What Are We Leaning On

I wish I could complain about writing this week, or analyze some facet of it.

But that doesn’t seem right considering all that’s happened this week.

Where I live right now and at my university, the election has kind of caused a ripple grief effect. Dwelling on the results isn’t good for us right now. In fact, it’s almost making us sick.

We organize, we plan our next moves, and we strategize. It’s not my place to butt in, and I look to the writing and example of those wiser than me. The situation is more complex than I know, and I don’t wish to cause any Facebook arguments or instigate any more divides than what we’re currently facing.

Right now, what is good for me is to listen, and indulge in some self care. We talked about that a bit in class this week, just to process, what we’re doing to just make sure we go day to day.

I mean, obviously my cat, friends, and family are what push me on in the larger scheme. But just going on with my life right now means making plans with friends and trying to be as normal as possible. Also choosing what kind of media to watch.

So far, this is what I’ve compiled as the most cathartic for me. I’d love to hear what everyone else is finding useful right now too.

This is my list:

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road

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It’s a feminist version of The Iliad.  That in itself makes this movie amazing, but, moreover, it is really helpful to watch at least clips of it at my angry moments now. And the final shot of Furiosa being lifted up gives me the kind of hopeful feeling I need right now.

2) The First Wives Club

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It’s tempting to just leave it like that, but yes, watching Ivanna cameo coming off a spectacular divorce settlement has a sort of charged meaning to it now that I love. It’s a call to action now. Plus Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler being as snarky and perfect as possibly is heartwarming, at the end of the day.

3. Lilo and Stitch (or really, any Disney film)

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I say Lilo and Stitch because that is what I watched on November 9. It’s a fun comedy, it’s lighthearted, I didn’t have to think, and really, fun kid’s movies are the best on a tough day. I can’t recommend them enough.

4. Supergirl

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“Supergirl” is a tv show, unlike the movies I’ve been listing, but it is one that runs purely on fun and joy. It’s female led, which is really important in what I watch right now (despite it’s pitfalls, as the creative team behind it is not as evenly gender split as it should be, though the show has thankfully been making moves toward that). And honestly, Kara’s speech on hope at the end of Season 1 saving the world is the kind of message I’m desperate to grab onto right now.

5. Pretty much any classic sitcom

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I am one of those people who thinks the original “Boy Meets World” may have been the greatest sitcom ever written. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch an 11 minute video of Salem’s greatest hits from “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” on election night. “Friends” is pretty much self explanatory. And if you haven’t seen “Golden Girls”, stop what you’re doing and go watch an episode on youtube. Trust me, it will make you a lot happier.

Really, this category is open to anything. Old, new, whatever. “Bob’s Burgers”, “Arrested Development”, “Parks&Rec”, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, “The Nanny” – the list goes on. Watch something that’s pure purpose is to make you happy.

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(P.S. If you have time for only one five minute video today, here’s one of Lin Manuel Miranda and his family reenacting “The Sound of Music”. It’s what you never knew you needed).

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This is Why We Revise

I think it’s very important to see the difference between the finished product and how a work of art starts out.

In my undergraduate writing class, our textbook actually had an entire chapter dedicated to revision  and showing a handwritten edited copy of a published writer’s work going through one of his drafts to the final version. Now, in graduate school, our professors have a reading night where they show off their own “work in progress” to put us on the same page and give us a chance to hear them reading their own work.

Of course, their work in progress is still so far away from my own that it’s incredible and inspirational, but the fact remains that debunking the idea of the perfect literary artistic genius into real people who started out with something entirely different than their finished work is important.

To me, at least, it showcases that not only are great artists real people, they are also goals we can work to reach. I have no illusions of being the next great literary genius. That’s not what I’m saying.

But Jane Austen originally conceived of a lot of her novels as epistolary ones, which is a great idea, but I tend to liking her final versions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. And reading her very early work that she read for her family is hilarious, because Jane Austen is the satirical genius who made novels a given satirical form, but that satire is so biting that there’s no story underneath. She had a huge growth period to get to works with characters and plotlines that lingered beyond the page.

Writing is work. And knowing that makes it work that’s doable, rather than some far off ideal we can’t reach.

