27 February 2013

Gearing up for Colossalcon 2013...

From FB. (c) Nostalgia Conventions
Oodallaly! I've been so busy lately that I forgot that Colossalcon is coming up in June.

With it being the end of February and everything, you'd think June would be far away, but since I want to be a panelist, I needed to hurry up and get my submission material together before too much time lapses. With the thesis being due in like a month and all, I knew pretty soon I'd forget about everything beyond wrapping things up with school. Like missing the panel submission deadline, for example. Or not booking my hotel room before the Kalahari sells out.

So yesterday I went ahead and reserved my room and decided what panels to submit this time around. I decided that I should just focus on what I want to do the most. I revamped my writing panels all over again just to align it better with Colossalcon and my experience as a panelist last year. I would love for both panels to be accepted, because they do have different content, but I will be happy with one, if I'm lucky.


Here are my quickie descriptions, designed to go into the convention program:

Give Good Spec! Sci fi. Fantasy. Horror. This triad of awesome is known as speculative fiction,  and it's everywhere--books, games, movies, comics--you name it. But a genre that's this popular can still be problematic for writers and artists (hello, clichés and tropes!).   So how do we give good spec? We get to the heart of storytelling!

Fanfic into Fiction Want your fanfic to rise above all the rest? Do you want to go beyond fan fiction and start your writing career? We'll break all the myths and misconceptions of fanfic so you can stake your claim in the world of publishing!

Based on feedback from friends, as well as my teaching module at residency, I decided that my writing panels will not have a visual component to them at all. I work best directly with the audience. So, no Powerpoint or posterboard or whatever.  I don't have to worry about my laptop screwing up formatting (like last year), or cords and plugs and incorrect settings and bad font sizes. Just me, my magic Writing Kit folders, and a mic.

But can I say that I'm still nervous about this? I know that being under a lot of stress zaps my confidence, so that could be part of it, but I'm feeling extra shaky about this one for some reason. I think part of it is because Colossalcon changed hands again, so the lovely ladies from programming I worked with last year have been replaced. Which means if I thought I even had a *tiny* in based on last year's experience, it's gone. As much as I would like to be confident I'll be accepted because I was a panelist last year, I can't count on it.

I'd love to go for a round two!
So not only did I try to write a really strong submission for each panel, but I also went further into my writing background and education--you know, to show that I'm qualified and know what I'm talking about when I teach. I listed the degrees, my mentors and crit partners, comic artists I've workshopped with, and I finally remembered to talk about playwriting (which I've forgotten to do each time up until now).

Playwriting has absolutely nothing to do with my panels, or even what I'm doing now with my writing  life, but if I want to be taken seriously, I feel like I have to include them in my qualifications just so people know I've written something that has a record of being produced. Since, you know, I'm not published yet.

As much as I so badly want to be a part of the Colossalcon lineup this year, I do know that if it doesn't work out, I have a really fun convention in store for me.  I did purchase admission back in January, and after some thought decided to get the VIP Badge. This was before they had most of the guest list up, so I still didn't know who was attending outside of Vic Mignogna and J. Michael Tatum. When I submitted my panels yesterday and saw the updated guest list, I appreciated my VIP pass even more for the autograph benefits.... Because there are FIVE people I am totally willing to wait in line for (to me, that's a lot). I'm thinking the majority of my free time will be the autograph lines, actually. But that's ok. Here's my squee list and the shows I can recognize their voices in:

  • Jamie Marchi (Soul Eater, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood)
  • Vic Mignogna (Both Fullmetal Alchemists, Ouran High School Host Club, Soul Eater)
  • Monica Rial (Both Fullmetal Alchemists, Soul Eater, Deadman Wonderland, Infinite Stratos, Casshern Sins)
  • Christopher Sabat (Fullmetal Alchemist, D. Gray Man, Tales of Vesperia: TFS)
  • J. Michael Tatum (Fullmetal Alchemist, Soul Eater, Ouran High School Host Club, Black Butler, Tales of Vesperia: TFS)

I'm happy I've got some women on my list this year, which is nice. And I'm happy I own things that all of them could sign. Which is a huge upgrade from last year, because I've worked in a ton of anime viewing since then and have expanded my home collection beyond FMA. High five!

As always, I'll keep you posted on further developments. Wish me luck, and thanks for your support!  

24 February 2013

When things get stressful, Art!

(c) iStock photo.
The other day was kind of crazy. I received a notice from Direct Loans servicing updating me on what my total debt will be once I graduate from Seton Hill, and the monthly payment plan I'll be on once my forbearance period ends in December.

Part of my soul died when I saw it.

I already borrowed money for undergrad, even though I received a sizable chunk of financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants. But I still left Capital with a lot of debt. I've had to go into forbearance repeatedly when I've not been employed or not made enough money to make consistent monthly payments. So my interest continued to accrue when I was in these forgiveness periods.

When I started grad school, even with the scholar's discount I still had to borrow money to attend. And because I was unemployed, I borrowed the max per semester so I could afford to pay my bills (like cell phone and credit card) plus other expenses. And I still have to piggyback on family to make it.

So I probably shouldn't have been so surprised my number would be high... I knew I would end up borrowing what most medical students borrow for school when I added undergrad and grad school costs together.

