Category: Writing (page 1 of 79)

Agency and Redemption

In case this week’s vlog didn’t tip you off, I am a huge fan of Mad Max: Fury Road. Long after having seen it several times in cinemas and at home, I still want to talk about its greater meanings, implied or intended, regarding personal autonomy and agency, the depth of truly human characters, and all of the great moments of storytelling in what is, on the surface, a bone-crunching action romp about weird cars and weirder wasteland denizens.

I’ve already talked at length about the film’s merits in both this review and this post about characters. But what about its influence upon folks like me when it comes to inspiration and motivation?

Courtesy Warner Brs.

There are messages woven throughout the film, but one of the most simultaneously potent and subtle one is that of personal agency. When the film opens, Max is seemingly a pawn of his own unbridled emotions – his anxiety, his rage, his fears, and the memories that haunt him. He gets muzzled, restrained, and used for his blood, completely at the mercy of the people around him. It takes external influences – Furiosa’s escape in the War Rig, the subsequent pursuit, and the incredible windstorm – to give Max the opportunity to seize control of the situation as much as he can.

Once Max is able to focus on reclaiming agency of his life, an interesting thing happens. He initially goes after selfish goals – hijacking the War Rig for his own escape, ignoring the plight of the women, and getting the damned muzzle off of his face – but the more time he spends in that Rig, the more he finds himself supporting those around him. He seems to realize how important it is for Furiosa and the wives to seize their agency, make their escape, and in Furiosa’s case, seek redemption for everything she had to do in order to survive. Because the War Boys immediately reduced Max to a thing, and Immortan Joe has been using people as things for presumably a long time, their drives and motivations become aligned:

Courtesy Warner Brs.

I mentioned in the vlog that idealizing, romanticizing, or demonizing the people in our past is an awful thing to do. It robs them of their agency. It makes them things. See above. There are very few things in this world that can be more harmful to those we care about than to view them in such damaging, dehumanizing ways.

To my great shame, I have found myself doing it, up until recently. (Like, a week ago or so…)

Seeing the people we care about with clarity, without any shade of glasses (rose-colored, ash-colored, etc), is the best way to respect them. If they have passed, it honors their memory. If they yet live, it frees them to be who they are and, ideally, grow into better versions of themselves tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, as they push themselves down their hard road of self-realization and self-actualization.

As I said, that’s the ideal situation. Others may arise. But that is how others live.

Your focus, my focus, must be on how we, as individuals, live.

The roads ahead of us stretch out to the horizon, into the unknown quantities of our futures. One is the desolate, plain, unthreatening road of doing what we’ve always done, avoiding facing or challenging ourselves, and letting go of opportunities to grow and change as individuals. The other, harder road, fraught with the perils of facing truths about our words and deeds we do not wish to admit, can be intimidating and unnerving, leading as it does through the Shadow and the hard lessons of the past. But I maintain that it is the right road to take.

It is the road to agency. To growth. And, ultimately, to redemption.

Don’t you owe it to yourself to be the best human you can be?

Twenty Sixteen

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions.

I mean, I get the concept. Setting a goal for the year ahead isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Admirable, even. The problem I see is that few people really commit to changing themselves. Gym memberships go unused within a month or two, new diets get abandoned, so on and so forth.

I’m not saying I’m some sort of self-help guru, over here, but the reason I don’t make big New Year’s resolution posts is because I don’t want to be caught up in my own hypocrisy. I’ve had enough of that problem to last a lifetime.

I’ve been ‘away’ for a while. I’ve been dealing with traumas both recent and ancient, processing a lot of raw emotions, and committing myself to change, in a very real and visceral sense. And believe me, I get why people stop going to the gym or reach for the Cheetos or cigarettes after a few weeks of enforced misery. This shit is hard, dude.

While I’ve let things like this blog and my novel-writing fall by the wayside, I can say that I haven’t been sitting idle. My ongoing process in self-exploration and self-actualization is being chronicled in Innercom Chatter (which has its own Facebook page), and that project is going well enough that I can see it going beyond its individual posts. I’ve also written some poetry. I suspect I’ll write more, as it keeps the wheels greased, at least.

And I haven’t forgotten about my other writings. I intend to post an update about my novellas, with the aim of getting Bloody Streets up and purchasable by spring. And Coven? It’s my goal to have at least a draft readable by beta readers by summer, and a manuscript out to agents by fall. Getting back into the groove with it has been very difficult, and while I know I brought my own momentum to a screeching halt even before my life fell apart, I still think I made the right choice to ensure this story stands out, that it hits readers where they live, and, in the end, will leave them wanting more.

There’s a possibility for fan fiction or other projects, as well, but I don’t know how much energy I’m going to have in the weeks and months ahead, and I’m trying to spend it more wisely.

