinished draft of another story that’s entreating me for completion…

The “seeds” of a story idea

My science fiction story “Little Seed” will be appearing in the upcoming anthology Triangulation: Appetites.  The title of my story got me thinking about the chance experiences, random concepts, and subtle memories that can act as the seeds of a story.  With the right mix of attention and happenstance, ideas can sprout into something wholly unexpected, fraught with meaning.  No wonder one of the most common questions asked of writers is “Where do you get your story ideas?”  (Once I had a story spring from a piece of trivia I read on the wrapper of a snack!)

I can trace the origins of “Venom in the Cloud Forest,” my fantasy story in Myriad Lands: Vol. 2: Beyond the Edge, back to a day when I went over to my parents’ house and they showed me an episode of a travel program that my mom had recorded to show my dad.  She’d saved it because the host was visiting a cloud forest in Ecuador.

Now, being half-Ecuadorian, I’m ashamed to admit that I had never heard of a cloud forest until then.  But what a revelation!  The very name made it a worthy setting for a fantasy story, and by the time they featured a dragon’s blood tree, I was salivating to bring a magical version of this ecosystem to life on the page.  The concept of fever-dreams has fascinated me for some time, and the vulnerability that a fever would create in my main character appealed to me.  And his perspiration would mirror the wet, misty surroundings.

To name my characters, I drew on locations that I had visited or heard of in the Andean region and borrowed some common sounds from their names.  I then researched the flora and fauna of the area, wishing that I could have known about cloud forests sooner so I could have visited one the last time I was down there.  But thank goodness for the wealth of information available these days.

A TV program viewed by chance.  Additional research uncovered and ideas mashed together.  These were my little seedlings of a magical cloud forest.  By the way, after one of my relatives in Ecuador read my story, she told me:  “Once I bought a little bottle of sangre de drago [dragon’s blood], but when I read your story I found out it came from a tree. That I did not know.”  Neither did I, until a fortuitous visit to my parents’ house.