I’m thinking about this primarily because I watched the Hamilton documentary this week. In the documentary, it’s reiterated that Lin Manuel Miranda is the Shakespeare of our time (and okay, but, seriously, he is, in terms of style and how he’s revitalizing theater in comparison to his contemporaries). I’d even argue Lin Manuel Miranda, in Hamilton, tapped into a greater overarching mythic story and its structure, his version of Hamilton Achilles like in his creation of the plot and his Aaron Burr the truest version of Hector we’ve ever seen off the Iliads own pages.

But, moreover, the documentary shows Lin Manuel Miranda composing “My Shot” in Aaron Burr’s bedroom (I legitimately had a geek fit, it was great). And Burr’s initial verse, was, well, really not coming together.

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(Ah, sweet poetry. But honestly, I would have probably been fine even with this version because LMM could make it work.)

The documentary then juxtaposed Miranda’s composing with the finalized lyrics of Burr’s verse in my shot, which is a stunning piece of writing:

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The final verse, like so much of Hamilton, is intertextual. It references “South Pacific”, in particular, the song from it that talks about how racism is learned – a sneaky moment that leaves you gasping in a production that purposefully cast in a way to resemble modern America (all the main leads are actors of color). The rhyme is brilliant, the lyricism is stunning, and it gives us more insight into Burr than there would have been in a line consisting of variations of the word “shoot”. It’s in a word, perfect.

And it was made so even more for me from seeing Lin Manuel Miranda’s process.

Writing takes work, and revision, and if you keep trying, something miraculous happens. Well, if you’re Lin Manuel Miranda. I’m looking for pretty okay by my endpoint. We’ll see how it goes.

On Writing and Inspiration

My big event of the week was that Gail Simone retweeted me.

It’s not as big of a deal as I’m making it sound. Twitter allows more fan to celebrity interaction than is normal in “every day” life or even other social media platforms. (Gail Simone, in case you don’t know, is a comic book writer who really helped pave the way for women writers and creators in comics, at least in more recent years. She was pretty formative in my development as a comic book fan). And anyway, the retweet was only because I replied to her in the first place about what my favorite Science Fiction novels were.

Which is where the main purpose of this week’s blog takes off.

My favorite science fiction novels are young adult ones. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and it’s following sequels (though, oddly enough, Many Waters tends to be the one from that cycle I reread the most) and Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series. They aren’t only my favorites because they remain the best science fiction I’ve read.

They’re also my favorites because of how formative they were to my development as a writer and, in general, a person. My personal concepts of spirituality, morality, understanding the world at large and my place in it, were all at least partially affected by the books I read as a child. And even as I’m older and rereading those works, part of the resonance they hold from me comes from that – even besides the fact that they’re very well written.

In high school, introducing my book club to So You Want to Be A Wizard was one of the works I was so excited to talk about. It was more than showing my friends a book I loved, it was also showing them a part of myself.

And those concepts have seeped into my writing, both consciously and unconsciously. I don’t write science fiction, or at least, I haven’t yet. But I do gravitate to urban fantasy, both in my thesis and side works. And both the Wrinkle In Time series, and assuredly, the Young Wizards series  bridged those genres. I write with almost exclusively female protagonists. Not only because it’s important to me to be represented in the books I read and write, but also because when I was younger, reading those books helped me learn how important it was to be represented. And why, afterwards, other titles might have been set aside, because they didn’t fill that need for me.

And I will willingly admit that Diane Duane’s concept of the archangel Michael as an irritable scarlet macaw inspired the usage of bird/human people in my own story. Now, Machu Picchu/Peaches/The Winged Defender is a far different animal to the creatures I’ve written (she’d have to be or I’d be plagiarizing, which is a no from the get go). But it was a writing idea I latched onto and wanted to push into a different direction. That’s how writers develop. They read something  and want to replicate it, with the addendum of “but” somehow in that thought.

It’s why a lot of writers are so passionate about critiquing and discussing the books they read and other media. No piece of writing or art is without some thought or morals behind it. The death of the author concept only goes so far. No, fiction authors are not writing books based on their lives. We don’t equal the protagonists (if that was so, I’d have a lot of questions for Joyce Carol Oates regarding Zombie). And we can explore, by that measure, twisted characters and concepts. And we can also do that without actively endorsing them.