I live with bipolar disorder, crippling anxiety, a nasty habit of overthinking, and massive amounts of grief every day. Corralling the head weasels takes time and effort. I’m getting help, and hopefully will soon manage things a bit more smoothly and give myself more room for projects, but for now, I’m working with what I’ve got. And I hope you will continue to bear with me.

2016 is the year I take my life back, and finally accomplish what I’ve been meaning to do since I first read The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.

If I were into resolutions, that’d be the one.

From The Vault: Fan Fiction Is Not Evil

Since one of my irons in the fire (more on that later) is now a fan fiction project, I thought I’d revisit my thoughts on the subject.


That little piece I wrote yesterday for Chuck’s latest challenge is fan fiction. I’m comfortable with that. I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with fan fiction, per se, and I’ve discussed it in the past. I think there’s something wrong with it, though, when it’s done badly.

I know that fan fiction can carry a bit of a stigma. For some, there’s a stereotype attached to it, which I will address. However, we’ve already established that writers are dirty thieves. Fan fiction is work that simply admits to said thievery. It makes no bones about being built around an established IP. And it takes a lot of the grunt work out of writing especially in speculative fiction. The setting, mood, nuances and themes are already established, all the writer has to do is give the characters motivation and voices.

There’s a market for it, as well. You don’t even have to change the names or locations or structure of the established world, as Ben Croshaw did for Mogworld. Timothy Zahn, Peter David, Michael Stackpole, R.A. Salvatore, Weis & Hickman, Diane Duane – these are all authors who have published incredibly successful novels that are, for all intents and purposes, fan fiction. The fact that they have been sanctioned by the creators or even worked into established canon must only be icing on the cake for those authors. It’s why I feel we shouldn’t be ashamed to consider such works as viable forms of fiction.

This doesn’t mean that all fan fiction is good, though. Not by a long shot. The stereotype I alluded to is that of a lonely amateur writer dashing out a story in an established universe where a previously unknown character comes along, changes everything and escapes any sort of repercussions for actions that normally would have them dragged in front of military tribunals. The dreaded Mary Sue phenomenon can make people afraid to even touch fan fiction for fear of being associated with such blatant and odious authorial crutches. Most of the time, if someone is doing this to an IP, they’re doing so while also making full-on assaults on grammar and even spelling. It’s why some people will turn their nose up at the mere mention of the words “fan fiction.”

The thing is, though, nothing is automatically good or automatically bad just because of its associations. Oskar Schindler was associated with the Nazi party but was a good man. The Fantastic Four are associated with the same brand bringing us The Avengers but those movies were pretty bad. By the same token, there’s no need to blanketly declare that fan fiction is evil or even bad. Bad writing is bad writing no matter what it’s based upon, and as long as the criticism is focused on that and not its basis, I say fire away. Just take things on a case by case basis. Start making blanket statements, and the next thing you know, you’re running for public office.

From the Vault: Keeping It Real

Today I’m going back through my novel draft and changing the perspective of the narrative slightly. I did a quick search for ‘perspective’ and came across this post. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens drawing closer, it seemed appropriate to bring this one back. Enjoy!

Courtesy Marvel Studios

Writers: remember that you are writing about people.

Unless you are telling your story from the perspective of an entirely alien race (and good on you for taking on that challenge), you will be portraying events for your audience from the perspective of human beings. More often than not, even animal stories have human points of view: anthropomorphous protagonists are nothing new, from Orwell’s Animal Farm to The Adventures of Milo and Otis. And with that perspective comes the need for thought processes and authentic emotion.

I know there is a lot of entertainment out there that suggests, through one way or another, that the audience turn off their brains. And in some instances, this is fine. When you’re playing DOOM, you’re not necessarily contemplating the greater ramifications of blasting demons in the face with a shotgun. But when the entertainment has human beings, usually capable of higher thought processes, doing things that make no logical sense or have little tangible connection to one another, it can be difficult not to scratch your head in bewilderment. A great number of movies do this: they pace their action in such a way and frame it with such bombast that coherent thought gets overshadowed or lost altogether.

For example, compare Star Trek Into Darkness with Guardians of the Galaxy. Both are relatively light, free-flowing sci-fi action-adventures. Putting aside that the former is a far departure from its original source material, it is serviceable in what it does, and as I said in my review, does enough things right that it rises above the usual level of shallow tripe on which a great deal of in-name-only franchise movies can operate. However, it also sees characters with familiar names acting in ways that defy logical thought and reasoning. Meanwhile, in the latter film, characters operate in consistent ways, following their goals and motivations in what, to them, is a logical chain of reasoning. Their reactions and plans may seem unreasonable to others, but to them, it makes perfect sense. This is because the writers took the time to see things from those perspectives and conveyed their characters in ways that made us believe in them. It can be difficult, at times, to believe that Chris Pine is actually Captain Kirk; it is never a doubt that Chris Pratt is Peter Quill. Oh, excuse me, “Star-Lord”.

