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Category Archives: Craft of Writing

3rd Rock from the Sun – TV Tuesday

Beware the spoilers.

3rd Rock from the Sun is a TV show I watched as it aired; however, I didn’t watch all of it. Having recently watched it from beginning to end, I can say that it is my favorite of the 90s sitcoms, because unlike most 90s sitcoms, the main characters’ wholly inappropriate behavior is completely justified by the concept. In a lot of the 90s sitcoms, the characters are all assholes who really are unlikable and there is no in story reason for it. It’s a problem of poor writing, because there has to be conflict, but for there to be conflict someone has to be a dick. But 3rd Rock from the Sun sets up the idea that the four main characters have no idea about the world so if they do a social faux pas, it’s understandable. They’re just ignorant. I would often say with a smile on my face that Dick was such a dick, which indicates exactly how self-aware of the genre the show was. They all act like selfish children too, and considering their situation, that’s just funny. And Mary and Don, our main human characters, also commit inappropriate behavior, but the show either takes an ironic tone with it or they learn from their behavior too. Such as when Mary was the dean and had neglected her relationship with Dick. She realizes it and tries to mend things, but because Dick is an idiot, he conflates the whole situation.

 

The concept also allowed the show to tackle highly charged subjects in a hilarious way, such as racism, sexism and female sexuality, and elitism. The show often moved into the zany territory, sometimes well done, and sometimes not. The best being the dream TV movie they made, which I’ve seen so many times that watching it again, I could say the words to bits along with the actors.

 

The majority of the acting was amazing and fantastic, Lithgow and Curtain being the absolute best. However, the show is not without its flaws. It was obvious that the show writers often forgot elements of Harry’s character from episode to episode. Such as stating he didn’t have a job, when he actually worked at a bar as far as the audience knew, then in a following episode he works at the bar again. And then he doesn’t work there again and it wasn’t actually written out. He also was dating Janice, and she also disappeared without being written out.

 

The show had run out of steam by the sixth season. What with the Dick’ll Take Manhattan story-line, which was trite, boring, and over long at one episode, let alone the second episode they devoted to it. The ending of the series actually felt abrupt, especially considering that it was obvious several episodes from the end that they knew the show wasn’t continuing past that season. The show was still good for laughs by the end, which is why I’m glad they didn’t try to stretch it any further. It’s a show I would definitely recommend, but the final season is definitely skippable.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2019 in Craft of Writing, TV shows

 

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Wonder Woman – PreWatch Thoughts & PostView Review

PreWatch Thoughts:

I rented Wonder Woman for free. I kept seeing ads everywhere, on my games, before videos on YouTube, to the point that I just didn’t want to watch it. Then I watched the Screen Junkies Honest Trailer for it, wanted to watch it, so I rented it.

So Why WWI? I think they didn’t want to be like Captain America: The First Avenger. Both characters have their origins in WWII. Maybe they thought it was too similar for a wide audience? They said they wanted more temporal distance. Hmm, or just more distance from Captain America? The problem I have is how is WWI a win? How can the movie end with triumph if it ends on the Great War, the War to End All Wars, that in fact, just made everything worse? The war that cost millions of lives because an archduke was assassinated but didn’t resolve anything, the war that ended with a circular economy (France owed the US money, the treaty required Germany to give money to France, the US felt bad for Germany and gave them financial aid; no one spent money on infrastructure or by pumping it into products or services from other countries and the world economy tanked—the US also couldn’t survive on its own thanks to the Dust Bowl destroying all crops). So how is this a win when it only led to an even bloodier war fed by desperation and hate? WWI was a waste of life, so how can she come out looking like she made any kind of impact? Lasting, helpful impact? That was the point of making it WWII in the first place.

With most female action stars all I can think is tie your hair back.

How are they going to address Wonder Woman’s inherent misandrony? An island of just women who teach that men are the source of all pain and war? Equate it to a society of Germans that teach that all Jews are the source of all their troubles, like poverty and national despair. That kind of results in an attempt to murder those people, and it did in both real life and in some of the DC storylines. For instance, DCAU Justice League TV show. Hawkgirl even calls out Wonder Woman’s society for being prejudiced against men. An island of just women who also forbid all men from being or coming there? Equate that to some Asian countries who used to kill all foreigners. This is a problem. Just because it is a minority group where we are, doesn’t change the fact that in their society they aren’t only the majority, they purely makeup that society. A lack of diversity is a lack of empathy and an ignorance of other cultures. And when purity starts getting involved, including closing the borders and allowing for a narrow field of teaching about other cultures, eradication is not far off.

How are they going to address Wonder Woman’s stupidity? In many stories, Wonder Woman is dumb. She is always ignorant of other cultures’ ways of life, which she often tries to correct, but she often lacks critical thinking skills. In the Justice League TV show again: she has a hallucination of Superman as a monster; if he, as dumb as a rock he is, can figure it out why did it take her so long? Bad writing. Then there was Justice League Doom: she has hallucination of everyone as Cheetah. Noticing a pattern here? Mess with Wonder Woman’s ability to process visual stimuli and her critical thinking skills go out the window. The movie never says that the drug is messing with her logic centers of her brain—one line from Cyborg that would have solved this issue—but instead that she is seeing everyone as Cheetah and we know it’s not messing with her ability to process auditory stimuli because every time we see from her perspective the Cheetahs are saying stuff like “What are you doing” or “Wonder Woman, it’s me Cyborg. You’ve been drugged”. She beats the crap out of all the Cheetahs instead of using her brain. Her adrenaline and heart rate are so high, she is about to suffer a heart attack or stroke, and I can’t help but think that she has not only permanently crippled many civilians, cops, and EMTs, but that she has also killed some of them. Dumb. The thing is though, she’s only dumb when the writers need her to be. Instead of her just being outsmarted in actually clever ways, or just not being stupidly racist, they like to make her stupid to add more conflict. They do this to Superman all the time too. Hopefully, they didn’t make her stupid in this movie too.

Am I excited? Not really. I’ve had this movie for half a month and would rather watch HIMYM or play free mobile games on my iPhone. I hope to be blown away, but I also am not getting my hopes up too high, because sometimes you just can’t fix the issues with a concept and sometimes you just can’t execute a good movie: Looking at you, Warner Brothers.

PostView Review:

For those of you who don’t want spoilers, I give Wonder Woman a 6 out of 10. Go away, because I’m spoiling crap.

Way over-hyped as a good movie. It’s not bad (like Catwoman/Elektra bad), but that doesn’t make it good. The pacing is so off. The climax just happens for no reason—She had given up; Ares’ plan could have worked had he not shown up there for no reason. Let her sit in despair until you win then talk to her.

Wonder Woman is just as dumb as she ever was—the only way to give this overpowered superhero any conflict. Also the Amazons are the best warriors but don’t teach strategy? While despairing, she literally says that innocent people are dying, but then says because of the few people who are murdering, that they along with the innocent people don’t deserve to be saved (baby and the bath water logic here). None of this is Gadot’s fault. This is more related to poor conception and execution by the Snyder’s and the director.

Steve Trevor was a little too Steve Rogers at the end ala the First Avenger.

They love each other? Really? Why? Because they danced once and he saw her in modern clothes?

She’s the Godkiller. Figured that out the second they mentioned the Godkiller and then had to wait two hours for the movie to catch up to me.

Why weren’t the Germans more freaked out by a nearly naked woman on the battlefield attacking them? There should have been more pause from them upon seeing her. When she jumped in the room at least one guy shouldn’t have started shooting but just stared. When she flipped over the tank, the men should have started running! They did not react to her like she was shocking (element of surprise!) to see or like she was the badass she was.

I am so sick of the hero doing a cross formation in the air while a wave of power emanates from them. It was in X-Men: Apocalypse as well. Once that happened, I got bored because it took so long for her to defeat Ares because the studio is so interested in their cool images that the pacing slows down.

Too much slow-mo. This was so much like 300. Once the Amazons started fighting the Germans, I said it out loud. When the credits rolled and story by Zac Snyder popped up, I was like oh, he had a hand in this. Could have been better if he stayed away.

The best character in the movie died in the first act. Antiope was awesome and Wright did a great job. Loved her. Only intelligent and capable Amazon in the whole movie. Give me a prequel about her great adventures.

Ares defeated the warriors, Athena and Apollo, the hunter, Artemis, the creator of the best weapons, Hephaestus, and the ruler of the dead, Hades? That seems unlikely. Sure, sure he did.

