The Snowball Effect: Memory Thief Chapter Five


Welcome to another chapter annotation for THE MEMORY THIEF. This week, we’re up to chapter five. As a reminder, these are really intended for people who have already read the book and want to find out more about the process I went through to write it. In other words, plenty of potential for spoilers.

I mentioned in an earlier annotation how I’d turned Chris into Kelly, eliminating Benji’s best friend, and giving him a twin sister, instead. (I promoted his younger sister in the first draft, Kelly, to full twin status.) This chapter really highlights the benefits of that earlier decision.

In the first draft, Benji goes home after he and Chris meet Genevieve for the first time. He tells his little sister, Kelly, some bedtime stories when she can’t fall asleep. The next day, he heads into school and discovers Chris has forgotten who he is, so he goes to Genevieve and confronts her in a scene that plays out mostly as it does now.

On the surface, that doesn’t sound like too huge of a switch, but when you look at the impact it has on Benji, it becomes clear how important it was. For one thing, having Kelly be right there with him at home (in the revision) means that he has no escape from the problem of Genevieve. In the original draft, Chris makes the call to go back to Genevieve on his own. Benji shows up at school the next day and finds out about it in class. It’s upsetting, but sudden.

In the revision, he’s stuck with the problem. Kelly’s there, in his house, deciding what to do. She comes to his room at night, letting him know she’s going. He talks her out of it, but then she goes anyway, and so he feels personally guilty that he didn’t try harder. Better yet, he wakes up and sees she’s missing. He has the whole morning to dwell on the problem and stew in it. He doesn’t know where she is or what happened, so when he gets to school and finds her, he’s relieved.

Only to find out she’s forgotten he exists. It’s one thing to have your best friend forget you or be mean to you at school, but to have your own twin do it? I think that raised the stakes in many different ways, and I loved the change. Through this process, a series of small changes can really snowball, so that by the end of a revision process you have an entirely different book.

Sometimes when I’m writing, I’ll start off thinking of the book as a riff on a movie. One novel, TARNHELM, was almost a straight up YA adaptation of The Maltese Falcon for the first draft. That’s where it started, but as I wrote it and revised it, the changes kept stacking one on top of another, until by the end it was drastically different. (If only it would get published one day, so you could see!)

I always have to remind myself that, at least for the way I write) the first draft of a book (or even just the premise of the book to begin with) is only the first step on a path that leads me to the final draft, which might end up somewhere very different than I first thought. For me, that’s one of the main reasons I write. To explore that path and find out where it ends up.

Developing Self-Confidence

As I work on raising happy children, one of the things I keep doing is looking at myself. What makes me happy? What qualities or skill sets have I developed that help me most? And I think one of the biggest is the ability to be self-confident. Specifically, the ability to be able to ignore what other people think I should be doing (or wearing or thinking or saying) to instead have confidence that what I am doing is good for me.

(There’s the flip side of this, of course, which is dangerous: being unwilling to acknowledge that what I’m doing is harmful to myself or others. Balance in all things, but today’s post is on developing self-confidence.)

There are two big things that come to mind when I think of how I’ve become self-confident. The first is a small 6 second clip from The Jerk. In the movie, Steve Martin’s character has become fantastically wealthy. He has all the money he’ll ever need. And what does he do with it? He spends it on trying to become the “cool” people he sees in the media. This is best summed up in this clip, where he’s been trying to recreate a drink he’s seen in commercials, because he wants to “Be Somebody.”

For me, this represents just how shallow and useless trying to “be somebody” is. You can do whatever you want to try and look cooler or fit in. You can follow the herd, but in the end, you’re still the same person you were before, just with a stupid drink and a tiny umbrella in it. Once you can realize that having something or wearing something doesn’t actually change anything, you can break outside the constant drive to conform.

The second big thing is a broader concept that I don’t, unfortunately, have any short movie clips of. It’s a principle I’ve heard years ago, and it’s stuck with me: Avoid the need for external validation. I’ll call it the “Who’s a Good Boy” principle, because it always reminds me of dogs. Dogs are all about the external validation. They want to be told what a good boy they are. So they’ll eagerly do what you ask, so they can be rewarded. Cats, on the other hand, embody internal validation. They know just how awesome they (think they) are, and so they don’t care what in the world you do or say. They just go on doing what they want.

In people, of course, this looks a little different. External validation for people (in my opinion) means you get an actual “thing” that shows you you’ve succeeded. It’s different from the first “Be Somebody” concept because the thing in this case is something you need to earn. You can’t just buy it. So it might be getting a promotion at work. It could be winning a prize in a contest. For a lot of writers, it’s getting that fabled book deal.

Don’t get me wrong. Getting promoted or having your book published is lovely. But it can’t be the main reason you’re working or writing. Or at least, it’s really better if it isn’t. Because external validation is almost always out of your control. You can write the best book you can, and things might not pan out in your favor. You can work as hard as possible, and someone else might get that promotion. And then what are you left with? No validation at all, and that’s a crummy place to be in (especially when you’re downtown and need someone to pay your parking).