The emotional aspect, too, is something that sets Guardians of the Galaxy apart, in that the writing and acting work together so that we feel, rather than are told, what the characters are feeling. Good writing tends to be subtle in that way. Another potential example comes from one of the biggest buzz-worthy events of recent memory.

Courtesy Lucasfilm Ltd

For a brief moment, we see John Boyega in the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He is, in fact, the first human we see, and in the moment we see his face, there’s already a lot going on. And I’m not just talking about a new black character in Star Wars (Shock! Alarm! Nerdrage!) or a black stormtrooper (or just a protagonist in stormtrooper armor like his possible spiritual ancestors Luke Skywalker and Han Solo – again, Shock! Alarm! Nerdrage!) being on screen. I’m talking about his face, his manner, the mood of the shot.

Say what you like about JJ Abrams (goodness knows, I have), he has always drawn out great performances from his actors. And in this shot, it looks to me like he’s bringing his A game to Star Wars. For this tiny sliver of time, John gives us a wealth of emotions just from his look and movements. He’s shocked. He’s desperate. He’s scared. He’s covered in sweat, moves with quick, furtive motions, and doesn’t stay in one place very long. As both a moment from the film and an invitation for the audience to become intrigued, it works very well.

What I’m driving at is that, even in science fiction and fantasy, the onus falls on the writers to keep the emotions and motivations real. Let your characters think rationally, provided they aren’t mad for one reason or another. And even then, spend some time in their shoes. Get to know what makes them tick, what makes sense from their perspective, and how they justify their actions. Villains are rarely, if ever, villainous for the sake of villainy. Hell, even the Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger had something to prove, even if he went about it in a villainous way and something was said about his true villainy coming out through one thing or another. Giving all of your characters the time and forethought required to have them convey true processes of thought and genuine moments of emotion is essential to writing a story that people will enjoy, and want to read more about. And if you want to be a successful writer, you’re going to want to have your readers coming back for more.

Return Of The Blue

Bard by BlueInkAlchemist, on Flickr

I can’t even begin to fully articulate what the last few weeks have been like for me.

Hospital. Near-eviction. Rapid, rabid mood swings. Disastrous car trouble. More car trouble. Moving. PAX. Yelling. Broken phones. Tears.

And yet…

Here I am. Whole. Unbowed. Determined. Unbent. Successful. Unbroken.

If I can survive this, I can probably survive just about anything. And despite the best efforts of my badbrain (which can be broken down into “head weasels” as my friend Faust puts it), I survived.

I’m sitting in the new apartment with things boxed up and some furniture needing assembly and distribution to rooms, but for the most part, it’s starting to feel comfortably like home. I can walk down to the nearby transit center, getting some very welcome daily cardio, and catch a bus downtown. I work there, now, at a lovely Starbucks, slinging coffee and smiling at folks who just want to get through their meetings or finish filing TPS reports. I remember that life, and I don’t envy them a bit. Getting back into food service has been like falling off of a bike: easy, and while it might have scraped me up a bit, gravity is a good force for teaching you how to pace yourself.

After my shift, I can walk up the hill to the Seattle Central Library, and write in a secluded, quiet space. I have some new ideas for the novel, and while I cringe at the thought of going back to the beginning to adjust something, I know it’ll benefit all future revisions and edits, as well as the final product. So that’s another to-do list item to check off come Tuesday.

For now, though, I’m resting and recouperating.

PAX was fantastic, in and of itself. I’ve often said that working a show brings out the best version of myself. Being around people I love and haven’t seen in months can kick me into a bit of a manic state, and I use that energy for positive, productive ends. I ride the demon; I do not let it ride me. It’s a mindset I need to continue to maintain outside of shows, and I’m hopeful that working a well-defined job with a solid schedule can help me do that. At PAX, I’m now in a managerial position, and this last show saw me helping with a new department. From all accounts, it went quite well. I’ve now been tapped for similar work with GeekGirlCon, and I predict making it to most if not all of the PAX shows in 2016. It’s a huge part of my life and a major inspiration.

As for everything else, the darkest of my dark thoughts feel far more irrational and distant than even a week before this writing. I’ve gotten my medication adjusted, and I’m seeing therapists again on a regular basis. I’m doing my utmost to keep lines of communication open and maintain honesty, without being cruel or unfeeling. Thinking before I speak, that sort of thing. It feels like this has been sort of a ‘soft reset’, on many levels. And I plan on making the most of it.

It feels like I’ve been away. Almost as if I’ve been separated from myself. I haven’t lost sight of my goals, but after everything I’ve been through in the past few weeks, those goals no longer seem so distant, so unobtainable. I can’t pretend that I don’t have hard work ahead of me. But at the same time, it’s work for which I’m suited. Telling stories. Seeing people as people. Listening. Feeling. Thinking on a situation and giving advice that not only placates, but guides and reinforces.

I am a good writer. A good friend. A good worker. A good person.

Nobody can take those things away from me.

Not even me.

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