Do I just not like movies with strong female roles? No. That’s not it. I require my strong female movies actually to be good. They have to have good plot structure, good character development, and good conflict (not born out of the main character’s stupidity). I don’t much care about the main character’s sex as long as the movie hits those points. One with a female hero that I felt actually did those things was Mulan. Her intelligence is where her power comes from. I prefer that from a female character who has a lot of physical power like Jean Grey or Wonder Woman but has no critical thinking skills or is just a magic tool to solve the plot when the boys can’t get it done. Just because they look cool doesn’t mean I’ll like them. Eleven of Stranger Things also has amazing power, but she is not written as an idiot or a last ditch plot device to save everyone. Supergirl of the same titled show is also a better character, who often does something dumb but then admits it and tries to grow from it. Her conflicts are written the same way as the Flash’s in that same universe. Narrative universe, not actual universe. Because not of the same universe in the multiverse. That’s not confusing at all.

Overall I would give Wonder Woman a 6 out of 10. That may seem low, but it is a passing grade and the movies everyone else is comparing it to, get 4s in my opinion, so I still believe it is better than those female superhero movies that came before. I am still waiting for a female superhero movie that treats the character like a person and not like another species to be pointed out with such a heavy hand.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2019 in Craft of Writing, Film Criticsim

 

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Carrie by Stephen King – Sunday Book Circle

So since this is the first book I’m covering, I figured I should go over the format a bit. I’m not going to review the books. I’m instead going to talk about points I found interesting, and I really do want to hear from people in the comments what they think about the book. So I highly suggest having read the book before reading the post, but if you don’t care and just want to hear what I have to say, then you can do that too. I’m not going to just do fiction, but will cover non-fiction as well. I hope that all makes sense, so here we go.

 

Now Carrie is Stephen King’s first novel. I was a little worried that knowing how it ends from having seen the ‘76 film would make it less enjoyable, but King doesn’t bury the event as a surprise for readers towards the end. Instead, it is clear from the beginning what’s going to happen to Carrie because the format is documentation style mixed in with shifting limited third. I often enjoy documentation style narratives, such as Dracula (the book), but Carrie‘s style is more similar to the movie District 9 than it is is to Dracula, because of the mix of limited third. The documentation style is often interesting because it brings to mind that you can’t know for certain if the characters writing are being perfectly honest. Diary is still a presentation of the self as opposed to the actual self. And official documentation has a lot of white spaces. More traditional narrative style typically tries to fill in those white spaces and present sides of the self that the character may wish to hide in all ways or is not even aware of. The blend that King uses in Carrie is interesting because it often seems that what people wrote is the same as what they felt and thought, at least consciously. It almost makes me think that at the time of writing Carrie, King felt that people were very honest about who they are. But I won’t go so far as to say that that is strictly true.

 

Before reading Carrie, I had read both Danse Macabre and On Writing by King. King brings up Carrie quite a bit in On Writing, describing the two young women who inspired the character. And reading the book and knowing about those two women, I couldn’t help but think that King is quite possibly the most empathetic writer I’ve read thus far. I also felt like the alienation, isolation, and the hatred that grew out of those two feelings could be applied to how mass murders are developed in the real world. If you think about it, Carrie is a mass murderer. We feel sorry for her, mostly because we can literally feel and hear what she is feeling and thinking, but we can’t do that in the real world. Real world mass murderers are most often male because women tend to internalize emotional turmoil, but this whole book is built around a mass murder, who happens to be female and telekinetic. Importantly though, she’s also telepathic. Mass murderers are typically in so much emotional pain and feel that no one can possibly understand what they are going through and one of the goals of the act is to make others feel as much pain as they do and to make people finally see them. These are all things Carrie experiences and does. She does it better than a real world mass murderer because of the telepathy. Everyone knows Carrie is doing this, because she has the power to make them know. Everyone can feel her anger, because she has the power to make them feel it. And finally Sue feels all her pain, even the pain of her death, because Carrie has the power to make her. King does a beautiful job of showing that Carrie is a person, a human being, not some unknown monster that hides under beds, waiting for the moment to hurt someone because it gives it pleasure to do so. I loved this. If Carrie could have gotten the help she needed, if she had more friends, if she had a better home life, none of this would have happened. It’s a powerful idea. In fact, it empowers our society with a responsibility about mass murder.

 

Now, did King mean this giant idea I’m having to be applied to real life mass murderers? I have no idea. It’s just my takeaway and it seems very applicable to the United States today. But I’m interested to know what you guys thought about it and these ideas. Leave some comments and I will think about them and reply in a new post.

 

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American Horror Story: Roanoke – First Blush

American Horror Story: Roanoke – First Blush

In this series I’m going to go over my initial reaction to first episodes of show. American Horror Story is a bit different because each season is a new story. So for this one, I’m giving some background reactions to the previous seasons and how Roanoke seems to shape up against them.Thumbnail

I’ve been watching this show for a while now. I liked Murder House, even with all its mistakes. I loved Asylum and Coven. But I noticed a drop in quality of writing in Freakshow and Hotel. Murder House had an interesting theme in the extreme desire to be a mother or not and how the state of motherhood is not the same as being a good one. Asylum examined societal understanding of insanity and reality, but rushed an ending. Coven, arguably the best season, is about feminism and racism and how the two can be counter to each other. Freakshow was very obviously about homosexuality, but it was a bit more overt with its message. And Hotel was about . . . vampire melodrama? I made jokes, pre-Hotel, that they had taken a step down in no longer having Jessica Lange and instead having Lady Gaga, but I was pleasantly surprised by Lady Gaga’s performance. She had subtlety and emotion that some more experienced actors never have. When they announced Hotel, I couldn’t help myself and started making jokes about how they had run out of ideas. What was next? American Horror Story: Library. IMG_2415

American Horror Story: Supermarket.IMG_2411

American Horror Story: Senior Assisted Living Facility.IMG_2413

But now that I’ve seen the first episode of Roanoke, I really believe they’ve run out of ideas. Going with a documentary style is the way horror goes when the story can’t fill up the whole time. The problem with documentary style is that it takes all the tension out of the narrative, and in a genre where tension is the most important thing, this is really bad. False documentary is not the same as found footage, and found footage still keeps the tension. The reason why fake documentary evaporates all the suspense is that I know Shelby didn’t drown in the hot tub, because she’s talking to the camera telling us what happened. I have almost no worry for Shelby, Matt, and Lee. They’re talking about it after the fact. Obviously, they live.

The real versions of the people look more like the real versions of these character types. Lily Rabe looks more like a yoga instructor who drinks too much light colored wines and wears Birkenstocks, while Sarah Paulson doesn’t really pull it off, which lends the dramatization some more realism in that the actor pretending to be Shelby doesn’t really capture the real Shelby. It’s very meta. The same is true for the real Lee versus the fake Lee. I can’t believe I’m watching something else with Henry Deaver. He’s everywhere. He’s good, but he keeps popping up when I least expect him. I also can’t believe that I’m watch Cuba Gooding, Jr. again. I didn’t realize he was still acting. Weirdly, Henry Deaver seems like a better actor than him. In my opinion at least.

On the character of Matt: he’s a racist. “He can’t be racist, he’s black and in an inter-racial marriage.” His assumption that the locals hate him and his wife when what’s happening clearly has nothing to do with them because how could they string all those Blair Witch style twigs throughout his house, is his easy answer. Easy answers are typically wrong and often come from prejudice. The locals weren’t threatening them when they said You don’t want this house. They were warning him. Who knows what they planned to do? Set it ablaze, maybe. Also, the show’s need to depict the locals to be as disgusting as possible is prejudice on all its levels, the fake depiction by the fake people making the show and American Horror Story itself. It’s cliche, and I don’t care if they are being satirical; this kind of crap needs to stop.

Overall, I’m not looking forward to finishing this one. I’m worried that the show has lost all sense of thematic strength, but of course, I’m going to finish it. Because I lay myself on the altar of review.

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Read! Read Everything You Can!: The Teaching Power of Fiction

There’s this strange idea that writers should only read the so-called good stuff to be good writers themselves. While it is true that what we read effects us as writers, it’s not a good idea to read just the classics to develop your skills as a writer. Let me unpack the myth of the elevating power of classical literature and explain the benefits of reading outside that cannon.

