“Useless English Major”

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Being an English major is a little of a running gag in my family. Out of all my siblings, I have the highest level of education and (so far) the most years in school. Yet I also make the least amount of money and have the lowest expectation of career advancement. Usually it’s just good-natured teasing, the way one expects from siblings. I indulge in it myself from time to time, but even my self-deprecating humor has taken on a sharper edge. As the years roll on, it just doesn’t seem funny anymore.

I recently read an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Is Majoring in English Worth It?” The contents were pretty much what I’d expected: a half-mocking look at how the value of an English degree has declined dramatically even as the cost of college exponentially increases, making it “the most regretted college major in America.” But I hadn’t expected the intense wave of bitterness that swept over me, a deep sense of resentment that something I spent six years, thousands of dollars, and untold amounts of stress attaining, a skill that I am good at, can be summarily dismissed as the butt of a bad joke.

So, like a good little Millennial, I shared some of my frustration on social media:

I got some sympathetic faces in response, which was about all I had expected. But then my friend David asked a very poignant question:

“If you had a time machine, what would you do differently?”

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Caught Between Worlds

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Once again, I find myself in an odd position where I have too many different fictional universes filling my brain, none of which is dominant enough to drive out the others and leave a clear path for inspiration.

  • I just finished reading the anthropological science fiction Foreigner series by C. J. Cherryh, so my brain is filled with alien politics and the awesomeness that is Bren Cameron.
  • I just finished watching The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance television series on Netflix, so my brain is filled with magic and fairy-folk and my YA novel Faylinn.
  • I’m currently participating in the writing challenge Story A Day, so my brain is trying to stay on task with writing and reading short stories, which is not my native element.
  • National Novel Writing Month is coming and I just got in my Page One notebook from Write Gear, which I want to use to get ready to work on an urban fantasy novel (which I think I’m going to set in Portland, Oregon because I’m sick of hearing about New York City and Chicago).
  • Ravens and Roses is back to lurking in the rear of my brain again, but it turns out that having “just a few scenes left to write” was a massive underestimation and I’ve got a ton of military research to do before I’m ready to tackle the rest of it.
  • Good Omens from Amazon Prime STILL has its demonic/angelic claws sunk deep into my psyche and it is going to take a massive amount of willpower not to watch it during NaNoWriMo because it’s being released on DVD and Blu-Ray early this November and like a fool I already preordered it… I’m doomed, aren’t I?
  • As a side effect of David Tennant’s presence in Good Omens, I have a powerful hankering for Shakespeare productions that feature him. (I’ve seen his Hamlet and now I’ve got Richard II, Much Ado About Nothing, and Shakespeare Uncovered lined up. Not Doctor Who because I cannot take having my heart ripped out by Ten’s regeneration again. I just can’t.)
  • I’m also still trying to get and keep regular life in order, which includes better incorporation of exercise and some serious calorie counting to bring my weight (and hopefully depression) back under control.

So, as you can see, I don’t know what (if anything) I’m going to get done, which is a little concerning with NaNoWriMo on the horizon… I do have a little time, so we’ll see how things go. (But seriously, I cannot wait for my upcoming week of vacation. Kat desperately needs a recharge before winter hits.)

Til next time…

 

The Problem With Chosen Ones

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“Foreshadowing”

The trope is endemic to fantasy literature. Especially middle grade and YA fantasy literature. How many times have we gone through the old song and dance of a single person who is “special,” who feels like an outsider or doesn’t fit in, and turns out to have special powers or is the long-lost heir to the fairy throne or some other trite nonsense that hangs the fate of the world on the decisions of a single hormonal teenager? (Nostalgia Critic’s review of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief covers a lot of the issues with this trope of “Wowed Teenagers” quite nicely.)

Now, to be fair, a lot of people do connect with this base character type, and as long as the story does something interesting with it, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the trope. For people just discovering works featuring that character type, it’s something new and unfamiliar to them. For people like me who have read a lot of fantasy and see the same tropes and cliches turn up over and over again without much variation, it can be a little grating. To each there own, of course, and I would prefer to see more variation. But a lot of people, especially those in the middle grade and YA audience, do feel like outcasts and want to be reminded that they to can be something special. It can be inspiring for them and help them discover their own talents.

But there’s a Dark Side to this emphasis on being a special, super-powered Chosen One. It can help reinforce two very unfortunate mental states: Magical Thinking and Delusions of Grandeur.