My total debt was $58,000 higher than what I estimated. And I'll be paying it until 2043, barring any more forbearance or life difficulties that could knock things off schedule.
Life after grad school? 
 (cc)  Maggiebug21

I had an anxiety attack when I saw it. The first couple years of monthly payments listed were reasonable--I've paid debts higher than that before and have been able to live. But...I was making $13-$14 an hour at the time. I've been out of work since 2010 and I doubt I'll find a place that will hire me with that pay to start with. Or even if I'll find a job at all.

Part of the reason why I picked Seton Hill above other programs to which I was accepted (like Goddard College) was because there was an emphasis on teaching with our degree requirements. We were being trained to get the qualifications needed to (hopefully) find work at least as a lecturer or adjunct faculty. My goal was to leave school and find a job teaching. That was supposed to be the career that took me out of my misery of working in call centers and customer service desks and the typical soul-draining stuff that wears you down.

I'm pretty scared for my future right now. And I'm already stressed out with school beyond belief.

So I did what I haven't done for quite a few weeks (because of no time). I made art. I wanted to stop thinking about things that bothered me and escape to a pleasant nonreality of sorts. And I wanted to make something that I would enjoy for once instead of honoring the requests/commissions of other people (which has been the majority of my art on dA).

Link to the third power! Image (c) KEB
I went ahead and drew Link from the Legend of Zelda (from the Skyward Sword manga at the back of Hyrule Historia).  He's always been a favorite character of mine for ages, and the first video game character I wanted to be real so I could date him. :)

I felt like putting something heroic out there in the universe to combat my current feelings of being overwhelmed and helpless. So who is more heroic than the Hero of Time?

I didn't expect this to come out as good as it did. But I made him to make myself feel better, and I do, and I am extremely proud of him. Here's the finished product. Enjoy!

Image (cc) KEB.

20 February 2013

Book Update! Or, a Lesson in Organization

Image (c) Valsharea. All rights reserved.
Right. The book, the book. The reason (hopefully) why most of you guys are here.

I started writing The Name and the Key back in 2010 as my first assignment at Seton Hill University for their Writing Popular Fiction program. And when I started writing it, I had no sense of a plot, or characters, or even what I wanted to do with the story at all. I knew I loved fairy tales, and so I thought it would be easier for me to have my first book ever be a reworked fairy tale.

I knew I wanted to redo Beauty and the Beast. I also realized, when I was researching, that I thought I could write a meditation of some sort on the ideal of beauty in fairy tales. So then I decided to work in Snow White and Donkeyskin into my tale as well.

Got that? A triple-homage reworked fairy tale.  Whew. At the time, it was called Lily Beauty, Lily Rose, and was full of flowery language, (read: purple prose) overworked narration, too much description...and the sense that the book was written without any direction whatsoever. Which means, a lot of pages where nothing really happens.

The Lily Beauty, Lily Rose version was mentored by Tim Waggoner, and with him I wrote several versions of the first few chapters, changed plot ideas several times, and dropped all but the Beauty and the Beast elements from the book. Poor Tim got to only see my worst writing....by the time I made it to my next mentor, Scott Johnson, the book had already turned in a different direction. And during that time when I worked with him (so like a full year into the program) I realized that I pretty much was writing an entirely different book than what I originally intended. Even the Beauty and the Beast part of the story was significantly diminished, and the "beast" became less of a traditional monster and more of a metaphysical creature; something less solid, more ambiguous, and definitely abstract.

Actually, the entire book went that way (and it got really, really dark!) I dropped the book's Big Ideas about beauty--that didn't really matter to me anymore--and I went back and started thinking about the other aspects of the original fairy tale..so I was concerned with the idea behind the beast.

What are beast-like qualities in a human being? Just think about animal behaviors--they eat, they sleep, they breed, and it's all governed by impulse and instinct. The only difference between animals and humans is our supposed ability to govern those impulses through logical thought and willpower. So my brain took impulse to equal need, and then I changed need to desire, and that's how I decided on the beast angle for my book.

The original, oldest version of Beauty and the Beast was all about desire, anyway. Here's my paraphrase of it:  A prince is born during a time of war, and to protect the baby monarch, the King and Queen send him to live in the woods, to be raised by a Fairy who vows to protect the child. The kingdom is lost to the war, so everyone's gone, and everyone forgets about the prince in the forest. Baby Prince grows into Beautiful Young Man, and the Fairy falls for him. But the Prince only views her as his mother (since she raised him). When he refuses her sexual advances, the angry Fairy turns him into the Beast. And then the fairy tale for the most part continues on as we know it.

That original context gives the story a whole new, deeper element, don't you think? True Love has to break the spell. But Desire caused the spell to happen. And almost every moral tradition prizes Love over Desire...so maybe you can see where I'm going with this.

In my book,  Man becomes Beast when he gives into Desire.Which is very, very Buddhist in a way.  At the same time, a man who rids his life of Desire has acquired a kind of Truth (enlightenment).  When you know the Truth, you're closer to god than man. All of these ideas crop up in my book....which is so different from Lily Beauty, Lily Rose, that when I reached this point in the text, I renamed the story The Name and the Key.