Literary Snobbery

A writer runs into a lot of this in the academic sphere. Professors, even creative writing professors, swear that by reading less “quality” work, i.e. work that they deem unacceptable teaching material, a young writer is doing themselves a disservice by lowering the quality of their own writing. This bothers me because, well, cannon is too easily effected by what is considered acceptable. Native American, African-American, etc. and women’s fiction didn’t used to be thought acceptable. Now some colleges teach Ceremony, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Beloved, The Color Purple, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and more, but we can’t trust that they aren’t still under-representing certain voices or simply judging books by their genre instead of by their contents. It’s also a silly idea that we can’t learn from the mistakes of others. If I read a bad novel, I can articulate what it did wrong. That’s a good thing. That makes me a better writer. One playwright that taught me said that the best thing for him as a writer was being a literary manager at a theatre and reading bad plays that were submitted.

Also, let’s not pretend that Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, The Turn of the Screw, The Pilgrim’s Progress, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Invisible Man, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, Ulysses, To the Lighthouse, and so many other books of fiction are without flaws and are written in the style that modern writers should aspire to, as if modern readers want contemporary work written in those archaic styles (maybe some of them do). But contemporary work is hardly taught in modern classrooms, and some of that isn’t what I would consider masterpieces either, like The Road by Cormac McCarthy or Under the Dome by Stephen King (and I like Stephen King). Some of the cannon is absolutely awesome and definitely worth reading as a writer, but don’t start writing like Henry James!

Foreign Fiction

US writers definitely need to read work from other countries, and by other countries, I don’t just mean the UK. Some of the best works of fiction out there weren’t written in English: The Tin Drum, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Bless Me Ultima, The Metamorphosis, Midnight’s Children, Blindness, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, and so much more, more that I haven’t read, more that I can’t remember. US writing, like any cultural art form, often gets stuck on the same narrative tropes and structures. Part of the reason that House of Leaves is so good is that Danielewski clearly read some of Borges’ short stories. Tropes, techniques, and plot structures are all almost entirely culturally inherited. Reading work outside your culture is an absolute boon for you as a writer. In fact, experiencing narrative work of any medium from outside your culture is helpful, movies and TV shows help too! While everything will go through an extra sieve of translation, the major plot techniques and character archetypes will be there even after translation (most of the time). So I strongly suggest reading foreign fiction to expand what you consider fiction.

Nonfiction

So it’s not fiction, but it is prose. There’s also this old saying for writers: Write what you know. And you should (try to) know more. Teaching yourself about new things, learning about different perspectives, and researching history and culture will help you be a better writer. It’s especially important for preventing looking like a jackass. If you don’t know about cars, but your character is supposed to, you don’t want to write something that makes a reader who does know about cars go “uuuuh . . .”. Writers who don’t research are very obvious, and while the idea that we as fiction writers can just make anything up is tempting, it looks bad if having never been to Kansas, you describe it in a way that is cliche. It reminds me of all the cowboys I see in Phoenix fiction. I’ve never seen a person walking around in a cowboy hat and string tie here. In fact, I didn’t see much of that in Kansas either. So it’s important to prevent stereotype through the use of research, and sometimes that means reading nonfiction, or going even further (like learning to play the guitar, shoot a firearm, or going to a place). Nonfiction is also a great source of inspiration. Maybe someone has already written on the subject, but you haven’t, and maybe your version is better. It’s a good idea to give it a shot, even if ten other writers have already written a Pearl Harbor story. Take a chance that your story is worth reading.

Genre Fiction

I really don’t understand the hate that genre fiction, specifically westerns, romance and chick lit, sci-fi, and fantasy, gets. “Oh, there’s so many of those novels that are bad!” Yeah, and there’s a lot of bad classic, literary, commercial, and award-winning novels out there. Just because an award committee or a bestseller curator or the academic crowd says a novel is worth reading, doesn’t mean it is good, not by looking at the technique and skill in the novel. I’ve read plenty of bad fiction that was taught in academic classes, made the bestseller lists, and won awards. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road comes to mind as landing in all three of those categories but having very little narrative skill and technique involved. It wasn’t engaging. The characters were flat. The prose was uninteresting. The dialogue was insufferable. “But it has something to say!” Every work of creation has something to say, has intent. That doesn’t mean it is good. Even if you like the message, it doesn’t make the work good. And genre doesn’t automatically mean that a novel is bad. There are actually some genre novels that I consider technically better than those that are considered better novels based on theme alone. I do think theme is important, but I do not think it can prop up a novel alone, or any form of narrative. Without the support of strong narrative plot, character development, prose, and emotional engagement, a theme is useless. The four things listed in the previous sentence are what makes a novel enjoyable, and the theme is what makes the reader think. I’ve seen genre fiction do these four things and present a theme. So don’t count out genre simply because someone with an inflated sense of authority tells you it isn’t good. And don’t assume that same someone isn’t pulling one over on you when they say this book is good when you can’t stand it. Don’t think that makes you a lesser writer for not loving it. Recognize the faults in everything you read, and be willing to give something with a label a chance. And even if the genre fiction you’re reading isn’t good, you can still learn from it and be a better writer for having read it.

Fiction Outside Your Demo

Say you’re a woman, your demographic typically reads literary or upmarket fiction, women’s lit, chickl it, or romance. Well, if you’re also a writer, you should probably read thrillers, war novels, westerns, and terrorism novels as well. And the same for the reverse. If you’re white and a writer, you should probably also read books by Native Americans (There, There; Ceremony; Where the Dead Sit Talking), African Americans (Friday Black, Beloved, There Eyes Were Watching God, The Color Purple), Asian Americans (The Joy Luck Club, Interpreter of Maladies, The Refugees), Hispanic Americans (The House on Mango Street, The Book of Unknown Americans), and others. And the reverse, though that’s not very hard in the US. Why is this important? Even if you are a minority and if you’re in the majority, it’s important to see many other sides. Everyone’s story is important; otherwise, they wouldn’t have sat down to write it and tried to get it published. So take the time to learn what they have to say. Take the effort to learn why people like it. Examine what makes it good, what makes it successful. Don’t take easy answers either. Most writers, unless nepotism is involved, work hard to get their novels published. There are millions of us, and it’s easy to be lost in the shuffle of query letters, so ask yourself what this writer brought to the table that got them published. Ask yourself what the publisher saw in the work. Ask yourself what our society wanted out of the work. The answers may surprise you. And don’t write off majority reading as just what a bunch of old fogies chose either (counter to the above section). Be willing to let the so-called cannon surprise you too. Also read Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. Some of them are great and the writing may impress you.

Popular Fiction

A teacher once told me that a wife can’t also be a whore which–besides not being literally true–is figuratively false. Read popular fiction. Seriously pick it up. It’s not going to ruin you. You may actually pick up something from it too. Like why so many people bought it in the first place. I don’t read a lot of it myself, but that isn’t because I don’t find it valuable, but because trends and I react like holy water and vampires, but I can understand why a lot of people find it engaging. Popular fiction isn’t known for its prose, but it’s certainly know for its engaging plots and interesting concepts. These are important things to know how to craft. Your prose can be really poetic, but if your plot isn’t engaging or interesting, you may not be able to hold a reader. So check out some popular fiction. I honestly have, and the techniques that make this fiction popular are important. But do not do what John Grisham did and read all the bestsellers to find out how to craft one every time you write a novel. You risk losing your spontaneity by doing that.

Graphic Fiction

No, I don’t mean violently graphic or sexually graphic fiction (but read those too). No, I mean graphic novels, comic books, and mangas. Wait! Don’t click away! The Watchmen won a Hugo award, comic books have a long history of social commentary directed at the youth, and mangas open you up to completely new to you cultures. This form of storytelling is just as viable as prose fiction. Some of it can be very impactful. Don’t knock the medium just because it is different. It has it own techniques and heights of skill. They can also help you write action, create an epic story, and describe setting. How? Well, take your time looking at the panels, really examine the images, and consider how the image could be translated into words. Also enjoy the very differing art styles. No, the stories aren’t Shakespeare.

Except, apparently, when they are.

Jeeze, maybe it’s Shakespeare more often than I thought.

Seriously though, there can be some great inspiration and technique to be gained from visual storytelling. So give it a chance. Don’t be surprised if the first few dips into the giant depths that is graphic fiction aren’t all that appealing. Like any medium there can be quite a few stinkers. I mean, have you ever tried to read The Gutbucket Quest?

