Sheer genius

Ah, the morning after. Wrote a chapter of Tallulah last night – loved it. Loved how I wrote it, the amount of time I was willing to devote to making it work, the new twists I put on it to give myself the chance to explore ideas I never got to in the first draft or its revision. Felt brave and expansive and adventurous, full of passion and enthusiasm that I had started to fear I’d lost touch with forever.

And then today I woke up and asked myself what the flying fuck I thought I was doing how could I make all those sweeping changes with no thought to the consequences I had a fucking BOOK written and all I had to do was KEEP REVISING IT and it would be DONE and FINISHED and I could WRITE SOMETHING THE FUCK ELSE what the FUCK WAS I THINKING

Well, that was the morning. This is the afternoon, and after some further consideration I’m feeling good about it again. I was afraid that my pre-existing design for Tallulah would get in the way of trying to start over anew – and it did, though not in any way I realised it would until after I’d written it. Which is fine. Eliminating one of the key plot points ended up weakening the strength of the chapter’s events, and I hadn’t considered that. But it’s not as big of a deal as I thought this morning; I just have to throw in a couple of lines here and there to balance things out and then … roll with it. Because this is a new story. I think it’s a better story. It’s still taking shape, because I’m writing this on the fly, but that also means it will – hopefully – be much simpler, have less moving parts, and allow me to finally get the chance to try out the original concept of the story that I had some four years ago. I’m not saying that concept is a goldmine or anything, but I need to know what’s in it that’s worth running with.

I also cut out some extraneous characters who were originally in the chapter, and I feel good about that. I wasn’t expecting to, but it’s reassuring to know that I can pretty much completely erase a couple of my “darlings” and actually not care that much. Weight-loss is one of my goals for this year, so I guess it makes sense that it should extend to my writing as well. Feels pretty great.

What also feels pretty great is returning to some of my old stories with this newfound zeal for writing-on-the-fly. And when I say “old stories”, I mean the self-insert wish-fulfillment fan-fiction of LoTRThe Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Final Fantasy, Harry Potter and myself that I started writing when I was 14 and decided that not only did I want to write books to tide myself and my friends over between Harry Potter books, I wanted to take Harry Potter and put myself, my at-the-time-best-friend Wickham and various other franchises I was obsessed with into a blender and write the results.

This story was entitled Realm of the Myth, which I have spoken about a bit before on this blog. It was so bad that, even at age 14, I came to the realisation that I literally had nowhere to go with it. It was iterative, it was dull, and after chapter 2 I couldn’t think of where I could possibly go with it – so I didn’t. I quit. I wrote other things, other things that I also want to return to, especially as they would work really well as comics and I want an excuse to make myself learn to draw better. And then when I was 15 I came back with a vengeance; inspired by Dragon Ball Z even more than the first time I decided that the premise would revolve around twelve elemental dragons that would bestow upon my author-avatar a unique magical weapon each a-la Zelda, and also combine to create an Ultimate Dragon that would grant any wish.

That ended up turning into a personal, mythologized journal as I kept stuffing my constantly-updating life events into it (funny how life keeps doing that huh), spiralled out of control with Matrix sequel-esque over-philosophising bullshit that erased any trace of plot, vibrancy or, y’know, enjoyment from the project, and ultimately culminated in my realising in 2012 that it had become a toxic habit that I needed to drop. Which was validated when I did drop it, enjoying an explosion of creative energy that lasted for a solid four months now that I was no longer obligated to keep pumping energy into a dead, rusty, zombie-infested reactor.

Then last year I picked up some of the most fun pieces and tried to turn them into enough of a premise to make a Nanowrimo project out of, and I’m still in the process of doing that, and I’m honestly looking forward to getting started on it again. Needs some smoothing out and still has some old inconsistencies rattling around, but it’s getting there.

That’s not what I’m excited about.

What I’m excited about came to me while trying to read The Queen of the Tearling, which so far I find utterly frustrating because I want it to be good, and some parts of it I really do like, but they’re parts that the book doesn’t seem to want to take advantage of at all. It felt like a vanity project (I’m one to talk, I’ve never had to write for my supper outside of university), and it reminded me of my own high fantasy vanity project back in its self-fan-fic infancy, where one of the characters I’ve turned into a red-herring love-interest who is actually a huge creep used to be my author-avatar’s designated love-interest rival.

A rival who was a fucking Elven Ranger, who was dazzlingly attractive, fit, strong, good at fighting and generally glamorous yet also insanely jealous of my author-avatar’s deeply intimate emotional connection to the designated love-interest Elven Princess that it turned him into a slobbering jealousy demon and holy shit I can’t believe I never recalled that this was a thing that I did until today.

And that wasn’t all! My author-avatar – name of Sajen by the way, because it’s like Jason except anyway you get it – also had the unrequited affections of a secretly-attractive bookish girl, who literally lived next door to him, whose entire reason for existence consisted of hoping he’d notice her one day and return her feelings, and when he didn’t she got super depressed and turned into a Goth because he didn’t like-like her (though to be fair that was also because she had issues with her mother, because I decided that family issues were the same thing as a personality).

And also had a personal pixie guardian who was uber-hawt and completely devoted her immense Faerie magic to helping him with study, teaching him Faerie martial arts and increasing his self-esteem, to the point of pulling a Tinkerbell from Hook and growing to full-size on the day of his wizarding graduation ceremony just so that he would look good walking down the street with someone as impossibly attractive as her and also gave him advice about girls (which was all ultimately written by 14-year-old me anyway so I’m not sure how I thought that was going to work out) (maybe I thought if I made her say it it would come true or something) (maybe I thought she was real) (shut up you can’t prove anything).

