What I’ve Learned (so far) About Writing Steampunk & Romance

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''When you're last minute revising and you realise how fucked you are'' Upshout.net

”When you’re last minute revising and you realise how fucked you are…”    (from @MedievalReacts)

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Hi folks!  Sorry I missed posting an entry last week, but I was in the final stretch of editing the second draft of All’s Fair and could not be derailed for anything. Let me just say that it’s been a trip, and it ain’t over yet, but I’m enjoying this slight breather.  Back in February, I sent All’s Fair through it’s first round of beta readers. This resulted in a major overhaul for my manuscript: 1/3 had to be cut entirely, 1/3 needed extensive reworking, 1/4 needed to be moved and/or have minor editing, and 1/12 could be kept as it was.  And Draft 2 is easily 100 pages longer than Draft 1 due to all of the stuff that was missing during my first attempt.  Needless to say, it’s been quite the learning curve, especially since I have never written in these two genres before; normally I stick with high fantasy.  So, what are some of the things that I learned at this juncture?

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Houseboats in Space

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At the beginning of the July 2016 Camp NaNoWriMo, I was in the mood for some old-school anime.  During Camp NaNo in July 2013, I’d inter-spaced bouts of writing with episodes of an anime called Black Jack.  Every so many hours, words, or pages, I would reward myself with an episode or two.  It got me through the month and it was an enjoyable show.  This time, I decided to start watching an anime I’d been eyeing for a while.  It’s called Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and I cannot express how hooked I currently am.  It’s got that gorgeous old-school look that only anime from the late 70s and early 80s have.  The drama is totally over-the-top, the science is out of whack or non-existent, and the plot lurches around like a drunken sailor.  But the characters are so endearing and the adventures are so fun that I don’t even mind it.  That’s just part of the experience.  In fact, I’ve actually had to stop watching it for now because it makes me want to write about pirate ships and space operas, not steampunk or romances.  (Oops.  Wrong choice for this project’s inspirational material.)

Captain Harlock

Still, as I was watching the first several episodes of Captain Harlock on Crunchyroll, I started thinking about all of the other science fiction anime and TV shows that heavily feature nautical themes and emphasize the tight-knit family unit that the crews of these ships become.  In Captain Harlock, this takes place on board the Arcadia.  In Last Exile, the first anime I ever watched, it’s the Silvana.  In the original Mobile Suit Gundam, we have the White Base.  (The power of the Bright-slap compels you! …*ahem* Yes, well, moving on.)  In Space Battleship Yamato it’s… er, well, the Yamato.  (Yes, I know that was redundant.)

Then you have all of the English TV shows and films, like the Enterprise from Star Trek, the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, Serenity from Firefly, Battlestar Galactica from… um, well, Battlestar Galactica. (Yes, yes, I know, more redundancy.)  And to top that off there are good old-fashioned ocean-going vessels: the Defiant, the Albatrossthe HMS Surprise, and Captain Nemo’s submarine the Nautilus, to name a few.
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The Wellspring

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Some time ago, I read an article in The Guardian that Neil Gaiman wrote about his friend, Terry Pratchett.  In the article, Mr. Gaiman said that fury was what fueled Terry Pratchett’s writing.  I was reminded of this when I came across a more recent article posted by the Los Angeles Times, which held an interesting addition:

“Terry [Pratchett] was many things, but he was not a jolly old elf. I think each of us tends to take something and use that as the place where you begin making your art. If you’re going to make good art, it’s likely that you’re going to go to the place where things are dark, and use that to shine light into your life and, if you’re doing it right, into other people’s lives as well. For Terry, it was always anger. There was a deep rage in him that allowed him to create. For me, it tends to be sorrow or loneliness or confusion.

The pat answer that I’ve often seen given by writers, either in person or via books of advice, is that their art comes from joy or curiosity or wonder or passion.  The emotions referenced are often positive or at least neutral.  This seems to be the more socially acceptable answer.  It’s a little more unusual, even slightly morbid, to hear someone say that their art, regardless of the tone of the end product, stems from a darker source.  Usually we think that your emotional state should match the emotions evoked by your creation.  I mean, really, would you have guessed that the hilarious absurdity of Discworld stemmed from a man’s rage?  It certainly surprised me.