But a bit of our outlook on the world, our way of seeing it seeps in their somehow. We’re trying to communicate something, even if we aren’t exactly sure what that is.

And so we do push back against works that seem to have an outlook we think would have been damaging to that picture of our younger selves desperate to read all we could and soak it in. It’s why I have posts asking exactly what Marvel thought it was doing in “Age of Ultron”. Because my reading and my writing demands women be accorded their due respect.

Like I said, it isn’t all bad. We’re communicating. We’re sharing. Reading and writing lets us link ourselves so far back until we’re arguing with Homer and Euripides over where Helen was during the Trojan War and how that’s important. Essentially, it’s amazing.

Oh, and by the by, Diane Duane admits to being inspired by Madeleine L’Engle. So we really are all connected.

Research and Writing (Or Rather, Procrastination and Writing)

I work best to deadlines. I know this about myself (and as discussed in my last post, sometimes the best way to make myself focus is to set deadlines – or ask others to – to get me to work).

The problem is that, especially with writing, where I run into problems I’m not anticipating (i.e. a scene not working when I’m editing, forcing me to rewrite the whole thing five times, only to come back to it months later to find it still not working and dragging me back to the drawing board again), I end up spending hours at that last minute time struggling to finish up. Even if I’ve put in the requisite planning ahead time.

I’ve been told this isn’t a unique issue (and I really hope not, or else all my friends have been lying to me). And I have gotten better at structuring my time so that the last true all nighters I pulled were in college for two finals. So even if I stay up late, I have realized when it is best to leave something be and work something out rather than entering the time vortex that comes out of an all nighter.

The problem with working several hours at a time at the last minute – especially when I’m exploring options rather than continually writing – is that I end up procrastinating. I look up something for research (in my latest instance, lockpicking, which I didn’t end up using and only serves to make my google searches look suspicious to the government) and end up in a wikihole where I’m watching videos from Big Cat Rescue that have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Or I will actually try to do research – and especially since I’m writing fantasy that is based a lot in myth and folklore, will have to weed through websites that aren’t reputable. I’ll look for information because I’m thinking of paralleling a tale or referencing it, and find a website helmed by people convinced they have seen leprechauns in real life and want more information on how to draw them out again.

Not only is this information useless, and the exact opposite of what anyone should want to do if they’ve even watched one horror movie trailer, but it takes time away from me doing real work at understanding Celtic legends. It’s either that, or when I google a specific phrase (related to lockpicking example above), I find all the various flash games people are obsessed with on the internet. All these games, moreover, remind me of the ones we had to play at school in the late 90s/early 2000s. So I am very confused to find them on youtube with over 20,000 hits.

 

All research is useful. Just like all writing is useful – even when each draft is about 50% different from the previous and my original conception of a project is progressively unrecognizable as I continue. From my own needs and feel for editing, let alone workshop and Thesis feedback. And that original work can turn up in a different piece. Just like there may be some moment where I need to know about flash games from the early 2000s. I can’t predict it now, but it could happen.

Still, procrastination is not good. It’s important to take breaks, so I don’t become completely overwhelmed, but not ones that end up being longer than the time I’m working.

And, as is clear, I’m not perfect about avoiding it. There are tips and tricks I can use that almost overcome it – when I’m writing, especially new stuff, it’s best for me if I do it by hand, away from the internet. Setting timers to let me know when to work and when to take a break. Listening to those timers. I know I’ll never be completely perfect at staying 100% on track.

But the only way to maybe, eventually, get there is to keep trying.

And hey, if you’re in the mood for a break, I definitely recommend this video of kittens doing the best they can.

How Do You Write Like You’re Running Out of Time

I”m not going to lie, this has been a hard week to find a pertinent blog topic.

Not only because I’m upset and frustrated with the current elections – but going into that would be far too long of a rant and VOX has handled today’s nonsense better (tw in links for sexism, misogyny, rape culture and just everything terrible ever basically).

All of that, combined with the mass fear of killer clowns who may or may not be real, finally getting over the remnants of severely dehydrating myself two Sundays ago (drink water, people), and missing my friend who came to visit.

Well, I’ve been distracted.