And also warranted the attention of the Dark Lord of the Orcish Hordes, who was another pretty-boy Elf like the ranger guy, only this time a Goth Elf who was a Dark Lord and wore Black which made him badass and he just wanted to kill Sajen so hard because Sajen was awesome.

And ALSo had a special Elf tree that would resurrect him if he ever died, because also he was half-Elf and ridiculously good-looking as well, and actually kind of looked exactly identical to the Dark Lord of the Orcish Hordes just with different hair, who looked like an anime pretty-boy version of me, and later on they became soul-buddies and had witty banter while they killed evil together because Sajen turned him into a good guy, a good guy who never disagreed with him unless it was funny, never got jealous or bitter at playing second-fiddle after being a Dark Fucking Lord and never moved in on his crushes. Elf bros before believable characterisation.

AND ALSO had, in addition to tutelage by the most powerful wizards to ever exist, secret super-strength that was connected to his courage and inherent goodness that allowed him to punch a dragon the size of a town so hard that its skull caved in

… And also had:

  • A wizard’s staff that he could fly on like a hover-board and control with telekinesis
  • Unlimited free and immediate access to the Magi Council’s limitless supply of money
  • A growing collection of super-powered elemental weapons he gained from defeating each of the twelve elemental dragons
  • A Draycoon familiar (half-dragon, half-raccoon, do not ask me why I thought that was cool I was 14) who was also secretly a super-hot demon prince in disguise and was just as much of a sycophantic wing-man to him as his personal pixie assistant (they ended up getting married and adopting Sajen, to memory, how many issues can one 14-year-old have)
  • The power to summon a giant ice-wolf demon bound to his will
  • The power to transform into a rabbit-demon with fire powers (based off my Chinese Zodiac sign, the Fire Rabbit)
  • The power to transform into a minotaur-ish creature only really attractive with earth powers and even more super-strength than normal (based off my Greek Zodiac sign, Taurus)
  • The power to transform into an Elf spirit through his connection to his resurrection-tree that gave him the power to conjure tree-fire (don’t ask), teleport, turn ethereal, heal himself and others, fly, use the Force, and had most of the same super-strength and speed of his other two transformations and got awesome glowing tattoos
  • Natural Elven super-magic that was better than human magic because humans lived in cities and had shitty magic because they lived in cities shitty fucking humans go fuck yourself I’M TOO SPECIAL TO BE ONE OF YOU
  • The power to Fuse with his uber-hawt older woman pixie personal assistant and become a Demigod with wings and both of their powers combined and then increased a bit because I’d just discovered what the word “gestalt” meant and was excited for an excuse to use it in conjunction with my own self-appreciation

AND ALSO WAS ORDAINED BY THE FUNDAMENTAL PHYSICS OF THE FUCKING UNIVERSE TO BE THE CHOSEN ONE BUT THERE WErer oTHERE CHOSeN OneS BEFOre him buT HE WAS THE TRUE CHOSEN ONE and just …

Just …

How the fuck am I not writing this?

How can I ever live with myself if I don’t write this?

It’s so beautiful.

Earlier this year, or possibly late last year, I was gripped by the desire to write a “male version of Twilight“. I was going to get all deconstructive and clever about it, make social commentary about gender roles and stereotypes, toxic masculinity and the New Patriarchy that disguises itself as the Sensitive New-Age Guy and still ultimately relies on the oppression and objectification of women, that sort of thing

FUCK that. This is the male Twilight I was looking for; it was right under my nose the whole time and I simply didn’t notice. Well I’m fucking noticing now.

I seriously feel so bad for that Elven Ranger character, he was actually kinda cool once upon a time and now he’s doomed to be a creepy asshole a-la Dimitri from Vampire Academy and get disemboweled in the first book.

Times change.

I mean I don’t know if I could actually get through writing something like this now, seeing as I’m slightly less insecure and slightly more self-aware, but there’s still something hilarious about the exaggeratedness of the premise – and the fact that I really do want to see a “male version of Twilight“, and would be quite proud to put my name to it. I wonder what that says about me.

In the meantime I should really be writing this Masters proposal. I guess that’s self-appreciation of another kind.

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Writing While Writing: A Chapter of Tallulah

Why the fuck not.

~~~

First of all: the chapter that I want to write is actually a chapter that I want to finish writing, and I have no idea where I put it so let the folder-hopping begin … I started it a few months ago and, while it was going resonably well, the fact that I didn’t have a clear plan for what was going to happen really tripped me up. I knew that I wanted “some awkward social stuff” to happen, but not what awkward social stuff, so I ended up killing my own momentum by writing and re-writing character interactions until I got frustrated that I wasn’t getting what I wanted and gave up.

What I realise now is that this is fine. Giving up is fine. Sometimes you just need to move on and do something else. And I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to actually write Tallulah, but I do know that there’s not much point in getting frustrated every time I have a setback, because I can’t really go beyond my own limits. That’s kind of the definition of the word “limit”, right? A point you cannot go beyond? You can only hope to expand them, and that takes time and practice, and right now I think I have what I need to do that.

Also, I think I have what I need to just get this shit done: do what I’ve been doing for my werewolf thing and just allow myself to write complete and utter derivative shit, so long as it will make things happen, create a sense of flow and progression, and keeps me writing. This is going to be hard, because I have a serious hang-up with Tallulah on making it good and feminist and progressive and all of these other things that, I mean, I do want. But right now what I need to prioritise is laying down a foundation that holds together as well as it possibly can.

So, I am deeply sorry Tallulah, but you are about to become the most incredibly offensive story ever written. Probably. Because you’re a story about a teenage girl, and most of the stories we have about those are horrible, so those horrible ideas will probably be the ones I default to while writing at breakneck pace to just get shit moving. I really, really hate this, but that’s what editing is for. I promise I will come back and make everything morally acceptable.

Later.

Hang on tight.

