29 March 2013

My 2013 Colossalcon Cosplay!

Screenshot from Gankutsuo: the Count of Monte Cristo
Here's the scoop, all! I'm excited to share with you my insane cosplay idea, But first things first--a prelude about my health. 

Last time I mentioned it was January, I think, right before Ohayocon. I had to withdraw my panels and attended the con  while feeling blah the whole time.  

As much as I'd like to say I've improved since then, I haven't, and earlier this month we had to add a new medication to my cocktail so I could keep on keeping on. Today, after another appointment, my dosage was increased. The good news is I respond to this medication well, so I think I'm on the upswing.

Me as Lust from FMA 
at Colossalcon 2012.
Photo by 22123
In the meantime, my physical health went to shit. It's part of the reason I didn't cosplay at Ohayocon in January. All the weight I lost for last summer piled back on, so I couldn't fit into my costume. Which is a bummer, because my first cosplay was Lust from Fullmetal Alchemist (I premiered it at Colossalcon 2012) and it went very well. I hoped to reprise it for Ohayocon, but it didn't work out because of all the health stuff.

I've done some very positive things for myself (I stopped drinking soda. I went from one to two 20-oz bottles a day to nothing, and for 21 days now, woo!) and have increased my physical activity. But I know that someone would have to wave a magic wand for me to match my exact weight from last summer. I just don't have enough time for it, without having to do some extreme stuff which wouldn't be good for my health anyway.

Thing is, I really loved cosplaying (even though it requires a great deal of effort). I figured I would wear my kimono to Colossalcon 2013 and be done with it. 

And then I recently finished watching Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo and realized I wanted to cosplay from that series. 

I love The Count of Monte Cristo. It's a great story (I loved the 2002 film as well).  So I was curious about the anime adaptation, which sends the story through a sci-fi/fantasy blender. 

Gankutsuou: 
The Count of Monte Cristo.
Image source: Wikipedia 
It's the year 5053, with settings in Paris and the fictional planet Luna. The animation blends the modern and futuristic with Victorian and Rococo influences. And the animation looks a little psychedelic, as almost every aspect of the characters and backgrounds are colored via tones and textures (like what you see in Photoshop or Manga Studio). The tones and textures are stationary even when characters move on screen. It takes a little bit to get used to, but it makes for a really rich viewing experience. 

And I loved how they interpreted the story. There were a lot of things that were quite well done and I felt very emotionally involved in the show. I liked the series enough that I've added it to my permanent collection...and I'm going to honor the show in my Colossalcon 2013 cosplay!

And I'm going as The Count of Monte Cristo himself. 

With a twist!

I'm going to gender-bend him. I shall be known as Lady Gankutsuou: La Comtesse de Monte Cristo!  

Why gender-bend, do you ask? I have nothing against dressing as a man--I made a pretty good Jack Sparrow for Halloween a couple years ago--but I wanted to stay feminine-looking for the con. I didn't want to have to mess with a beard, and it's pretty difficult to make me look masculine anyway. I'm a flipping Valkyrie. 

To be honest, this cosplay idea is going to be a little bit more work than Lust (in terms of hair and make-up), but I own things that would work well for the costume. I've got an antique Victorian top hat and white gloves, black riding boots...I could work with more things I have, but I did decide to purchase some items to make it look like a female version of the Count. 

Gender-bending a character gives you a little bit more flexibility with interpretation, anyway. Since I'm envisioning the Count as a woman, the costume has to change a little to accommodate my form and tastes. But the character still has to be recognizable as the gender counterpart to the original. 
Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo has a gorgeous aesthetic. Source: Zerochan