That’s not to say it’s all bad. Lin Manuel Miranda is going to host SNL, and apparently he gave everyone in line to see it free pizza, and is basically a gift to humanity. Daveed Diggs has a running arc on Blackish where he basically is playing himself as Thomas Jefferson again and it is the greatest thing ever. (If it’s not clear, I, like most breathing organisms on this planet, am a huge fan of Hamilton).

But my writing has suffered. When I fall out of my writing schedule, whether from sickness or the sheer joy of the greatest playwright since Shakespeare giving out free Italian food, it can be hard to get back into the writing rhythm.

Having multiple deadlines really helps – and is a plus side of the heavy focus on my Thesis this final semester. But I also have to plan ahead for what to do when this semester ends, and remember to exercise, and on and on and on. Writing must always take precedence, even when “real life” actually takes precedence.

We’ve been talking about finding a writing balance in my seminar class this year, and just in general as those of us gearing up to graduate face what happens when we stop having professors to answer to in terms of writing. You’ve got family/friends, work (because even the luck of having a bestselling book doesn’t actually mean you make money), keeping healthy, a relationship if you can manage that (side, I don’t have one, don’t ask me for advice on this I’ll just say to give them some water and spaghetti maybe and hope for the best), all sorts of differing real life ties that will call for your attention.

And sleep. The hours add up. Managing an hour a day can be difficult. You can wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and write, or you can be a regular human and find time somewhere else. Evenings are what works for me, up to a point. Once it hits 10:00 my brain goes somewhere else and I can’t recover it. But then you have to find a job that doesn’t tire you too much out in the evenings, and…the cycle continues.

Best I can figure, and what those smarter and with more experience than me have said, is to find people who will hold you accountable. Someone who will demand deadlines from you. Friends, related to your writing work or not. They don’t have to read your work, though a writer’s circle will help with what the absence of workshop can’t provide. They just have to ask you to send them SOMETHING and hold you to it.

And do the same for them too. It’s super difficult, and I haven’t always been great about it.

But keep those people and your writing around you and maybe one day it’ll work out. (I can’t promise running around Manhattan delivering pizza to strangers with your 3 Tonys, Pulitzer, and  MacArthur Genius grant* good, but we can all dream).

 

 

*HOW.

(side note, if LMM ever somehow manages to find this blog, I want him to know that I truly unironically believe him to be a national treasure)

When Is It Time to “Let It Go” (No, this isn’t about “Frozen”)

Sometimes, I like to imagine the universe where Firefly got 6 seasons, and Glee got 1. The shows have no inherent relationship with one another (other than that they both aired on Fox, and Joss Whedon wrote and directed one episode of Glee). But both did have excellent first seasons.

Glee and Firefly were both praised for how they defied genre conventions, and characters that didn’t fit the traditional “hero protagonist” mold. But then Glee’s second season hit, and um. It wasn’t good anymore. (I say this as someone who watched all 6 of Glee’s seasons, because at some point you’ve lasted long enough and you have to watch the whole thing). The writing was no longer consistent, characters came in and out of the show with no viable answer as to why, and any glimmer of hope as to a return to form were quickly dashed.

It was no longer the critical darling of television. And the very legitimate reasons for critiquing the show – representation was not always equal opportunity, and sometimes, in an attempt to show more representation, ended up becoming extremely offensive.

And I wonder if that is what would have happened to Firefly. I know, Joss Whedon is not the same showrunner that Ryan Murphy is. Ryan Murphy’s shows all tend to have the same first season critical darling, then he loses interest, immediate panning of next few seasons issue. But Joss Whedon is not a perfect creator. (Any Marvel fan can tell you that, considering “Age of Ultron”‘s issues clearly, upon interviews, stemmed from more than just studio meddling. Brucenat. I’m talking about Brucenat.)

The overall nerd culture rejection of Joss Whedon that followed his second marvel movie, wasn’t limited to Age of Ultron’s flaws. Suddenly, everything that was legitimately wrong with Firefly, even in only it’s first season and a movie, resurfaced. A cast without any Asian actors, set in a universe where Chinese is the most spoken language, along with English. Mal’s casual slutshaming of Inara.. The iffy treatment of River’s mental illness. The way Reavers were a stand-in for Native Americans in Westerns in a way that was excruciatingly problematic.