~~~

I’d forgotten just how satisfying it is to inflict pain and misery upon fictional characters who are entirely under my control.

Also this took me about three hours to get around to so, yeah, no speed-writing for me today.

It’s going pretty great, though. I’ve written 858 words, and found that most of the ones I’d already written were actually not too bad. I like how this chapter is going so far. Just needs a big old tweak at its current stopping-point so that I can bring it back around to fitting in with one of my favourite scenes and …

Well, there’s a question I’ve asked myself a few times: how much do I need that scene? And also isn’t it kind of not particularly well-executed? It’s supposed to set up a mystery, but I never quite felt like that happened properly, or maybe just that I never followed through with it properly; one of my beta readers told me it created a sense of suspense so I guess I should trust that at least one person thought it worked.

~~~

Well, here’s the moment of truth as it’s the scene I’m about to copy-past into the chapter. Up to 1762 new words, all of which I’m even fairly happy with. Not ashamed to admit I picked up a few neat ideas from reading The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black; it wasn’t what I was expecting from the first 100 pages, but I really liked how it was written. She does good characters, and she also writes them well. Definitely recommended.

And: I have a twist! For this chapter, not The Darkest Part of the Forest. The thing that established the maybe-possibly suspense-setting bit – I’m going to change it! And it’s going to have all sorts of huge repercussions for the story and I DON’T CARE!

Okay maybe I do care a bit; maybe I’ll just leave it out. I’m not entirely sure. I should probably decide.

Also: holy shit, making myself stop worrying about whether what I’m writing is “good” or not and instead just writing what I have in my head is actually making my writing better. It’s more … to the point. I just have stuff that I want to write, and then I write it. I didn’t think it would work for Tallulah in the same way it worked for my werewolf thing, but so far it seems like it works at least as well, and possibly even better because I have three and a half years of work to build on. Which I also didn’t think would work; I thought it would get in the way and distract me from my goal. But I guess my goal is to write the rest of this chapter as I had it planned out a few months ago anyway … guess that explains my clarity of mind …

Did I actually learn anything here, or did I just make myself stop procrastinating and start writing?

Well, no, I did learn something: the rest of this draft/revision/whatever is actually doable. That’s where I can put my werewolf lessons into practice and just write exactly what I have in mind, the “too fast to think” method, where anything goes so long as it gets me where I want to go. But what I’m also learning is that what I tend to default to isn’t necessarily as horrible and derivative and politically regressive as I’d feared. I mean maybe as this draft goes on it’ll get that way as I start running out of stuff I’d planned and start looking for ways to bridge gaps I’ll only know about once I get to them, but in the meantime this is honestly going pretty well. I’m kinda proud of this, to be honest. Yesterday I thought I was going to have to put Tallulah on the shelf until I’d “worked something out”, and now I’m finding that all I had to “work out” was that I already have what I need to get started again – and not only that, but to finish.

I think I can actually finish this story by the end of the year.

I’ve even got my wall-planner; I still haven’t marked it up, but I can take care of that easily enough. It’s not like I have a better idea of the story that I want to tell just yet. But I do have a better way of finding my way to it: using the most basic, uncomplicated ideas I possibly can. Because so far, it’s making what I thought I had to work with a lot better, a lot clearer, and a lot more coherent.

It’s just one chapter. It’s a chapter that I sorta had planned a few months ago at that. But for now, at least, this book I’ve been struggling to make work for the past two years is starting to feel like a story again.

~~~

5422 words later – a few hundred of which I did copy-and-paste from another chapter, because they were exactly what I needed …

It works.

It fucking works.

I can write this book. I can tell this story.

I can do this.

The past week has been nerve-wracking and breathless; I have often lamented my lack of free time, but this has proven to me that free time is the time that you spend the way you want to spend it, in the moment that you inhabit it, not some promised slot of freedom you will eventually reach just by waiting it out. Free time is created, not found. And I could have created a lot more if I’d fought my nerves and made myself do the things I’d felt like doing, when I felt like doing them.

But that’s fine. All lessons can be learnt, as many times as we need to. And what I learnt today is that this story isn’t done, isn’t too much for me too handle, isn’t a lost cause that I should just give up on. Will I keep writing it after today with the same verve and enthusiasm that I have right now? I have no way of telling. I made a pretty huge decision, changing a really key aspect of the plot because I just kinda felt like it, and because it was part of the original concept for the story. My hope is that it gets rid of any excuse I might have for defaulting back to the “superhero origin story” that my current revised manuscript turns into, or so I feel. I don’t want to tell a superhero origin story; I don’t want to tell a superhero story at all – not with this story anyway. I just want to tell this one. And for the first time in a very, very long time, I feel not only that I can, but that I will.

Also that’s 5k words I wrote today; that’s pretty fucking great. I am kind of a total boss. Just sayin’.