Here's what I'm going to do so far:
  • Dark, curly blue hair. My Arda wig arrived today. I ordered the Claudia Wig in Midnight Blue. The curls are very tight but I plan to comb them out so they're more like waves than ringlets. 
  • Black Victorian jacket. I'll be wearing this sweet gem for the Con. 
  • Black bustle skirt. Since the Count still looks relatively Victorian, I decided to keep with that style, so I'll be wearing this skirt. The skirt is so huge that I can get away with wearing comfortable shoes, which was a major problem for me last year
  • Cravat. I'll be making it out of this material
  • Cape. The Count has the larger square collar for his cape, so I found a Dracula cape that could work.
  • Blue skin. I'm told Ben Nye Blue Spirit is the color to go with, but I also heard that if people take your picture with a flash camera, the color washes out with the flash. I may go one shade darker, we'll see.
  • White Gloves. I have several pairs. It's all good here.
Stuff I'm iffy about:
  • Prosthetic Ears. I've worn prosthetic elf ears before, but the Count's ears are a bit different. Not sure if I'm going to do it or not. I'll have to color them, of course. If I decide to use them, I'm thinking maybe these. They look ugly in the picture, but they're quite long, so they may work.
  • Fangs. I've worn vampire fangs before (as a vampire in Dracula), and always this brand. I could talk in them relatively well, but I kept opening my mouth a lot to let them "hang out." Which may or may not have caused drooling. I don't really remember. As good as the fangs looked, I noticed that Scarecrow manufactures a more subtle version, so if I decide on fangs, those will be my choice.
  • Top Hat. I have an antique Victorian top hat that looks awesome. It's quite tall on my head. But I don't know if it will look good with my wig, or if the top hat will look weird with the jacket and bustle skirt. Since I'm a female Count, would a hat work anyway?
  • Additional sewing. There are several things that are quite iconic about the Count--the sleeves of his coat, and the inside of his cape. Both would require additional sewing or alterations of preexisting pieces. I'm sure I'll be tweaking the cape I got. What I'm not so sure about is the sleeves. The jacket I've got is very pretty and of a higher quality, and I'm worried that altering the sleeves may ruin them, especially if I want to use the jacket for other things. I think I can perhaps sew the wide sleeve trim along the seam of the sleeve where the lace sticks out, so I'll at least have the gold and maroon part of the sleeve intact. But those flames going up the arm--not sure what I'm going to do. If I do it at all. 
Stuff I'm going to pass on:

The Count's freaky eyes.
Image Source: Dubsub Anime Reviews
  • The Cane. It's a badass cane but women didn't really use them, so that's a no. (Less stuff for me to make, hooray!)
  • Contact Lenses. The Count has one red eye and one greenish-gold eye. As great as that would look, I wear corrective lenses. I'd have to get a prescription from my doctor and a lot of special effect eye colors aren't meant to be used as corrective lenses. I did think about honoring the differing eye colors by having one dark brown eye and one purple eye. Obviously these aren't any of the colors the Count uses, but since I'm gender-bending I may have enough flexibility to get away with it. Or the effect will  be too subtle for anyone to notice. Hmm...
There's a lot of potential with this character. The way I imagine it in my mind tells me it will look pretty freaking awesome, but I've had good ideas go wrong when it came time to put things together. I've had plenty of examples of good Gankutsuou cosplay to give me a rough idea of what's expected in terms of standards and what makes the character recognizable (like this and this). 

June feels a mile away still, but it'll be here before we know it! Wish me luck!

