Fontana Village 2018 – A Journey Begins

6/15/18

Last year I posted a daily journal of my family vacation to Fontana Village in the North Carolina mountains. Now we are back. I do not plan to focus on our daily activities this time, although some I may add some. Instead, I will write about my personal thoughts regarding writing and the events which provide inspiration for my thoughts. I do not know whether I will post each day. I will take each day as it comes.

Last night I did most of my packing, and I set out my suitcase. This morning I found Arwen sleeping on it. I let her stay there as long as I could, but then I had to move her so that I could pack my clothes.

My commute passed without problems. I knew it would take me longer than usual this year because I planned to make several stops and take my time. On the last section of NC Hwy 28 there are some rest stops with nice views where I stop for a moment each year.

While looking at the mountains here, I tried to get my “what if” creative juices flowing. After a few moments I wondered, what if I saw a dragon flying over these mountains? I do not know where that came from or why I thought of it. It was not much, but I decided to write it in my notebook anyway. I did not know how I would use it, and so I decided to let it simmer in my mind. I did not know that further inspiration would come soon as the idea continued to develop during my commute.

A few miles later I stopped here with another nice view. Motorcycles are common in these mountains. A large group of bikers were here. Some of them wore American Legion patches, a biker organization which supports veterans.

I looked over the Fontana Lake and thought that maybe the dragon has an underwater tunnel into a cave inside one of the mountains on the other side of the lake. This cave has no above water access, and so humans have not discovered it.

At the exit of this rest stop I met this guy taking pictures. He works for the founder of killboy.com who photographs people driving the Tail of the Dragon. I spoke with him for several minutes and watched him photograph the bikers and other passing vehicles. He also photographed me as I left.

At the next stop overlooking the lake I imagined people in a pontoon boat who see the dragon swim under them.

I arrived at Fontana Village before my cabin was ready. I left quite early today, and so I expected that. Before getting lunch, I walked around inside the lodge for a while and looked outside the back window. A few years ago there was a forest fire in these mountains. It was too far away for my family to see it or have reason to be concerned, but we could smell the smoke and see a haze in the air. Some of the fire fighters who were assigned to fight this fire were staying at the lodge. I heard that campers started the fire, but today I wondered, what if the dragon started it? This dragon idea is developing.

During lunch at the grill I decided I could not keep calling him “the dragon,” and so I named him Louie. That is not much of a dragon name, but that it what come to me. On the other hand, if Pete can call his dragon Elliot, then I can call mine Louie.

Yes, the dragon is imaginary, but I have decided to run with the idea this week and see where it takes me. I am reading Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. He emphasizes the role of imaginative play in strengthening imagination and story telling. Last year I wrote a series of posts detailing my vacation, partly to challenge myself to write each day. That series was a basic vacation journal. This year my posts may be a journey of imagination. This could be fun.

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Writing Prompt – Ship in a Bottle

You find a ship in a bottle . . . with people onboard.


  • First decide where you find the bottle. It could be in a ship captain’s quarters, in a museum, in an antique shop, or somewhere else. This will significantly affect the plot
  • Also decide on the type of ship. Much could depend on whether it is a ship of exploration, a pirate ship, a fishing ship, a cruise ship, a ship carrying colonists, or even a ghost ship.
  • How did the ship get in the bottle? How long have the people on the ship lived inside the bottle?
  • How do they have enough air to breath and enough food to eat? Maybe their world is larger than what you see in the bottle, and you only see the area immediately surrounding the ship.
  • Do they know they are in a bottle?
  • Are they aware of people watching them from outside the bottle?
  • Can you affect the world inside the bottle?
    1. Create a large wave by shaking or tilting the bottle
    2. Add a giant squid
    3. If you place another ship in a bottle next to this one, will they fight a battle?
    4. What happens if you break the bottle?
  • Do the people on that ship have a ship in a bottle with people onboard? If you are on a ship, is it in a bottle as well?