I’m starting to get excited about everything else now: my masters, my other books, the possibility of finding a stable enough source of income to maybe move out of home by this time next year, after I’ve made more progress with my general anxiety – and I’m feeling like that anxiety is ebbing more and more as I continue to just trust that writing what I have in my mind is the right thing to write, and have it proven true every time. I learnt a lot about life in general through writing this book in its first and second years, and it seems that’s going to continue. I’m not complaining. If this is my year of risk-taking, then the risk I’m learning is worth taking is to trust my simplest ideas. It’s a discipline, and I want to get more disciplined. It’s productive, and I want to produce more of the work that I love doing.

And it’s not just helping me get my stories told; it’s helping me tell them better than I have for a very long time. Since I first started, really. Obviously I’ve learnt a hell of a lot since I first started, fifteen years ago, but I definitely had the cleanest, clearest, most convicted sense of my stories back then. And it’s starting to come back now, and even if this book falls through – which I hope it doesn’t, and it doesn’t feel like it will – that will be worth it all on its own.

Here’s to writing.

 

Itty littlebit tinysmall

I have to write Tallulah.

I have a morbid desire to go through this blog and embarrass myself by counting up every time I’ve made some grand sweeping statement about how I’m going to write Tallulah, because I’m pretty sure that’s about half the posts on this blog – but seriously, I have to fucking write Tallulah.

I haven’t encouraged myself to write my incredibly generative werewolf YA impulse-write novel since the shit went down with missing my flight to Malaysia and scrambling to see if there was anything I could do about it, nor did I get myself to work on let alone submit my Masters proposal, which I have to get done today if I want to retain any shred of dignity I have left. I mean okay I’ll live but I just hate not being on top of things that I feel I should be able to be on top of. And Tallulah is one of them.

I’ve known a few things about Tallulah for a very, very long time: Tallulah started off as a very, very small idea and simply due to spending as much time on it as I have it has become a magnet for every inspired idea I’ve thrown at it and is now being drowned under its own weight; there is too much going on that has nothing to do with the heart of the story and, while I could continue to chip away at it until it’s sculpted into something resembling a coherent story, it’s not a story I actually want to tell; there are three main antagonists and they all get in each other’s way and clog up the narrative flow; I have a lot of darlings inhabiting my grand scheme for this book and can’t think of anywhere else to put them and that’s why I’ve permitted them to hold up my progress for this long; I want a more upbeat and simultaneously darkly humorous verison of this story that incorporates all of my darlings but don’t have the energy to make myself write that version of the story; so much of what I like about the story is comprised of stand-alone scenes and ideas in my head that aren’t actually motivated by storytelling, just the “it’d be cool/profound/angsty as fuck if” factor that they possess … I know all of this, and have known it for a long time. But while I don’t know how to get out of this gunky mess I’ve found myself in, I know that I want to. I know that I do actually still want to write this story, despite all the frustrations and self-imposed roadblocks I’ve had to deal with. I guess maybe it’s just been long enough that I’ve recovered from my stumbles and have some of my momentum and enthusiasm back – in which case: awesome. I know I can rely on that happening with other projects in the future.

I want to write this book and tell this story. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it.

I’ve said multiple times that Tallulah is a very small story that I’ve allowed to become bloated. It’s not like there aren’t ways to make that version of the story work; it’s that I haven’t even bothered to try writing any of them, and I cannot be fucked doing so. That’s because this is yet another “wouldn’t it be cool if X” thought-experiment as opposed to an actual story that I have in mind.

However, through writing my shitty YA werewolf impulse-write novel, I have learnt the incredible value of distinguishing between the ideas that I have that are motivated by a desire to tell a story, and the ideas that are motivated by the desire to just think about how cool said ideas are. It’s like the difference between wanting to actually discuss something and just reblogging an interesting article: the motive is everything. If you talk about social justice online long enough, as I have, the very idea of intention almost becomes repulsive, a cowardly excuse waiting to happen. But, I mean, intention matters. It has to matter. There are some things it cannot and should not ever excuse, which is where social justice comes into play, but aside from very dire circumstances it has to matter, because we have to see each other as human. I’m digressing though – my point is that for writing and storytelling, for planning a story, intention is everything. It’s the difference between jotting down a few notes in a Word document and actually sitting down to tell the story itself.

Because it gives your ideas purpose. It gives them a role. I’ve talked about how playing Dungeons and Dragons really helped me to hone my storytelling skills, and it’s because playing Dungeons and Dragons gets you to think a LOT about intentionality. In order to prepare an adventure to lead other players through, for instance, you need to know each player’s character’s skills and abilities, think of what’s going to be an interesting and engaging play experience for them where their unique group dynamic as well as their individual skills are not just put to the test but also given opportunities to shine, how to break an adventure into different stages so that it’s not just immediate gratification and they actually have a sense of having earned something by the end of it. You have to plan like a motherfucker, and the thing is that not only will D&D teach you how to do it, but it will also teach you that it’s fun. It is fun to plot out the stages of an adventure, to set up an end goal and then work out how to cut it up into little pieces and have them all run together in a chain of dominoes, the triggering of one setting off the next one right up until the final piece falls into place, like springing a trap, only instead of dying you get closure and resolution (and loot).