27 March 2013

Critic & Consumer Reviews: Why We Need Both

Image (cc)  Tom Murphy VII
I am a fan of both critical, literary analysis as well as reviews by the "average Joe." Both are very, very different from one another but I find them both to be helpful and necessary. 
First off, professional book reviews tend to come across as a traditional literary critical analysis of a piece (like reviews in the New York Times, for example). I can understand when people think they could be boring or dry, because that type of criticism doesn't work for everyone...and some of it is, in fact, boring and dry. 
But I think professional criticism is important because it speaks to the whole literary vs. genre debate that's been going on forever. Basically, it's literary = smart = good, while genre = dumb = bad. Or something to that degree. But critical analysis of a work, whether it's of popular fiction or of literary fiction, tends to employ a specific standard across the board:
  • A work will be examined for how its meaning or "statement" reflects or addresses a greater truth of some kind (a universal experience for readers, or society)
  • A work will be examined for its use of language--voice, tone, diction--as well as imagery, form, and function
  • Narrative choices will be discussed, such as point of view, use of tenses, the rhythm of the language (narrator vs. character)
  • The historical context in which the work is written (how the work reflects an ideology or style of the time, past or present) in order to enrich an understanding of the text and its themes
If you use the same standards to analyze popular fiction and literary fiction (as in, you look for and write about the qualities listed above), you have helped level the playing field. Using literary criticism techniques to analyze genre fiction pretty much shows that genre writers take the craft just as seriously as any other kind of writer. There's a universal love and appreciation for style, story and language that appears in any kind of writing.
So, as a writer of the much-maligned genres of fantasy and horror, I appreciate professional book reviews because they help legitimize what I write. If my writing shows that I adhere to the basic tenets of literary criticism, then technically my writing qualifies as literature. Ideally, there shouldn't be any issues of superiority in the popular fiction vs. literary fiction debate if each text is examined and qualified in the same way. 
Of course, the things that are examined in a professional review don't always appeal to the masses. Most of what I list above isn't really covered in an Amazon or Goodreads review because most people don't care about it (there are always exceptions, of course).
Image (cc) by Tom Woodward
Some reviews on Amazon, for example, are just throwaways ("Amazon shipped me the wrong book" equals a one-star review even though it has nothing to do with the author, the book, or its quality). Sometimes books get one-star or two-star reviews because the book cover doesn't match the physical descriptions of the characters (again, out of author control) or the person who ordered the book clearly didn't pay attention to what they were ordering (complaining a book is too violent, even though it's a crime novel whose description clearly suggested it would be). One of the reviews that made me laugh out loud was for The Riddle-Master of Hed, which I recently had to read for a genre class. The person one-starred it and said, "I have no idea what's going on in this book. If this is the future of fantasy, we're in trouble." (The Riddle-master of Hed was published in 1976).
Basically, all the public cares about is a good story that makes them feel things. As in, they turn to a book to get some kind of emotional fulfillment (more than just entertainment), and if they don't get what they came for, wham! Bad review. 
As authors, we can overlook a lot of the "dumber" reviews that have nothing to do with anything (shipping errors, cover choices, etc). But even for something as silly as, "I have no idea what's going on in this book" can tell you a lot. That person gave a one-star review because the book made them feel stupid. 
A series like the 50 Shades Trilogy, which has a devoted following while reputedly being very poorly written, gets high ratings on Amazon and Goodreads because the book made its readers feel sexy and dangerous. It has fulfilled the wishes of its intended reading audience.
Books that are popular and rated highly by the public, regardless of quality, are successful because of the emotions they've generated in the reader. 
Not that professional book reviews don't contain some sort of emotional connection the reviewer has with a book, but it doesn't drive the review. The emotion isn't the most important thing to a professional reviewer, it's stuff like craft and theme and application. When it comes to reviews by the public, emotions are what count.
Emotions tend to drive every review I've read. When people comment on a book's characters, it's usually about how the characters made them feel:
  • "The villain was really, really scary." 
  • "The romantic lead isn't good enough for the hero because she's stupid and selfish."
  • "The sidekick was annoying."
  •  "I'm so sick of reading fantasies with a Chosen One." 
  • "If I read 'Inner Goddess' one more time, I'm going to kill a puppy."
Similar criticism goes towards the plot and narrative, where the public may comment on scenes that felt unnecessary, or the dialogue was repetitive and annoying, etc.
The thing about emotions is that they often aren't very logical at all. These reviews may provide zero evidence in the text to back up what the reader feels--but the point is, the reader felt something, and that experience cannot be overlooked.  
As writers, we can't please everyone, of course, so there's no way to prevent a negative professional review, or a one-star Amazon review, from occurring. We also shouldn't read every single review and take it personally.  But if you want to learn something from the reviews, the key is to identify how your work spoke to each type of reviewer. 
Image (cc) by Lin Kristensen
If you see a trend in reviews--whether positive or negative--you can identify something to work with on your next book. If the relationships between your characters was what kept people reading, you know you can work that angle in your next peace of fiction. If people couldn't understand your book at all, look at the numbers--if ten out of a hundred didn't get it, oh well. If forty out of a hundred didn't get it, you may want to ask yourself why they might have come to that conclusion. Or you can ignore it. Your pick. 
But as long as professional and amateur reviews exist out there, I say both are necessary to get an understanding of what people think of your work.

20 March 2013

The Mark of Destiny as a Fantasy Trope

Allen Walker from D. Gray Man
Image (cc) by Sorahkaton
For graduate school I'm enrolled in a Readings in the Genre course that focuses on Fantasy Classics--the books of renown that have made and shaped the genre.

This course is more than just reading and analyzing  literature; we are in fact viewing the texts from a writer's standpoint. Which means a lot of the writing prompts we get are a little bit different from a standard lit course's. 

I recently finished reading Patricia McKillip's The Riddlemaster of Hed for my Fantasy Classics course. I enjoyed that book and strongly recommend it. But my writing prompt was less a critical review of the book and more about a specific detail: Morgon, Prince of Hed, has a birthmark of three stars on his forehead, which signifies him as The Starbearer--he's been chosen to be something greater than himself since his birth.  My task was to analyze the necessity of this common fantasy trope and try to find ways to work with or without it. 

I had a lot of other topics to choose from, but the Mark of Destiny felt significant to me because my character Lily from The Name and the Key also bears a unique marking. It's not a symbol of destiny, but a mark she got at age 13 when she was thrown from a horse and smacked into a tree. Her scar becomes emblematic of a terrible curse from which she suffers--the curse begins right after the accident. She's not Marked as a chosen one from a prophecy, but she does carry a Mark of Distinction. A cousin of the Mark of Destiny.  