That surprise made me stop and reflect on what emotional core drives my own creativity.  While all emotions are necessary to craft a convincing piece of fiction, I was curious to know what the wellspring consisted of.  Did my writing come from joy, sorrow, anger, loneliness, despair, amusement, fear, cynicism, or some other emotional core?  Was this consistent or did it vary from project to project?

I’ve turned the question over in my mind, and as I trace down the central emotional motivation for characters in my various works-in-progress, I think that the answer might be fear.  The main characters in Ravens and Roses, All’s Fair, Astral Rain, Rinamathair, Jewel and the Skyrunners, Moon’s Fire/Moon’s Water… almost all of them are all driven by fear of something.   For many of them this fear is about losing something or someone, and almost all of them are in denial about it.  Some of them manifest this by being shy and adverse to risk while others become bold and abrasive in an attempt to hide what they see as a weakness.  A good portion of their narrative journey is spent recognizing that fear, admitting it to themselves or to others, and then working to overcome it.  Some succeed; others don’t, at least not completely.

I don’t generally share the same specific fears as my characters, but the sensation is the same.  Even though I prefer to write while feeling happy or content rather than angry or depressed, the underlying motivation is fear.  It’s a little weird, since I’ve never run into anything truly dangerous in my life so far.  But the sensation, be it a small, niggling sense of unease or full-blown panic, is always there.  And as I think about what Neil Gaiman said in these two articles, I think that might be my fuel, the part that gives the stories and characters I create that little extra push into realism.  The soul-spark that makes them come alive.  Because fear, like anger or loneliness, is a universal human emotion.

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Original artwork is by Amuria on DeviantART

 

Book Review! “Before Mako Came Yoko: A Comparative Study” by Natacha Guyot

 

This entry is part of “Natacha Guyot’s Blook Blog Tour!”


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BeforeMakoCameYokoCover

I don’t usually care much for summer blockbusters, which usually have more explosions than compelling emotions.  However, Pacific Rim is one of those rare “popcorn movies” that I felt gave a layer of depth to its characters.  I confess that I was surprised to see Mako, a female Japanese Jaeger pilot, get as much screen time and character arc as she did!  Women as primary main characters is becoming more prominent, albeit slowly, and there is still a dearth of women of color in such roles.  Pacific Rim provided a step in the right direction, even if it fell short on certain points.  But I was unaware that a long-running 1970s comic book series from Belgium had already allowed a female Asian character to step into the spotlight.  Natacha Guyot’s brief but engaging treatise Before Mako Came Yoko: A Comparative Study Between Pacific Rim and Yoko Tsuno elaborates on how the title character of Yoko Tsuno and Mako of Pacific Rim share many key traits.

The book is divided into three parts that explore these similarities, as well as a few of their short-comings.  The first part, “Women of Color as a Female Lead Character” explores the history of the two characters as they developed through their respective media.  While Yoko has four decades of story to draw on and develop from, Mako only has a single film.  Yet both present strong, well-rounded, engaging characters who aren’t reduced to eye candy, exotic tokens, or inevitable love interests by the presence of male associates.  (However, like Ms. Guyot, I would have preferred Mako as the main character and focus of Pacific Rim, since I found her origins and presentation far more interesting than that of the male lead!)

The second part is “Combat, Science, and Compassion,” which looks at the skill sets Yoko and Mako possess that helps make them real people and helps solidify their importance and relevance to the plots of their respective stories.  Scientific knowledge and martial arts are a shared skill set, although Yoko Tsuno touches on religion and spirituality in a way that has little to no place in Pacific Rim.  A big difference is that Yoko faces danger on a more or less regular basis throughout the comics.  Mako doesn’t have the opportunity to fight her enemies, the alien Kaiju, until well into the film, and even then, only for a short time.  Visually and narratively, Mako and Yoko break the mold in progressive ways.

