Yuletide

Something I have discovered while writing as much fanfiction as I do is that the community around fic is ENORMOUS.  It is wide and vast and deep.  Whatever weird, obscure thing you love, there is somebody out there who loves it just like you, or maybe more.  Whatever bizarre crossover fills your heart with glee will cause someone else somewhere to die of delight.  This has always been true of fandom, and the internet has really opened up the world to expanding the ability of fans to connect and share.

(It’s not all roses.  There are trolls everywhere and fandom is absolutely no exception.  For everyone person you find who LOVES Thing X, you’ll find someone who HATES it just as much.  And for as many long, involved, and fulfilling discussions you can have with the person who loves Thing X, you might also be drawn into an argument or a dissection of Thing X with its opponent.  To say nothing of people throwing flames, being asshats, and generally taking Thing That Is Fun and covering it with shit.  It happens.)

Now, for as prolific as my writing has become, I’ve never been much of an “active” fan.  I never really joined sites or launched into forum discussions or attended meet-ups.  Some of this is my natural reticence.  But some of it may also be that, as usual, I have managed to slot myself into fandoms where it just doesn’t work — maybe because the fandom is 20 years old and people have moved on, or because the fandom is obscure enough that only 20 people in the whole world share it.

Lack of a community has never kept me from writing, of course.  (I can’t imagine much that would, really.)  But there is something uniquely satisfying about writing to an audience and KNOWING that they will be interested in what you have to share.  It wasn’t something I knew how to seek out, or even necessarily would have tried to, but then a friend introduced me to Yuletide.

Here’s some links should you want to read the meaty explanations:
yuletide-admin.livejournal.com/
https://fanlore.org/wiki/Yuletide
archiveofourown.org/collections/yuletide

In short, Yuletide is a massive exchange of obscure fandoms between fic writers.  People sign up in the fall and receive their assignments with several weeks to fulfill them so they can be delivered to their recipients on Dec 25th.  In return, if you sign up, you are guaranteed to receive a story in one of your chosen tiny fandoms of at least 1,000 words.  You sign up to write in some obscure fandoms and give a gift of your own as well.  And you know what?  I really, really enjoy it.

The first year I signed up for Yuletide, I was able to draw upon a recent fandom which I had revived in myself to the tune of 4 novels and 400,000+ words for a oneshot over 5,000 words long that I still think helped inform the way I think about that particular fandom even now.  The second year I went NUTS and wrote something like 25,000 words in two extremely long chapters (and, yes, I do have a novel sequel idea to follow up with someday; I just haven’t gotten there yet).

Both times, there was something very meaningful about writing a story I hoped would make someone’s season a little brighter.  We all have those fandoms we quietly love alone.  Yuletide was my chance to add a new breath of life and a new pillar into those tiny corners and hidden loves.  And I got to make a person happy at the same time!

Funnily enough, the two Yuletide gifts I received in those years were for the same obscure fandom, which, by the way, is TOTALLY FINE.  Both stories were very different and both made me puppy-in-the-first-snow happy to receive.  I also know that there are some participants in Yuletide who write extra stories so a few people come away with more gifts than just the one, but I’ve never done it myself.  I thought I might this year, and then November exploded.  But I have always been happy with receiving my one beautiful gift of writing and fandom love and I can’t wait to see what this year brings.

There’s a privilege in being able to write something to someone, and there is an equal privilege in being gifted a work born of someone’s heart.

My Yuletide 2016 entry was done a while ago, and I won’t say anything about it except that it made my beta-reader REALLY happy.  If it makes my recipient even half as happy, I’ll count it a very worthwhile expenditure of my efforts for the season.

There are some people who participate in fandom exchanges not only to give and receive, but also to find new authors and to be found in return — and I can say that I didn’t go into it looking for that, but it’s certainly worked out for me.  I’ve pretty much read everything by those who give me stories and liked most of it.  I’ve also searched the Yuletide collection for fandoms I know and found more gems to love and more authors to follow.    I can’t say if I’ve gained new readers/followers this way, but I’ve certainly gained new stories to enjoy.

And really?  When it comes to fic, that’s what it’s about for me.  Would it be amazing to get a story read and liked a million times?  Sure.  Does that part matter?  Nope.

I write because I can’t not write.  I write in the fandoms I choose not because they will garner accolades and popular status, but because I love the source material too much not to write about it.  When I’m trying to publish an original work, THEN I’ll torture myself worrying about whether or not my writing is reaching enough of an audience.  For now, I am happy with the 2 or 3 loyal people who leave me such wonderful comments and invest so much effort in appreciating what I could not help but create.

