In the Category of Fun Time-Wasters…

Big Giant Sword Fighting Avatar

Thunderstorms and lightning were very, very frightening last night, so I hopped on our Kindle and allowed the very addicting Samurai vs. Zombies 2 to take over.

Samurai vs Zombies 2

Swipe games are a lot of fun to play for me, because each level provides something new. I finally beat the game last night, not without help mind, and have been taking advantage of some of the enhancements to get more coin. There are three separate levels: a daily challenge, the main quest, and multiplayer aspect that pits your main character against the zombie horde. There is a large variety of zombies, oni, and what-have-you; some that are definitely nastier than others. The mechanic is pretty straightforward, and it’s very easy to learn. You have a leadership bar at four tiers that fills up. The more leadership you have, the more allies you can summon, and each has various abilities and specialties. Your main character has two special abilities they can access to impact what’s on the screen. They are also varied and unlocked through play, like the Divine Wind and the Flash Bomb. Outside of these aspects, you level up your character and your defenses as you earn coins during gameplay.

What I like about this version of the game, is that there are multiple ways to play it. The Daily Challenge locks in your strategy, and you win for a nice reward. Multiplayers are nice, but wow…I did burn through a few Revives just to spite the other player for the non-stop barrage. (An aspect I don’t like about playing with stranger, but is mildly reduced here given you don’t have chat and it’s not a free-for-all; multiplayer options do try to match up to your power and expertise.

Once you beat the game at Level 50, you do get the opportunity to replay any level — and earn more coins. The challenge levels post-50 are fairly tough, and I despise certain monsters with a passion as you have to get behind them in order to take them down, but strategy? Well, that’s part of the fun!

It’s not a “deep” game, and the art strays into manga-territory, but that’s okay for me. Sometimes, brain turn-y, off-y swipe swipe and tappity, tap, tapp games are exactly what’s needed when the to-do list overwhelms. The game can be found on iTunes, Facebook, Amazon, Google Play — pretty much everywhere you can find mobile games. Support, like through the Samurai vs. Zombies Defense 2 forums, is available too.

Yep, time-waster. Ah well! After defeating this game, it’s back to late nights of Skyrim for me! Using that one as a reward, because flower collection is time-consuming. Heh.

    Mood: Late start. Super hot yesterday; perfectly cool today!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Two LARGE cups so far. Switched to tea. Yes, it’s Aveda. And your point is?
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Up down left right up up down down.
    In My Ears: I Love Paris by Frank Sinatra
    Game Last Played: Samurai vs. Zombies and Samurai vs. Zombies 2
    Book Last Read: *eyebrow raise* There was something…
    Movie Last Viewed: The Matrix
    Latest Artistic Project: CLASSES! But… Shoot. Need pictures.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Mortal Remains
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, short stories, and novels.

Shelley Wasn’t a Corpse-Stitching Necromancer

The Tick Weapons Lab Avatar

Spring is definitely ushering in a lot of change on my end. Allllllllll good, and forcing me to clean, reorganize, get situated, and uncover new opportunities where I can. I am reinvigorated by the sunshine! Today, though, I put on my serious face. Ready?

A long time ago, I got into an heated argument about author’s intent with respect to Frankenstein. I will never forget this discussion, because my professor claimed that intent didn’t matter. (Never mind that I was surrounded by all of my classmates. I, um… I’ve simmered down quite a bit since then.) She pointed to all the outside influences Shelley had, pointed to what might have inspired her, her past tragedies, building her case. And it was a good case, too. Victorian era life — especially for women — was not the romanticized life often popularized today. All that aside, Shelley wrote Frankenstein on a dare, and Lord Byron’s invitation sparked an idea, one that led to her signature work.

Do I feel that author’s intent matters? Yes and no. Varying degrees of intent will shape many things about a story, but what it can’t and won’t do is guarantee how that work will be received.

Hence the title for my post today, for there has been a lot of discussion lately about the more problematic aspects of fiction online. Namely, how rape, race, and gender are handled, and whether or not it accurately reflects the writer as a person. This is not a new conversation, mind. This is a very old conversation. Ancient. Most horror writers have had to put up with this — even me.

The conversation goes something like this:

“Why are you writing about cultists?”
“Because they’re a good fit for this story, and the cultist implies a certain–”

Women? Yeah, we get it worse. Shelley was not someone who cut up corpses for funsies; she wrote her story on a dare. The comments about horror writers make me giggle, really, because I write in the genre because I like writing in the genre. Not because I want to do those horrible things in real life, nor because I’m promoting that horrible thing, either. There are writers who do promote their world views in their fiction, and some of them come forth and relay that. Even so, promoting a belief doesn’t actually make that person a terrible, evil person. Add in the layer of “I need to promote myself so here’s my shiny, new writer’s platform which is based on this stunningly outrageous belief so I get attention!!” and I need time to sort through that. (See also: a long, windy rant about writer’s platforms.)

