indifferentomens asked: ooh i'm curious - what was the impetus (impetuses?) for each of your stories and what in daily life inspires you the most? :)
I spoke a little bit about this already in this post, but immediately after I put it up, I realized I’d completely ignored the other over-arching inspiration, so I’m really glad you asked, too!
T. S. Eliot.
I can’t believe I didn’t say anything about T. S. Eliot. And at the same time, it hardly surprises me at all, because to really accurately describe the ways I’m stealing from and bastardizing his poetry for Mementos would (a) take waaaaaaaaaaay longer than a post and (b) doesn’t really survive translation. I think that this is one of those things that’s better recognized in the Mementos story itself, rather than have me explain it here. Because, in a very real sense, I am writing Mementos to flesh out my relationship with Eliot’s poems. If I had a better way of saying what I have to say about them, I wouldn’t need to write a novel. That sounds like really high bullshit, and I apologize, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and that’s all I’ve got.
Basically, Eliot fits into the Mementos world hand-in-hand with the disease, curor feris, that plagues anyone with Wild blood. It’s a degenerative neurological disease, whose sufferers experience, among other symptoms, progressively vivid delusions. To see where Eliot fits in, consider this passage about one of the character’s episodes:
He continued on walking until he knew he was no longer afraid. There was a cat curled up in the yellow purring of the sun and he let himself be lulled by the gentle movement of its tail.
He turned his face upward, to the open windows and the closed people pacing inside. He looked through the shuttered people, at the gaping windows, and he knew: here was the sum and the total of the world. Ten hundred thousand figures home for tea, ten hundred thousand hats on ten hundred thousand hooks. There were shoes at the door and sugar spoons on the napkins and saucers on the buffets. There were soft sighs on gramophones and dry kisses on cheeks and the fluttering motions of wrists at buttons. There were bracelets on the mantle and cuff-links on the dressers, but there was no fear. It was the simplest thing in the world: the children home for tea time and a knocking at the door.
Who was it there, on the other side? he wondered.
When the sheets were turned down and the kettles had been lifted, screaming, from the coils; when the books were set in order and the dishes stacked in rows, who, then, could come calling with a rapping on the door?
As to things that inspire me, I’m not sure there’s a simple answer. There are certain pieces of media I know will push me to create better—this whole blog is dedicated to those things. Other than that, I think I am most inspired when I have the patience to recognize my day-to-day life as performance art. You know, that I don’t have to be consumed with the question, “Where is it all going?” I’m very bad at that—I have a strong desire to squeeze progress out of every instant of my life, despite the fact I know it doesn’t work like that. The more honest I am with myself about that, I think, the more inspired I am.
mytrainofthoughtsarunaway asked: If your protagonist won the lottery, what would they do with the money?
Oh man, what a good question. Well, for Jan and Ferdinand, money isn’t really an object since they’re already the two richest dudes in the world? But for Marala, the detective in the spin-off story, I’d say she’d mic drop on the Met Police that she has Wild blood, give them the finger and say, “Go ahead, fire me, establishment—I’m financially secure.”
bookcoversproject asked: what was the original inspiration? was there a particular image that set it off, or something else?
The inspiration for Mementos came from a handful of things I was digesting all at once. It was during a time when I was doing so much crater counting for my PhD thesis, which means I was watching Netflix all-day-every-day while I was working. Two of the films I saw during that time that really influenced the kinds of things I wanted to talk about in Mementos were The Duchess and The Crown Prince. They are both really beautiful films, visually, both dealing with old-school European aristocracy—and specifically, characters with a tremendous amount of privilege who have very difficult lives, emotionally. From The Duchess I got really interested in thinking about arranged marriage and power and ways you could explore how painful that dynamic is, even if you had two genuinely good people in the relationship (unlike in The Duchess). From The Crown Prince I got thinking—obsessively—about people who have every opportunity to make a difference and, despite good intentions, fail miserably. I thought about the psyche of a character like Crown Prince Rudolph, and how such a person can be both sympathetic and simultaneously repulsive. I wanted to explore the contradictions and yearnings, to work toward a self-critical kind of tragedy about that way of thinking. Basically, these two sources have injected an over-arching “Richard Cory” aesthetic to the whole project. And, I should say, it’s great to work on a big piece like this in the Tumblr environment, because at least once a day I get palm-sweaty about the fact that I’m writing another. novel. about powerful dudes and their man pain. I keep from passing out from anxiety by dedicating myself to my vision of a version that’s deeply self-critical, with a clear narrative voice sometimes directly at odds with the actions and sentiments of the main characters, while still striving for understanding of Ferdinand and Jan.
myyounger-morevulnerableyears asked: What is your novel about?