You are free to use this prompt in your own writing. If you print it or post it online, however, please credit this post.

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The Value of a Writing Notebook

Last Monday morning before work I read this post about the connection between a writer and his or her notebook. Later that morning I thought about my notebook. I carry it with me almost every time I leave my house. I bring it to church, and I keep it in my pocket at work. Sometimes during breaks or while waiting for our shift meetings to begin, I will sit on a shipping pallet and write a few notes. I wonder if my co-workers watch me and wonder what I am doing each day.

One time many months ago I lost one of my notebooks. I was not panicking, but I was seriously worried. Sure, I could re-write some of my ideas, but not all of them. Even those I re-wrote would not be quite the same. Losing that notebook would be a serious loss. Eventually I did find it. It had fallen into the narrow slot between the car seat and the storage compartment between the seats. What a relief!

When I am recording my first thoughts on a new idea I prefer to write them by hand. Sometimes I do not know how I will use an idea. Sometimes it is vague, and I do not know how I will complete it. Not a problem. I write my notes anyway. Maybe I will think of a way to use them someday. The notes do not need to be perfect. A perfectionist approach will get me nowhere. At this stage they only to be written.

For my writing activities, my most valuable possessions are my tablet and my notebooks. Losing a notebook would be worse than losing a favorite book. I can replace a book, but I cannot replace a notebook. Yes, many of my notes are typed into my computer, but some are not typed. Even if every word was typed into my computer, I would still hate to lose the notebook. It contains my ideas in their earliest forms.

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Writing Prompt – Visiting Auschwitz

I had originally planned to post my next prompt on Friday or this weekend, but I finished it early. I am also interested in people’s thoughts on it. Sometimes a story can serve as a reminder of terrible deeds of the past so that we can avoid them in the future. Someone could do that with this prompt.

Picture yourself visiting Auschwitz. You try to imagine the lives of the Jews imprisoned there and the suffering they endured. You imagine their conversations and the conversations of the guards. You start hearing their voices and think your imagination is getting the best of you. Then you realize you are in Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

  • Imagine yourself visiting Poland. Maybe you are visiting your family. Maybe you are a tourist. Maybe you are researching the Holocaust. In any case, you visit the Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp.
  • As you explore the buildings and grounds, you ponder what Jews exerienced there here in the 1940s.
    1. The harsh labor conditions which ensured a high mortality rate
    2. The starvation, thirst, and exhaustion
    3. The gas chambers and the suffering of those who died from Zyklon B.
    4. The crematoria used to burn the dead
    5. The medical experiments conducted on prisoners
    6. The pain of losing relatives
    7. The hopelessness they must have felt
  • You then consider the guards.
    1. What would lead a person to participate in such horrific activities?
    2. Did some of them question what they were doing? If so, did they feel powerless to do anything about it? How did they sleep at night?
  • You try to imagine what it must have been like to visit this place when it was still operating.
    1. You picture how the prisoners may looked after a day of hard labor.
    2. You imagine the conversations of the guards as they went about their daily duties.
  • Then you think you can hear their conversatons. You feel sudden disorientation. When you return to your senses, the people who were exploring the compound with you are gone. Instead, you are in Auschwitz in the 1940s.
    1. How did you get there? How will you return to your time? Can you return?
    2. Are you there as a prisoner or a guard? Have your clothes changed to fit the times?
    3. Will you try to change history and save some of the prisoners? Can you change history? Or do you only want to escape this place and return home?
    4. How much do you know of what happened here? The more you know, the more prepared you will be.
  • This story would be difficult to write. Detailed sensory data would be a must, as would engaging exploration of deep emotional struggles. The history of Auschwitz cannot be handled lightly. It was a dark time in history. For many people, such a topic may be too disturbing to consider, but we cannot forget what happened there because we cannot let it happen again.


How would you develop this story? Please leave your thoughts in a comment.