Yuletide 2016 is drawing to a close and, as always, I am so glad to have been part of it.  Trolls and flames and drama aside, at its heart this is an exchange of love and kindness.  It’s thousands of people working together to create stories that weren’t there before — in order to give them all away to readers who might really need a special gift come Dec 25th.  It’s all of us of the obscure fandom world getting to open our minds and our readership just a little bit wider, to spread our joy to each other and relish in being the only 4 fans in the world of Whatever-It-Is.

Collectively gift-giving art?  Selflessly and anonymously?  And celebrating our tiny fandoms which have won our loyalty and our love forever?

Hell yeah.

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What we can be, we must be.” — Abraham Maslow

“If I have been of service, if I have glimpsed more of the nature and essence of ultimate good, if I am inspired to reach wider horizons of thought and action, if I am at peace with myself, it has been a good day.” — Alex Noble

It has been a good Yuletide.  And it’s not even over yet!

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The Shed of Infamy

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge as posted here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/05/20/flash-fiction-challenge-kids-say-the-darnderniest-things/

Please note the following disclaimer: The story, all names, characters, Sheds, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places, famous authors’ Sheds, and/or products is intended or should be inferred. This Author has the highest respect for authors’ Sheds, particularly Chuck Wendig’s!

I give to you: The Shed of Infamy


For the record, it wasn’t entirely my fault.

Uncle Robbie’s Shed has been the punchline of every family joke going back probably since he put up the damn thing.  Its auspicious beginning as a Shed of Infamy was noted by the fact that it collapsed on top Uncle Robbie — twice — while under construction.

Of course, given that the only thing Robbie’s any good at building is accounting ledgers, that wasn’t really a shocker.

The Shed, when completed and after withstanding its first rainfall, was like the ugly duckling of sheds if that ugly duckling had been put through a car wash, dropped in cement, and then zapped with an electric cattle-prod.  It wasn’t square, the corners of the roof didn’t line up with the corners of the walls, it had boards that stuck out like hands waiting for high-fives that would never come, and because Robbie went cheap on the paint, it faded in about a month from “rustic brown” to what Mom called “cat piss tea.”

Still, an ugly shed is only really worthy of a good joke every other Thanksgiving and whatever Saturday in March Uncle Robbie and Mom get together to watch basketball and cheer against each other.  If the Shed’s main problem was its outside, it would have been the Ugly Shed, not the Shed of Infamy.

They say Evil is drawn to Evil.

I don’t know — I’ve never met him.

But, trust me, oddball is definitely drawn to oddball.

Uncle Robbie never gave anyone a straight answer as to where the first one came from.  He just mentioned it over the grill at the family reunion: “I can’t get home too late.  Bastian likes a bedtime story.”

Everyone in hearing-range jumped on it.  Bastian who?  Got a boyfriend?  Can we meet him?

“No.  It’s not like that.  I had to name them to keep them straight.”

More questions.  Name what?  Name who?  How many boyfriends are you keeping from us?

It took four beers and two hotdogs before Uncle Robbie confessed that somehow the Shed of Infamy had become the Retirement Home for Truly Weird Shit.

Every time Uncle Robbie came over, we pestered him for stories about whatever had decided to take up residence in the Shed this time, and he never let us down because there was no end to it.  There was the snowman who only melted during thunderstorms.  Moths that glowed in the dark.  A box Uncle Robbie really, really hoped wasn’t Pandora’s.

And then, in a moment of true stupidity, I yelled across the table at Grandpa’s birthday, “Hey!  If you want some help cleaning it out sometime, I just did Mister Tanhehco’s and he paid me fifty bucks!”

Uncle Robbie doubled it on the spot.  Which is why I wound up there on a perfectly lovely Saturday in May in old jeans and wondering if I was about to die.  The only good part was that I talked Mariela into keeping me company.  I did offer to split the pay, and I promised to protect her if it were necessary.

She laughed and reminded me about the time in middle school I tried to protect John by squashing a spider and I managed to fling it into his hair.

Yeah, that’s about par for the course with me.  Mariela knew it better than anyone and she’d heard Uncle Robbie’s stories for years.  What happened next was definitely not only my fault.

I blame Uncle Robbie.  And that stupid Shed.

We didn’t begin by cleaning.  First, we got a series of introductions.

“This is Bastian.  I’m sure he’d appreciate being dusted, but don’t wash him with water.”

“This one I call Marley.  She gets smelly around soap so you might want to carry her outside first.  She won’t mind.  She only moves on Tuesdays.”