Anyway, at this moment in time, my book is due April 10th. The book is currently in three different fragments--the LBLR version; the Name and the Key version; and a huge chunk I'd like to nickname Fluffy Fairy Overkill (that's another post entirely). The book is well past its word-count requirement. But the book is so all over the place that I'm back to one of my earliest problems with it:

Image (c) iStock

When you're writing three books at once, and on accident, you can believe it screws up your brain. I don't know what I'm writing anymore, exactly, even after I walked you through it a little bit ago. I know the beginning of my story. I know the end of the story (for the most part). The problem is that enormous section called THE MIDDLE. I think I would not have had this problem, had I known what I wanted to write in detail from the beginning. But because I've got all these different versions, I am totally confused as to what I'm supposed to write because I don't want to accidentally compose chapters that resolve anything from the LBLR track or the Fluffy Fairy Overkill track.

I don't have time to write things that need to be cut. Everybody who is still working on their thesis for April  is currently in revisions. I am not. I am still writing in fragments, and when I reach a block I try to go back and fix old LBLR writing to make it into the Name and the Key writing. Which aggravates me, because even doing that takes me forever.

Taking three classes on top of all of it has exacerbated my anxiety, because it has taken a HUGE chunk of my time away. I have a sad feeling my book will not be finished until April 5th, leaving almost zero time to revise it properly, let alone even proof it.

Basically I feel like the worst writer in the world right now, even though my mentors and crit partners assure me that the actual writing does not suck. I still feel like a bit of a failure, nonetheless.

To try to get my head on straight, I recently attempted something I've never done before:  PLOTTED WITH A TIMELINE.

Why did I not do this in the beginning? I don't know. I kind of want to facepalm myself.  But I've just made the timeline, and it's been so helpful that I've already realized some mistakes I made in my text that I wouldn't have caught had I not made one.  There's a few things that still need to be added to it: the last few events before The Name and the Key wraps. But for the most part, the timeline is full. And because The Name and the Key overlaps with The Step and the Walk, both novels are listed on the timeline. Which means when I go to work on The Step and the Walk, I'm sure I'll have a better experience writing that book because I'll have a significant chunk of information about it already.

I cannot begin to tell you the clarity this tool has allowed me. So, if you are curious about my organization (or about the books themselves), this is my plotting timeline. Let me stress that this is a tool and nothing in it will be set in stone until publication. And if you'd like to make your own timeline, you can go to Time Glider and start up a free account.

In the meantime, wish me luck. I'm trying to do next to the impossible here.  *breaks down in tears*

For a larger view of my book Timeglider, check it out here.
Friendly reminder--this stuff is protected by copyright. 

Readers and writers, do you have any advice or tools to help with plotting?

17 February 2013

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles"

The Demon Hound of British lore.
Art by Sidney Paget
You guys know me as a fantasy and horror writer, so any books or movies I've reviewed tends to fall under that genre umbrella. But I am also taking a Mystery Classics genre course at SHU to not only meet my credit requirements, but to also qualify for financial aid, whee! So I picked Mystery to be the wild-card genre I study. In all honesty, I won't ever write straight mysteries because I think they're too difficult for me, but I knowI can learn a thing or two from the genre that'll help engage my readers, as well as some tips about heightening tension and playing with mood and tone.

My first book in the Mystery Classics course: The Hound of the Baskervilles.

This is my first experience reading about Sherlock Holmes. I'm familiar with Holmes and Watson thanks to film and theater, but this is the first time in my life I sat down and read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As for the Hound of the Baskervilles, this is my first experience with it altogether. I haven't even seen the movie versions of it, so I looked forward to having a "newborn" experience with the book.

I noticed since joining the program that there are certain things that would be marked in red if we submitted it to a critique workshop...and I feel like the modern reader would put a big red X in the opening scenes, because it's all dialogue, and it's a case of telling over showing, which is something readers are inclined to skip over if there's too much of that going on. In this instance, though, I felt like opening the novel with Holmes and Watson analyzing the cane was a great setup for the entire book--in fact, for any Sherlock Holmes story. The character is fond of saying things like, "The game is afoot!" and the first chapter is all about the game.
The banter is a trademark.
And so is this hat.

Image (cc) Cyrillic

The banter between Holmes and Watson is practically a trademark of the duo; not only do they compete with each other (more accurately, Holmes competes with Watson), but deductive reasoning in and of itself is a game. I felt like it was a perfect example of what the reader could expect for the rest of the novel--how these characters work and how they process information. On top of that, Doyle's writing kind of presses the reader to partake in the game as well. I think a lot of this comes from Watson's first person narrative, which comes across like he is having a conversation with the reader. And Holmes' manic energy and excitement is a bit contagious. So when I read The Hound of the Baskervilles, I played the game too--I kept trying to guess everyone's true role in the story as well. 

My most successful guesses surrounded the Stapletons. When Watson first encounters Stapleton, I was immediately suspicious of him, just because he proceeded to ask Watson a lot of questions right off the bat, as if he was testing the waters with him. And then as soon as he was done with questioning, he immediately offered to assist Watson in any way he could. Maybe I've watched too many interrogation videos from Snapped but usually when the accused asks all the questions, they are trying to gain the upper hand of the conversation. Then after they glean information, they offer to help in any way possible, to cover their tracks and come across as innocent--because a "nice" person couldn't commit such an awful crime. As soon as I finished reading Watson and Stapleton's opening scenes, I decided Stapleton had something to do with the murder. 