Learning from Reading

As a writer, you can learn from reading anything. Literally anything. Literary anything. Even bad things. But to do so, you have to be looking at the work with your craft eye open. I do this with other forms of storytelling as well, TV, film, plays. Reading (or watching) something while thinking about what it is doing with craft, what the author’s intent is, what the work is meant to do, and how it goes about doing it, can teach you how to write better. But it is important to separate your reading time and writing time from each other, as in don’t write on the heels of reading. Doing this could make your work sound imitative. This is the biggest pitfall of a lot of reading. But, otherwise, read. Read everything you can get your hands on. It’s the most important thing you can do for yourself as a writer.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2019 in Books, Craft of Writing

 

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The New Year’s Resolution None of Us Keep: Stop Making Plans and Start Doing Them

New Year’s almost here and this is about the time that people buy gym memberships, diet books, and plan big projects. For creative types, that means planning to do something creative everyday to a schedule that will ultimately lead to a project being complete by a specific date. But so many New Year’s resolutions are broken in the first week, partly because of the fact that it is now expected that we break them. So what can you do to prevent yourself from breaking your New Year’s resolutions? I’ll try to answer that.

The Romance of Planning

Most people get pleasure from planning to do better or more than they actually do from doing better or more to improve their lives. It’s weird but we get satisfaction from the thought of going to the gym, going on a diet, or planning out our big projects, but don’t get nearly as much satisfaction from doing those things. That’s why so many New Year’s resolutions are so quickly broken. The pleasure that should come from success has already been felt. Some people who have a high amount of anxiety also become over-planners. They can spend hours upon hours, planning tasks years into the future. Hours that could be spent on the actual tasks. Task programs such as Asana, Todoist, and Wunderlist become addictive and planning becomes an obsession. The best way to stave off both these situations? Don’t plan at all. Or make sure your plan is incredibly general and freeform. Don’t tell yourself that you are going to do an aerobic exercise tomorrow. Tell yourself you’re going to do some kind of physical activity. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to write a chapter in this specific project tomorrow. Tell yourself you’re going to have a creative period tomorrow. You won’t know your mood tomorrow. And those of us who get pleasure from planning can end up locking ourselves up when it comes actually to doing the planned task because one, we already felt the satisfaction of making the plan, and two, we aren’t really in the mood for the specifics we created for ourselves to follow. Also, don’t tell a lot of people what you are planning to do. Tell people what you’ve managed to do. They will reward you the same for your plan as they for what you’ve accomplished and you don’t want to further associate pleasure with plans.

Ah, I’ll Do It Tomorrow

With over-planning comes procrastination. I was supposed to write the Intro on 12.20, the previous section on 12.21, and this section on 12.22. Instead I’m writing all three on 12.24 (yes, I’m working on Christmas Eve). Was I not working on those days? No, I absolutely was. I just wasn’t working on my blog. I thought to myself, these things are small, I can do them later. Right now, I’d rather read these chapters I’ve planned for myself or work on videos, but as easy as these sections are going to be to write, I don’t need to do them now. Especially since I’m on vacation from my day job. I’ve got all the time in the world. That last thought is the death knell of getting work done. Even though I have less free time during the days I work at my day job, I’m typically more productive on those days. This is something some of you may have felt. Where does this conditioning come from? My guess is school and work. We are so used to having a set schedule from an early age and are taught that there are productive days and days for fun. If we consider our personal projects (exercise, diet, cleaning, and creative tasks) work, than those are only for the so called productive days. Time off from work and weekends are for fun. How do we solve this? Two different ways: one, turn free days into pseudo work days. People who own their own businesses do it, so can you. Create a schedule to follow and start following it the moment you wake up, including waking up at a certain time. Sleeping in is not conducive to getting anything done. Or two, don’t consider these things work. Rework your thoughts to think of them as fun. I don’t have to write this. I get to write this. A combination of the two can work wonders on your productivity and help alleviate a good amount (but not all!) of procrastination.

Checking Things Off: It’s Habit Forming

If you do still have a ton of tasks in some kind of task management software, or even in paper form, and you do manage to mark one or two off, you may notice that you start getting pleasure from crossing them off. Almost as pleasurable as planning to do something, checking items off a to do list can be its own kind of satisfaction. This is helpful if planning is an obsession that can’t be helped. And maybe planning to plan, as in setting aside time to plan or listing it as a task, can help minimize the amount of time one spends doing it. It will also help you associate doing those planned tasks with planning itself and get you started on being addicted to getting stuff done. You’re gonna plan anyway, might as well make it part of your plan to do so. That may seem counter-intuitive, but it will also stop you from feeling defeated by the obsession with planning, because that is not helpful to moving on to your actual plans. Speaking of feeling bad . . .

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

If you fall behind, if you don’t do anything for your big goal in a day, if you feel you haven’t done enough today, don’t beat yourself up. This isn’t going to help you make progress the next day. It’s kind of like how AA can sometimes cause tailspin falls off the wagon. Well, I messed up a little bit, might as well mess up a lot. No. It’s okay. We aren’t perfect beings and we can’t predict what our day will bring. Just tell yourself that you’ll try to do better tomorrow. It’s not necessary to be perfect. It is necessary to try your best. That’s all you can ask of yourself. Be glad for whatever progress you’ve made and believe that you will make more in the future.

The Six Task Rule

Ivy Lee, a fore bearer of modern public relations, created an easy way to be productive every day. Before going to bed every night, he would write six tasks from most important to least important to do the next day, and when he woke, he would start at the top of the list and work his way down until all six were completed. A lot of people follow this method today and swear by it. This method is better for those who have several projects going at once. Give it a test for a week if you’re daring and remember, don’t beat yourself up if you fail at all or all the way.

Or the One Thing a Day

When I was earning my degrees, one professor, who had a reputation for being extremely productive, had some advice, advice she had gained as she was entering her doctorate. Graduate degrees are notoriously stressful and hard to manage, and many people don’t complete them because they end up overwhelmed. The advice she received, which she was kind enough to impart upon her own students and colleagues, was that every day at least one task to the overall goal, in this case a doctorate, should be completed, even if that task is something as simple as buying paperclips. It makes the big goal seem less daunting if it is completed in smaller tasks, and if you only accomplish one little thing every day, you’re still making progress and you can feel good about that. This doesn’t involve any planning, only making sure some work is done every day. I suggest this one if you have a major project on your plate you are trying to complete. Remember if you miss a day, don’t fall off the wagon. Just try again the next day.

What Are You Waiting For?

I know that New Year’s Day isn’t for a few more days, but you probably shouldn’t wait for some special day to get started on doing better, on doing more. Just start tomorrow. Or better yet, start today. When I fall out of the habit of doing what I’m supposed to do, I don’t wait for some special day on the calendar to get back into the swing of things. I just start back up again. A person is less likely to start at all if they don’t start when they first get the idea. So don’t wait for the first. Write down the six things you’re going to do tomorrow tonight. Do one task for your project today. Get started now. It’s the best way to actually get anything done. And good luck with your endeavors!

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2018 in Craft of Writing, Social Issues

 

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The Snap: An Extinction Level Event in the MCU

The Snap: An Extinction Level Event in the MCU

5F42A02D-DCA2-4316-94C0-8A2F8AC2EDC4I’ve watched a lot of movies in a very short span of time for my YouTube channel, and I also spent years studying creating a narrative, but one of my biggest hobbies is reading about science and technology. I’ve loved a good deal of the MCU movies and shows, so when I watched Avengers: Infinity War, I went into it expecting a good movie. What I got instead was a contrived mess, with bad character focus, and quite possibly one of the biggest disappointments in my entertainment journey to date. Besides all that, the big issue, Thanos’ goal, is so riddled with poor science and logic that I was flabbergasted by the lack of foresight and knowledge involved in the plan and the repercussions if he was successful. In this post, with spoilers, I’m going to explain why the Snap is a bad idea and would result in the extinction for the human race and several other species. Lots and lots of spoilers below for Infinity War.

What We Know About the Snap

In just the movie alone, we see half the cast of the MCU disappear, including Groot, the last of his kind. We also see that whatever people were wearing also disappeared, including the Cloak of Levitation, Spider-man’s Iron Spider suit, Black Panther kinetic absorption suit, Falcon’s flight pack, Star-lord’s blasters, and Bucky’s arm. In an end credits scene, we see a helicopter crash, car crashes, and other bits of chaos as a result of the Snap. Thanos stated several times in the movie that he was doing it to help with the issues that overpopulation causes, such as war, famine, and disease, saying that there are not enough resources to sustain the life that existed. And according to an interview with the president of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, half of the animal life also disappeared and the quote can be interpreted to include plant life (though some scenes of the effect of the Snap take place in a forest and we see none of that flora disappear) and other kingdoms such as fungi, protista, archaebacteria, and eubacteria.

Russ Fischer: I do need to confirm something about the outcome of Infinity War. . . . Are half the animals dead? Are half of the the horses gone? Half of the ants?

Kevin Feige: Yes! Yes. All life.