The one big adventure that I never quite got around to setting up was to have the players enter a dungeon where a Lich was seeking to overpower a dragon that had shacked up there. The end reward was obviously going to be treasure, and the most obvious obstacle was the dragon. The Lich, however, couldn’t do anything without its phylactery, so it had the players go around and find all the different jars that contained its organs. Each jar would be guarded by a different kind of hazard, and each time a jar was returned to the Lich the players got to progress further into the dungeon. But each time they progressed, they also learnt something about the dungeon that ultimately led to realising that the Lich was actually trying to get to the dragon and turn it into a zombie dragon under its control, and that the dragon was the dungeon’s original owner. The players would then be left with the option of pitting the two against each other, trying to sabotage the Lich and find a way to steal the treasure from the dragon, trying to convince the dragon to help them kill the Lich and spare their lives, or some other thing. The open-endedness that works for a game obviously doesn’t work quite as well in a static story, but learning the importance of staging has been one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt as a writer, and I wish I’d kept that skill more honed than it currently is.

All of this comes back to the problem of not really having a story in mind for Tallulah, which is, I now understand, the main reason why I’m just not motivated to write it: it’s not a story. It’s a bunch of ideas, and ideas fulfill their function perfectly fine just by being thought about. You don’t have to put them into action for them to serve their purpose. But a story is different, because it needs to be told before it can actually be a story, even if you only tell it to yourself. And that’s what I don’t have with Tallulah.

So is it a matter of trying to force myself to see this new, darkly humorous version of Tallulah that completely changes the tone as a story when it currently just isn’t in my mind? Is it a matter of trying to “roll back” my progress, return to the very small, simple story I originally had and force myself to only write that – to force myself to write exactly what’s on my mind, as that’s what worked with my werewolf thing? Is it a matter of biting the bullet and continuing with what I’ve got written so far just because it’s easier and I want to move on to the next thing? Is it a matter of starting over from scratch again and waiting until I do have a story worth telling?

Because another part of this unsolved equation is the fact that I don’t like the idea of having to rewrite a bunch of stuff that I’ve already written, particular lines and sentences that work well that I don’t want to have to find new ways to say, or risk saying less interestingly than I already have. Which I can compensate for by copy and pasting, obviously, but for that to work I need to know exactly which bits I need, and because I really don’t have a story in mind yet I don’t know what those bits are.

Thus far, I know one thing that will work:

  • Write exactly what I have in mind

And combined with needing to have a story to tell for me to be motivated, I guess the plan is to wait until I have a story in mind, and then write it.

Um.

Wow.

Seriously?

Did it seriously take me three and a half fucking years to work that one out?

I guess it did.

Doesn’t feel like it’s helping.

There is a chapter that I want to write. I think that this is actually the best bet for me: write the chapter, because it’s what I have in mind, and because the chapter itself is kind of like a mini-story. It’s a chapter from the latest version of the story that I think would be cool, not necessarily the story that I want to tell, but I do want to tell this part of it and, since I don’t really have a better alternative, I may as well do that and see if it leads anywhere productive. It might. And if not, well, I can at least be certain of it.

I don’t think I actually learnt anything. I just made a decision. But when it comes to this book, making a decision is fucking phenomenal.

Okay. Let’s write.

Race to the bottom

Because … race … low standards … representation …

Fuck it basically I wanna talk about diversity, representation and world-building, like about a billion other people have already done and continue to do. Which is fair enough, because it doesn’t seem to be catching on too fast.

Have an article to warm up with, then come back.

We’ve seen this before, right? “High Fantasy allowing dragons, elves and magic but not people of colour, people with disabilities or full-body armour for even cisgender straight white conventionally attractive women is bullshit!” And it is. Very much so. I don’t really care if a game is set in High Fantasy Poland as opposed to a totally unique and original fantasy world; there is no country on Earth that has been consistently populated by people of only one culture, ethnicity, race or colour. Ever. Some more or less than others, sure, but to the point where there is no diversity at all? Not a chance.

Also: it’s High Fantasy. You put whatever fucking real-world country on the end of that label you want; the word “fantasy” suggests something other than, y’know, “literal” or “historically accurate”, never mind that the history one may insist we be accurate with regards to was written by whoever had the power to dictate what would be put into the history books. History is written and rewritten all the fucking time; American schools are still having debates about whether it’s okay to teach the theory of evolution to children as opposed to creationism, completely leave out landmark historical moments like the Stonewall Riots, and seem to think that any kind of sex education curriculum made of up anything but sex-shaming and abstinence-peddling amounts to pedophilia or something. “Historical accuracy” means “regurgitating what you’ve been told is right by people whose sources you can’t trust”. Obviously I am being hyperbolic here, but hopefully you get my point: it’s a hollow, lazy, disingenuous argument from people who are only just smart enough to figure out that screaming “shut up” at people over the internet will not make them look like winners in anyone’s eyes, and thus they resort to appeals to authority in an attempt to mask their bitter, pathetic bigotry.

And again: HIGH FANTASY. What, what about that term screams “historical re-enactment” to anybody but the driest, most boring, conservative, closed-minded, direly unimaginative kind of person? Well, the article has a suggestion:

The real magic power of white heroes is that they can be anything without scrutiny—kings, detectives, space marines, assassins, witchers—while non-white heroes alone must pass the test of “historical accuracy.” Are they believably representative of the time period that influences the game’s setting? Do they need to be, seven centuries later? Are black nobles and paladins really too fantastical to exist, even in worlds of sorcery, wizards and unicorns?