The next assumption I made that turned out to be correct was the fact that the Stapletons were husband and wife. When Stapleton first mentions his sister to Watson, it seemed innocent enough--"May I have the pleasure of introducing you to my sister." Nothing wrong with that. But when Watson finally meets Miss Stapleton, I grew suspicious. Watson gushed on and on about how beautiful she looked, and that was the red flag. If Miss Stapleton was so gorgeous, she wouldn't be living with her brother. She'd have been married off to someone already, because she would've been seen as quite the catch. If she was ugly, or if Watson didn't emphasize her appearance so much, I would've assumed that Miss Stapleton was a spinster and that's why she lived with her brother. I'm guessing that the clue I should've picked up on was the fact that Watson noted how the Stapletons looked like polar opposites--one light, one dark--but that didn't really register for me as the telling clue, just because we have polar opposites in my family (my sister and I don't look related at all. She's petite, tan, and blonde, and I'm pale, black-haired, and very tall). I just thought it was highly suspect that someone almost supernaturally beautiful could be unmarried. Of course, when Sir Henry pursues Miss Stapleton and her "brother" violently overreacts, that made up my mind. 

Be wary of the pretty lady!
Art by Charles Dana Gibson
As for the rest of the characters, and the actual "howdunit" of the mystery... that didn't really interest me. I felt like Selden and Mrs. Lyons were more like props than people, so they were just blips on the radar. And I knew that Holmes wasn't gone from the story, because you can't introduce the lead character, make the opening all about him, and then have him disappear from the book. Although it took me a second to figure out that Holmes was the figure living in the barrows, when Watson made the connection, I was like, "Of course it's Holmes, he always disguises himself and shows up unexpectedly." If I was living in 1902, I wouldn't have such an informed opinion about the character (thank you, Hollywood!) and probably would've been quite shocked at the discovery.

As for the story's resolution, I wasn't particularly impressed with it, but I still felt like the explanations sufficed. When the issue with Henry's boots appeared early on, I suspected they would be used for footprints, but it made sense when Holmes stated they were used to capture Henry's scent for the bloodhound. The painting, used to make the connection between Stapleton and the Baskervilles, felt a little convenient, as well as the rational explanation of phosphorus making the Hound glow. Still, I felt like the story was tied up well and every mystery was accounted for. 

My favorite parts of The Hound of the Baskervilles had mostly to do with mood and setting. The mansion, the moors, the Grimpen Mire, the old standing stones, barrows and liths...I absolutely loved the description of the dark and wild world of Dartmoor. I also am familiar with many English ghost stories, and I've read a lot about family curses and demon animals, so I enjoyed the Baskerville legend of the hound as well. Even though the Hound of the Baskervilles is a realistic tale, I felt like Doyle's description of the setting was almost like reading worldbuilding from a fantasy novel. I truly got a sense of wonder reading about Dartmoor.

Rough Landscape of Dartmoor,
(cc) by  Lostajy
Overall, I was quite pleased with the book (moreso than I expected) and whizzed through it easily. Older literature is sometimes more difficult for me to wade through (largely because of the vernacular of the time period) but I was sucked into the story quickly. I'm not sure how I would feel about the book if I lived during the time of its publication--I'm pretty sure it was serialized first, and I think I'd lose patience with having to wait in between chapters. But the book on the whole was very fun and enjoyable.

14 February 2013

Earthsea: Race and the Fantasy Genre

The 1993 Penguin Book cover design.
I think this is the most accurate
depiction of Ged based on Le Guin's
written descriptions.
I was happy to re-read A Wizard of Earthsea again for my Readings in the Genres class at SHU because The Earthsea Quartet is one of a very few epic fantasy series I've loved. Although I could've taken the opportunity to write a formal review of the book, I wanted to focus on the concept of "whitewashing" Earthsea, and how often Le Guin has to step in to remind people that her lead characters are of many different, darker colors.  She shouldn't have to constantly remind audiences what her characters look like, especially when she clearly describes them in the text, but she's had to anyway; which I think speaks to a larger and quite serious  issue with race and the fantasy genre overall.

Although modern fantasy continues to grow and thrive by exploring different worlds and races, there is still the perception that epic fantasy is stuck in Medieval Europe. To oversimplify, Medieval Europe =white people, usually of nobility or royalty.  If Medieval Europe is the default world building model for high fantasy, that means high fantasy casts by default will also be white.
The Three Knights by Edward Hasted, 1793

Although A Wizard of Earthsea is epic fantasy, it doesn't fall under the default settings for the genre. Ged, the book's hero,is a "dark copper-brown" (25) or described as "reddish brown" (44).  Vetch, Ged's friend, is referred to as "black-brown" (44). It's not that there aren't white people in Earthsea--there are races like the Kargs, or specific characters described as white. But overall, the lead characters, and even the top supporting characters, happen to be people of color.  Well, not just happen to be--this was a deliberate choice made by Le Guin:

"My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. [...] I didn't see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white [...]. It didn't even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now—why wouldn't they still be a minority [...]? [...] My people could be any color I liked, and I like red and brown and black. I was a little wily about my color scheme. I figured some white kids (the books were published for "young adults") might not identify straight off with a brown kid, so I kind of eased the information about skin color in by degrees—hoping that the reader would get 'into Ged's skin' and only then discover it wasn't a white one." (Slate Magazine)

Race may never matter to certain fantasy readers or writers…but even so, there are few novels that are said to define the entire fantasy genre  like A Wizard of Earthsea. The fact that the book climbed to fame is a huge deal, because it's a fantasy that primarily involves a multi-racial cast. And yet for a book so powerful, it still meets with resistance--there is a population of readers, directors, producers, designers, etc.--who cannot seem to let the characters look the way the author intended.
Compare this to the book cover above.
Syfy's Ged and Ogion.
Image Source

Le Guin has been very vocal about this issue. Probably one of the most famous examples of her frustration is the Syfy channel's miniseries adaptation Earthsea, which combines and adapts the plots from A Wizard of Earthsea and the Tombs of Atuan. I remember when it debuted, and I watched maybe an hour of it and personally thought it sucked. On top of that, there was a glaring problem--aside from Ogion (Danny Glover) no other leads were of color. Especially Ged. Le Guin wrote a marvelous article for Slate magazine with the subtitle How the Sci-Fi Channel Wrecked My Books where she lambasted casting choices and felt like she had to apologize to her reading audience for the choices the network made without her approval.  Her Slate article is probably the most famous, but she catalogued several of her various responses about the whitewashing of Earthsea, which you can read here.

Another famous treatment of the Earthsea stories is Studio Ghibli's Tales from Earthsea which came out in 2006.The adaptation is visually gorgeous, though Le Guin's response to the filmmakers was, "It is not my book. It is your movie. It is a good movie." I think the film was created in the spirit of Earthsea without actually being a clean adaptation of her work, which is what I think Le Guin meant by her comments. I liked it far better than the other version of Earthsea I'd seen.

Prince Arren and Ged, from Tales of Earthsea.
Image Source
In Goro Miyazaki's film, characters have dark brown or black hair, and although they're relatively light-skinned, there's at least an attempt to avoid the "ivory WASP" that dwells in epic fantasy.Ged, especially in the screencap I posted, does have a reddish-tan hue to his skin--which is better than blonde hair and blue eyes.

Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of whitewashing (to me, anyway) of A Wizard of Earthsea are the actual book covers themselves. I could possibly understand why film ignores the wishes of authors simply because Hollywood has a long-established track record of ruining fiction (not that that's a good excuse); but since the original medium of the story is in fact a book, you'd think at least publishers would get it right. Nope. This article shows how with Earthsea, like many other books, publishers have falsely depicted character races on the actual book covers.  An even more thorough article, One of the Most Whitewashed Characters in Fantasy/Science Fiction is Ged shows various interpretations.

I feel incredibly lucky that the copy of the Earthsea Quartet I picked up in Carmarthen was the 1993 Penguin UK edition that depicted Ged mostly the way I imagined him in my mind. There's no mistaking it: every character on that cover has black hair and reddish-brown skin. I cannot think of any other better visual representation of the characters that has appeared on a book cover. But honestly, there should be more than one example of art in existence that properly reveals race in the series.

Oh, wait a minute--I've found more art that actually depicts Ged with dark skin! 

Earthsea comic art by deviant artist MelanieComics.
(CC Licensed)

What can writers do when these long-existing issues with race and whitewashing can't seem to go away? It would help to break down the old high fantasy tropes by writing fantasy that isn't defaulted to the white, European, medieval-based, traditional epic. But if writers start to break the mold, then writers should be prepared to defend their work as they have written it.  Le Guin's Earthsea may have been horribly misrepresented multiple times, but she doesn't go down without a fight!

Works Cited:
LeGuin, Ursula K. The Earthsea Quartet. London: Penguin, 1993. Print.
LeGuin, Ursula. "A Whitewashed Earthsea." Editorial. Slate.com. The Slate Group, a Division of the Washington Post, 16 Dec. 2004. Web. <http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2004/12/a_whitewashed_earthsea.html>.

13 February 2013

A Writer's Dreamlist

Image (cc) by Sadia Zafar
As I try to wrap up my final term at Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction program, I'm also trying to figure out what I'd like to do with my writing career once I'm done with grad school.

Some of these ideas crossed my mind a while ago; some popped in my head during the program; but lately, it's because of one of my classes (Writing About Popular Fiction with Dr. Nicole Peeler) is specifically designed for us to focus on our Booklife--who we are, what we want to do, and what we want to make. Jeff Vandermeer's book is one of our required texts, and he's got a pretty straightforward blueprint for listing your goals.