“Kevin Feige Still Won’t Tell Us All Marvel’s Future Plans”

by Russ Fischer

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Population Stasis: There Is No Such Thing

Thanos tells Gamora at one point that after killing half the population of her planet when she was a little girl, the children of her planet experience nothing but blue skies and full bellies. So we can assume that children are still being born on her planet. Brushing off the inane idea that “bad” weather means plant growth, he seems to be suggesting that in the years since he hit her planet with his stupidity that the rate of population growth has remained steady at a replacement level. Uh. Okay. Let’s think about that for a sec. No species existent or extinct has ever maintained a steady population replacement rate for more than—I don’t know—two seconds. Why? When resources are low, species population rates decrease. When resources are plentiful, species population rates increase. He doesn’t say anything about population rate mandates. Nor does his description of the Snap itself include anything about maintaining population in perpetuity. So in the narrative, Thanos isn’t planning for this, and the creative minds behind the movie didn’t think of it either. Populations rates are in constant flux dependent on the requirements of mating. On a sentient level, government mandates haven’t really solved the problems of overpopulation or underpopulation. And Thanos just fucks off to a farm after the Snap, and we don’t really get a denouement to show if the Snap included anything to maintain the current population. And you don’t just have to worry about reaching a critical mass of population again. You also have to worry about the underpopulation extinction threshold. The passenger bird only mating when they were in a swarm of thousands, and once humans killed so many of them that they weren’t mating anymore, even though they still existed, they were no longer sustainable as a species. A generation or two goes by, and they’re all gone. Well, but he only killed half of all humans, right? Right?! More on that later. Let’s keep talking about population.

Overpopulation? Nature Knows Best

Overpopulation does cause extinction, but there are also natural stopgaps to prevent extinction. Things that Thanos thinks are bad. Like nature has ever been nice. Every species fights among it’s own kind and with others for resources. Ant colonies have literal wars over territory and the resources that are in that territory. Fighting over resources is part of the natural balance. It’s not pretty. But one side wins, the other loses, winner takes the resources. Both sides suffer too many loses, can’t continue fighting, resources are divided up among those who remain. Both sides lose beyond repair, a third party takes the resources. Famine and disease also result from overpopulation, and both cause death. It’s not pretty. But the number of those who need resources goes down with the high death rate, and then the resources are enough for those still around. Can these three things cause extinction? Yes. But extinction is also part of the natural order. The rat city experiment shows that every species can overpopulate itself to extinction, but species had gone extinct without outside interference before. Do sentient species have an obligation to solve the resource issue without war, famine, and disease? Yes, but killing half the population, like those three stopgaps, is only a stopgap. It just cuts out the middleman. It is basically a very brief war. Is there less suffering this way? Uh, there could be if the Snap didn’t cause incalculable secondary damage.

Secondary Deaths: Accidents, Shock, Lack of Medical Care, Dependant Starvation, and Suicides

We all remember that helicopter crash, right? You think that was the only accident? Oh, no. Planes fell out of the fucking sky. Anyone remember the first episode of Flashforward?

It’d be very similar, but not as many deaths. But still a lot of deaths in addition to those people disappeared in the Snap. The immediate chaos would last as long if not longer as it was on Flashforward, and that immediate chaos would include a lot of deaths from car accidents, flight crashes, and heart attacks and stokes. The shock and chaos would kill some people outright, especially if some of those people watched a loved one disappear right in front of them. It would be much harder to get emergency medical care in the ensuing chaos because there would be less doctors, nurses, and EMTs due to the Snap and they would be stretched thin in the aftermath. I would guess this would account for about a million deaths at least worldwide. But that’s just the beginning. In general after the Snap, medical care would just be harder to get, shortening life spans, and this may be a change that would last years.

In China a single mother was arrested and no matter how many times she told the authorities that she had a child at home they did not send someone to take care of the child. That child starved to death. Okay. Maybe this is just a horror story, but imagine if you will how many people, a great number of young children, elderly, and invalids and severely mentally handicapped, are dependent on others for food and care. You may not know anyone, but these people exist all over the world, and often they only have one or two people in their lives that have regular access to them. In the aftermath of the Snap, a lot of these people would not be accounted for until it was too late. Many of them would starve or suffer too much health damage to recover before the world was settled enough to realize they needed help. It’s very sad. But it would happen. And there are those who would lose all hope.

Suicides go up after terrorism, and make no mistake, this is terrorism (source: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1521/suli.34.4.439.53744). Seeing the love of your life, your child, your closest friend disappear before your very eyes or learning that they disappeared while you weren’t there, knowing that you would never see them again, that’s a very strong motivator for suicide. Many businesses would shut down and the stock market would plummet, and the financial desperation caused by these things would also cause some suicides. Some people just wouldn’t want to handle the chaos and would see the world as completely broken and not worth living in at that point. It’s sad, but the suicide rate would markedly increase, adding to the death toll of the Snap, though it is unclear how long the rate would stay elevated. I would predict a dip and then a slower rise as the situation got more dire. I can also actually see an increase in conflict happening; more wars, not less. Because the Snap looks like the fucking rapture just happened. Religious zealotry is likely to go up, and with it violence, and thus death as well.

Animals as Resources: Agricultural Nightmares and Animal Industries

Forgoing the absolutely idiotic idea that plants and lower lifeforms have also disappeared in the Snap, it is confirmed at least that animals were included in the Snap. Also absolutely idiotic. Why? Pigs, cows, ducks, chickens, fish, lambs, goats, turkeys, all food resources around the world. Vegetarians still eat animal by-products such as eggs and dairy and non-dairy cheeses. In places where food is scare, almost no one is a vegetarian because food is food when you’re starving, and half of these animals disappearing would cause starvation to spread. Just turn vegan? Well, first of all. No. I like almond milk as much as many lactose intolerants, but I also love a good steak. (Also, now I’m on a low FODMAP diet which means no soy or bean proteins for me.) But also this isn’t feasible as a solution. For two reasons: one, vegetative protein sources, like nuts, take far more space and water (especially) than other vegetative farming and way more than both to source people with a healthy amount of daily protein. Also, nut allergies. The other (real) reason will be listed in the next section. But animals disappearing wouldn’t just cause a problem as direct food sources.

Non-industrial farming is still a thing in this day and age. Some villages are completely dependent on their farming animals to provide labor to harvest and to plant their food. Some people still live off sheep and get help from the dogs that herd them. Some people live off of livestock for uses other than food, such show, riding, and racing horses and rodeo bulls. There is a huge pet industry. A lot of science, especially medical research, is dependent on animals for advancement. Some of this might not be pretty and you don’t have to agree with it. I hate bull fighting. But it doesn’t change the fact that many industries would suffer too greatly to recover which could mean an economic tailspin for all of the world, which feeds into starvation issues, you big freaking dumbass, Thanos.

Endangered Species: Not the Bees!

Every species has a population threshold for suitability without interference. Drop below that threshold and extinction is the most likely result. Humans have brought species back from the brink of extinction before. But not even our positive interference is enough to save some species. The passenger pigeon was an American species that no longer exists. When these birds flocked overhead, they would blot out the sky. It’s hard to imagine that now, but since they were so abundant, colonists of North America thought that just shooting up into the sky for dinner wasn’t going to be an issue. Well, guess what? It was a big issue, because the passenger pigeon needed that giant flock to survive, so it didn’t actually take much for them to drop below a sustainable population. Something else you can blame on the colonists, but especially those more industrious 19th century entrepreneurs. Once it was realized that the passenger pigeon was disappearing from our skies, it was too late for human intervention to solve the problem that human intervention had created. We still have a lot of endangered species on our planet. Most of them are not important to industry or agriculture, and even get in the way, such as large predators. Some, like the passenger pigeon, are over industrialized, like rhinos, elephants, and whales. Some are simply damaged by our way of existence, like sea turtles and many other ocean dwelling and sustained animals. The Snap would greatly increase the likelihood of these animals falling below the population threshold of sustainability. Most of the human world wouldn’t be trying to fix it, because we’d have other shit on our minds, so yeah, Thanos killed the tigers. And the leopards. And the sea turtles. And the polar bears. And the . . .