Because of the sensitive nature of this topic, I asked my sister to proofread this before I posted it. She also enjoys writing. You can read her blog here.


You are free to use this prompt in your own writing. If you print it or post it online, however, please credit this post.

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Let Your Imagination Roam

After writing my first draft of my next writing prompt post (which should be posted on Friday or this weekend) I considered how this series allows me to let my imagination run in any direction. Even while I am still learning how to form a full story, I can nonetheless enjoy the fun of exploring where my imagination can take me. My second writing prompt post also gave me a reason to pull out books from my collection that I have not read since college.

Sometimes I wonder what my cat does when she is roaming outside. Which new territory does she explore? What sorts of adventures does she enjoy? Which animals does she hunt, or does she run up a tree to escape a large dog? Unlike her, I have a job and obligations. I cannot run out on a whim and go wherever I want. Despite this, I can still let my imagination out to play, and when I am at home I can try to express it. I will try to do that with my writing prompt posts.

What do you do to let your imagination run wild? Do you paint or sculpt? Do you play improv music? It can be a strange place, but it can also be fun.

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Writing Prompt – Some Reanimated DNA

A scientist acquires what he thinks is dinosaur DNA and uses methods inspired by Jurassic Park to bring it to life . . ., but it is not dinosaur DNA. It is Grendel’s DNA.

  • Someone could write this as a horror story, but I am thinking more along the lines of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.
  • I think this story should begin with an embryologist who is a big fan of the book and/or movie Jurassic Park and has often wished he could recreate a dinosaur. A paleontologist friend finds a bone which he believes belonged to a dinosaur. Some portayals of Grendel present him as a giant. If so, then his bones are larger than human bones. That may be why the paleontologist thought the bone belonged to a dinosaur.
  • While examining the bone in his lab, the paleontologist finds some soft tissue and is able to extract some DNA which he sends to the embryologist.
  • After this point the story could go in a few directions:
    1. After the cloned Grendel grows to maturity, he might break out of the lab and rampage through the town. This would work if the writer wants a story similar to classic monster movies or a silly monster movie on the Syfy channel.
    2. Maybe the lab is in a secured government base, in which case the scientists and military struggle to keep the monster contained.
    3. Maybe Grendel runs into the wilderness. The scientists know they need to deal with him, and so as the military searches they work on a solution.
  • Eventually someone needs to kill Grendel. He hates all of humanity, and so he will be a serious threat to everyone as long as he lives. The Grendel in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf did not become evil because of a hard childhood. Living as an outcast very likely contributed to his evil nature, but at the root he was evil by nature because of his lineage from Cain and the punishment from God.
    1. Maybe the military kills him.
    2. Maybe some hunters kill him while he is in the wilderness.
    3. If he flees into a remote wilderness, then maybe the scientists will have time to develop something before he becomes a serious threat. He could still pose a threat, however, to hikers and campers. Maybe the locals of a nearby village identify him with a monster in an old local legend.

You are free to use this prompt in your own writing. If you print it or post it online, however, please credit this post.

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A Memorial Day Display

This is cool. I went downtown to update the address on my car registration where I saw a Memorial Day display outside the Hart County courthouse. I saw crosses for WW1, WW2, Korean War, Vietnam, MPE, and even the Spanish American War. I did not read every cross, and so I may have missed one or two wars. This town has been serving in the United States military for many years.

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Training with Speculative Writing Prompts

Last week I began writing some speculative fiction writing prompts. Someone might wonder who I am to be creating writing prompts. I have explained previously that I struggle with writing fiction. Nevertheless, a part of me still wants to do it. On may occasions I have thought about someone who did successfully write and publish some fiction. I wished I could do that, but I felt unable. I struggle just to write a short story. How in the world did this person write an entire novel? I have ideas, but it feels like the ideas are trapped inside me. On the one hand, I could say they nag me because they want me to write them, but I do not know how to bring them out. On the other hand, I could also say that they tease me and hide from me. It is as if my cat was teasing me while hiding behind the couch. I picture her flicking her tail out from behind the couch, or occasionally swiping a toy mouse that I dangle near the couch to entice her to come out. I can see pieces of her but not all of her. It is the same way with writing fiction. I can see some of an idea but not the full picture.