I’m working on two main stories at the moment, both taking place in the same universe. All of them are tagged #mementos in this blog.
The Mementos universe started as an exploration into the way we interact with history. It takes place about a thousand years after a global disaster (the “Fall”) has wiped out most of the population and permanently blown off an appreciable fraction of the atmosphere. The story follows a civilization that rebuilds on the surface in megacities erected under giant domes. One family controls the production of the miracle material used to make the domes—a substance called plateen. It’s something like a cross between idealized graphene and Star Trek’s infamous transparent aluminum—meaning it’s incredibly strong, incredibly light, and—of course—transparent. It can also be manipulated electromagnetically to project images, etc., and gets used for everything from construction to communication devices. By controlling all plateen production, the Edel family and their business—the Company Standard—fashion themselves into de facto aristocrats to rule the empire built under their domes. There is also a straw man republican government—simply referred to as the Republic—that operates under advisement from the Company. The common enemy that holds the uneasy partnership together are the Wildmen who live in nomadic tribes in the harsh country outside the domes. Together, the Republic and the Company protect their flourishing cities from the Wild bands and secure the transportation of resources from the coasts into the inland metropolises.
What, you ask, does all of this have to do with history?
Well, as the cities of the Company empire were erected, the ground that had swallowed up the old civilizations—our civilizations—was excavated, revealing the material culture that we had left behind. Collecting and displaying these “mementos” of the Fall becomes a status symbol for members of the Company and Republic alike. They compete to rebuild the most impressive pre-Fall buildings and incorporate them into their architecture, repair trains and cars and electronic equipment for daily use, and conspicuously consume any small articles that can be pulled, in tact, from the rubble. Paper is scarce (and largely unnecessary, given plateen) and used primarily by the wealthy Republicans and Company men—the same for books, ancient or modern. All this consumption of goods from a world that died a millennium before the invention of plateen provides an excellent opportunity to discuss what happens when we appropriate history for our own ends (for better or for worse). For example, there are a number of instances of anachronistic groupings—the people of the empire using elements of culture from a wide range of our cultures or time periods together without recognizing them as different entities. It’s a chance for me to explore the implications of use and abuse of history. I get to think about the good things that can come out of a “mementos” culture and also about the ways it is problematic. Of course, it’s also a platform from which to wax philosophical about the tendency of history to repeat itself, and to what extent we play a role in that. Some of the characters in the story are self-aware about these issues, and others aren’t.
As for the plot lines of the two stories I’m working on within this universe, they’re really quite different. The first (original) storyline compares the parallel lives of two powerful but dissident young men—one from the Company and the other from the Republic. Ferdinand-Kristoff Edel is the Vice Chairman of the Company Standard, second-in-command to his father, the Chairman. To some extent, the character of Ferdinand is based off of Crown Prince Rudolph of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire and his reported desire to liberalize his father, Franz Josef’s, rule. Basically, Ferdinand has a tremendous amount of power he’d like to use for “the good of the people,” but doesn’t really know how to consolidate or utilize that power. The second main character, Jan-René Collier, is the heir to the financial powerhouse of the Republic, the Bank of Collier & des Marais. Jan grows up as a self-absorbed playboy, but an accident in a rural part of the empire during an illegal automobile race (I know, right?) gives him a jarring look into life on the literal and metaphorical outskirts of society, turning him into a very unexpected revolutionary. He joins a freedom-fighting organization dedicated to securing the rights of Wildmen, but maintains his charade of a society life for the benefit of the inside information it provides him.