And this is where I believe the conversation of author’s intent then deviates to how the reader interprets the work. Currently, this specific point is also where I’m having a huge disconnect, and where I get confused and tired and frustrated. I do think it’s a good idea to critique works and have those hard discussions. This is how the craft improves; this is how writers take new risks, too.

However, I’m not a fan of accusing the author of being a terrible, human being by default, just because they wrote or said something I don’t agree with. (The reverse is also true: popularity and success often excuses the worst sort of human behavior, so I don’t believe the person is an exemplary human being because I love a book that person wrote.) It’d be great if I could discuss certain aspects openly, without being afraid that the author will be attacked by others, or without that author believing I’m attacking her/him, or without someone turning around and doing the same thing to me.

Satan-worshipping is WAY easier than being a writer.*

*cues ominous music*

Now, if only those demonic rituals would conjure me up more words… Who is the Demon of Prose, anyway? Oh right, that’d be me.

* My sarcastic side is poking through. Heh.

    Mood: I have coffee. Life is good.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Coffee is the blood that floweth through my veins.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Got sick. (Don’t ask.)
    Game Last Played: Samurai vs. Zombies and Samurai vs. Zombies 2
    Book Last Read: An encyclopedia about the paranormal. Something, something.
    Movie Last Viewed: The Matrix
    Latest Artistic Project: CLASSES! But… Shoot. Need pictures.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Mortal Remains
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, short stories, and novels.

For the Love of Story

The Tick Weapons Lab Avatar

I’ve decided to keep Raymond Day in my novel. I feel the story is going to suffer greatly without it; he needs to be there. Day, who first appeared in The Queen of Crows, is a problematic character for a few reasons. First, his origin story dates back to the Westward expansion in the 1830s era. He is a vampire (not spoiling anything by telling you that) and how he became an undead being that can only survive on human blood is the stuff of nightmares. But that particular detail, mind, is tied to what happened historically. Yes, it’s alternate history. However, to make his Native American character believable, certain details reflect what happened at the time. I haven’t settled on a specific tribe yet, as he played a minor role in the short story, but thinking Cherokee might be the best fit.

I have a stack of books on the subject, and the one I started reading last night is by Peter Nabokov. It’s called Indian Running, Native American Testimony: From Prophecy to the Present 1442 – 1992. I’ve decided to take the academic approach, by reading first-hand accounts, to make Day’s character believable — but also handle one of the trickier bits about him. That is, often when Native American characters are presented in fiction (if at all), there’s a tendency to put them in a historical context as if they are invisible in the modern world. (This is a PolicyMic article that gives a brief overview of some of those issues.)

On the flip side, there is also a tendency to lump every tribe together, so a character becomes representative of all Native Americans; much like when whites are all lumped together and the distinction between the French and the English, for example, is completely erased. Saying that all tribes got along just fine is like saying all of Europe is one big happy family. Really, the lumping occurs from a lack of knowledge. It’s easy to categorize when you don’t know the details, and as a writer it’s my job NOT to do that.

Am I obsessing about research? Oh hell, yes. I’m going to get parts wrong, but at the same time? I would rather be smart about characterization, which is often embedded in the style of language and descriptions I use, than be like: “Oh hey, here’s this pulp-y character that comes along and is there to move the plot forward.” There are very few Native Americans in modern-day fiction. Few. I can’t remember the last time I saw one in a film; The Prophecy, maybe? Native Americans are not fantasy elves with mystical powers that have their own form of magic because of their deep connection to the land. Beliefs? Yes. Aliens from outer space? No.

And what of those beliefs? Well, you see this is the other reason why research is a requirement for me. No two tribes are alike, and beliefs vary widely. The vast majority of Native American beliefs don’t match European goals and thought processes, either. That’s where these accounts are helping me, because I am reading and seeing exactly what people from the era believed, what they experienced, and how they viewed the expansion. Hey, big hint folks: it’s not what Hollywood has depicted. Ever.

I’m lucky, I suppose, in that there’s no shortage of materials out there. I think the only reason I’m not (lucky), is because it’s going to take me longer to finish writing the book, but once I have his character down it’ll go much faster. I mean, sure it sounds like an excuse. Research can be a way to procrastinate, but the thing is: I’m not reading any of these books or diving in because I don’t trust myself as a writer, or because I’m freezing up, or any of those other “lets-beat-ourselves-up” reasons… I’m reading all this to internalize the information, so that I do the best job I possibly can. With so few Native American characters out there, that’s immensely important to me, and I’d never forgive myself if I was sloppy about it even though I’m writing fiction knowing what I know. Call it pride or whatever you like, but that’s just how it’s gotta be. I LOVE BEING A WRITER. And this? This research? It’s part of my job.