Here’s the thing: sorcery, wizards and unicorns don’t carry the political power of race. But white people do. They carry the power of being so powerful that they’re invisible. This is hardly radical, groundbreaking social commentary I’m making here, but there are so many people who don’t get this, so for the record: when I say that white people are so politically powerful that they’re invisible, I’m talking about how race is only seen when it’s a race other than white – well, with the occasional incredibly ironic exception, such as when the casting for Rue from The Hunger Games came out, which is not even High Fantasy. It’s Dystopian Fiction or something; it’s a variety of Science Fiction. It has to do with science and people were still complaining about black characters being played by black actors.

Even without straying as far away from High Fantasy as Science Fiction (are they really that far apart?), we can look at Urban Fantasy, or at least the Urban Fantasy that anybody knows about, and see how fantasy fiction set in the present fucking day still has more white people than a Limp Bizkit concert. Harry Potter – which I’m going to count as Urban Fantasy and none of you can stop me – has, to memory, exactly five black characters: Blaise Zabini, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Angelina Johnson, Lee Jordan and Dean Thomas. (If anybody makes a joke about Sirius Black I will send you a Howler.) That’s the books, by the way; Prisoner of Azkaban‘s film adaptation had that random kid who kept saying pointless cryptic things, but we never learnt his name, and he never appeared in any of the films again – Alicia Spinnet was also black in the films, and if you’re saying “who the fuck was Alicia Spinnet”: exactly. Even those five characters I mentioned were never exactly prominent in the books: Kingsley gets to be Minister for Magic off-screen for a bit; Angelina succeeds Oliver Wood as Gryffindor’s Quidditch team captain for a couple of books and goes to the Yule Ball with Fred (and later marries George, eww); and Dean Thomas helps run that underground radio program in Deathly Hallows and gets to date Ginny for a while. There’s also Padma and Parvati Patil, which is nice in the sense that they disrupt the overarching stereotype of the world being divided into white people and black people that films are very comfortable to perpetuate, and of course there’s Ch … Ch … no. I can’t. I can’t fucking write that fucking name. You get the point, though, right? And then have a look at other popular Urban Fantasy stuff and the dearth of not-white characters in starring roles (I hate to give Jacob fucking Black any kind of credit but I guess he does count, at leas as much as Ch … nope can’t do it) and just try and talk about “historical accuracy”.

Now, thanks to the civil rights movement, intersectional feminism and humanity not actually being a homogenous amoeba of evil, there are of course people who do see white as a race, and point it out, such as the writer of the linked article, people like bell hooks, etc. As a half-Irish, half-Chinese person, I’m still trying to figure out my position in the incredibly complicated web of race, culture and privilege. I’m white-passing – sometimes anyway – and I think white, but the reality is that I’m not white. And I think that any person who cares about social justice is morally obliged to question and expand their worldview and the assumptions that we have about our identities.

And what better way to do that than through storytelling and the genre of fantasy?

Much as I complained about not being able to get into The Killing Moon, I absolutely loved the world-building. It would have been cool even if it had been set in yet another a generic faux-medieval Europe, but instead it was set in a high fantasy allegory for Africa, and all the characters were not only black, but different kinds of black. There were several cultures featured, only two or three of which really mattered and neither of their names spring to mind right now, but if the idea of even having people with black skin in a high fantasy world is outrageous, how about black people who aren’t all the same? Or, in other words, black people who are … well, people? And on the flipside, if you can have Rohan, Gondor and Dale all in the same universe, all populated by white dudes, why can’t you reasonably ask why the hell all of them are white? “Oh, well all the non-white people live in the South and are Servants of the Enemy.” Ah. That explains it. There are non-white people in Middle-Earth after all; I was worried for a second there.

Even the fucking “Black Numenoreans” are white people fucking hell Tolkien I know we’re all a product of our time but seriously dude

A Wizard of Earthsea also has a dark-skinned protagonist; I can’t remember if colour is ever actually mentioned for the other characters, but given that the book was written in the ’60s, is a staple of the High Fantasy canon and features a black lead character, we can at least consider it an era-appropriate win, even if the book is also, sadly, incredibly misogynistic, something that Ursula K. Le Guin herself regretted and later tried to make up for. Anybody who ever watched the horrendous television adaptation will remember that Ged was decidedly white, and not quite compensated for by having Danny Glover playing Wise Mentor Ogion, as black people in supporting roles to white leads are hardly new. Representation? Sure. But it’s still white-washing. Which is nothing compared to the Studio Ghibli adaptation; that at least had the excuse of being made by a Japanese studio, seeing as Japan is not a particularly diverse nation (which does not absolve it of racism; have fun learning about the Ainu people), especially compared to the United States, but it does nothing to change the fact that the source material explicitly states that Ged has dark skin. In precisely zero of the adaptations of the novel has that held true, and that is pretty fucking bad. Ursula K. Le Guin has done quite a lot of intentional de-whitifying in her work, as far as I’m aware, but she’s one of the few white authors to do so, and one of the even fewer fantasy authors who sells well by doing so.

The one kinda valid excuse for keeping one’s story white by default and not venturing into the real world is the fear of “getting it wrong”. Even the half-white, half-Korean Bryan Lee O’Malley had issues with representation in writing Scott Pilgrim vs The World, issues that he himself regrets. I can relate, being another white/Asian superbeing, to the struggle of seeing yourself as being anything other than “normal” – which, you guessed it, means “white”. I don’t know jack shit about my Chinese heritage; I do know about my Irish heritage and, I mean, the Irish do not exactly have a typical white-folks history in our homeland, but we are also sadly quite racist, so that part at least fits the bill of whiteness. And up until a year or two ago, I didn’t even really think of being half-Chinese as being the same thing as being non-white, and my trepidation of writing characters who were not white was fueled by my anxiety as a white person. Which, again, I’m not. I may as well be a lot of the time, but that’s a very different thing that I’m still in the process of learning about. My point is that ancestry is not the same thing as cultural insight. I am Chinese according to my ancestry, but I know about as much about Chinese culture and history as an actual white person. (Except for red packets at Chinese New Year. Y’all YTs are missing out.) And as a result, I do feel anxious about “getting it wrong” if I ever consider writing characters who are from a different culture to me, much in the same way I get anxious if I consider writing characters who are different to me in terms of gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, political views, etc.