I personally hadn't encountered a birthmark of destiny in fiction until I read The Riddlemaster ofHed. However, I am familiar with scars (Harry Potter) and tattoos (used widely in urban fantasy as well as anime and manga) of great significance.  All of these body markings are a way to visually show that the person who bears them is of a different make and purpose than other characters in the story.

The birthmark indicates destiny more so than any other mark on a character, precisely because it is present at the birth (and likewise in the womb, so there's the idea of predestination as well). That's why it's commonly associated with the idea of The Chosen One.  The rule of the Chosen One is that he or she comes from a prophesy or preordination, and their existence is designed to fulfill a grand promise of some kind--reunite a broken land, save a world from the ultimate evil, or, on the other end of the spectrum, bring about an age of darkness and destruction.

When I researched the Mark of Destiny trope, it indicated to me that readers aren't so much fed up with the "birthmark" aspect of the cliché; rather, readers are tired of The Chosen One trope altogether (Read about it here and here). When I gave my teaching module (Rise Above Cliché!) two residencies ago, we dissected the Chosen One fantasy trope briefly in class. It appeals to readers because generally, people want to discover that they are somehow worth more than they imagined themselves to be, and meant for something greater than what they are now.  It's easier to be "picked" to do this as opposed to working for the outcome. Not to say that accomplishing a great task is easy for anyone, but being a Chosen One sets clearer boundaries--you'll know your enemies and your allies, to start with. You'll know what you need to do. You may even have confidence in the task knowing that you're the one meant to achieve it. The title bears some weight.

Lily Camlo's Mark from The Name and the Key
Art (c) Valsharea via her tumblr
But I think reader interests change over time, along with attitudes. Not only is the Chosen One now a hated fantasy cliché because of its repetitive use, but I think people can't identify with it so much anymore. It's one thing to aspire to greatness, but not many people can achieve it. People can identify and admire characters who make their own destiny and choices, because that's what we do every day. And on top of that, the conflict of a "Chosen One versus an Evil One" makes everything pretty black and white, when the world the readers know are variations and blends of the two.

So to combat the Chosen One trope, you can simply not use it. You can have your characters reflect more of the attitudes and experiences of your readers and have your characters' greatness be something they choose and work for themselves (Read The Chosen One vs The One Who Chooses) Or, you can have the character be Chosen, but not in the sense of preordination--they can prove to other characters and readers their mettle first, and then become picked by those peers to complete the deed (something simple as being elected or nominated). The point is to show the character work for it, in the sense that they make their own destiny themselves through their decisions and actions.

Basically, a cliché is a symbol--a stand-in for something of greater meaning.  Since the birthmark of destiny is a cliché that indicates that the character  is Meant For Something Great, or is Different Than Everyone in An Obvious Way, what are other ways we can demonstrate this? If a character is meant for something great, let their actions in the story prove this. Let the character dream that they are meant for greatness, and have him perform actions so he can prove to himself and others that this is true.   If the birthmark is used to show readers that the character is unique and different (on an entirely different level than other characters), there are numerous ways to reveal this to a reader--through actions, dialogue, personality quirks, mannerisms, etc.  

Another way to work around the Mark of Destiny is for the character to have one, but somehow, you pull the rug out from underneath the readers' feet when it comes to expectations. The author can play with the trope--maybe as satire, or with at least a bit of self-awareness in the text acknowledging the trope.  If the birthmark is included to mean that the character is Meant For Something Great…well, simply make it not true. Maybe the birthmark is misinterpreted and means something else. Maybe the birthmark is on someone who is NOT the chosen one. Or maybe the birthmark can just be a birthmark.  Or just a scar. Or a cool-looking tattoo.

As for the idea of using the cliché as is, without changing it or subverting it, this I know--readers are more apt to forgive the author for playing with tropes if the writing is excellent, period.  That means nailing the basics--good plot and characterization are key. If the story (and quality of writing) is good, the author can get away with almost anything.

~*~

If you'd like to read more about the birthmark of destiny cliché, TV Tropes is an awesome website that breaks this and several other clichés down. I love this site and it's easy to blow hours away looking through your favorite forms of media. Some relevant topics:

·         The Birthmark of Destiny (trope definition with examples)
·         Playing with the Birthmark of Destiny (examples of subversion, aversion, and experimentation with the trope)
·         Scar Tropes
·         Tattoo tropes
·         The Chosen One

14 March 2013

Agatha Christie's The Seven Dials Mystery

(cc) by Violetriga

Or, Enjoying Myself too Much to Care About the Killer

Seeing as how I don't read or write the mystery genre at all, my Mystery Classics Readings in the Genre course at SHU has been an eye-opener for me. That, and I've also determined that I'm not very good at reading mystery so far. :) As in, I'm definitely not the type of reader a mystery author would court. My priorities are all wrong!