    Mood: Strangely strange.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Quite a bit.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I moved. Well, kind of.
    In My Ears: White noise. ZZZzzzzzz
    Game Last Played: Ninjas versus Zombies
    Book Last Read: Indian Running, Native American Testimony: From Prophecy to the Present 1442 – 1992
    Movie Last Viewed: Kill Bill II
    Latest Artistic Project: Art classes. SON OF A BISCUIT! That reminds me…
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Mortal Remains
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, short stories, and novels.

The Lowdown on Stuff I Like. Starting with 9.

Last week, I decided I’m going to blog on occasion about stuff I like. It’s the censored version, in the sense that there won’t be a lot of swear-y bits, but at the same time it’s not the “I’m kissing butt” or the “I’m boasting about stuff I’ve worked on” variety. (If you haven’t met me, well…I’m very bad at those two things. HAH!) I think of this more as a window into my world: how I research, what I respond to, why I’m analyzing a piece of work. And in the effort of FULL disclosure, yes the links will likely be affiliate-related — but as I am not in the top tier of wealthy writers yet? So it goes.

PLUS, there’s a mega-ton of negativity out there, and really…less of that please. I mean, the entire reason why I wanted to write in genre is because it was fun — not because it felt like a chore or made me want to cry. Eesh. I’m also of the belief that if you (or I) love a work that much, it can be inspiring to apply the lessons learned to works of our own. Fans are the reason why I write, but the inspiration and the creativity I have doesn’t come out of thin air. It originates from everything around me: exhibits I go to, paintings I like — even books I consume or movies I inhale. Now, I might bore you with some of my comments about art or music in general, but I got the movies, comics, books, and games thing down.

So today, I start with a movie that came out nine years ago: 9. There might be some spoilers here, but as it’s been NINE YEARS (she says, unironically), anything I say is in service to my overall point. This didn’t air nine minutes ago (*coughs* Game of Thrones)!

9 Cover

9 was a problematic movie for me when I first saw it, because it debuted with a lot of hype. When I go into a film, thinking it’s going to be the next what-have-you, then I have a certain set of expectations. Here, this wasn’t a Tim Burton film persay. Not in the same way I was already expecting, mind. Not in that Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride, or Beetlejuice operandus modi.

This movie begins with a short film by the creator, Shane Acker. The long form version originated out of a short form film by the same name, and you can find the original movie at the publisher’s website. 9 was groundbreaking animation at the time, and those visuals can dazzle me, but as I am married to story? There was a part of me that got suckered in to how great the film would be based on the chugga-chugga of the marketing train. When I saw it, I did enjoy it, but the experience was lessened by the hype.

Fast forward to today, where this movie was translated into Blu-Ray. I watched it again, this time paying attention to story. Animation has dramatically and significantly increased in production value since 2005, so the SFX and the hype are long gone for me. The story, to me, was about alchemy. That field, in an allegorical sense when applied to Western alchemists, as alchemy can be found in many different cultures, has elements of the Corn King or Christ myth. Sacrificing oneself to be resurrected later is a powerful theme, and here the scientist takes an action that allows that to happen.

In some ways, the main scientist’s character arc parallels Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. Here’s where they are different: the Scientist created something new and wondrous, and that science was co-opted by those who’d abuse it. Voldemort, on the other hand, has been presented as a boy/man unable to escape his fate, because of his lineage, his family. He never fights what he is, and he gets aggressive, manipulating other Hogwarts professors to split his soul *wink, wink* into Horcruxes.

That said, there are similarities between the two that I see. Voldemort’s pieces of soul both were and weren’t sentient. Contained in objects, each Horcrux had a kind of survival instinct. They chittered. And, when opened, the full brunt of his nasty soul came to bear. The journal, too, is possibly the best example of a sentient part of Voldemort’s soul, for when it was opened, a “shade” of his personality came out. How those shades manifested did vary somewhat, but they were all evil. In part, because the Horcruxes were made by committing acts of murder so that he could survive.

The Scientist in 9, for purposes of comparison, did something similar. Instead of acting on malice, his self-preservation was bound to his desire for redemption and to restore humanity to the world. When the Scientist split his soul, it was with the intent to save humanity. Each of his “Horcruxes” were rag dolls, with their own unique personalities, shapes, and — more importantly — motives. The conflict in 9 isn’t just an outward one, between the Matrix-like robots and the rag dolls, it’s also inward, too. The Scientist, in some respects, is fighting himself to survive.