The thing is, while this anxiety can certainly come from a good place – not wanting to misrepresent marginalised groups, for instance – the end result is that we don’t make any progress with diversity or representation. The answer, therefore, is not to continue to shy away from it, but to go out of our way to consume media that is good at diverse representation – or at least has it – and if we do that, then we will inevitably get better at writing diverse stories, characters and worlds. I did say “better”, not “good”, and that is why even when we do get better we still need to actively seek out diverse media – if we care about diversity, which I hope we do – and if we do that, and keep doing that, and spread that habit to other people then one day, one day, white will no longer be normal, because how could it? If everybody knows myriad stories about all kinds of different people with all kinds of different identities from all kinds of different walks of life, how could white people possibly maintain their status as the status quo? They couldn’t. And the thing is, they wouldn’t mind. Speaking as somebody who at least believes he’s white, I certainly wouldn’t mind. I’d love it if I knew more stories about people I didn’t think I had anything in common with for incredibly superficial reasons and then came to discover that, actually, I had quite a lot in common with them because people are people no matter where they come from or what they look like. I’m already getting a lot of that as a man who’s devoted the past two-ish years of his life to reading, almost exclusively, young adult novels written by and about women. I think it’s a testament to the value of seeking out diversity that I can relate better to Georgina Kincaid than to John McClane: not only will we discover that our preconceptions about who we can and cannot relate to are often incredibly shallow, but that we actually relate better to some of those people than the ones we assumed we were the most similar to. Aside from Littlefoot and Bastian Balthazar Bux, I honestly don’t relate to a hell of a lot of male characters. It’s mostly female characters I find that I tend to resonate with emotionally. There’s a reason Tori Amos is my favourite singer/songwriter/general music artist person; my angst-ridden teen years got a hell of a lot more bearable when I found her stuff, because she spoke about experiences that, while often very different in their particulars, echoed the emotional phases and conclusions that I was going through like no other singer I’d ever come across. Her songs are incredibly gendered, but if anything that helps me to relate to the experiences she’s talking about, because I simultaneously learnt that gender isn’t as much of a cut-off point as I’d assumed and had to put in extra effort to appreciate the gender-specific details, which resulted in a heightened experience.

How the fuck did I get from The Witcher 3 to Tori Amos?

Storytelling, that’s how.

It’s just … it’s way past time. Like, waaaaaaaaaaaaaay past time that whiteness was demoted from “default” to “variety”, and that we got to the point where everything was variety. We aren’t there yet, nowhere near, and so long as there is any kind of status quo there will always be marginalisation. I don’t think we’ll ever reach perfect equilibrium, but I do think that decent balance and robust justice for all is definitely possible. We just have to be willing to work for it. We don’t all have to march in rallies and interrupt POTUS to make a difference (though props to those who do). We can do it by making a conscious effort to diversify ourselves, through the media we consume, the stories we seek out and the stories we teach ourselves how to tell – and then spread the word, both ours and others. Word of mouth. If it can work for Harry Potter, I don’t see how it can’t work for literally anything else. It just takes a bit of effort, but not even as much as you might think. The hardest part is probably going to be finding the stories themselves, and then trying not to be really self-conscious about the politics of it all when you start recommending shit to your friends, family and wider social circle, never mind whatever search terms you type into Google to try and find this “diverse media” I speak of. Sacrifices will have to be made, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be worth it.

In fact I am so sure it will be worth it that, once I get a handle on Masters (assuming I get in) and work out how to discipline myself, I’m thinking of starting some kind of book club type thing that is devoted entirely to diversity, the beauty of it being that I want to do it myself so it doesn’t really matter if nobody else wants to join me. But that’s something to work out later. For now, I need to go to bed so that I can wake up early and get this fucking Masters proposal written and sent away, then do all the infuriating Studylink shit, and hopefully have some time at the end of the day to get back to writing something I actually want to write.

 

Marriage Equality Yay!

I mean it’s happened in Ireland and my own home country of New Zealand already but whenever anything happens in America it’s automatically a bigger deal because America is essentially the Capitol and whether we like it or not that is where the world’s fate is decided so go USA woohoo!

Seriously, congratulations to everyone who is getting married, has already gotten married or is feeling for the first time that marriage is a real option for them today. I can’t imagine what that feels like, and I am so happy for you. I know the fight’s far from over, but winning it just got a little bit easier. Also, as some have pointed out, even this momentous and wonderful occasion is sure to have a backlash, so to all those who are surrounded by people who oppose this bill and the progress that it represents and may well be in very real danger: you are not alone, and I dearly hope that you are able to get out of that situation as soon and as safely as possible.

I know this is a writing blog, but it’s also my biggest platform, and I want people to know where I stand. It’s important to me, and it should be important to you, too. Let’s celebrate today, and keep fighting the good fight until there’s nothing left to fight for.