I'm a little bit messier in how I picture what I want to do with my writing life, but here's my "dreamlist" with goals both vague and specific, in no particular order:

  • Obtain agent representation   
  • Nab a contract with a publishing house--see every book I write in print
  • Teach writing workshops to the public
  • Become a professor (likely adjunct faculty based on my qualifications)
  • Be a guest lecturer
  • Continue to give writing panels at conventions
  • Create visual novels and help create content for RPGs
  • Score music for visual novels 
  • Write comics (collaboration with artists and other writers)
  •  Publish my own comic series (that I write and draw myself)
  • Write and produce another musical 
  • Edit, rescore, and publish previously produced theatrical works
  • Continue to write dark fantasy with fairy tale and folkloric elements
  • Develop one of my fantasy series for television and film (TV preferred) OR
  • Develop one of my fantasy series for animation--film or series
  • Create book trailers and small animations
  • Write short stories for publication in anthologies
  • Self-publish less traditional content
  • Improve time management and discipline to pump out works relatively frequently
  • Establish a stronger presence on Deviant Art
  • Expand social media to Twitter and nab a relatively comfortable amount of followers
  • Climb in status to become a convention guest, not just panelist
  • Qualify for membership in the SFWA
  • Receive nominations and/or win industry awards
...I think that's all the stuff I have floating around in my brain at the moment. That's a nice list with goals all over the place, isn't it?  Readers, what are your writerly/artistic dreams?

11 February 2013

Happy New Year!

2013 is the Year of the Snake!
Image (cc) by Mike Peel
恭禧發財!! Gong Xi Fa Cai! It's the Chinese New Year, but I'd also like to take the time to acknowledge a very belated Happy New Year for the Western calender as well.

Normally in January I do a post about goals and wishes for the new year. For 2012 I had four separate goals: Go to conventions, get healthier, learn to draw, and finish my book.  Here's how I did:
  • Go to Cons: Attended two conventions and one conference. Presented my first writing panel at Colossal Con.
  • Get healthier: I lost 40 lbs. Bad news--by December I regained almost all of it due to stress and other icky health stuff. 
  • Learn to draw: I'm not where I'd like to be, but I've done a lot of art in a small amount of time and have a fairly decent following on Deviant Art now! By learning from scratch, I can now do some very basic things in Manga Studio, Photoshop and Creative Suite, which may help me with graphics design for my site in the future. Also, made some very good contacts via commissions.
  • Finish the book. Did not make this one by a long shot. The book is due April 10th and I'm supposed to get a finished copy to my proofreader by February 28th. School is crazy right now (three classes!!) and I didn't anticipate how much time my classes would suck away from the book. I'm in panic mode right now.
So what are my 2013 goals in comparison? Well, I definitely want to get my health back on track again, but I think it would be easier to narrow my goal down to one thing:

If I make a schedule or timeline, I should follow it.

That's my goal for the new year.  Time management has always killed me, and a lot of stuff has suffered because whenever I come up with a good plan, my behavior always derails it. I have never missed a final deadline, but ever since I started this book I have missed every single short-term personal deadline. I need to  make my list, check it twice, and actually FOLLOW THE RULES I MADE FOR MYSELF.

Because I need my book to be done and I need to graduate in June. Plain and simple. I need to start my life up again. Not that I haven't enjoyed grad school (I love it!), but I've been a full-time, unemployed student. I want to teach for a living, not work in customer service or a call center. I want to get started on making a career for myself again. SO! When I list the steps I need to take to finish my semester at Seton Hill successfully, I need to sacrifice my time-wasters and get cracking.

In the meantime, it says that the year of the Water Snake could be prosperous for a Boar (I learned a while back that I'm a Water Boar) as long as I network and keep an active social/business life. Kind of what I'm learning in class right now, isn't that funny? I'm taking the "Writing About Popular Fiction" class with Nicole Peeler and at the moment, we're learning about forging our writer identity, how to present that through social networking and media, and finding ways to make contacts and promote ourselves and our work.  Maybe I'll be able to use the skills I develop from the course to somehow make my Chinese New Year prediction come true.

If you want good luck, you have to make it, you know? :)

06 February 2013

Treatise on Maps and Fantasy, part II.

History Barnstar
(cc) Erin Silversmith
Read Part I Here.

Hi everyone! When I submitted my post A Personal Treatise on Maps and Fantasy, I knew that my opinions weren't going to be so popular, but I didn't expect the overwhelming response from my classmates, which was completely awesome! I had a lot of eye-opening comments from my peers that I thought I'd share with you.

Before posting to my blog, these posts go to Griffin Gate first (my school's intranet), so that's why you haven't seen commentary on my website yet. To give you context, this is an actual response I typed to a classmate. He gave me a great, thorough, and well-thought out response. Enjoy!

Classmate: I think you're being a little too hard on maps, just maps, not the other stuff.

MeI agree! I am really hard on maps. Likely more than I should be. I consider maps supplemental material, which is why I lumped it in together with glossaries and appendices and all that fun. As much as I don't want maps to be a necessary part of fantasy, as Dr. Wendland wrote in his prompt, including them has become "the proper thing to do." Which means maps stopped being maps and are now considered a genre requirement...since they've been given that power, I take them pretty seriously. :) I'm running with the jilted lover defense here--I've read too many epic fantasies that I hated, and my disappointment with the genre has hardened my heart to the degree that the moment I sniff out an epic fantasy, I run in the other direction. The maps are the quickest way to tell me (aside from the front cover and blurb on the back) that the book will be epic fantasy.
Map of the Battle of the Hornburg, from Lord of the Rings.
Map (cc) by CSwenson via EHRobinson

Classmate: I’ve done a lot of traveling and always use maps. Used one last November to get around London. The map helped me get from one place to another, it was just a tool. The map did not define London. The sights, sounds, smells, feel, and tastes did. Of course the people, too.

