Book Balls, Fan Fiction, & Other Endeavors

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Today is the last day of my vacation. Yes, I took a vacation because the low-level but persistent stress of 2020 gets tough to deal with, and fortunately, I’m in a position to actually have and use some of that accrued time.

I kicked off my vacation with the #FCPLBookBall, a virtual library fundraiser where you make a monetary donation to the library to “attend” and then just sit and read all day. It was, in a word, glorious. I highly recommend curling up someplace quiet and comfy with one of those “10 hours of ocean waves” tracks from YouTube running in the background. Since I can’t go to the beach this year, this was the closest equivalent, and it actually worked very well:

Books, pillows, tea, candle, cat, soothing ocean waves in the background… Time to settle in for the #FCPLBookBall! ^_^ #bookworm #amreading #ILikeToParty #AndByPartyIMeanReadBooks (2020-08-15 @kvclements)

I’m going to have to try to do something like this once a month or something, a dedicated “Read & Relaxation” day. It worked wonders to help calm and recenter myself. (Also, Saturday August 22nd was the Ray Bradbury Centennial, and there’s a Read-a-Thon of Fahrenheit 451 available to stream until September 5th if you want to check it out!)

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Should The Cat’s Cradle Continue?

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I wish good habits were as easy to form as bad habits. I’m really good at the latter, but terrible at the former. I didn’t write any Cat’s Cradle entries for a month, and I managed to miss the day that I was supposed to start writing them again (yesterday).

I am seriously wondering if I should even bother.

The Cat’s Cradle has been running for over nine years. June 2021 will mark the 10th anniversary. Since I like nice, round numbers, I want to keep writing entries at least until then. But I’ve been struggling for ideas and content. I feel like everything that can be said about writing, any topic I might try to tackle, has already been covered by people who are far more influential and articulate than myself. I don’t feel like I have anything new to add to the conversation. I avoid a lot of controversial topics in fiction because A) many I don’t have strong enough opinions on, B) I don’t have to knowledge to give an informed opinion, C) I don’t want to write about touchy subjects for clicks, and D) I just don’t want the hassle. And since I haven’t worked on my own novels in… well, longer than I care to think about, there isn’t anything to report on those fronts.

And does anyone really care anyway?

After nine years, this blog has little to no engagement on it. A few likes here and there, but almost no comments, shares, or anything else to show reader interest. I can’t tell if anyone is actually reading or getting anything out of it or if, like so many others, I’m just shouting into the void of the internet. The people who know me are understandably busy with their own lives and have little to no time to read these ramblings of mine. And the people who don’t know me have no real reason to care what I’m writing about.

The purpose of The Cat’s Cradle was to be a author platform, a home base to showcase my writing, my reliability, and to host things about my work once I got published. But the more I learn about the publishing process, the more daunting it becomes and the more discouraged I feel. Do I really want to go through the hassle of finding and convincing an agent to take me on and get my work published? If all I want is a physical book of my work, I could go to a private book printer or self publisher and get one made for me. The chances of making a living as a writer are slim to none, and I don’t know if I have the passion and drive to push through all of those obstacles. I don’t know if the stress is worth it with such fierce competition and in such a dismal economy.

And yet at the same time, I also see some real drivel on the shelves, which makes me think, “If this piece of puerile pap made it through traditional publishing, why can’t I do the same?”

But I’m not sure why I’m writing anymore. It isn’t regular enough to be a habit, I make no money from it, and there is a severe dearth of joy in it. I don’t know if that’s just a result of the near-constant low level of stress dogging my heels, or if depression is rearing its ugly head again… or if I’m just being lazy because it’s easier to dream about being a writer than actually writing. Or maybe it’s just the chronic stress piling up. (I may be an introvert, but the restrictions of the pandemic are getting to me too.)

I’m sorry if this sounds discouraging. Believe me, I feel pretty discouraged myself. I’ve been calling myself a writer for years and a writer writes, don’t they? This is a huge part of my sense of self, my identity if you will. And I don’t have much to show for it. Aside from blog entries, I haven’t done much of that in a while. Maybe I just need to force myself back into a habit and that will get everything working properly again. I want to create things… I just don’t know if I want to go through the publishing process. The end result may not be worth the stress.

