The Glory Illusion of War

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“War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”

— from the song War by Edwin Starr

There is a slightly frightening tendency to glorify war and battle. It’s a big part of fantasy and science fiction; we’re always waiting for the big battle between good and evil at the end. But what happens when we carry this thinking over into the real world? This us-versus-them mentality, the idea that we are the brave warriors fighting the good fight, is especially attractive if we perceive ourselves as the little Rebellion fighting against the giant evil Empire, or as Peeta and Katniss resisting the malicious Games of the Capital, or as the Alliance of Men and Elves standing against the destructive might of Sauron. Everyone loves the underdog.

That’s fine in fiction. I have nothing against battles in stories and frankly I enjoy them. Halo would be pretty boring without the Flood or the Covenant to fight. It’s when this mentality leaks into real life interactions that it concerns me. If you look at the language being passed around the internet these days, especially when it comes to politics, you’ll find buzzwords like “war,” “soldier,” “fight,” and “rebellion.” Even as the world becomes a safer place overall, the language has become far more violent and polarized. You’re either with us or against us; there is no in between.
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Writing Is A Full-Time Job (Even If You Don’t Make Money From It)

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(Click image for source)

This might sound like a broken record, but it bears repeating. I still run into or hear about people who don’t seem to get why writing takes so long or how it could be so hard to just fling words onto a page in some coherent order.

Despite my eye-rolling and exasperation, I do understand that, for a non-writer, it’s easy to just assume that books magically appear out of thin air because very few people see the actual process of writing them. Artists of all stripes tend to be self-conscious about unfinished work, so we keep it secreted away until we feel it’s “done” enough to see the light of day. And thus if I tell someone that I’m working two full-time jobs, they tend to look at me funny because writing doesn’t seem to contribute in a concrete, monetary fashion. (At least, not yet.)

It’s difficult trying to balance two jobs, and this lack of understanding about how writing truly is my second job can make the whole enterprise that much harder. For people who don’t have much support from their family or loved ones in regards to their craft, that difficulty increases almost exponentially. So, I wanted to lay out the kinds of things that I’m trying to consider, plan for, and tackle as I try to build a career as a writer in between all the other day-to-day tasks that require my attention:
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Remembering Carrie Fisher

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When I learned that Carrie Fisher had died, I was at work so I couldn’t cry. There was no time for tears, but my heart wasn’t in my job because I now knew that the amazing woman who played Princess / Senator / General Leia Organa was gone.

It’s so strange, surreal, even, because only a few days ago my friends and I watched the Star Wars Holiday Special and Episode IV: A New Hope. One of them mentioned that Carrie Fisher was in the hospital after having a heart attack on a plane. I remember thinking, “Oh man, I hope she gets better soon,” but I don’t any of us had any doubt that she would recover and go on being her feisty, witty self.

But she didn’t. (And as if that tragedy wasn’t enough, her mother followed suit the next day.) Part of me still doesn’t believe it. Or rather, doesn’t want to believe it.
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2016: The Year in Review

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*sigh*

I confess that 2016 overall has not been the best of years. Lots of amazing famous people have died. Lots of insanity with the presidential election. Lots of time wasted on Pinterest, Youtube, and other online distractions. Lots of crazy all over the bloody planet. To top it off, I didn’t get as much done as I hoped I would and had a few set-backs. Almost none of my 2015 goals were achieved:

  • All’s Fair isn’t finished.
  • Didn’t write any more short stories.
  • Totally failed at NaNoWriMo this time around.
  • Haven’t added any other creative activities to my routine.
  • Regained almost all of the weight that I lost.
  • Not sure if depression is nibbling at the edges of my psyche again, or if it’s just normal stress and winter doldrums.

So… yeah. *sigh* Okay, now I need to focus on what I did accomplish.
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The Sorcerer Supreme in Cinemas

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Today we’re going to talk a little bit about the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Doctor Strange.

(Those of you who know me are welcome to stop reading now; it only gets more fangirly from here.)

Oh, and SPOILERS!

*ahem* Okay, ready?

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Art by Luna Delika

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Expressions of Gratitude

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It is far too easy to focus on the negatives in life, too easy to see only the flaws, to complain about what we do not have or how we wish things would be. So I want to take a moment to express my gratitude for that which I am very lucky to have.

I am grateful for being able to live when and where I do, despite its flaws. For having a place to call home, for not needing to worry about where my next meal will come from, and for having the time and leisure to write at all, even if it sometimes feels like that time is scarce or that leisure is unearned.

I am grateful to have lived in areas with easily accessible libraries and for always being encouraged to read without boundaries. I know not everyone is so lucky. Being literate and having access to books is a gift that I never, ever want to take for granted.

On that note, I am grateful to all of the creators of books, movies, television shows, music, and art I have had the pleasure to experience over the years. Your work has inspired and improved my life immeasurably, and I thank you for sharing it. Art of all kinds makes the world a better place, so keep making it!