There is one animal we rely on more than any other for our own survival, one we rarely consider: bees. We’ve all heard about the bee problem by now. Colony collapse disorder is less of a problem for farmed bees as it is for wild bees. I’m not saying that bee farmers haven’t suffered. In fact, I can guarantee that some farmers went under. But the ones to suffer the most have been wild bees. There are self-pollinating and non-self-pollinating plants. Those that self-pollinate don’t need bees to go from flower to flower on different plants to create seeds. Those that need bees to create seeds are called dioecious plants and include many types of trees, like maples, yews, rubber, ash, ginkgo, holly, osage, mulberry, poplars, willow, and cedar. Some plants are polygamo-dioecious, which means that they can’t be pollinated from their own flowers as the different sexes come from different trees, so some trees don’t produce fruit and thus seeds while others of the same species produce fruit (source: http://www.whatgrowsthere.com/grow/2016/01/29/same-sex-dioecious-trees-and-shrubs/). The food that we farm that require bees include: apples, mangoes, kiwi, plums, peaches, nectarines, guava, pomegranates, pears, currants, alfalfa, okra, strawberries, onions, cashews, apricots, avocados, passion fruit, many bean varieties, green beans, cherries, celery, coffee, walnuts, cotton, flax, macadamia nuts, sunflowers, lemons, figs, fennel, limes, quince, carrots, persimmons, palms, cucumbers, hazelnut, cantaloupe, tangelos, watermelons, coconut, tangerines, Brazil nuts, beets, mustard, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, bok choy, turnips, many pepper varieties, papaya, sesame, eggplant, many berry varieties, cocoa, vanilla, tomatoes, and grapes (source: https://honeylove.org/list-of-food/). So the question is: if many bee species are already endangered and the Snap takes out half of what’s left of them, which will get us first, the starvation or the lack of oxygen in our atmosphere?

The argument against this is that, oh, maybe the Snap doesn’t hit endangered species. Oh? Really? Hmm? OOOOOOH?!

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I’m sorry, was someone speaking? Did they happen to forget that Groot was the last of his kind?

Are there solutions to these problems? Obviously, yes. I can imagine Tony Stark revamping his nanotech to create swarms for pollination. My question is would he realize in time or at all that he needed to do this? Since I don’t believe that the writers, the Russo brothers, or Marvel Studios has realized this is a problem, I don’t think it will pop up in the movies. My vote is that we would not have enough oxygen, and here’s why.

Deforestation through Disaster: Overfarming and Overgrowth

I can foresee some idiots thinking with the loss of animal life that they would need to increase plant farming (without knowing that it would be probably futile). The lack of bees wouldn’t stop morons from trying to farm plants that need bees. These same idiots would probably cut down more forests instead of converting pasture land, and to their credit pasture land and farm land are not always the same. Instead more forest would be destroyed to make way for probably soy and almonds, which I did not list above as needed bees, and other nut trees. Unfortunately though, almond farming requires way more water, which has already caused problems in California, so you can see how this may cause similar problems elsewhere: what wildlands are left will not get enough water, which will dry them out and increase the likelihood or fire. Adding to that, the lessened numbers of herbivores in the Snap will cause overgrowth before the water runs out, which also makes fire more likely.

The Overall Result?

De-oxygenation of our atmosphere. Say good-bye to humans and most other lifeforms on the planet. This really does show how on the edge our planet is, not from climate change, but from species imbalance. We don’t have enough bees or plants survive the catastrophic loss of either. Environmental issues are important: waste in our oceans imbalances things, deforestation through farming and fire imbalances things, and declining bee population imbalances things. There comes a point where the ecosystem health falls below a level of possible recovery, leading to complete collapse, like that episode of The Expanse. We are smart enough to see that these imbalances could mean the end for us. We have the time to fix it now, before Thanos fucks us. Speaking of the purple dickhead . . .

Oh, He’s Just Nuts

There is a very bad idea that if a villain’s plans don’t make sense that they are just insane and that excuses the lack of logic in their plans. Let me say this as clearly as I can:

NO. No. No. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

Well, why isn’t that a good answer? Besides the fact that no one else thought of this plan, did Thanos seem insane? Oh, he wasn’t a good father. True. But you don’t have to be insane to be a bad parent. He wanted to spare people pain. That’s an admirable idea. Not to the lengths he took it. He could plan and strategize too. He didn’t seem to enjoy killing all those people. The only pleasure I saw was when he tortured Thor and killed Loki. He was even sad at times. So I have to ask. What do we mean when we say someone is just crazy? Or just evil? It seems like a phantom claim to me, because there are definitions to those words. I could say that Thanos is a megalomaniac but I would call him a sociopath. But being a megalomaniac doesn’t preclude the ability to plan, to foresee consequences to actions, to understand the way ecology works. One could argue that Thanos never meant to hit all animals, just sentient ones, and that the gauntlet took it further. We don’t know that yet though. As far as we know, the Snap went off exactly as Thanos wanted. Which makes him a moron, not a crazy person. How does Thanos not know the basics of ecology? How did he make it his mission to fix overpopulation, to prevent war, famine, and disease, and not understand that those are the forces trying to fix overpopulation? How?! He got this way because he was written this way, and no creative force at Marvel Studios or behind the movie thought of these issues. That’s clear because none of our heroes breakdown exactly what’s wrong with his plan. They just call him crazy. When comic artists have pointed out better arguments:

IMG_1704

Thanos’ goal makes a lot more sense in the comic books.

Thanos’ Comic Book Goal

Thanos didn’t really care about protecting the universe’s species from extinction in the comic books. Not in most versions. Not in the better versions. Instead, he cared about making Death, an actual physical embodiment of death in the form of a sexy lady with a sugar skull face and a grim reaper robe, happy. He was the typical “nice guy” doing things for a woman that was not into him, things that went a bit far, killing half the universe things. But Death was already in love with the one man she could never have: Deadpool. It’s weird. It’s convoluted, and since the films try to wash away the strange territories that comic books sometimes get into and also take out the pansexual and bisexual characters, especially in the MCU versions, Thanos’ original goal is not shown in Infinity War. Instead, we get this pseudo-science and stupid idea with a false consideration that it will actually work to solve the finite resources in ecosystems. Ugh.

MCU Survives About 10 More Years

So yeah, I give the narrative universe of the MCU about ten more years. After the initial secondary deaths, people will start starving, and then they’ll die because our atmosphere won’t support oxygen based life anymore. How other planets fair is up for grabs. The Guardians movies have shown us many other planets, but some of those were already devastated by Thanos. I could picture the technology they have helping them to survive if he hadn’t already destabilized them. Thanos really underestimates what mass murder does to a society’s political and economic stability. But us, here on earth? We’re fucked.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2018 in Craft of Writing, Film Criticsim

 

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Don’t You Dare!: NaNoWriMo Results Should Not Be Submitted to Agents or Publishers Just Yet

November is almost over and as such, so is NaNoWriMo, the month in which aspiring writers attempt to write an entire novel in the space of thirty days. If you haven’t heard of it, this post is not really for you, but for your edification, NaNoWriMo results are meant to be a first draft. It’s an exercise in endurance. It’s not easy. So writers who do it should feel proud of their accomplishment. That being said, the process of writing a novel is far from over after the first draft is finished and the words “The End” grace the last page. In this brief post, I’ll explain why you shouldn’t send this newly “complete” novel to an agent or publisher.

Agencies Are Overloaded

When you’re starting out in a creative career, you don’t want to get lost in a crowd. This is very easy to do any time of the year, but no such time is this easier for new writers than in December. You’ve just accomplished what seems like an impossible task, writing a novel, and you’re so proud of yourself. And you should be, writing a fifty thousand words isn’t easy. Unless you’re just writing random words, I guess. Apple. Fart. Make-up. (Only 49,997 left to go!) But regardless of having done this and it seeming rare, a lot of other people have done it too, especially by the end of November. And they, like you, are also proud, and also want to get it published. So they, like you, send query letters out in December or full manuscripts, solicited or not. Most agencies and publishers get a major influx of queries in December as a result, and because of the holidays and the cynical but often correct idea that none of the queries are worth representation or publication yet, many of those agents and publishers just say no to queries received in December. It’s just not worth their time. Not with Christmas and New Year’s around the corner, not with the number of queries they have. Don’t allow your work to get lost in this crowd. Don’t submit at what can be considered the worst time to do so.