Me: I love that sensory experiences and personal interactions defined your experience of London. This is exactly how I believe a fantastical world should be built and experienced. You're absolutely right that a map doesn't define how you experience a place--but it does indeed shape that experience.

I attended school at Trinity St. David in Carmarthen, Wales. When I visited London, I didn't pack a map and I never really used one while I was there. I got on the Tube and decided on impulse where I wanted to go. I rode around the city and got off at stops that sounded familiar to me, and spent most of my time walking around and familiarizing myself with the city that way. There were only two places I specifically wanted to visit--The Tower and the British Museum--so when I needed to pay attention to where I was going, I did take a look at the Tube map on the wall to figure it out, but I pretty much did everything impulsively and relied on zero preparation for the trip. I did the same thing when I went to Oxford and Bath. I like to travel this way because I feel very adventurous; I don't like structure; and I like to discover things on my own and at my own pace. I do think travelling without a map gives you a very different experience from travelling with one, so again. although a map doesn't define a place, it still can shape how you experience it.

Carte Monde Fantaisiste
Map (cc) by Bouchette63
I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I don't like to travel with maps in fantasy either. :) I don't like maps because it adds physical, visual boundaries to the world. To me, it's like putting a frame on a picture. Some people don't mind, because you can still see the work of art, and that's all that matters...some people think a picture frame accentuates the art and draws your eyes to the right place....I'm the type of person who looks at a picture frame and thinks it surrounds the work of art, making the image look smaller, closed-off, and fixed. That's how I view maps and worldbuilding. 

I should make it clear that I am not against an author drawing maps to create their world, to organize their thoughts, and to make sure the world adheres to some kind of order. I draw vague maps to keep things straight in my head, too. But publishing the map along with the text is what I have an issue with.

You are absolutely right that a map cannot straitjacket an imagination! From reading all the comments people shared about maps, whether it was with my post or others, most people don't care whether or not a map is in a book. Dr. Wendland roughly said in another post that people who want to see it will look for it, and people who don't care about it will ignore it. And even if someone looks at the map, they can still reimagine the world any way they want to.

BUT! When an author publishes a map, it's still the author creating an opportunity for himself to step in and go, "Actually....this belongs here. And here. And here." In a way, it does allow the author to exert control over the reader, because when you look at the map and compare it to what you've imagined, his way will always technically be the right way. Because that's what he wrote, that's what he drew, and because it's published, he's set it in stone. Once it's in print, anyone can pull one of these:

Gif (c) College Humor, from the 8 Classic Nerd Maneuvers 
article by Caldwell Tanner and Susanna Wolff.
When the author publishes the map, he's showing the clear boundaries he's created for his world. I like to view fantasy worlds on abstract terms, so I don't want to see a map because I don't want my interpretation of his world to be wrong on any level, however tiny. If I want the world to be endless, showing me a map takes a little bit of that wonder away, because a map grounds it in reality to a certain degree. Some fantasy readers love that, and there's nothing wrong with it. I don't care for it so much.

My personal worldbuilding philosophy: "Fantasia Has no Boundaries." 

Classmate: Still undecided about your comment, “Books with maps indicate to me that the story will be more plot-driven than character-driven….”  I like maps. I like character-driven stories. And, I like a good plot. I don’t think that plot-driven stories equates to stories without developed characters. All the elements of fiction have to be done well to give your reader a good story.

Me: I agree with you that all elements of fiction should be done well for the story to be good enough for the reader. Even if all the elements of fiction are done perfectly, the end product will still either be plot-driven or character-driven. One aspect will always be emphasized over the other, no matter how subtle. It just so happens that my preference will almost always be for character-driven stories, no matter how awesome the plot is.

Vaerȗm Political Map
(cc) by deviant artist Insanity4362
It just so happens that the majority of the epic fantasy I've picked up happens to be plot-driven. Especially the archetypal quest-fantasy. The epic fantasies I've hated just happened to be plot-driven, and not only plot-driven, but have crappy characterization. They all happened to have maps in the front covers as well. So this is me lumping everything together based on my continual disappointment with the genre. It's a classification that I use to determine whether or not I'll read or buy a book.

Of course not every epic fantasy book is like this, but again, I've been burned enough times that I will automatically judge the book and go, "Ok, there's a map here, so this is an epic high fantasy, which means I'll get bored after 40 pages and find the characters stereotypical and annoying and I'll regret paying for this book and wasting my time reading it."

 It's not very fair to the genre for me to be so judgmental about it; and I will give epic fantasy a chance if I have to read it for school, or if it comes to me highly-recommended by people who know my preferences. The only thing I really have control over is to use my preferences to shape how I write my epic fantasy.  :)

You brought up a lot of awesome things in your response to my post and I'm glad I got the chance to clarify some of my thoughts. I really, really loved that you used your experience in London to remind me that overall, how someone experiences a world is how they define it. Thank you so much!