I am grateful to my family for being so supportive of me and my work:

~ Thank you to my brothers Richard and Daniel, who, despite much teasing about my writing and English degree, always have my back when the chips are down.
~ Thank you to my super-amazing and talented mom, who never ceases to impress me with her fortitude and ever-expanding repertoire of skills, both artistic and practical.
~ Thank you to my awesome and talented dad, who knew the value of writing skills combined with a good education and ensured that I received both.
~ Thank you to my adorable cat-babies, Diego, Phantom, Chaos, Zuko, Sokka, and Bunny, who are so freakin’ cute and cuddly and mommy loves you so much!
~ Thank you to my adopted Aunt Nancy, who is probably the sweetest person on the planet.
~ Thank you to my onii-san, David, for basically everything.

I am grateful for my most excellent friends, both far and near, who make me laugh and make me think. You guys rock! Special thanks to my writing groups, the Gburg Wrimos and Pens in Space for sharing both the trials and tribulations of literary life.

I am grateful to the following spectacular beta readers, fellow writers and sisters-in-spirit, who have been willing to suffer through various drafts of my work:

Foxglove Zayuri
R.E. Myles
Epha*
Storm Elf
Imp
Laughing Ninja 

Thank you so very much! I appreciate your help and efforts more than I can possibly express.

Everyone… I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

 

* NOTE: Due to a spelling error, I accidentally pronounced Epha’s name as “Ephra” for the Audio Edition. Due to the time-consuming nature of recording and re-uploading, I have made the correction here on the print article, but the Audio Edition retains the mispronunciation. My deepest apologies for this error!

A Matter of Honey and Vinegar

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When it comes to persuading people to change and adopt your point of view, I do believe that how you present your argument is just as important as the points within your argument. There’s an old saying that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And it’s true. People are more likely to listen, truly listen, if you treat them with respect, or at least civility. Humans rely on emotions a lot and often generate rationale to support those emotional reactions after the fact. Relying on tactics that inspire fear or anger only serves to short-circuit the rational parts of our brains.

You don’t convince people that your view is correct by insulting them.

Sometimes it might seem that way, but in truth, most of the time the people who seem to be convinced that you are right when you start insulting the opposition aren’t from the other side at all.  Chances are they were already in your camp or leaning that way; they just weren’t vocal about it.  Very, very, very few people with an opposing viewpoint will switch sides after being called stupid.  After all, if you refer to them, or people who share similar traits, as stupid, evil, morally bankrupt examples of humanity, why would they listen to a word you have to say, regardless of how fact-based or valid your points are?

If you insult people, you are only preaching to the already-converted choir.  Those who are firmly in the other camp will become even further entrenched, convinced of their own righteousness by virtue of your vitriol, while those on the fence or with only mild leanings one way or another will not be swayed.  In fact, insulting the opposition might only serve to drive them away from you!  After all, one can become “guilty by association,” and who wants to be associated with unpleasant bullies? (I can’t tell you how many YouTube videos I’ve stopped watching, because the stream of insults and profanity obscured any validity the creators may have had.)

For example, say you don’t agree with the views that generally seem to be held by people who like the color pink. And then you go around telling other people how stupid or evil or intolerant those people who like pink are. Chances are that there are plenty of people out there who like the color pink who don’t share those views or might have views that aren’t as radical. Maybe they never even thought about the issues you are bringing up and don’t understand what the big deal is. But the more hatred or disdain you express about people who like the color pink, others who also happen to like pink might start to think like this:

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The Power of Children’s Cartoons

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“Who would have thought that child could win a children’s card game?”

— Seto Kaiba, from Episode #11 of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series

I think a lot of people underestimate the power inherent in children’s cartoons.  When they hear the word “cartoon,” they picture something light, fluffy, and utterly vacuous, filled with loud noises and sight gags. Or they might think of the painfully awkward and cheerfully grating tones of newer “edutainment” shows, most of which are not nearly as good as classics like The Magic School Bus or Wishbone.  (Or maybe that’s just the nostalgia talking.)  Either way, cartoons tend to serve as a kind of temporal placeholder to keep little kids occupied while the grown-ups go do important grown-up-things.

This woefully misrepresents and denies the kind of narrative impact that cartoons can possess.  After all, cartoons are a staple of childhood, often giving kids their first real taste of serial storytelling.  Obviously different age groups will be drawn to different types of shows; one can’t expect a two-year-old to have the same attention-span as a six-year-old.  And to be fair, there is a place for cartoons comprised of stand-alone episodes and humor, both physical and verbal, like Looney Tunes, Rocky & Bullwinkle, or Tom and Jerry.  Such cartoons don’t require a viewer to invest a lot of time in order to get the payoff, and with no over-arching plot to worry about, it’s very easy to introduce newcomers to the show.  But I do believe that longer forms of story-telling can and should be presented to children at a young age so they can come to appreciate the art in all its forms.  Unfortunately, animated story-telling gets ignored because a lot of people still think that anything drawn, and in some cases even CGI, as a “cartoon” and therefore “just for kids.”  I have heard people refuse to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the greatest TV shows ever made (in any style) simply for the sin of being animated.  And that’s a real shame.
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Writing Ethnic Characters

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Okay, right off the bat, we have a problem.  Actually, I suppose it’s a problem with how we’re approaching the problem.  Read the title of this entry again: “Writing Ethnic Characters.”  It’s making the assumption that most readers (or listeners) for this entry will be white writers trying to figure out how to create and describe characters who are not white without relying on stereotypes, over-used cliches, or offensive terms.  It also could be said that it makes the implicit assumption that white is the “default” while everything else is “other” or “ethnic.”