It’s much better to be doing something because you want to do it. Because you enjoy doing it. Down that path, you’re happy because you’re doing what you want, not because someone gave you a Scooby Snack. External validation also seems to be the root of peer pressure. You want the praise of your friends, so you do things you wouldn’t necessarily do otherwise.

How do I try to avoid that trap? I ask myself if I’m enjoying what I’m doing, whatever it may be. If I’m not, then I ask myself why I’m doing it. Sometimes you do things you don’t like because you have to. That’s life. But if the only reason I’m doing something is so I can get something else, it’s a good idea to examine that “something else” and see how worthwhile and necessary it is.

If my kids could all grow up to know they don’t need to fit a mold to be successful or happy, and they don’t need someone coming and giving them something to be happy either, then I think they’d be well on their way to becoming happy people.

How about you? What techniques, approaches, or gems of wisdom do you use as you do your best to raise self confident kids?

Our Latest Four Year Old


It’s always fun to see how excited kids get for birthdays. The younger they are, the more excited. (Well, up to a point. They have to have a concept of “birthday” to really get into it. One year olds? Not so much.)

I think MC is at the “Peak Birthday Excitement” age. She’s turning four, and she’s off the charts hyped for it. Some of that is no doubt that she’s also had the chance to see other people have birthdays in the family so often. People her age. I remember it took Tomas a while to catch the “True Spirit of Birthdays,” meaning realize it gets to be a day all about him, where people bring him presents, and he gets to have a party and pick the food. But it wasn’t like he had examples to check. Parent birthdays are different beasts, really. MC has been able to see Tomas and DC get birthday parties, and so she knows what to look forward to.

What does she want out of the day? “Bags of presents,” she said. I think it’s because DC had some presents that were in gift bags, rather than “Garbage bag-sized bags of presents.” But you never know. We’ve been trying to manage her expectations on that one. She also wants a chocolate cake with strawberries and raspberries on it, going in the vein of DC’s birthday cakes. So Denisa’s taking care of that. Beyond that, I think she’s just looking forward to people singing her the happy birthday song.

So a few presents, a chocolate cake, and people singing to her. Maybe we all could learn a thing or two from how excited four year olds can get for relatively little investment, and how pleased they can be by it.

Really, she’s a fantastic little girl. I still remember how calm and quiet she was right after she was born. No crying at all. She was just looking around, interested to see where she’d ended up. Four years later, and she still(!) takes a two hour or more nap each day. The girl prioritizes sleep, and I fully support that. She has a strong independent streak in her. but she’s also very happy to know her place in the family and to fill it.

Her idea of a perfect day right now would probably be waking up, having sweet cereal for breakfast, watching Netflix, and playing games. (She’s on an Octonauts binge at the moment. She also loves Little Einsteins.) She’s both sad the snow has gone (meaning she can’t ski) and through the roof hyped for flowers incoming. She loves dressing up as a princess, and loves Disney princess movies. Cinderella is her favorite, probably because it doesn’t really have anything scary in it other than a mean woman who’s handily dealt with by some mice.

Hard to believe Denisa and I were wondering if we wanted to have a third child. The family feels perfect with her addition. Happy birthday, MC! You’re awesome.

Being Busy is Relative: My Trip to the ER

Tuesday evening, I started feeling under the weather. Stomach ache. I looked at my calendar for the rest of the week and sort of mentally shrugged. There were some important things on at work I had to attend to, so I had no time to be sick. I’d just have to barrel through it.

Wednesday morning, I woke up feeling worse. Stomach pain was tighter, but off to work I went. Throughout the day, things only went downhill. I started examining those important things I had to get done the rest of the week. Suddenly they didn’t seem so life or death anymore.

Staying home began to look more and more like the way to go.

I came home early Wednesday, and I was in bed since. The important things I had to do were done by other people. But the pain just wouldn’t go away, and I went to the doctor. Which led to a trip to the emergency room. I got to experience a whole bunch of firsts: my first IV. My first CAT scan. My first time having to be in one of those drafty hospital gowns. What a lucky guy.

Four hours later, I’m back home. It’s not appendicitis or cancer or anything scary. Nothing that needs surgery or treatment. Just “acute mesenteric lymphadenitis,” which basically means the lymph nodes in my abdomen are swollen and so are doing their best appendicitis impersonation. Way to go, body.

Still, compared to the alternatives, I’ll take this any day of the week. Nothing that can be done for it other than pain medicine and the passage of time. It should get better in 5-7 days. Here’s hoping.

Anyway. I just found it interesting how quickly priorities can chance. Between Wednesday afternoon and this morning, I went from “I have too much stuff to do to be sick” to “I really hope I don’t have to be operated on later today.” I much prefer being busy to being in need of surgery.

I don’t need the latter, and it looks like for the next few days, at least, I won’t be the former.

Heavy Meta #9: Interview with Woody Hanstein


Time for another podcast episode! This week, we’re joined with local author Woody Hanstein to talk about his books. If you’re local and you’ve written something, drop us a line. We’d love to talk to you too!HM LOGO

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