As a genre outsider, most of what I know about mysteries is based on what I see on book covers or what I can glean from film posters and movie trailers. I never actively sought to read or watch mysteries, but at the same time, I never disliked them. I just thought they weren't for me. Mostly because there's this image of the genre (at least to me, anyway) that comes off as very dark, very somber, and very, very high stakes (nothing less than life or death!). All of which can make for exciting reading. I like dark and high-stakes, but not "somber"--so I guess I always thought mystery was too serious (and therefore too difficult) for me to enjoy or grasp.

My first pleasant surprise was reading The Hound of the Baskervilles--I expected to dislike it and I didn't. The same thing with Agatha Christie. I haven't read anything by her, or seen any of the movies or plays associated with her works. Because to me, Agatha Christie meant Old, Somber, Very, Very Serious stuff. I knew she had to be good at her craft for a reason, given how popular she is, but again, I had the presuppositions of the genre that kept me from exploring her work.

So when I read The Seven Dials Mystery, I was floored by how unbelievably fun it was. I was expecting something far more dark and sinister. And may I add, plot-based. I know the plot-based vs. character-based idea is old and somewhat disputed, but no matter how good a work of fiction is on both counts, I can still identify whether or not plot or character dominates.

I automatically assumed that the mystery genre would be entirely-plot based, considering that the big appeal of the genre is what happens, how it happens, and how to solve the case--the stories were designed to promote action, both in the plot, but also for the reader to actively participate in the story.

I got a vibe that with The Seven Dials Mystery, characterization was emphasized a teeny bit more than the plot. And if that's not Christie's intention, then I've goofed up somewhere. Because my favorite parts of the book pretty much dealt with character interactions and the incredibly fun dialogue. And I also feel like Christie was making one big eye wink to the genre (not just mysteries, but gothic intrigues and upper-class stories) as a whole, because it felt like she was playing with some tropes and then subverting them--often through humor. I much as I love the characters, they did feel like caricatures occasionally, but I feel like that's part of the appeal of the story. I love how Bundle deals with her father, and characters like MacDonald...and I loved the whole section where she's tried to fend off George Lomax's advances.

Image Source
I felt like her witty retorts to such characters weren't just about the situation as it was happening, but almost to the reader as well. There seems to be some self-awareness occurring in the text--for example, the characters remark more than once that the clues and plot resemble something out of another mystery book, or a play. There's also a couple of times where a character is referred to as either Sherlock or Watson. I think it's a way of Christie going, "Yes, you expect the story to do this, this, and this, because that's what mysteries do." I think she both honors the mystery tradition by adding these details, but again, uses reader expectations to her advantage in order to make the story and characters unpredictable.

I also feel like she's acknowledging other genres as well as cultural expectations. I think she plays with romance in that regard, especially with how the women in the book behave. First of all, Bundle is a great heroine--she's clever, funny, a bit mouthy, impulsive, and strong. Contrast that to Loraine, who more closely resembles the "ideal" female character that's been in fiction for years (as well as the expected societal depiction). I love that Bundle is suspicious of her submissiveness, but then backs off on that suspicion, only at the end to sort of mentally shake her fist for missing her role in the plot with Jimmy. Even the actress plays with stereotypes by taking on the role of the sexy Hungarian Countess. Each character defies a stereotype, and each character seems to take their love life into their own hands--there's no real arranged marriages or setups like that--the women are in charge of their minds and hearts.

So...as far as the mystery part of the story goes, I can't say that I feel fulfilled or unfulfilled in that regard. I briefly suspected Jimmy, then moved on to Bill and Pongo at different points in the story. The part that I felt the strongest about was my suspicion regarding Sir Oswald--when his wife was speaking to Jimmy in the garden, she mentioned that her husband was the wealthiest in all of England, but it was never enough for him, and he kept trying to grow in power--I thought for certain that was the mindset of a typical criminal.

I was pretty much wrong about everything, but I didn't really care. I had so much fun with this book. The characters and dialogue were so strong that even if Christie's plot wandered off into total absurdity, I would still close the book feeling fulfilled, because there was a clear resolution with each of the characters.

11 March 2013

Defending and Defining the Genre: Fantasy

iStock
My genre is predominantly fantasy, but I write horror, too, and then  had the realization that I actually write dark fantasy, which combines both the horrific and fantastic.

There are many stereotypes and perceptions regarding people who write and read horror. I've seen it come up in many articles and blog posts by horror writers--people think because someone writes or enjoys horror, that they are cracked in the head and highly disturbed...and potentially dangerous!