So, why am I writing the prompts? It started as just something to write when I did not have anything longer to work on. Then I decided they may be a good way to get those creative juices flowing. Maybe working on these will help me to clear that block in my head. Maybe I can find a way to pry those ideas out of my head. I do not want to leave them on there forever. They need to come out.

Sometimes I have struggled to think of an initial idea for a story, but these have not been difficult. Some simply came to me. Some others took a little effort, but they were still close at hand. In Wonderbook, Jeff Vandermeer writes, “Even the most mundane moments of our existence can be inhabited by hidden complexity and with wonder. Some of my favorite books on creative writing acknowledge that fiction is one way of making sense of a complex, often mysterious world, and that stories exist in every part of that world” (xi) When thinking of many of these prompts, I do nothing more than look at my immediate surroundings (the objects, trees, buildings, and the people going forward with their everyday lives), find something that catches my eye, and then give it a twist or ask, “What if . . .” I suppose I could call this an application of the principle that writers do not wait for inspiration; they chase it.

I have tried to be unique in each of these posts. Sometimes I rejected one because it sounded too much like someone else’s story. I want these to be my ideas

In each of these posts I will begin with the prompt followed by possible story elements. I plan to post the first one this weekend.

By the way, I have not forgotten my next theological themes movie review. Those posts take a long time to write, and so sometimes I get sidetracked by quicker posts so that I can keep my quota of posting each week. Sometimes I also think of an idea that takes priority because the time is right for it. My recent move to another house also delayed the movie post. Anyone who has moved will know how much work that requires. Despite all of this, I have not forgotten or abandoned that post. I have finished the first draft of the plot summary and have begun my commentary on the theological themes. I hope to post it before too long.

You are free to use these prompts in your own writing. If you print one of those stories or post it online, however, please credit the post in which you found the prompt.

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Pros and Cons of a World with the OASIS

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By now many people have seen the movie Ready Player One. If you have not read the book, then I recommend you do so. The movie (directed by Steven Spielberg) is about 10% based on the book by Ernest Cline. The book is much more complex and is a far more engaging story. It is also a fun read for anyone who was raised during the 1980s. My comments in this post will be based on the book.

In Ready Player One, Wade Watts describes the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) as “a massively multiplayer online game that had gradually evolved into the globally networked virtual reality most of humanity now used on a daily basis” (p. 1). The world is realistic, possibly for all five senses depending on the equipment being used. The level of detail makes the many worlds of the OASIS quite believable

The OASIS began as a game, but it evolved to become much more. People conducted business in the OASIS, attended school, and even went to work. OASIS credits, the virtual currency of the simulation, become the universal world currency. The OASIS was also people’s daily escape from the harsh realities of life in a world in which both the climate and the economy had collapsed.

Let us assume for the moment that the OASIS does exist. Let us assume that all the necessary technology exists, that it is available to everyone, and that the simulation is as realistic as it is in Ready Player One. What are the potential pros and cons?

Finding entertainment would be simple. This would go far beyond the availability of games via the home gaming consoles and mobile devices that we have today. With the OASIS, a person could play as a character in a video game, play a virtual game of football with other players around the world, explore ancient ruins, swim with sharks deep in the ocean, fly a spaceship through an asteroid field while evading hostile aliens, or fight a dragon who threatens a defenseless farming town.

A person could do all of this while sitting in a chair at home. He also would not need to buy and install software on his computer. All of the software would exist in the OASIS servers. Like Wade Watts in Ready Player One, a person would only need to log in with his headset and a pair of haptic gloves. The variety of entertainment options would be limited only by the imaginations and programming abilities of the OASIS game developers.