“Composite Family and Inner Circle” comprises the final section.  Yoko and Mako share many similarities in their creation of a new “family” outside their blood relations.  With so many years of development, Yoko has far outpaced Mako in this area.  This may be a necessity of the medium, but there is hope that future installments of Pacific Rim will expand on Mako’s role in the story and her circle of friends.

Before Mako Came Yoko is an intriguing look into the world of representation for female and minority characters in media. It draws connections between modern cinema and classic comics to show how progressive some of these characters are… and how far we still have to go. Be sure to check out Ms. Guyot’s website for other books and articles discussing similar topics in Star Wars, Farscape, and more!


 

natachaguyotNatacha Guyot is a French researcher, author and public speaker. She holds two Master’s degrees: Film and Media Studies (Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle) and Digital Culture and Technology (King’s College London).

Her main fields of interest are Science fiction, Gender Studies, Children Media and Fan Studies. Besides her nonfiction work, she also writes Science Fiction and Fantasy stories.

Natacha’s Publications     |     Twitter     |     Facebook     |     LinkedIn

Where Are the Ladies? Female Protagonists in Fantasy

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One of my friends mentioned that, when she was a kid, she couldn’t find any female characters she liked or could relate to.  In fact, she became misogynistic herself for a time because the only examples of women were weak, whiny, helpless bimbos.  Not exactly the best role model for a growing girl.

But oddly enough, I don’t remember there being a deficiency in heroines during my childhood years of reading.  But then again, I read fantasy and it seems that fantasy has a higher prevalence of female protagonists (and women in general.)

I’ve heard about several studies that speculate on the lack of female characters in children’s and young adult literature.  Granted, this has been changing over the last few years, especially in teen literature, but I still find that female characters, when they are present, tend to fall into the emotional/romance category.  There are fewer examples of (dare I say it?) “strong” (or rather, “well-rounded”) female characters in children’s fiction.

Since my last entry, “Character Charisma,” was so heavily skewed towards male characters (9 men to 1 woman), I wanted to explore some of my favorite female characters in fantasy novels. Unfortunately, in the video games I’ve played so far, there are very few, if any, female characters who left much of an impression, and even fewer who were the star of the show. The only two that come to mind are the sun goddess Amaterasu (Ammy) from Okami and Aurora from Child of Light. (Both of these are beautiful games with unique designs and gorgeous musical scores, and I highly recommend playing them.) Or maybe I just haven’t played enough games, but either way I’m going to focus on books that I read with interesting, unique, or kick-ass protagonists… who happen to be girls.  (I apologize in advance for any mispronunciations.)

 

WARNING: THE DESCRIPTIONS BELOW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!

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Character Charisma: A Collaboration with R.E. Myles

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Readers, you are getting a special treat this week.   Rather than having me ramble aimlessly, you get to have two of us rambling aimlessly!   Yup, this is my first ever writing collaboration.   The awesome co-author this week is my good friend and fellow writer, R.E. Myles.   She suggested exploring why we are drawn to certain characters and types of characters in books and video games.   We decided that the Q&A format with seven questions would be the best way to answer this so you can get a clear idea of what (and who) we like in stories. For the record, both Myles and I read a lot of fantasy, and when we say “video games,” we’re primarily referring to third person roleplaying games. With such similar tastes, there is some overlap in our answers. We apologize to the authors in advance for any mispronunciations.  Enjoy!

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Beginnings

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I have never been good at beginnings.

Well… that’s not quite true.  I used to be very good at starting projects and not finishing them.  Often, getting started was no problem at all.  It was maintaining the momentum, fleshing out the middle, and wrapping things up at the end that eluded me.

But now that I’m older, I’ve found that beginnings are difficult.

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Dangerous Stereotypes: Bad Boys

I’m going to tackle some stereotypes present in modern fiction that I think are dangerous when used irresponsibly.  Any entries part of this series will be labeled as “Dangerous Stereotypes.”  The previous entry on this topic is about the Scientist stereotype, which can be read here.  