Vampire Academy vol. 1 (an incredibly belated and overthought book review)

It’s been 20 months. 20 months since I finished Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead and tried to put my many, many, many thoughts into slightly less-many words in order to exchange this bulk linguistic produce for internet approval.

Hasn’t gone so well thus far.

I have written something like 20k words about Vampire Academy over these 20 months, tinkering here and there, trying to clarify where I can and be as accurate as possible without worrying about succinctness. Which is the method of writing that I think makes the most sense, because it works for me. Get the words out first, and pick the best ones later.

It’s just that I also, y’know, want to not still be writing this fucking review/critique/rant almost two years after I started. Kind of like how want to not still be writing Tallulah almost four years after I started. I want to tick at least one of those things off the list as soon as I can.

So, here is my review/critique/rant of Vampire Academy. It’s not going to be the glorious, thought-provoking, sophisticated epic I hoped it would be, but it will be written goddammit and that’s all I care about right now.

Spoilers ahead, and I’ll spoil some of them for you right now because I’m going to have a fucking structure for this review, fuck it, and I’m going to stick to it, and what I’m going to stick to is discussing:

  • world-building
  • writing style
  • characters
  • issues of slut-shaming and statutory rape
  • why it is that I like this book despite all of its many, many issues

Are you excited yet? I am, because I have no idea how I’m going to manage that last one! But you never know until you try, so let’s get to it.

Continue reading

Harry Potter References

Currently, I am reading The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. I read her Curse Workers trilogy in 2013 (I think it was 2013 anyway) and really rather enjoyed it; I like her voice, a lot. It’s poetic without ever being flowery or distracting, visceral without being explicit. It’s just good. She writes good.

There’s a Harry Potter reference in it, and it’s the first time I’ve come across a Harry Potter reference in a book that a) wasn’t snarky and self-reflexive and “clever” and b) actually felt like it belonged in the story it was in. This is a story that concerns the Fair Folk, that is wrapped up in fairytales and magic while set in the modern world, that references King Arthur alongside Dr Who, a story about how childhood becomes the memory of childhood, and how that memory can cast a long shadow over us as we grow into adulthood.

The reason that this reference works, for me, is because Harry Potter – Hogwarts, specifically – is referenced not just alongside the knights of the round table, but because it is referenced in the same way: with reverence. It’s not name-dropping; it’s storytelling, myth-weaving – world-building. This story is one about the world we build through the living of our lives, and the thing about Harry Potter is that, to a modern audience, those stories are part of that world for us. They are our mythology. Harry Potter and the Doctor do belong with Arthur and Gawain; children have grown up with all of them as mythic figures, so it makes sense to write of them as such.

I like this reference. I like it because I never would have considered doing it myself, because even though I did grow up with them, I didn’t grow up after them, and I think that’s the crucial difference. This story – full disclosue: I’m only 60-ish pages in – is all about what happens afterwards, what happens after something happens, something that we either weren’t around to witness ourselves or that we understood so little at the time that it may as well have happened before we came into the world. That to me is what mythology is, not just stories of things that came before, but stories that, as stories, came before we were around to hear them, and that when we hear those stories we know that they are older than we are. It is weird to think that Harry Potter is exactly that for people who are alive today, because I grew up with those books when I was young myself. But it makes sense that these stories should be treated as more than just a pop culture reference used to either sound hip or to ironically mock such attempts to seem hip, both of which are obnoxious in different ways. This is genuine. This is originality. Not because nothing like it has been done before, but because it was so obvious and yet hadn’t been done. I appreciate it.

I also renewed it so that I don’t have to force myself to read all of it today and can finish it when I get back from Malaysia. That and The Queen of the Tearling, which I’ve heard mixed things about, along with Emma Watson apparently being attached to a film adaptation (which she is also executive-producing, at least as of July last year). I read the first chapter; it’s nothing amazing, but it is compelling. And it’s even high fantasy, which I kinda swore off after The Killing Moon didn’t really do it for me. I did kind of break that swearing-off earlier this year with God Stalk by P.C. Hodgell – another book I wish I’d reviewed – oh well never mind it’s just books I can read whatever books I want. I finished Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead and am asking myself the hard questions: do I want to buy the whole series? Do I like it enough to make that kind of commitment? If I do buy the whole series, where the hell am I going to put all these new books? Surely I could just clear some space on my bookshelf? Do I need to buy a new bookshelf? Why aren’t I writing my own book?

Speaking of which: my old writing buddy Sam Blood officially launched his novel Shadows yesterday. I will be putting up a review of that when I get the chance to read it – possibly while I’m in Malaysia – but if you want to check it out yourself before that, then that would be cool. The book launch was at the Ponsonby Community Centre, and it was incredibly inspiring. I am so happy for him for realising a dream that he’s had for the last 14 years, and only slightly envious that I haven’t quite gotten there myself.

Therefore, I should really get back to writing my own stuff. I keep having mini-brainwaves for Tallulah, and the latest one is such a game-changer that it’s like nothing I’ve ever thought of before, except for all those other times I had huge game-changing ideas about Tallulah while stuck in a slump unable to think my way out of it, but no seriously guys this time this is it this is the one this time things will be different I’m gonna make a change for one in my life it’s gonna feel real good gonna make a difference

… yes anyway, back to reading, writing and trying to decide whether to let myself freak out so that I get it out of the way nice and early, or repress everything until I’m actually about to fly out and risk maybe missing my flight on purpose. It’s fun, living in the real world.