No One Wants a First Draft

I’ve written two full length novels at this point in my career. One of which (Novel B) I’m reading right now for proofreading, to add, to cut, to change words, to see what issues it has. The other (Novel A) I did that to several times already. I’m currently looking for representation with Novel A. I would never consider doing so at this point with Novel B. It took a lot of work after the first draft of Novel A was complete for me to think that it was ready for representation. Just going through Novel B right now is showing me that there is plenty of more work to do. No one writes a perfect novel the first time. We’re talking about at least fifty thousand words and so many internal parts all needing to work together. The likelihood that it will be perfect is next to nil. I need to rewrite. You need to rewrite. Everyone needs to rewrite. And we all deserve rewrites as readers. I’m not going to put on a wrinkly shirt to go to an interview. Why would I send an unironed novel to an agent or publisher? I’m not perfect. Nobody is. That’s a fact of life. That doesn’t mean we don’t force other people to look at our imperfect work and expect them to accept it. I was an English comp teacher for a while. I expected my students to read through their brief papers for errors before handing them in. And that’s just academics. Professionally, you can be damn sure that agents and publishers have expected you to do this with a novel. They aren’t going to get upset if you have five errors in fifty thousand words, but they are going to be upset if you have five errors on every page. But it’s not just basic proofreading that needs to be done. First drafts rarely have the narrative and character polish that finished books should have. I won’t say that all finished novels are perfect. That’s simply not true. But if you’re going to call yourself a writer, you don’t just owe it to readers to try to shape everything perfectly, you owe it to yourself and the craft too. And if you’re going to call yourself a writer, just remember: writing is rewriting.

Well, Then When?

It may sound like I’m asking a lot and the reality is that I am. Holding back is difficult for a great many people and realizing that the work isn’t over can be dismaying. Rewriting is also as daunting as a first draft but it is part of the process. But how do you know when your book is ready for an agency or publisher? Well, that’s harder to answer. Sometimes there’s only so much you can do on your own. Go over the work until you can’t really see straight anymore and then ask yourself if you’re ready for outside criticism. When you are ready for someone to tell you the worst news, then you’re ready to start shopping. But when you only expect good news, you’re not ready. Yet.

 
 

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Ethnocentricity and Gender Violence: Where Sense8 Failed

I was quite upset last year when I found out there would be no more new episodes of Sense8, especially when the last episode ended on such a kickass moment. But a year on, I realized an issue with the show that I hadn’t noticed when actually watching the show. There were glaring issues that were present in my mind as I watched the show. But this one that I’ve more recently thought of is quite possibly the biggest issue in the crafting of the show. And that is the issue of the whitewashing of Kala’s experience in India to be basically the same as any privileged American woman. Spoilers below.

The Characters

Some characters had very personal issues while others had issues that dealt with major national and global issues. Sun, who lived in South Korea, had to deal with the fact that no matter how good or capable she was in her life, she was often seen as inadequate based on her sex alone, and her brother could be the worst person imaginable and still be considered better than her. We see this in her decision to sacrifice herself to the law to hide her brother’s embezzlement of the family’s company funds. We also see this in the fact that to compete in her favored martial art, she had to do so under an assumed name and eventually quit competing altogether. Nomi was a trans woman, who had to face her family’s rejection and even the rejection of other women of her identity. Her mother continually dead named her whenever her family deigned to contact her. And some feminists saw Nomi as a man trying to take more from women. Riley’s issues were much more personal. She had to deal with the underbelly of club life, but most of all, she had to deal with her grief over losing her husband and child. Wolfgang had to deal with the gang life of Berlin, trying desperately to both stay alive in a dangerous world and carve out a place for himself in it. Lito, living the predominantly Catholic and highly toxic masculinity soaked Mexico, had to hide who he was from the world in order to continue the career he loved. This was definitely the most turmoil filled of the character issues. Capheus had to deal with the difficult task of getting his mother AIDS medication and surviving the very dangerous violence of poverty-stricken Kenya and possibly corrupt government. Will, a Chicago cop, had to deal with the very adversarial nature of policing an area that hated the police and divisive community that both wanted help and was suspect of it. Kala was asked to marry the son of an affluent man who owned the company she worked for and deal with meshing her religious family with his non-religious family.

Some of these storylines grew and development or were dropped entirely by the end of season two. Eventually, Sun just worked to murder her brother, Nomi spent most of her time in hiding from the law but also developed a better relationship with her sister, Riley had a pivotal moment wherein she had to at least stop suppressing her memories of her deceased family but then simply spent season two helping Will, Wolfgang continued to try to find himself a place in the organized crime of Berlin, Lito was outed and his Mexican film career was ruined but his career was opening up in the US after giving an amazing speech at a Pride parade, Capheus was pushed to run for a political position to help his community with integrity, Will developed a heroin addiction but also spearheaded the fight against the shady organization after them, and Kala married her wealthy paramour and found out that many of their poorly produced meds went to the areas that needed them the most, such as Kenya.

Gender Inequality and Violence in India

Back in college, I took a course in Global Women’s Issues which covered problems that women faced the world over. For example, FGM in Africa or Bride Burnings in India. If like me, you’ve paid attention to the gender violence that goes on in India, you would notice that it hasn’t slowed down much. First off, women are not highly valued in their infancy but many communities in the country cannot afford numerous children. As such, there aren’t currently many women in India. Counter to most statistics elsewhere, men outnumber women in India. Recently, the NYT covered this subject, but the number of women there is trending upward. But not only are women outnumbered by men, but due to the lack of plumbing infrastructure, there are many public bathrooms throughout major city centers that require people to pay for their use when defecating. Last I read, men’s bathrooms far outnumbered women’s bathrooms beyond the male to female ratio, and since it is hard for a woman to prove whether or not she had only urinated without a major invasion of her privacy, going to the bathroom costs women money more often than men. These two things seem minor, however, in comparison to the violence perpetrated against women in India.

First of all, I had previously mentioned Bride Burnings which involve the killing of a young woman recently married for either her family not paying a dowry, not paying enough or more in the dowry, or when the husband dies and the husband’s family does not wish to pay or care for the young bride. These women are not killed and then their bodies burned. They are burned alive. Unfortunately, the India government, mostly local courts, has turned a blind eye to most of these murders, with a conviction rate of only 33% in 2008.

More commonly, rape is a very prevalent crime in India, despite the idea that it has one of the lowest rates of rape of all countries. This is because rape is not often reported in India. One of the most known incidents was the rape and murder of a student on public transport back in 2012 in Delhi. A male friend of hers was badly beaten during the incident and all six other men, including the bus driver, raped her. She was also violated with a metal rod, severally damaging her internal organs, leading to her eventual death. After this, the public outcry against this kind of extreme gender violence broke out into protests, the demands of which included better safety for women in India. Fortunately, the court did convict the rapists of multiple charges, including rape and murder. All levels of the Indian government got  involved, including the parliament. But this didn’t change too much, as not even a year later, another student was gang-raped. But the men who raped this woman in 2013 got the death sentence, so the government was trying to make rape less and less appealing to gangs. But even as recently as this January, an eight year old was raped and murdered by eight men including two political party members. There have even been reports of mass rapes, which included children and elderly women. The anger over all this gender violence once came to a head in 2004 when a crowd of about 200 women lynched a rapist who called one of his victims a prostitute. The women had stated that he had been bribing the local authorities to prevent arrest or prosecution.

In cultures where women are not valued as equals to men, rape tends to be pretty common. Rape has a much worse impact on women and communities where women are not valued as equals, because a woman’s body and virginity are the way by which the majority of the society values them and how they are able to create livelihoods, not as prostitues but as wives. Rape damages their worth in the society and lowers the number of women considered viable for marriage even when the overall number of women is already too low. One would think that the act of rape would result in the worst possible punishment in communities that bases women’s values on their bodies’ worth as wives and mothers, and while India, the nation, is trying very hard to fight against rape, local governments are fighting against the tide to punish rapists to the maximum limit. The tide is shown below. It shows absolutely and without a doubt what rape culture looks like when it runs amok.

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The American Gaze

The average American has no idea about any of those issues in India. Feminists tend to know about it, and some other people have a general vague idea about these problems. But American news tends to focus nearly entirely on the United States. A person typically really has to dig to find out what’s going on in other countries. It’s not because interest in other nations went down. It’s that a wider American audience was wanted for the news so more US stories tended to get a wider view. So when most Americans hear about another nation, they tend to put an American cultural context on it. And the American cultural context is almost impossible to untangle from slavery, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement. The United States literally sees most things in Black and White, even though those aren’t the only races in the US, let alone the world. Sometimes jokes that are meant to be about regions are seen as racist against Black people. One great example of this is the Brittish conductor’s firing from an American music festival for making a joke to his long-time friend from the South about his possibly wanting grits. This friend happened to be Black. A White woman overheard the joke, which was long-running between the two who traded barbs on a regular basis about what the other one culturally was more likely to consume, assumed it was about his Blackness, then reported it. The music festival never once asked the person who was supposedly subjected to this so-called racism what he thought about it. Their administration made a unilateral decision and fired the conductor. This is far from an acceptable way of handling an accusation of racism. If one simply ignores the cultural differences between Americans and Brittains, but just looks at the fact they didn’t ask the Black person if it was racist, but decided for him that it was, that can be considered racist to the extreme. But the fact that the conductor was Brittish is important. We hardly acknowledge that other countries and cultures have a different and unique history with Black people, let alone consider the interplay between other races. We often don’t pay attention to those issues that affect other minority groups in other countries. We don’t hear about them either, because the US media focuses almost all its minority attention on how Black and White people interact in the US only. As such, the average American tends to apply this filter to all issues in all countries without knowledge or context. You can see such reactions to the attempt to protect women on transport through segregation below. I’m not sure if this will actually help, especially considering the aforementioned victim who died was also raped by the bus driver, but I understand that they are trying something.