I still love Firefly (and I think the first season of Glee is great for that matter too). But it was not perfect by any means. I like the reconstruction South told through a sci-fi lens. I like that it’s actually Stagecoach in space. But I can’t help but wonder if part of the glossy tint that still lingers to it is because it only got that first season and a movie.

If it continued on, would those above problems have become even more apparent? Quite possibly.

And if Glee had only had that one season, would it be as fondly remembered with campaigns to renew it like Firefly  has had? Well, maybe.

These aren’t the only examples I could use. It’s a truth universally acknowledged, (to borrow from J.A. for a bit), that Supernatural should have ended with it’s fifth season with the greatest season finale. But it went on now and the show’s issues, tolerable at first, have only worsened. Once Upon A Time was once the most feminist show on television. But now it’s only an unwatchable Disney alternate universe.

This is all to say, when do we leave writing as is? Readers are always supposed to want more. They shouldn’t put the book down with a sign of relief (Or finish out the series finale, as in my extended Firefly/Glee analysis).

They want to see more of the world. Want to feel there is more beyond the borders.

It’s hard to write that way. Because characters have so much life in them. Even at their worst, when we never want to look at them or their world again, shaping it and thinning it down without eliminating what’s essential is a struggle. What to excise – which characters to cut, which plotline is better left in the drawer, what scene that’s beautiful but completely unnecessary – it’s a hard choice.

At least with writing, we get to look back on the whole in a revision stage in a way TV creators don’t entirely.

We have to kill our little darlings.

We just have to figure out what they are.

Greetings From Krypton

(Or, Sorry I’ve been AWOL for far too long).

It’s been several months since I’ve blogged, and it’s definitely my fault. I ended up more or less taking the summer off, after suffering from a truly annoying sinus infection, other general family health issues, and other things.

But being a writer means making time to write no matter what. If you don’t have a set schedule, no writing (or no good writing) is going to get done, and that is not good. So my semester has started back up again and I am going to blog every week because I have to for my own writing good.

This past weekend I attended the San Francisco Comic Con. It was my first time at a con, it was lots of fun, and I genuinely never expected to see SO MANY Harley Quinns in one place. But either way, it was awesome.

It’s been said to me, and I wholeheartedly agree, that Comic Con is a lot like AWP. It’s very true. Well, excepting the proliferation of serial killer clown/psychiatrist cosplayers. Maybe. Apparently there was someone dressed as Shakespeare last AWP and we can only conjecture as to what he did with his spare time.

The panels cover a lot of the same subjects, at least the ones I’m interested in – the history of women in the profession and diversity on all levels of writing – and trying to write diversely beyond your own lived experience because of how important representation is. Now, con does not delve as deeply into the writing world as AWP. Topics are broad, because not everyone there is a creative type, and there are panels literally just to see famous people.

(I never made it to a Manu Bennett panel and that makes me super sad, because I wanted to yell “Capua, Shall I begin?” at him and was deterred by never seeing him in the flesh).

Also AWP has far fewer lightsaber battles.

There are problematic aspects to attending Comic Con. The recent talk in my MFA program has been about how Netflix doesn’t want you to write. Facebook doesn’t write. They want you to consume and waste your time and come up with excuses. And comic con is the same way. I had amazing fun, but I got absolutely no new writing done because I was exhausted at the end of the day. It can’t be like this every week. No matter what gets me off the hook, writing is what I need to do. Not just talking about it.

But talking about diversity in comics, and their progression – we were told multiple times that the industry is changing quickly and there are literally more female artists in the comic world than ever in their history (even from the 4os to the 60s where it was an accepted fact that both men and women read comics)- WAS reassuring. People were so excited to talk about the changes that had been made, and how far we have come and what we’re heading towards.

And yeah, the fact that there were far more Harley Quinns than Jokers, Deadpools, and Captain Americas combined was kind of amazing. Because that meant there were so many women there. And it was accepted. I had no interactions with any fake geek boys interrogating me. And I came prepared for that (Okay a few guys were also dressed as Harley Quinn, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing).

But writing is changing. Representation is important. And the message is clear. You can get on board, or end up with your face shoved in by a cartoonishly large mallet with the words “Your Face Here” printed on its side.