Next consider the easy access to information in the current internet age. We can now access information on any imaginable topic. Twenty years ago we would have needed to go to a library or bookstore and search for the appropriate books to get such information, and it would only be as up to date as the publication dates of the books. Now we can access that information and more from home, and in some cases the information is updated daily. We do not need to wait for the paper boy to deliver our newspaper each morning. We can read it on our phones the moment we get out of bed.

This would be magnified with the OASIS. We could access the information with great ease and convenience, but we could also immerse ourselves in it. Instead of merely reading about the architecture of the Roman Colosseum, we could tour a virtual recreation. In addition to studying the grammar and vocabulary of the Japanese language, we could practice with native speakers in a virtual recreation of Tokyo. We could also combine this with the entertainment aspect, re-enacting the Spartan defense of Thermopylae against the Persian army while giving and taking orders in the Greek language.

This leads to the benefits for education. Wade Watts attends a virtual school in the OASIS. From the safety of his hideout concealed under a pile of junked cars, he is able to attend a full range of high school level classes without needing to commute to the school. If this existed, then it would help us to relieve some crowding in schools in heavily populated areas, although there would still be the same need for a sufficient number of teachers. It would also allow children and teenagers to attend school while living in remote locations, provided reliable internet access is available.

Another potential benefit for education would be the increased availability of college. Today people sometimes need to travel out of state to receive a quality education in their chosen field. This adds expenses and travel needed for travel and lodging. If a virtual school has the same level of respect, then a person can attend that school from home. I wonder, however, how good the hands-on training would be for students studying such fields as surgical medicine. Sure, a virtual reality could provide virtual hands-on training of a sort, but I do not think many people would want a surgeon who had little in person training with a real human body.

The OASIS would also present great potential for teleconferencing. In one sense, the OASIS is one big teleconferencing session. People from all over the world interact “face to face” in a virtual sense without leaving their homes or offices. Examples in the book include Wade’s meetings with Aech (or the High Five) in the Basement or his meeting with Nolan Sorrento in the virtual IOI headquarters. This is a logical step beyond current teleconferencing via Skype or Facetime. It would take the potential for interaction to a higher level, which could be beneficial for business meetings.

Despite the benefits, there are some serious potential dangers to a real life OASIS. First, some of the potential benefits could also be potential dangers. The easy access to entertainment would be one of the most immediate risks. The addictive nature of contemporary digital devices is no secret. In any public place, a person can look in almost any direction and see someone glued to his or her cell phone with little or no interaction with the real world (I am proofreading this on my phone in a McDonald’s while waiting for my car’s tire alignment). The problem would be greatly magnified in a fully immersive and realistic virtual environment which has the potential to stimulate all five senses. If we add the easy access to fully immersive entertainment, then the problem could make current digital addiction seem mild.

Second, people would be tempted to use the OASIS as a nanny as Wade’s mother did for him, like today’s parents letting a TV or a tablet raise their children. This would deprive children of the personal mentoring and inter-personal interaction that is vital to growing in maturity. Any relationships they developed in the OASIS would be artificial because they would only see what their friends wanted them to see. Online relationships would be incomplete and shallow.

Third, there would be the potentially overwhelming temptation of escapism, or preferring fantasy over reality. In Ready Player One, people were addicted to the OASIS because they could do whatever they wanted to do and be whatever they wanted to be. Ogden Morrow eventually resigned from Gregarious Simulation Systems because the OASIS had become a self-imposed prison where people hid while the real world collapsed from neglect. In a similar manner, Wade grew to hate the truly real world and instead considered the OASIS his “real” life. The truly real world reminded him that his OASIS life was in fact not real. It is strange, however, that he nonetheless came to view his virtual life as a self-imposed prison.