The story is a juxtaposition of the lives of these two men and their polar opposite ways of pushing for change within their society. There is also a fine cast of surrounding characters from a wide range of places and positions in the empire, many of them vocally critical of the choices of both Ferdinand and Collier.
The second story started as a world-building exercise from the first, during a time when I was trying to get a better feel for the capital city of the empire—Edena. This story follows a mid-level detective in the Republican police, dealing with the challenges of a stigmatized genetic disease while trying to solve the first murder case in Edena in over a decade. This story takes place slightly before the other in time (on a scale of a year or two), and focuses on the aspects of the city itself, as well as navigation of the prickly class system between Republicans and Company men in the capital. I’m really enjoying writing it so far. I’m such a sucker for a procedural.
Anyway, that’s a little bit about the general gist of the Mementos universe. There’s lots and lots of both stories posted to this blog, as well as mementosofthefall.tumblr.com, where I catalog a variety of different inspirations for the feeling of the universe. It can be a little difficult to navigate, though, so don’t hesitate to inbox me if you’d like to explore but don’t know where to start.
“He’s working on the dental records as we speak,” the detective continued. “At least when we know the victim’s identity, we’ll be able to work the case from both ends.” She sighed. “Who else do you have on your list?”
Olm flipped back on her wireless and studied the names she’d complied. “No one else as perfect as Vajda,” she admitted, “—with a history of people-trafficing—but there are a few players in the smuggling circles who have the funds.”
Marala searched her memory.
“Thomas Bauer,” she said, taking a sip of water, “The industrial architect—he’d have the capital. Or that playboy racing driver—what’s his name?”
Above the Cloud Line
A mix for Marala Schmidt, on the case above the Cloud Line in Edena’s Metropolitan State Police.
1. Regret - St. Vincent | 2. Faster - Rachel Yamagata |3. Spectacular Views - Rilo Kiley | 4. Matchstick Maker - Bowerbirds | 5. Heaven and Earth - Blitzen Trapper | 6. Percussion Gun - White Rabbits | 7. You’ll Be Mine - The Pierces | 8. Ultra Violet (Light My Way) - The Killers | 9. Lazy Projector - Andrew Bird | 10. Line of Fire - Junip | 11. Largo - Fiona Apple | 12. Pa Pa Power - Dead Man’s Bones | 13. Frontwards - Los Campesinos! | 14. Run Home Slow - The Kills | 15. Sooner or Later - ZaZa | 16. Precious Air - Other Lives | 17. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) - Arcade Fire
The medical examiner was in complete agreement with their preliminary assessment.
“This man died sometime between 4 and 5 pm yesterday afternoon,” he said, ushering Marala into the gallery at the morgue. The full 3D projection of the autopsy data was already up and running on the examiner’s grid. Marala hadn’t seen the layout in years—not since her training at the Met Police Academy.
In fact, the whole experience seemed a little surreal. Dead bodies didn’t just turn up in Edena. Sure, there was the occasional accidental death investigation, but they were typically pretty cut-and-dried, and certainly not the kind of thing that came across her desk at Major Crimes. The body language of the medical examiner indicated he was equally uncomfortable with Marala’s presence in the room. It was as though both of them were acting out roles in a film, going through the motions from an element of their training they thought they’d never use.Read more
And so, it was with a mix of relief and trepidation that Marala was summoned to the Ward Chief for Major Crimes’ office.
She had just finished a case and was waiting for reassignment. The Major Crimes Department was the most prestigious division of the Metropolitan Police, dealing in smuggling, terrorism, fraud, and—in theory—homicide. But murder cases were extremely rare, the last having been tried almost a decade before Marala had joined the force. Her specialties were fraud and smuggling, with a strong history in antiquities. Before becoming a detective, she’d worked in one of Kambrücke’s most famous secondhand shops, and the connections she had made, paired with a sharp natural aptitude, meant she was very good at her job. Her promotion had come on the heels of her last case. She and her team had brought down a Republican pharmaceutical company that had been using antiques as cover for importing uncut ingredients without paying the manufacturer’s duties. Since the bust, she had been biding her time with paperwork and any assistance the barristers needed with the prosecution. With any luck, the Chief was calling her in for a new assignment. Otherwise, who could say?Read more