Fantasy really isn't that different. While people may assume horror writers are sadistic, psychotic, or any other number of things, people assume writers of fantasy also have a detachment from reality, and are therefore detached from normalcy or society. People who write fantasy are assumed to be delusional, juvenile, antisocial, and even evil ("How dare they write about magic! Magic is the occult! The occult is THE DEVIL!"). Seems like we just can't win.

 Fairies aren't just for children. 
Of that laundry-list of bad names for fantasy writers, I'd like to focus on what I think the universal assumption is about fantasy: FANTASY IS JUVENILE. FANTASY IS ONLY FOR CHILDREN. IMAGINATION IS ONLY ENCOURAGED DURING CHILDHOOD...THEREFORE, FANTASY WILL NEVER BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY.

Even though fantasy has resurged in popularity thanks to everything from Harry Potter to A Song of Ice and Fire, popularity waxes and wanes. What's stayed exactly the same are the negative stereotypes perpetuated about fantasy authors and the fantasy genre itself.

Just like horror, which has existed forever, fantasy has also existed forever. Fairy tales, myths, and legends...all of these stories began as tales for grown-ups before they were bowdlerized and censored for children's nursery time. The great historical epics were bloody and heroic, and all the stories concerned God and Man, Our World and Other Worlds, Life and Death, Possibility and Impossibility. At its core, fantasy is a speculative genre, and speculation is the promotion of questioning, critical thought. Like sci-fi and horror, fantasy asks "What if?" Sci-fi and horror tend to (but certainly not always) lean toward things that could happen, while fantasy leads towards what could never happen...fantasy lives in the realm of the impossible.
iStock.

All that said, the key is to focus on fantasy's core (speculation!). In a learning environment, we want to set up the opportunity for cognitive dissonance, which in turn promotes critical thinking. Fantasy will always ask questions, so we can pounce on that. We need to "play assumptions against each other"--this is cognitive dissonance at work.

What assumptions could we counter? The very ones made every day that do not accurately portray the genre or the author.

Fantasy is juvenile--let's counter that idea:. It's  important to recognize that fantasy indeed goes beyond what we deem the realm of childhood. We can examine many works of fantasy by and for adults, but more importantly, we can look at the questions fantasy itself asks; often these concern life and death, heroism and cowardice. Fantasy is notorious for looking at everything in themes and archetypes, but that is also its strength...these are symbols and motifs that have endured for thousands of years because they are embedded in truth. We look for truths in fiction, and fantasy can provide.

Imagination is only encouraged during childhood-
-let's subvert this. We are teachers, we are writers, we are readers...and we will always ask questions. And questions promote imagination: we imagine a problem, then imagine its outcome(s). Fantasy removes a lot of the boundaries, therefore allowing us to come up with many, many, more outcomes than we can even realize.

IStock.
Fantasy will never be taken seriously--let's subvert this. We can do this by elevating the genre by demonstrating its appeal across age, time, and demographics, and show that it is universally appealing because it focuses on universal ideas.

Even more importantly, in order to ensure we are taken seriously, we have to employ the standards set by the literary world. These are universal standards--we have to get plot, characterization, POV, dialogue, audience, etc, right. We can't mess this up. These are the building blocks of fiction, inherent in both literature and genre. If these are done right, it puts us on equal footing. We have to focus on the writing craft itself...true, we have to understand the genre and its identifiers, but we also have to "adopt aesthetic and critical distance from the work [...]" . We have to "dare [writers] to self-edit and sharpen their awareness of the audience". If we do this, we will be advocates for our genre because we demonstrate that quality, universal appeal, relevance (and therefore timelessness) exists in our work.

In other words, if we want people to take our genre seriously, we have to take it seriously, by not putting out anything less than great work. 

iStock.

Sources

Arnzen, Michael. "Grossing Out Teacher: A Horror Writer in the Writing Classroom." Broad Universe 25 May 2005: 1-6. The Broadsheet. Web. 31 Mar. 2010. <http://www.broaduniverse.org/broadsheet/archive/0505ma.html>. 

Arnzen, Michael. "Horror and the Responsibilities of the Liberal Educator." Dissections Horror EZine 27 May 2009: 1-5. Simigen.com. Web. 05 June 2009. <http://www.simegen.com/writers/dissections/May%202009/dissections_page_03.html>. 

Note: This appeared online at Seton Hill's University intranet for the Teaching Writing & Popular Fiction course, posted April 2012. The assignment was to take Michael Arnzen's horror essays sourced above and apply the same themes to our own genre.

07 March 2013

Bam! Ill-timed Inspiration

Brain go boom. Pretty, pretty colors.
(c) Shutterstock
These things always come at the wrong moment...