Mark Zuckerberg said that he is building a virtual world because he is dissatisfied with what he considers the limited real world. He believes that a virtual reality can be an improvement on the real world. He admits that a virtual cannot replace being physically with someone or physically doing something, but he says that when the constraints of physical reality do not allow such activities, then VR will make our reality better. He insists that VR will not be isolating, as some people argue, but will be the opposite because it will open more experiences to everyone and thereby provide freedom.

Zuckerberg is correct that VR can open experiences to people with easy access, but new technologies often come to us as double-edged swords. Sometimes potentially great benefits and potentially serious risks go hand in hand. Yes, with the OASIS we could visit places that we could never visit in real life. We could speak face to face with people on the other side of the world. Nevertheless, real is still real, and imaginary is still imaginary.

In a virtual world, people will put their best foot forward and hide their true selves far more effectively than they could in the real world. The temptation to escape into a virtual reality would also be a serious distraction from the real world in which every person must live, whether he wants to live in it or not. If life stinks, then escaping into an imaginary world can provide helpful break. Eventually, however, a person must decide whether to work to improve his real live or to let it fall apart around him. One can escape for only so long. Reality will demand our attention. Everyone must wake up from their dreams and face real life. An OASIS could provide great benefits, but it must be used wisely.

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Time for Rest and Contemplation in Iona

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Someday I want to visit Iona. It is a tiny island (3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide) in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. I want to visit for a few reasons. In 2001 when I was deciding where to pursue my PhD, I joined a church history tour in eastern Scotland. I wanted to see the country and also visit the universities at Edinburgh and Aberdeen. It was a great trip. After landing in Glasgow we visited the William Wallace monument in Stirling. We then continued to Edinburgh. That was probably my favorite part of the trip. I especially enjoyed walking along the Royal Mile and exploring Edinburgh Castle. We also visited Dunkeld, Aberdeen, and St. Andrews. This trip focused on eastern Scotland, and so it left many places untouched. I can think of several more locations I would like to see, such as Shetland, Loch Lommond, Inverness and Loch Ness, and Iona.

An Irish monk named Columba arrived on Iona with twelve followers in AD 563 and setup a Celtic church and a monastery. This community served as a center of learning and a base from which to spread Christianity through Scotland and northern England. It therefore likely played a role in bringing Christianity to my ancestors who were largely from England and Scotland. Iona came to be regarded as a sacred island, and kings of Scotland, Ireland, and Norway were buried there, including the Macbeth of Shakespeare’s famous play. There is great history there.

 

The Book of Kells was probably written there as well. It is a Latin illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels. The text is primarily based on the Vulgate, but it also draws from earlier Latin texts. It is famous for its ornamentation and illustrations and is considered by some to be the greatest example of Celtic art. It is now held at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

 

People still visit church and abbey for a time of relaxation and reflection. My plans to work in Christian ministry never panned out, and now I am deciding (again) what to do with my life. This has been quite difficult. Breaking away from the demands of my everyday life to focus for at least a week on rest, reflection, reading, and writing on a quiet island with great history would be helpful.

I could say that it would be a time of inner healing, but I know that I do not need to go to a special place for such healing. God is not limited by geography. I can and should find healing from him where I am now. Nonetheless, aside from being a wonderful and fascinating vacation, this trip would be a time of rest away from normal routine where I could quietly ponder what I have experienced over the past several years and what it means for my life’s direction.

The island has few cars. I would need to walk or ride a bicycle everywhere, but I would not need a car. Besides, spending the time walking on the beaches and viewing the farmlands, landscapes, and ruins would do me some good. I can easily see myself finding enough content to write and post about each day of the trip, detailing the landscape and buildings (with many photos) and also my personal journey.

 

Ideally I would take two weeks so that I could spend about a week on Iona and also have time to visit some of the other islands in the Hebrides. It would be an expensive trip, and I currently do not have the funds. I would need to take time off of work, and I would need to pay for lodging, food, and airfare. None of that would be cheap. Still, I hold onto hope that someday I can make the trip.

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