I believe that great drama is built through ardently testing Heraclitus’s old notion, “Character is fate.” How do the worst betrayals happen? Whom should we love? These are the kinds of questions that I am interested in answering through careful character development.
The Orientations is told from the perspective of four characters: Walter Choo, a pharmaceutical sales manager in Chicago; Walter’s daughter Marin; Marin’s coworker in Borneo, Will; and Marin’s former college classmate, Ben.
There is also a large and diverse cast of supporting and recurring characters: love interests that include a political activist and a blogger, numerous coworkers (some kindly, some toxic), some unexpected kindred spirits, and a few scene-stealing bêtes noire.
Three of The Orientations’ main themes are lifelong obsessions: the Anxiety Of Progress, or the ongoing tension between necessary transformation and the desire to preserve the things we love about the present and past; Authenticity, or the nature of reality when technology, media, and even our loved ones manipulate perception with ease; and Work and the difficulty of finding and keeping work that enriches one’s soul and/or community.
My fourth major theme, Bargains, is unique to this book.
The Orientations itself is a five-way play on words, each of which also represents a major theme or motif of the story:
Half of the book is set in Asia, a.k.a. The Orient.
Orientation as Introduction, as two of the main characters, Ben and Marin, are in their twenties and receive a crash introduction to adulthood.
Sexual Orientation—in addition to Will, there are several other queer characters in the book.
Political Orientation—Walter is an avid Republican, Ben's fiancée is a liberal political activist, and much of the book takes place during the run-up to the 2004 election.
Orientation as Direction, as Marin, Will, Walter, and Ben frequently lose their way.
The book, a little over four-hundred pages long, is structured into twenty-three chapters. Each chapter is told in third-person, from the perspective of one of the four main characters.
Aside from a few short flashbacks, the book takes place entirely during two consecutive but distinct periods in the early aughts: August 2002 to January 2004; and March 2004 to August 2005.
The book begins in March 2004, at the beginning of the chronologically-later period and skips back and forth between the two.
The penultimate chapter, Chapter 22, details the state of things in August 2005. It is followed by the plot developments of January 2004 (Chapter 23), which takes place on the timeline weeks before the events of Chapter 1, making the book’s structure that of a snake eating its own tail, an ouroboros.
The Orientations is written in my favorite fiction voice: alternating close third-person.
My writing style reflects my worldview, which is empiricist yet droll, humanist, and skeptical of entrenched institutions and consumer capitalism.
Therefore, I can wax satirical when talking about the excesses of a bank holiday party or the neo-bourgeois seductions of a new restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission district, but I write plainly and poignantly when talking about a character’s broken heart.