Category Archives: 1–Introduction

Section one of my “Story of Albeit” series.

Reason for a Fictional City–1B

[This constitutes part 2 of the two-part introduction.]

Reason for a Fictional City—1a

5.23.2008

You ask an excellent question. What, in these days of instant gratification and technological nirvana, would compel a (fairly) healthy 17-year-old to spend his time planning out a fictional city? What would entice him to attempt a street-level relief of a metropolis, with descriptions and labels included?

Fleeting inspiration, perhaps. Maybe I’ll forget about this entire endeavor in a few weeks and go back to video games. Perhaps, in a spontaneous burst of reason, I’ll laugh out loud and exclaim, “I’m an idiot! There’s no point in drawing out the street and building plans for an entire city. I should scrap this plan and study my engineering notes.”

There are two problems with that hypothesis. First, I don’t know a thing about engineering. Second—and I type this with a straight face—there are reasons for a relief this extensive, this detailed. What follows is my attempt to elaborate on them.

Believe it or not, but I have a number of reasons behind Albeit—a number greater than zero. I may as well start with the simplest. Albeit teaches me how to concentrate, how to design, how to commit, how to persevere and how to finish. This reason stands regardless of what happens to the city; I could throw the entire map in a dumpster, and the benefits would remain.

That, of course, wouldn’t justify the city alone. I could still get those benefits out of something easier, not to mention simpler. What drives me to work on the city lies outside the practical and touches on the very reasons I write in the first place.

Without the city, my stories are simply stories: no greater than the sum of their characters. Albeit changes this. Albeit collects all the scraps, all the clippings, all the paragraphs I write about the city and turns them into one collective tale. Each word I write on Albeit accomplishes two things: it tells the plot on the surface, but also helps build a deeper story that threads through all of the works.

If I were planning only a few stories about Albeit, it might have been better to forgo the map and just make things up as I go along. That isn’t the case. If I’m going to be serious about establishing a consistent setting, there needs to be a serious reference for me to use. I’ll need to know major roads, sporting areas, subway stations, shopping malls, churches, airports—the list, as you yourself will see, goes on. Only with a detailed map can I plunge into the details on Albeit. Memory and on-the-job notes don’t do enough.

All writers, I think, aim for a sense of permanence in their writing. It’s not enough for a story to get recognition, then fade away into literary twilight. None of what I’ve written could be considered a “classic,” but if it’s part of Albeit, that gives it longer legs on which to stand. Suddenly, the story becomes important beyond its own literary value; regardless of its narrative success, it remains a descriptive chunk of the city.

Albeit is not just a preservative or link for my writing, however; it’s a repository. Internet aside, it’s never easy to put an idea into action or make use of some new thought. The city acts as an outlet for my right brain, in the sense that any off-the-wall thing I dream up can become part of its very foundation.

Take “Alball,” for example. My friends and I play a game on the street with tennis racquets in which we try to hit the ball over one another and into a goal. What can I make of this idea? Simple. I drop it into the framework of the city, and “Alball” becomes its hometown sport. The same result goes for my ideas about architecture, my all-city subway, my dream university, ideas about geographic planning and even thoughts on society. All of it finds purpose in the city.

Perhaps I haven’t been convincing enough. That’s quite all right. What matters is that I’ve convinced myself. Albeit is not just a side project or something to include with a college education; it’s a connector, a drop box and a preserver for my writing. It lets my stories reach out and touch one another. It lets one character walk off a subway car to find another from an earlier story.

More than anything else, Albeit—map, description and all—lets me write in a new way. That’s more than I could ask from a city built of ether.

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The Making of a Fictional City–1A

The Making of a Fictional City–1A

5.20.2008

My stories got lonely. That is the pith of the bloated paragraphs that follow; if you have little interest in how a 17-year-old teenager embarks on creating his own city, please—skip ahead to the next few chapters. Otherwise, I invite you to read on.

My elementary school years were mapped out in green ink on letter paper. The curves of my imagination were traced out in between carat symbol-mountains and scribbled coastline. My maps of fictional worlds had little use to the biochemist, or the lawyer—but to me, and me alone, they were reliefs of youth itself.

I drew irregularly, working off bursts of inspiration that came in all directions. The inside front covers of fantasy stories would contain a map from time to time, which I studied in great earnest—more, perhaps, than the tale it stemmed from. A visual puzzle in a children’s magazine contained a simple relief of a neighborhood; I can’t remember the question for the life of me, but can still see the bird’s-eye view of tree and asphalt that graced the two-page spread. One would think that globes and real-life reliefs captivated me even more, but something is always lost when a map bases itself in reality.

Many maps were created for their own sake; I reveled in the sight of my own pen strokes, my own… what is the word… influence, I suppose, and that was enough. But others had a purpose rooted even deeper in the world of fiction. Every so often, I would create a map with which to depict a story, either a fantasy epic (that never made it past the first page) to a smaller tale that occasionally hit the mark. Other times, the map would inspire a story. It’s the chicken and egg scenario, really; whether the map or the tale came first, I cannot say.

It was a passionate relationship. I would look at the map and see a story; likewise, I would see my mountains and plains of ink in the stories I dabbled at. What followed was a divorce so subtle that I barely noticed the separation.

By my middle year of elementary school, maps had lost their luster. The books I read at school and at home were without reliefs—let alone pictures, from time to time. The better the story, it seemed, the lesser the need for pictures or keys to complement it. I continued to write, but mapmaking—for all the memories it supplied me—began to fade out of the picture.

Perhaps I exaggerate. I never quite stopped making maps; my bedroom is filled with sketches or diagrams that remind me of this. Nor was it ever the norm for me to accent a story with a map, or vice versa. The only point I make is that, by the time I wove goodbye to the 6th grade, my charts and characters were isolated.

Fast forward, oh, four or five years. My years in high school had been filled with fiction, in spite of the analytical and expository focus our teachers nudged us to adopt. There was this steady accumulation of stories—some decent, some that rest at the bottom of the “My Documents” folder. I like to think that my writing improved, despite what these late-night paragraphs may attest to.

And yet, something was missing in those words that neither revision nor addition could provide. My stories needed a home. My stories needed a point of identity, something that would keep them from sinking to the bottom of My Documents over time. My stories, strange as it sounds, were lonely.

The city of Albeit didn’t come about in a single flash of inspiration. At first, the metropolis of mine was just another relief, a sentimental try at mapmaking that hearkened back to earlier attempts.

As I played with the idea in my head, though, a deeper thought surfaced. What if Albeit became the home for my writing? What if Albeit became the home for a range of short stories—a book, even? In the days that followed, the little town in my head swelled from a vague concept into a literary overworld in the making. This would not just be a fun project, but the very epicenter of my writing.

In the summer of 2007, I began to plan out the city’s street map, with important locations included. (You can see these preliminary drawings at https://schreibendepot.wordpress.com/category/albeit/maps-of-albeit/ ). These served as the reference for Albeit, the first book that I based around the city. By the time Albeit and these maps were finished, however, I began to get a sense that pencil-and-paper reliefs would not be quite enough. Foregoing tradition, I embarked on a project to map out the city on the computer, with help from Adobe In-Design—a program about which I learned a thing or two from high school journalism. The final relief, if completed, would cover a little under a square yard of paper.

This is where “The making of Albeit” reaches a dead end; at the time I write this, my mapping work has just begun. My hopes are that I’ll look back at this introduction one day and smile, knowing that all parts of the map have been filled in, labeled and explained. My hopes are that my stories, separated by their varying settings, will finally share a mutual home in the confines of Albeit.

Until then, you’ll have to excuse me. I have a little work to do.

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