“Watch out for this guy.  Sampson’s nice enough, but every now and again he decides to eat one of the others.  If they’re not in range, he’ll go for you.  I suggest wherever you move him you put a few other things within reach so he doesn’t go berserk.”

An hour of increasingly-unsettling instructions later and of course Uncle Robbie suddenly remembered an appointment and left us alone in the Shed of Infamy.

“Perfect.  Fantastic.”

Mariela tossed a rag at me.  “Your fault.”

“I’m an idiot.”

“Yup.  Now let’s move these things and try not to get eaten.”

We worked for two hours and we were doing so well!  We hadn’t gotten eaten, the only injury was to the creepy statue of a dog that was Sampson’s first snack, and we managed to keep the oil painting from suffocating me.  The Shed was almost clean!

I was just rinsing my rag of choice in the coffee can I borrowed from Grandpa’s garage for hauling my stuff around when Mariela yelped.  I jumped to rescue her — or not, given my history — and managed to plow into a shoebox full of what I thought were the keys to a piano.

And the keys shattered on the ground and a purple thing appeared.

It was almost too tall for the Shed, with long arms and legs shorter than mine.  Its head was easily a yard long, but only a half-foot wide.  It was wearing something like a toga that shifted and moved and its eyes were shiny and black like buttons.

“You have awakened me.”

“No.  We really didn’t.”  Mariela was backing up slightly, but she held her voice to calm, even tones.  She also had the base of her thumb in her mouth and I could see it bleeding sluggishly.

“Arrrrgh.  Mariela!  You scared me because you got a cut?”

She shrugged.  “Sorry.  Bastian was sharp.”

“And now we’ve got a…whatever that is!”

Ahem.”

We both looked up to the purple thing.

“You have awakened me,” it said again.  “I am the herald of storms, the feller of mountains.  I can cut down a thousand trees with my teeth.  I am queen of the goats of the shadow realm.”

“Yay?”  I didn’t quite squeak.

“Fear my power!  You shall be the first and soon all the mortals of your land will be mine to command!”

Suddenly Grandpa’s coffee can glowed brightly orange and a tiny calico in samurai armor appeared, dripping wet with suds.

“I have heard your plight, peasants!  Fear not the evil!  I will defeat it with Kitten Magic!”

“You impertinent, pitiful worm.  I will consume you!”

Mariela buried her face in her hands.  “Your relatives have the worst luck!”

“Or maybe it’s just me.”  I reached for her arm.  “Come on.  Let’s let them duke it out and go get a snack.”

We made our way out of the Shed, carefully righting Sampson and putting him in range of an entire bookshelf of clocks.  We even cleaned up our supplies as we went.  No sense in leaving things any worse than they were about to get.

The calico between us and the purple thing looked back over its tiny shoulder-guard and winked at us just as we reached the door.  “Bring me back some ice cream, okay?”

What could we say to that?

We left the Shed to our tiny samurai defender and went out for ice cream.  Uncle Robbie paid me two hundred bucks when he got back.  By the end of the fight, the Shed was empty except for the kitten’s coffee can, Marley, and a really big scorch mark.

We named the calico Darth Katana and started a YouTube series about its adventures.  Mariela’s thinking movie option, but DK and I would rather go for a miniseries.

And Uncle Robbie’s cleaning his own goddamn Shed from now on.

The End

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Miyazaki Universe Headcanon

Sorry about disappearing.  The first weeks of May are always a crazy time for me in my real life where I sing with the Twin Cities Women’s Choir and we hold our big gala at the end of our season.  And I’ve also been writing and, even more important, trying to catch up on sleep and TV shows.

To return, then, I’ve decided it’s time to address one of those things that has been on my mind a lot lately due to the looming date of CONvergence 2016.

CONvergence, by the way, is awesome.  It’s held in Bloomington, MN every summer and is the absolute HIGHLIGHT of my year.  It is a time of fandom and laughter and being completely myself and surrounding myself with people who love the things they love with all their hearts just like me.

This year, I will be part of a cosplay trio including my wife and one of our closest friends.  We’ll all be going as characters from various Hayao Miyazaki movies.  I’ll be Nausicaa (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind), Sarah will be Haku (Spirited Away), and our friend will be Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service).

As we’ve been sorting out our cosplay and getting help from a professional, it’s led me to start thinking about how our characters could have interacted.  Which, yes, led me to write a fic that I’ll post right around CONvergence about Kiki meeting Nausicaa and Haku.

But that led me to a whole new headcanon of Miyazaki movies.