What I liked about the film now, was the layers of storytelling present in the visual effects. Color, for example, is very important to this movie, as is texture and light and the shape of the rag doll’s eyes. There is a very specific attention to detail here, and I’m appreciative of that. I also really love the way that the alchemy was presented, because the whole point of this film is that the Scientist didn’t know if he was going to be successful. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know where I’m coming from if you watch the ending again. Too, that ending scene? Hugely important. Even the shape used — which forms a pentagram — is important in the overall scheme of things. (e.g. Fibonacci sequence, five wounds for the Christ figure on the cross, etc.)

For all these reasons and more, I feel that 9 is one of those movies where it’s worth watching again. If you see it on the first time, sure there’s a story there. But watch it on the second or third time, and more details come to light. The main plot IS clear; it’s not reinforced over and over and over again like some movies today are. I will say that if you’re watching on the first time, though, put down your phones, tables, and instruments of distraction. It’s a movie with an interesting message, and I’m glad I’ve added it to my collection.

Mo*Con and Writing the Other

Galactic Starry Space

Mo*Con is a gathering of writers and fans in Indianapolis that’s put together by my friend Maurice Broaddus. This year’s theme was writing the other. I had a wonderful time and was anxious to have the discussion about writing the other, because it directly impacts my original work. You see, this has always been important to me for many reasons, and I’ve struggled with the conversations that have been happening on the internet. There’s a lot of anger, hurt feelings, and strong opinions that come from many different perspectives in circulation, and few solutions. There are people who believe that I (meaning writers who share a similar background to myself), can’t and shouldn’t write characters who hail from different ethnic heritages or cultures. There are folks who think that I should step back, and just let a person of color write the story I want to write, and take a safer route.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments against writing the other. Too many. It’s forced me to freeze up on occasion, because what if I get it wrong. What if I piss somebody off. What if… And that anxiety that I have comes from a very personal, very challenging set of experiences that I have with the subject in general. Experiences that spur me to write about all different kinds of people, to spend the time on research and reading, to read and continue reading unique perspectives in storytelling, to pore through lots and lots of history books. Though all that may be true? None of that means anything because the most important thing — in fact the ONLY THING — that matters is how the other is reflected in the stories I write. All the research in the world doesn’t mean crap unless I’m applying that and, in the absence of telling stories, that’s what I do. Obsess and research and obsess some more.

What Mo*Con did for me, was to say: “Yes, write the other. But be considerate.” Okay, I’m pretty sure I have the considerate part down. “And, that includes thinking about your audience.” That little gem, which came from Chesya Burke, really nailed it for me. Who your audience is explains a LOT about the response. It isn’t just a story, mind, it’s a story that different people will identify with. This is what the internet has done. It’s highlighted that not all readers hail from the same demographic. If I am writing, and I picture my audience is mostly readers like myself, then I don’t have to worry necessarily about how an Italian-American woman will respond to a Jamaican character. I do, however, need to worry about how a Jamaican reader might react to seeing a character like her in my stories. To figure that out, it’s as simple as finding beta readers who can read those stories and tell me what I did right or wrong.

Avoiding stereotypes, to me, is just common sense because that’s the least I can do. But the idea that I shouldn’t write other and diverse characters because I don’t share someone’s cultural background is ludicrous. I am not afraid to write the other. I am afraid, however, to get it wrong — and guess what? I will. I will screw that up, just like I’ll screw something else up in my stories. Maybe I get a fact wrong or a translation or a character description. I’m not writing to be perfect, mind, I can never be that. Never. And I’m okay with that, really. I just don’t want to deeply offend anyone, but at the same time I’m not going out of my way to piss people off.

Having positive, supportive people around me does help, too, which is another reason I am deeply grateful for the Mo*Con experience. If anything, that’s quite possibly the most important thing to take away from this. It’s having the right people around me, to support my efforts and my writing, to not be so negative or dismissive. The internet can be a wondrous thing, but especially when it comes to topics like this? Comments (from both strangers and people you know) can introduce insecurity and more reasons not to write — and I think there’s quite enough of those, thank you. Instead, I seek reasons to say “YES!” starting with one story (and one reader) at a time.

    Mood: Blargh.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Um… Well, there was that one.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Snoring.
    In My Ears: Noise-cancelling headphones are glorious.
    Game Last Played: Ninjas versus Zombies
    Book Last Read: A book I put down. It suxx0red.
    Movie Last Viewed: Nine
    Latest Artistic Project: Art classes. SON OF A BISCUIT! That reminds me…
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Mortal Remains
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, short stories, and novels.
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