I was on deviantArt clearing through my messages (I'm behind by the thousands) and updating my to-do lists for the site, when a really expansive project sprouted, threatening to push all thoughts of my thesis out of my head. 

I'm shaking my fist at the heavens right now! 

Anyway, I try to be a benevolent spirit on dA from time to time, and one of the ways I go about doing this is by purchasing adoptables from people who are trying to raise points (a type of dA currency) for whatever reason. Adoptables are created characters to which you purchase the rights. Which means, the design, color scheme, and overall rendition of the character is yours to do with as you see fit. I'd read a couple journals from people who were very bummed that their adoptables weren't being purchased, so sometimes I rummage their galleries to see what they have and purchase ones that I like. 

After I accumulated about three characters several months ago, I figured it would be a neat challenge to eventually see if I could come up with something where I could use them. As I continued to purchase adoptables here and there, I was spurred by the challenge of finding a way to use every character I'd won or bought. 

So of course, as I'm clearing up my messages and galleries, the idea on how to use them pops up in my mind. And then my brain just kind of overdid it and suddenly a substantial plot (rather concept--plot is too tidy of a word to use at this moment) and backstories for the characters fleshed themselves out. 

I own the rights to these characters now!
(Designed by Abissh)
And it is a breath of fresh air! It's so hard not to drop everything and work on this, but at the same time, I feel like I have to type some of it out, or else I'll forget some of the exciting details when I finally have the time to come back and develop this project.

True to form, I'm messing with fairy tales again (yup, that's kind of my thing). And I'm playing around with crossing stories and gender swapping and all sorts of fun things to turn these stories on their heads.

I think a lot of my brainstorming influences have to do with stuff I've discussed in school, and things I've recently read.  I think that mish-mash of experience formed this great globule of a concept. 

So, without further ado, here's the list of things that probably influenced me as I put stories together for my characters. 
  • In my classes, we've been asked to identify the moment where we read something that cemented the fact that we wanted to write fiction. I've shared at residency and in online classes--the book that did it for me was Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. I read it back in 2001 as a freshman in college. It took the fairy tale of the Six Swans and combined it with Celtic mythology and history. And there were so many things in it that touched me deeply on an emotional level. I never cared to read romance, but I loved the romance in the story. And Sorcha was such a strong character. I always think of this book when I think of writing fantasy.
  • I bought the first three volumes of Amya at Ohayocon and zipped through it. I really like it so far! Anyway, the lead character, Faye, is mute...and she reminded me of Sorcha from Daughter of the Forest, who is also mute.  The characters do have different personalities and purposes, but both are strong females who find ways to communicate without the use of voices. This has always intrigued me. 
  • I recently finished Sailor Twain: Or, the Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel. . I've had a love of the sea for quite some time, and I can't remember how long I've loved mermaids. Anyway, I've always liked the darker, older versions of fairy tales, and the mermaids of old were a bit more sinister. And they're seductive of course, too. 
  • Recently finished Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny . I have to admit, I wanted to like the book more. I just couldn't get into the characters at all...but I did like a lot of the Big Ideas behind the story. There's lots of references to mythology and literature, and some of my favorite scenes occurred in Remba, the seabound kingdom that is a reflection of Amber. Lots of Celtic influences there.
  • Doing research on the psychology of fan fiction for my panel at Colossalcon. And, looking into cosplay again. Fans like to swap genders, switch power dynamics, and turn canon stories on their head. (Think of the Ice King's fanfiction in Adventure Time).
  • We've been reading A Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn in my Genre Readings class and it's got a section devoted to Australian fantasy authors. Juliet Marillier is mentioned, and so is Cecilia Dart-Thornton, who wrote several books I enjoy. The one that came to mind as I read about her was The Ill-Made Mute, which I highly recommend. This is another Celtic-myth influenced work, and it features a mute lead character. And mythical creatures that dwell in the water, like the kelpie.
I will never get tired of this material.
Image (cc) Source
With all of that simmering in the background, I started to combine the plots of several fairytales: The Three Ravens, The Little Mermaid, Donkeyskin (since I failed at my first attempt to use it in The Name and the Key), Sleeping Beauty, possibly Little Red Riding Hood...and that's what I've got so far. 

The character with the most complete backstory so far is the male lead. Of course it is! Every time I write a male character they seem to outshine my female leads. Men are very fun for me to write...I don't know why I'm not as good with female characters. That's weird and it kind of annoys me. 

ANYWAY! I get to let this simmer for a while as I try to get my brain together for my thesis. I am so mentally done with that book, but I just can't be in that negative state to write good fiction, you know? It'll be more to revise, I think. Blehh.