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God of Mischief

Image via desktop-wallpapers.net

People have interesting ways of coping with scary things.  Some deny their fear.  Some avoid what frightens them.  Some seek it out.  And many people, often women, seem to be taking what should be scary and try to make it cute.

I’m talking about the “bad boys.”

There are so many villainous characters out there with cute, sorrowful, gentle, loving, or chibi-fied pictures of them out on the internet.  Sometimes they are anti-heroes like Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z or Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Sometimes they are villains like Voldemort from Harry Potter or Loki from the Marvel Comics.  Sometimes they are someone who flickers in between like Mr. Gold from Once Upon a Time.  And sometimes they are like Alucard from the anime and manga Hellsing. Alucard is the opposite of cute.  He’s one of, if not the most, badass, psychotic, murderous vampire in modern literature.  He’s fucking terrifying.  He’s murdered and drunk the blood of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, human and vampire, and enjoyed it.  The only think that keeps him under control is the special spell that binds him to the will of the leader of the Hellsing Organization.  And he’s one of the GOOD guys!

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Gender, Color, and Sexuality in Characters

I’m currently working on the script for my manga project Astral Rain for the April edition of Camp NaNoWriMo 2014.  Well, more accurately, I’ve been working on a lot of background notes, plot notes, and world-building because I noticed that a lot of that hadn’t been worked out in advance.  As I was writing, I came across the article “I’m Demanding Better Representation For Black Girl Nerds in Geek Culture” by Chaka Cumberbatch.  And that’s when it hit me:  all of my characters in Astral Rain are white.

Granted, it’s supposed to be an OEL (Original English Language) manga, and most anime and manga lack people of color.  I have no problem featuring white characters, but what surprised me is that the idea of any of the cast of Astral Rain being anything but fair-skinned never occurred to me.  And that concerns me.

Image via What If Books Etc (click for link)

Image via What If Books Etc (click for link)

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#BlogHop – Character Sketch

Week 3 of Ruth Snyder’s hosted #Blog Hop features a character sketch of our heroes!  (Many thanks again to Ruth for hosting and Cate from CommuniCATE for sharing!)  I decided to introduce folks to a character from one of my less-developed stories DragonFriend, a fantasy aimed at younger readers:

Hagan is the son of a blacksmith in an unremarkable village by a river leading to the sea.  He towers over the other folk of the village with that gawky adolescent awkwardness that turns into thick muscle and a wide belly with age.  His wide, friendly face is framed with thick black hair and a pair of green eyes gaze in quite wonder and amusement at the outside world.  He loves to laugh, a deep, jolly sound that shakes him from his toes.  Hagan’s size and muscle often fools people into thinking him slow or stupid, but he is neither.  Whether with a sword or with words, Hagan is both quick and careful, sensitive to the world around him.  Unfortunately, Hagan sometimes fancies himself to be more clever than he is or misjudges his own strength, which can get him into trouble.

His life is simple and quiet as he labors in his father’s forge, listening with rapture to the tales that various travelers bring in from the outside world.  Whenever he earns extra money, Hagan spends it on books, acquiring a small personal library.  He uses these books to teach himself reading and writing, and finds he has a talent with languages.  But his dreams of adventure seem out of reach…until he sees his first dragon.

The world is full of dragons:  big ones, little ones, earthy, airy, mystical, wise, powerful, and everything in between.  Until his eighteenth year, Hagan had only heard stories of the beasts.  But when a young Swamp Dragon washes up in the riverbank in a storm, cold, shivering and terrified, Hagan’s life changes forever.  His boundless compassion and curiosity does not allow him to leave the little dragon unaided, and this choice leads him out of his village to wizards, the keepers of knowledge and magic.

Unlike many other would-be practitioners, Hagan is not particularly interested in magic or power.  What he wants is to learn, specifically draconic dialects.  Communication, he believes, is the key to understanding, and Hagan wants to become, in his words, “a mystical biologist” to study and understand dragons.  It is a journey that will require all of Hagan’s courage, wits, strength, and good-humor…not to mention plenty of food!