Classmate: Thanks for the additional insight, Kristina. As a result of your original post, the replies, and your latest comments, I'll look at maps with a whole different perspective should I think about using them in the future.

I think we had a good dialogue, and it's one of my favorite class interactions I've had so far. He brought up some really excellent points and he gave me the perfect opportunity to clean up some of my thoughts. What do you think, readers?

03 February 2013

Lily + Andresh: Butterfly Touch

Lily + Andresh: Butterfly Touch  (c) by Valsharea.
Usage of this artwork is restricted.
This is absolutely beautiful artwork from Valsharea that I just had to share with you. The image I've posted here doesn't do it full justice, though--this is one of those things you have to see in full-view to appreciate the incredible detail and depth. If you click on the image, it'll shoot you over to dA where you can see the art in its complete glory.

As I've stated repeatedly, sometimes the best way to see your own characters is through someone else's eyes. Every artist image shows me so much, but Valsharea's interpretation had an added bonus--she included the link to a song with her submission: Same Destination- 云の泣. And now I present it to you!

uploaded by Youtuber ancientchineseosts

It's a lovely song, don't you think? Unfortunately I don't know Chinese, so the lyrics are a mystery to me. But I can still appreciate how pretty it is. And it's fun trying to imagine how it may relate to my characters, and how Valsharea connects this to her own artwork. 

If you'd like to read the lyrics, head over to this website--the lyrics appear under this heading: 歌词 . From what I could put together, the song appears in this series, which you can learn more about here. And please, if I've got my information completely wrong, let me know and I'll fix this post. :)

Anyway, I'm so pleased with Valsharea's interpretation of my characters. It's definitely one of my favorite pieces featuring Lily and Andresh. For more of Valsharea's artwork, check out her Facebook page, Tumblr and her dA profile, Valsharea.

02 February 2013

Geek update: Akaneiro and Sword Art Online!

Official Art (c) 
Just a quickie update...I backed my first game via Kickstarter, and I'm happy to say Akaneiro Demon Hunters has been successfully funded! To read about the project, go here.

The game is going to be free to the public, and it's already in beta, so if you wanna play, go here.

Anyway, Akaneiro caught my eye because Kotaku advertised the project...I love RPGs and the game's artwork is gorgeous. Plus, the story is inspired by Little Red Riding Hood and Japanese mythology, which sounds full of win to me! I was happy to back this, but I'm also happy to receive some of the awesome "thank you" gifts that come from being a backer--art, comics, music, and a lot of in-game goodies. Pretty cool!

In other geek news.......brace yourselves..........hell freezeth over.


Kirito from Sword Art Online.
Ok. Maybe not all of Fullmetal Alchemist....as in, the entire franchise...but man, oh man. My top two-anime series of all time was Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (my #1) with the original Fullmetal Alchemist in at #2...but after I started watching Sword Art Online, I'm gonna have to tweak my favorites list.

 Now, Sword Art Online isn't a completed series yet, as far as I know (I think there's another season coming, maybe?), so I can't bump it to #1 until I watch it in its entirety, and then I can properly weigh it against Brotherhood...but I just finished the fourteenth episode and I am blown away by this show.

I was sucked into the series faster than any other anime I've watched so far, and this is the first anime series to have me bawling like an idiot. So many emotions. This show has everything--fantasy, sci-fi, action, romance--and I ADORE the soundtrack.

I first heard about this series through Kotaku East. If you read a headline that says Sword-Art Online is the Smartest Anime I've Seen in Years you kind of can't help but pay attention. I recently joined Hulu Plus and was delighted to find it there  so I started watching it. I marathoned those episodes!!! I had to stop because of school, but also because I had to recover from sobbing over Episode 14. Holy cow, I'm going to have to use this gif again:

It looks like there are 25 episodes total... When I have the time, I'll zoom through the rest of the series and wait impatiently for the possible (?) second season. In the meantime,  I went ahead and ordered the series to add it to my fast-growing anime collection.

Update from the future (2015!):
The part of the series I refer to above--what made me fall in love with SAO--was the Aincrad arc, which introduced Sword Art Online and its main characters. The second "season" was actually the second story arc, called Alfheim Online.

And oooooh, did I dislike this part of the series. Kotaku gave it a nicer review which I think nailed its issues (although I disgree with their glowing remarks about the villain). Overall, I felt betrayed by creative choices that seemed to undermine the magic of the Aincrad arc. Take a capable, strong heroine, and make her a sex object/damsel-in-distress again; make the new villain as over-the-top, pervy, and cartoony as possible; add in a pointless brother-sister "love" story; and... and... that was Alfheim Online. I watched it all the way through out of the need for resolution, but it just didn't hit me the way the Aincrad arc did. Because of this, SAO lost its place as one of my top anime series.

As I type this update, though, there's Sword Art Online II, which starts the story with Gun Gale Online and a new arc. I'm a few episodes into it and the mystery and visuals have kept my interest; I also read that there's a fourth arc that wraps the series up beautifully, so I'm looking forward to that.

Sword Art Online II could be the antidote to my feelings of disappointment after the Alfheim arc wrapped...I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Overall, though, do I feel my readers should give SAO a try, despite its weaknesses? YES! It scores high on emotional impact for me which I think makes the series worth watching.