The genres and topics written about in Within the Grasp of Ordinary are vast. What served as the catalyst and overall inspiration for writing the novel? I’ve always felt the need to express myself creatively either through writing stories, drawing, or dabbling in modifications for released computer games. The biggest factor in being creative and exploring other created worlds and universes is the simple fact I had been read to at a young age. Though I cannot remember the full list of books read, I remember mom and dad reading to my younger brother and myself almost every night.
If being a nerd is inherited, my brother and I received it from our dad, who played Dungeons and Dragons during his college years. We were one of the first kids on our block with a home computer in 1994 and devoured Oregon Trail. We were introduced into other games like Magic the Gathering, Command and Conquer series and into the Blizzard Entertainment worlds of WarCraft, Diablo and StarCraft. My brother and I remained active outside of fictional worlds, by playing in youth soccer and baseball leagues. Though our schedules were often full, we still made time to sit down with dad and watch Babylon 5.
Around 13 years old, I came began writing down what would eventually become Within the Grasp of Ordinary. Two characters who have always been involved are Philip and Tristan, who are teenagers though their age not specifically defined. I completed at the time, what I thought to be a pretty good story but I laugh at how incomplete the story is whenever I read the faded, handwritten copies I have. As I grew older, I found myself writing less because of having to adjust to a new high school, a parental divorce, moving from a small town to a big city – my new school having three times the population than the town we had moved from.
During high school, I focused more on devouring books and art classes. Three key events influenced me in writing, first being the September 11th, 2001. The second being the political debate about invading Iraq and the following invasion beginning in 2003 and US presidential election in 2004. I began to find my footing on political leanings and my art reflected it. I created a clay sculpture of a soldier riding on top of a tank. On his uniform, the American is divided into two, to show how the nation was divided. There were quite a few people students and adults who were upset about the art and lobed criticisms of being anti-American.
My third major influencing event was reading Judith Guest’s Ordinary People and watching the movie – the struggle of the Jarrett’s through the loss of their oldest son, followed by the attempted suicide of their surviving son, really hit home. Guest’s work has influenced me in two ways – the title of my work was renamed to Within the Grasp of Ordinary and one of the supporting characters is named Dr. Conrad Jarrett, after the surviving son. The story also began to shift more from a pure science fiction genre to a family drama set in a science fiction environment.
After graduating high school in 2004 and attending college for the first time, it would be close to a decade before I put my foot down and set out to complete a novel. What sparked the will to finally write? I went through a series of dramatic changes where I quit my job after five years, failed in a different career choice, and found myself temporarily moving in with my dad and step-mother. I decided to go back to school and focusing on English, Creative Writing and minoring in political science. I found a mixed group of traditional and non-traditional college students who loved writing as much as me and enjoyed the insights and constructive criticism received. After sharing a bit of work with them from a different world, I embarked on visiting Philip and Tristan and creating a new back story, character sheets and events for the Ordinary universe.
My limited view as a teenager became much more vivid and complex because of my life experience, input from my new friends, and educational endeavors. From a love of history and alternative history, I drew upon what if scenarios if certain family events never happened – like my father being a career officer instead reserve officer in the Army. I drew upon lessons from watching the political debate surrounding Operation Enduring Freedom and what an insurgency movement looks like but adapting it for a futuristic, more urban environment.
Within a matter of days of starting my backstory, Philip and Tristan were no longer just two teenagers but had transformed into Philip, the youngest son of four, his older twin brothers had followed in their father’s footsteps and joined the military. Tristan, the only child of a family enshrined in the study of law and wanting to break free from traditions and pursue his own career path. The duo was joined by a childhood friend of mine, Nathan, a middle child of a Senator running for President.
The world needed to be built better and while the story was always meant to take place in the future – when and what that future looked like hadn’t clearly been defined. I re-watched a few beloved shows, read books, and looked up architects’ ideas of the future buildings to create the cities of tomorrow’s tomorrow. The story became a lot more than just about Philip and Tristan but about them trying to make their own mark but also being unaware of the world around them. They rather are more like the reader, discovering and understanding the world around them, how the cities they live in came into being, how climate change was dealt with and the politics of interstellar colonization, terrorist and insurgency movements.
Without the education and awareness of events going on in my own world, the world of Philip and Tristan would not be the same. The world they currently habit is initially confusing, but as they are forced to deal with the cruel realities of the world and its tragedies, they learn they have to play catch up in order not to be sucked into dubious plots and scheming by adults.