Current goal to finish my thesis--750 words of NEW writing each day. From now until April 3rd. If I follow my own rules, that's almost 22,000 words. Not bad. 

And my reward for finishing The Name and the Key? I'll start storyboarding my new project idea. 

...Which will be a graphic novel, by the way. 

;)

04 March 2013

Author Online is Always a Work in Progress

(cc) Chmouel Boudjnah
 One of the most difficult things about being a writer, besides the act of writing, is conveying to the world that you are a writer.

I knew that when I enrolled at Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction program, it would prepare me to be both a writer and an author; and one of the things I expected would come up would be self-promotion, online marketing, etc. 

My online authorial identity is a fragile thing that's taken forever to build and grow, and it's constantly something I keep adjusting and fine-tuning. 

Overall I'm pleased with what I'm saying and what I'm trying to do, but sometimes the most tedious aspect of projecting an online image of yourself is all of that visual madness.

I just created a Twitter account--@kristinafiction-- and I spent over an hour trying to make my profile look good. Not just the photograph, but the backgrounds and headers. What made it so difficult is trying to not only make it look aesthetically pleasing, but to project an aesthetic consistent with my online personality--something that looks like this blog, for example. Or something that looks like my business cards. 

It's very difficult to create that kind of visual uniformity if you aren't a graphics designer (or have hired one to work for you).  

For anyone who's followed this website, I've redesigned it three times--with backgrounds, fonts, color schemes, etc. Even when I've kept the same background for over a year, I've tried to declutter the page by removing widgets, updating to more relevant icons, etc. 

Then I had an assignment due today in class that was all about the author blog, and we were required to research five author blogs and review them in terms of their effectiveness. After reading my classmates' responses, I instantly felt self-conscious about this website again.

Especially after I just created my Twitter profile and ordered some business cards specifically for Colossalcon. I updated my Google + profile; I changed my favicon to align with my profile photo update, and now, I'm thinking I need to change this website again. 

There's too much going on. Although I've had people tell me the site looks gorgeous, it continues to grow into an eyeball monster. It seems like I can either have a large beautiful image as my background, but to compensate I need to have text, and no images in the foreground...OR I can have a minimal background, and an image-heavy post in the foreground. 

My last version of the site I've got a large busy image as my background, and then a ton of images (my followers, and my profile photo) in the side bar, and then tons of images in my posts.  

Rest in Peace, third version of website!

How have people not gone cross-eyed looking at my website? 

The thing is, a couple weeks ago I tweaked my page by adjusting widths, re-ordering widgets, and removing items from my page...it just doesn't seem like enough. Sooner or later the page gets too crowded again for some reason. 

So! Guess what I'm going to do? For the next day or so, I'm going to redesign the website again. (Update--yup, you're looking at the new version right now). As much as I like pretty pictures, I need to shoot for readability (and site loadability). Hopefully I can find something that communicates who I am to you, is pretty in design, but also doesn't give you a headache. 

Stay tuned!

03 March 2013

Signal Boost for my Awesome Friends!

Image (cc)  NOAA Photo Library
Aside from posting here, I also occasionally update another blog, It's Those Troublemakers, a fabulous team I'm proud to be a part of. And who are the Troublemakers, exactly? We are an awesome group of writers who started the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University together. We became fast friends at our first residency, and although life has taken us in many different directions, we still keep in touch. And we still strive to support each other and our writing!

I'm pleased to say I finally did a personal update of my own over at the Troublemaker blog...but I haven't actually done a signal boost for my fellow Troublemakers on this website for a while. So, without further ado, it's time to get braggalicious! 

~*~

JOE CAMPBELL has a wonderful childrens' book currently available for purchase at Amazon.com. Look at the beautiful cover art:

~*~

SAMANTHA HOLLOWAY writes for the gaming company Black Chicken Studios. Her most recent work is 1931: Scheherazade at the Library of Pergamum.  Scheherazade is a bit like a Japanese visual novel; the site refers to it as a life-simulation and role-playing-game. Either way, it's awesome and fun, and full of romance and adventure. For more of Sami, check out her website!

(c) Black Chicken Studios. Purchase the game here!
~*~
RACHELL NICHOLE is a writing machine! She's got three books out right now, and certainly more on the way. If you like to read sexy, sexy romance, she's definitely got something for you to enjoy! For more of Rachell Nichole, check out her blog at Divas of Desire and head over to her author website!
Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble
Available at Loose Id, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble
Available at Loose Id, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble
 ~*~

A round of applause to this amazing group of writers! I'm so lucky to be friends with these awesome people and I'm proud of everything you guys do and will continue to do!