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I appreciated the fact that more informed tumblrs were willing to share their information. But since we don’t know the sex of anyone on tumblr, we can’t say for certain that those who brought up segregation were all male nor that all of those who were informed were female. It’s surprising who is and is not informed of other nations’ issues and violence against women. To me, the funnist and most ethnocentric comment is that it reminds them of something “everyone” has learned in school. Do people truly believe that all the intricacies of US history is taught in all other countries in the world? Because that’s just ignorant.

Sense8’s Failing

My real issue with Sense8 in connection to all the above problems is that Kala’s story is whitewashed. It’s about a woman feeling pressured to marry an affluent man (something that still happens in the US) while she’s in love with another man (another thing that happens in the US) and dealing with a pharmaceutical company’s unethical practices (definitely happens in the US). We get a glorified love triangle. To not even mention the very real physical dangers that women in India face, when the show seemed to pride itself on showing the issues facing people of specific demographics around the world, is an unforgivable oversight. And if it was a conscious decision to do so, then the show wasn’t nearly as progressive as it liked to appear. We need more awareness of these issues in India, not to have them glossed over in a TV show that could have exposed a global audience to the gender violence in India.

Maybe they were planning this in another season, but the show was cancelled and I don’t believe that they were planning it, because it’s not even in the background. Kala behaves as if rape isn’t a possibility in her life, going to public places alone and without some kind of defensive device all the time. Even most of her clothes are very Western by comparison to what some of the women in India wear on a day to day basis. I just can’t help but think that this is a great disservice to the women of India. I’m not saying Kala needed to be raped on the show. I’m saying that it should at least have been a topic and fear that she had to deal with on daily basis. Instead, her experience and story feels very Western, and while Western women still worry about rape and rape culture still exists in Western societies, the degree to which Indian women must deal with both is in a much greater extreme. This needed to be shown. Realizing how much this subject was ignored in the show in favor of a love triangle really bothers me and I will most likely not watch the show again, as I have other cancelled or completed shows, because it is just plain bad writing, which is sad considering that Jessica Jones deals with rape in such a poignant fashion.

But What Do You Think?

Were there any other topics that you felt this show ignored that were ripe for showcasing? Were there other shows that ignored a major issue in a culture? Do think it’s purposeful or an accident? I’m interested in what you have to say on the subject.

 

I’m Not a Female Writer; I’m a Writer

I remember once during my grad school time, I took a class on creative writing theory. One essay we read was by Langston Hughes, and in it he said that the young black writer who doesn’t want to identify himself as a black writer is wrong. Of course, discussion followed. I was against this idea. My professor hit the nail on the head when he asked me if I want to be identified as a “female writer”. I gave a very quick and very loud, No! in return. I’ll explain why this is so important to me.

To Be Identified Is To Be Qualified

We don’t say that Stephen King is a white writer or a male writer. We say he is a writer. Some may say he is a horror writer, and that is a qualifier of a different sort, but with all the minimization that the genetic qualifiers are used with. Identity social protest and politics are very in right now. I’ve never been behind them, and I’m not behind them in art either. When our identity is put before everything else, it pigeonholds us. It’s a qualifier. “Miceli is a female writer” vs “Miceli is a writer”. It’s clear to me that one of these implies that as a writer, I’m not on equal footing with others. It implies “less than”, a niche, a special case. We get the same thing with athletes and scientists. It’s not necessary to say a person is a woman. Let other people figure it out on their own.

To say that Stephen King is a male writer is to suggest that we can’t expect good women from him. But his first novel blows that theory out of the water. To say that he is a white writer is to suggest that we can’t expect him to understand the issues that ethnic minorities face. That’s also disproven. To say that I’m a female writer is to suggest that you can’t expect good male characters from me. Empathy is supposed to bridge these gaps. It is a writer’s greatest tool and we can stop qualifying people at any point.

The Womanly Effect on Writing

Well, being a woman has an effect on my writing in the same way that being a man effects a male writer: minimally, if you wield empathy correctly and well. I have no control over the sex I was born with, nor even with the sex I identify with; however, I’m a strange person. I don’t get along with most women. We often have less to talk about. I don’t wear makeup, and I get haircuts every two years. I hate fussing with my appearance and don’t like kids. This is basically the opposite of most women I know. I do identify myself as a woman, but about as much as I identify myself as a human being. All of us are human beings, and a little more than half of us are physically female. It’s what I am. It’s not who I am. I have other things that I feel make up who I am a little stronger than those two things. Those are foundation, not home.

I have a learning disability. It made me incredibly different those around me. It made learning how to read and write so much harder. Yet all the rewards were so much sweeter. I am an atheist, not by choice (it’d be easier in this world to believe and I tried), when everyone around me was devout. I had to discover Christianity and discover that I didn’t believe in it, nor anything else resembling creation, the divine, or an afterlife. I more recently discovered that I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and had to learn how to deal with that. These things more greatly explain the kind of person I am and explain the kind of writer I am a lot better than simply being a woman. Being a childfree woman has more of an effect than just being a woman.

Being a woman is so simply a part of me that it is hard for me to focus on it. Just as I imagine being a man is hard for men to focus on. I think only people who want to simplify themselves focus on their genetic differences. It’s easier to feel like you’re part of it all when you can pick out others who look like you and feel the same things you do. But I identify with no one and everyone, because everyone feels differently and feels the same. I think that’s what writing and art is supposed to show us, which is why what the writer is doesn’t matter, just what they write.

Proud to Be a Woman and My Name?

First of all, my name is Alex. It is not Alexis, Alexandrea, Alexa, or Alexandra. My first name really is just Alex. Yes, people have thought that I was male before meeting me on occasion. This doesn’t usually bother me too much. I am not proud of what I didn’t accomplish. I didn’t accomplish being a woman. That doesn’t mean anything. I didn’t control it. Genetic chance doesn’t seem like something I should be proud of. I’m proud of the things I do. I’m also not ashamed of things out of my control, like genetic chance. It doesn’t make any sense to me to be so. I feel like pride and shame should be wrapped up in actions, not chance. So I’m proud of this blog, my Patreon, my published play, the awards I’ve won, the stories and poems I’ve written, the actions I’ve taken to help others.

I Am Woman; Hear Me Roar?

I care about women’s issues. I  also care about men’s issues. I care about poverty issues. I care about animal cruelty. I care about messed up beaucracity. I care about everything that feels like it is hurting another living creature. Some are higher on the list of emotional response, such as women’s access to sterilization in the US and animal cruelty or the treating of animals as property. I don’t necessarily let these things guide my writing however. Instead, I let my writing guide itself. Will it be effected by these things? Of course, they are all in my head, and what’s in my head invariably comes out in my creations. I don’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write about animal cruelty”, unless I’m writing here in this blog or for a paper. In my creative work, I’m writing from an image or a character first, not an ideal or an injustice. Let the work be interpreted as audiences are wont to do. I know I interpret work I experience.

I’m Simply a Writer

The end goal of equality should be to be seen no different than someone who is different. Of course, that doesn’t apply when I go to the doctor, except that the doctor should still see me as someone who is smart enough to make decisions about my body. Overall, though, I am simply a writer. This is who I am above all things. I’m reading about Jonathan Swift right now, and I keep having some eerie feelings while doing so, because his attitude is so much like mine (Everybody can fuck off, but I worry that you’re being treated like shit). He lived centuries ago, in a different country, and with a different set of sex organs, but I keep getting the idea that I would have loved this man and also never hung out with him, just as I never hang out with anyone. I don’t like people when they are in front of me, but I certainly care about them. This seems to be something a lot of other people feel, and it doesn’t seem to be effected by gender. It’s an example of how characteristics transcend obvious genetic differences. They can also transcend cultures and times. We can all find something that connects us to someone else. Anyone else. We can all empathize, if we try, with everyone in the world. And that effects my writing more than my sex.

 

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