The good thing about writing is that there isn’t a time limit. It’s not like sports or dancing where you have a narrow window of physical and mental prime and once that’s passed, you’re pretty much done. Writing (and publishing) can be done at any age; there isn’t some “point of no return” where if you haven’t published by this time, you’ never will be. But I need to sit down and ask myself some hard questions:

  • Why am I writing?
  • What is the end goal or purpose and how would I know if I reached it (or didn’t)?
  • Should I keep pouring time and energy into a blog that no one reads?
  • How much effort should I dedicate to the publishing part of things at this point?
  • Do I even want to be published?
  • Do I even want to write?
  • Can I still be a writer if I barely write?
  • Is this just a temporary funk or a genuine shift in priorities?

In the meantime, if you do read this blog, please let me know that you do in the comments, what types of topics you prefer to read about, anything to give me an idea if it’s worth continuing this venture. I will keep going until June 2021, but then I will need to decide if The Cat’s Cradle should continue… or be retired.

It’s Not The Same… Writing At Different Stages of Life

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I love it when people comment on posts because it leads me down new avenues of thought and discussion that I hadn’t considered before. When I shared my post entitled “When Canon & Commentary Collide” about the retroactive changes made to preexisting work by J.K. Rowling and George Lucas, my friend David Greenshell had this to say:

I think it’s important to consider that it’s not JUST about the visual effects. As writers, we know that you can’t write the same story at 20 that you can at 30. As you change, your sensibilities change… so 1997 George Lucas actually isn’t fully able to reproduce what 1977 George Lucas would have wanted. By modifying the movies, he inevitably makes them a product of 1997 — not just technologically, but creatively.

And David is absolutely right. The stories that you can and do tell change depending on your age. You shift focus as you gain experience. The stories you are drawn to or are interested in telling change. The characters you relate to and want to write about evolve. And whenever there is a large gap between installments of work, especially if they are in a series, you can usually tell the difference.

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When Canon & Commentary Collide: What Is “Part of the Story”?

This entry is part of the “Spoiled By Supplements” blog series.

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Image by geralt on Pixabay

Some people care about this topic more than others. For myself, I prefer to know what is part of the story and what is mere speculation, fan fiction, or notes on things that didn’t go anywhere. My time is both finite and valuable, so I want to know what is necessary and what is supplemental. These kinds of things can be interesting to know about, like reading a movie script to learn what was originally intended, see how it was actually executed on screen, and understand why it was cut or redone. These kinds of “alternate realities” are intriguing from an academic point of view. And a lot of artistic creation involves a lot of people, so seeing how the final product differs or adheres to the original vision and why it changed or stayed the same is pretty neat.

But how “final” is that final product? In an age where it’s easier and easier to make changes, from releasing Special Editions with CGI edits, changing a character’s design due to fan outcry, or redoing the CGI of an entire movie after it was released in theaters, it becomes harder and harder to call something “finished.”

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Overlapping & Long-Running Stories: Where’s The Entry Point?

This entry is part of the “Spoiled By Supplements” blog series.

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Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end.

Or do they?

Stories are carefully crafted illusions that are supposed to make sense in a way that life does not. Most of the time it’s a simple matter of picking up the book, popping in the DVD, or opening up the comic to start the story. You follow it all the way through to the end, and you’re done (at least until the sequel comes out). However, there are some stories and mediums where the lines are blurred and the entry point for the story is not nearly as obvious. The prime example I can think of is comics.

I’m still pretty new to the world of comics and graphic novels, and they can be really hard to get into. I remember after watching the Marvel film Doctor Strange, I wanted to learn more about the character. But when I went to look up the comics, I immediately faced a major problem: where should I start?

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Muddled Multimedia Narratives: Where and How Can We Access the Story?

Welcome back everyone! Sorry it took so long to get this next entry to you. I’d gotten really into working on Ravens & Roses during the original day this entry was supposed to be done and didn’t want to derail myself. Then life threw me a family health emergency curveball during the follow-up date, so I’ve been handling that instead of writing. Things are finally calming down and everything is fine, so here we are with the next installment of my “Spoiled By Supplements” blog series. Enjoy!

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Image by myrfa AG Ku on Pixabay

I think that, once a story gets big enough, it’s inevitable that it will start to creep across mediums. Some of that may be due to creative curiosity, to see what kind of take on the story will come out of the medium. Some of it may be from commercial pressure to reach a wider audience or different niches within a potential audience. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. A feature length film has different creative restraints from a novel, which is different from a comic book, and so on. It can be interesting to see how the medium shapes or highlights different aspects of a story or further explores the world within that story. It also makes marketing sense to try to reach as many people as possible, and everyone has different mediums they prefer their stories to be in, so why not satisfy everyone?

The problem is that sometimes it can become too sprawling, too widespread, and too muddled for anyone to follow the story properly, or even access it. This can be a real problem for new or more casual fans.

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“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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