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Breaking the Rules: C. J. Cherryh’s ‘Foreigner’ Novels

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Image from SF Signal

All writers have heard the adage “Show, don’t tell.” It’s one of the most ambiguous and frustrating pieces of writing advice I have ever received. After all, writing is all about words. How can you “show” something when the only way to communicate is by “telling” the reader what’s happening? You’re also supposed to make sure something is always happening to move the scene forward. You don’t start in a static or simple moment. You have to begin with a bang to get the reader’s attention! Where’s your momentum, people?

Now, I get what this advice is trying to say. “Show, don’t tell” encourages writers to not just give a play-by-play of the scene, a “Then she did this and then he said that and then they went here” style of story-telling. That’s acceptable for a four-year-old telling a story, but not for a novelist. You’re supposed to make it more dynamic, fluid, and engaging. And starting with a bang isn’t literal, but to avoid the cliche of having a character wake up in the morning or monologue to themselves. The devil, as always, is in the details of how exactly to do this.

It’s easy to then fall into the trap of thinking that these are iron-clad rules which cannot for the love of all that is literary be broken. Rules are useful as a framework, but it’s always nice to see how the rules can be bent or outright broken and still leave you with an engaging story. Enter the Foreigner series by C. J. Cherryh.

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Serendipitous Encounters

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Image by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels

It’s very difficult to know how, or even if, a story will affect you.

We think we know what we like and why we like it, but a lot of the time we actually don’t. Sometimes you pick up something you think you will like, something that you should like, and it leaves little to no impression on you. Perhaps you even dislike it! By all accounts, I should love Game of Thrones. It has high fantasy, political intrigue, complex characters, and dragons. And yet I have never warmed up to it. Other times you pick up something on a lark and are surprised to find out much it moves you, how deeply it sinks into your psyche and plays upon your heartstrings. How was I to know that tagging along with my friends to the theater on May 4, 2012 would send me careening head-first into the world of Marvel comics and superheroes?

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Love ≠ Romance

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Image by congerdesign on Pixabay.

Love does not equal romance. Or at least, it doesn’t always equal romance. It certainly is part of the traditional story-telling formula, but love can be present between characters that isn’t the romantic kind.

Generally, love gets shown in two ways in stories. It’s either the aforementioned Romantic Love (the one that usually involves sex, kissing, etc.) or Familial Love (between mothers/fathers and their children or between siblings). The Greeks had words for seven different types of love, but love can come in so many shades of meaning and permutations of expression that I doubt there are names for them all. But the point I’m trying to make is that when we use the word “love” it can apply to far more than the Traditional Two of Romance and Family.

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Nothing Wasted

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Image by John Hain on Pixabay

Since making my declaration about getting back into The Mariner Sequence, specifically Ravens and Roses, I haven’t actually written anything. And yet I feel like my mind is more in “writer mode” than it has been in a while.

Looking back over the last two weeks, it doesn’t seem like I’ve been writing, yet two morning walks spent talking to myself have solved some major plot problems that had troubled me for years. It just goes to show that, while a writer may not always be putting words on a page, when we have a goal in mind, we can feed everything we do into the compost of our subconscious and see what happens. It’s a weird and diverse process, one that is nonlinear and sporadic. Many of the things don’t seem to relate to writing. After all, what do the following contribute to the writing process?

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Passing Judgment, Part 2: Readers, Viewers & Fandom

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There have been several instances lately of works of art and media being torn down or otherwise endangered because of association with an artist who did or said something negative. I’ve decided to explore this issue in two parts, first looking at the production side with those who create or perform the media, and then looking at the consumers of that media, a.k.a. fandoms.

Background image by TPHeinz on Pixabay

While there have been many news stories about artists being slammed for their personal views or lives that had a negative impact on the work itself, there is another just as insidious and pervasive negativity radiating from the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m talking about the consumers of media: the readers, viewers, and fans.

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Passing Judgment, Part 1: Artist, Actor & Creator

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There have been several instances lately of works of art and media being torn down or otherwise endangered because of association with an artist who did or said something negative. I’ve decided to explore this issue in two parts, first looking at the production side with those who create or perform the media, and then looking at the consumers of that media, a.k.a. fandoms.

Background image by TPHeinz on Pixabay

Continue reading “Passing Judgment, Part 1: Artist, Actor & Creator”

Portals

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I’ve always felt this way about books.
It’s why I tend to read fantasy, science fiction, and anything else that takes me away from “Here” and “Now.”
I read a lot and I read quickly, but my retention of what I read is pretty low.
Mostly I remember that I did or did not like it.

But the point is not to remember everything in detail.

The point is to read it at all.

To experience those other lives.
To visit other worlds.
To explore other thoughts and ways and cultures.
To participate in a kind of intellectual imperialism.
To plant a flag, as it were, so that door is marked as mine.
To claim those pages as my own.

To secure the portals.