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how else to segue into a discussion of this challenge that white writers face. While writing All’s Fair, I found that I had to research how to describe certain characteristics of people who are not white since I have had very little contact with people of color in real life.  (A slightly embarrassing example is my search to find out what black people look like when they blush.  They might feel their cheeks heat or burn, but what does that look like to someone who is watching them?)

This is something I’ve started to struggle with now that I’m aware of how lacking in diversity many of my stories have been.  I don’t want to have token non-white characters, but I also want to take advantage of how many variations there are in the colors, sizes, shapes, and looks of humans.  It’s easy to describe non-human characters; usually your protagonist will be a human and if they are encountering elves, orcs, or dragons for the first time, they are going to notice how they look.  But how do you work in descriptions for characters without waving your arms and shouting, “Hey!  Look!  Here’s a black person, and Asian person, and a Hispanic person!  Hooray for diversity!”
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Autumn Updates

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It seems like when I left for my much-needed ocean-side vacation, it was the height of summer with all of the lovely heat and much-despised humidity that entails, but when I returned, fall had arrived.  The cooler temperatures make my morning walk far more pleasant and I love the leaf-smell of the season. (Hopefully this nice weather will last longer than a week.)  So, with the Autumnal Equinox just behind us, I want to take this opportunity to make a few announcements:
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1) All’s Fair is currently finishing up its second round of beta reading and will soon enter the third round of editing.  Thank you so much to my beta readers for taking on this challenge; I really appreciate it!  I’m hopeful that this time it will not require quite as much revamping as the previous drafts. (Just as long as I don’t have to rip the entire thing apart and reassemble it again…)

2) I’ve simultaneously started to research agents and book publishers who may be a good fit for All’s Fair and projects in the future. The Writer’s Market 2015 is the tool I’m using to start with and I’ll narrow down the field from there. So far I’ve got a decent but not-overwhelming list of prospects, as I’m focusing on those who handle science fiction and fantasy with a special place for those who do so exclusively.  (For All’s Fair, I’ll need to look at those who also handle romance novels, so that’s an additional factor in my deliberations.)

3) National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner and I LOVE their space theme this year! In keeping with said theme, my chosen project will be a story that my dad and I want to collaborate on: Astra’s Revenge. Dad already wrote a short story/novelette version of it and asked me a long time ago to adapt it into a full-length novel. So that will be an interesting challenge.  As a back-up, I’ll probably also work sporadically on my juvenile fantasy novel DragonFriend and my still-unnamed urban fantasy starring my hard-nosed “detective” Karen Mohssey. (I’m calling her a “detective” for now, even though the story isn’t fleshed out enough for me to know exactly what she does yet!)

4) I’m trying to keep up with the Audio Editions and get more of the #ThrowbackThursdays up and running. Unfortunately, due to the time involved, it doesn’t happen with the regularity I’d like to achieve. (It takes about two hours to record and edit an episode with a run time of ten minutes or less.) Also, you may notice that the sound quality of the Audio Editions has changed.  I purchased a new pair of headphones with a mic, so things might sound a bit different, hopefully in a good way. There’s still a lot I don’t know about Audacity, the program I use to record the Audio Editions, so I hope to continue improving!

5) In conjunction with the Audio Editions, I’ve been listening to some podcasts or a (more or less) regular basis.  My current favorites are Let’s Know Things by Colin Wright and The Baltimore Barristers hosted by Alexander Bush and Stephen Caramenico.  Let’s Know Things covers all kinds of topics ranging from perception and bias to cyberspace and suburbia, and the show notes are exceptionally extensive. Plus, Colin does a great job of covering controversial topics with an even hand that explores the positive and negative effects of both sides, which is really refreshing to hear.  The Baltimore Barristers focus on politics, often locally, but many stories have the potential to reverberate nationally.  In addition, they have some absolutely amazing interviews, including Scott Adams (writer of the Dilbert comic strip), Mike Rowe from the TV show Dirty Jobs, and Jack Hunter, editor of Rare Politics.  Both are great podcasts that cover a wide variety of topics in a thorough, engaging fashion; I highly recommend them.

And now, without further adieu, back to the writing.
And editing.
And researching.
And– oh, look, TV!