(“Headcanon” for the uninitiated is “a particular belief which has not been used in the universe of whatever program or story they follow, but seems to make sense to that particular individual, and as such is adopted as a sort of ‘personal canon.’” per Urban Dictionary.  Basically, it’s what you see in a work of art/fiction/history/whatever that becomes your new interpretation of that reality.)

We’ve heard the Pixar Theory, yeah?  That all Pixar movies take place in the same continuity?

Well, I pretty much did that with Miyazaki.

First — a few caveats:

This theory does not (yet) encompass ALL Miyazaki works.  It doesn’t because I haven’t seen them all.  But it does encompass all the Miyazaki works that I have actually seen.

Also, you do have to take everything with at least one grain of salt.  Speculation is all I got, okay?

Here we go.

I propose that the Miyazaki movies take place within a single continuum centered around the Earth.  The movies fall into three periods: pre-Nausicaa, Nausicaa, and post-Nausicaa.  The story of this world is told thusly:

Long ago, the only source of what we would call magic was in the Earth itself and its spirits.  People lived in this world and our history as we know it continued normally, but for the occasional interference of those spirits in the lives of humans.

Any Miyazaki movies that take place in the world as we know it but with non-human creatures or spirits of some magic can fit in this part of the timeline.  Basically, this is our own history from the distant past to today.

So the first period is defined by these movies in chronological order:

Princess Mononoke (takes place in the distant past)
Porco Rosso (the only “magic” is Porco himself being transformed and that’s not different from Spirited Away, just post-WWI)
My Neighbor Totoro (1958)
From Up On Poppy Hill (1963)
The Castle of Cagliostro (mid-1960’s to early 1970’s)
Spirited Away (mid- to late-1990’s)

The next phase is mostly informed by Nausicaa.  In Nausicaa, the world was destroyed a thousand years prior due to the “seven days of fire” which involved the huge, obviously nuclear Giant Warriors and, I assume, a vast war across most of the globe.  It is also known in Nausicaa that humanity had advanced to the point of space-travel, so we can assume this colossal war took place sometime in our own future.  Then, as the Earth was littered with pollutants, it needed to find a way to heal itself.

The answer came from the spirits and the magic the Earth still carried.  The Earth created the toxic jungle to begin purifying itself (and without magic, it would take A LOT longer than 1,000 years for trees like that to evolve to this purpose).  The spirits, like the little kodama from Princess Mononoke, had to change as their world changed. Some spirits may even have become the insects in the toxic jungle like the Ohm (who have mystical abilities of their own).  It was this transfer of the innate magic of the Earth and the spirits to the material world that facilitated all that was to come after.

Following the events of Nausicaa, it’s obvious that the jungle and its subtle magic are making their way into the human population that remains in the world.  Nausicaa herself may be one carrier, since her blood was infused with the healing power of the Ohm, but we know that humanity is changing due to exposure to the toxic jungle.  My suggestion is that the line between Earth magic / spirit magic was starting to blur, and some of it was leaking into humanity.

So.  Thanks to Nausicaa and the persistence of the Earth, the devastation done in the seven days of fire began to heal and humanity returned to the world forever changed.  Magic had grown in the DNA of humanity and had been spread into the world, no longer the sole purview of the spirits.  Thus, the rocks themselves could hold magic, and slowly some bloodlines began to develop special abilities.

This leads us to movies like Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle where magic is in both the Earth and the people.  The funny thing about both these movies is they have slightly inconsistent technology.  For example, the pirates in Castle in the Sky have little fliers that look remarkably like Nausicaa’s own glider, but clearly electricity and other advancements are still rare.  The same gliders can be seen in Howl’s Moving Castle.

Could it be that Nausicaa’s people held onto their knowledge of jet technology, however advanced to allow for those gliders, and passed that forward?  I think it’s almost certain.

But then we reach another movie which has an additional advancement — television — and no such gliders: Kiki’s Delivery Service.  Now, some of that discrepancy could be nothing more than location.  Maybe Kiki is placed somewhere the gliders are not popular.  Or perhaps are not even legal.

Because if humanity had come that close to the brink once, even if we managed to forget virtually EVERYTHING about how we got there, I have a feeling there would be a few nations/societies that would look rather skeptically upon technology that had come from the past they wished never to revisit.

Kiki does show us that people are still interested in aviation, though, and also that magic has now so saturated humanity that families of witches are common enough to be known.

So from here on out, magic is alive in the world and is in the hands of lots of different kinds of people.  This leads us to Ponyo, which is the closest to our own “modern” world, but magic is in the hands of a powerful wizard, Ponyo’s father Fujimoto.  And the magic that takes place is strange, but not unexpected.  Which is really the proof that it belongs at the end of the timeline rather than back in the earliest period.

There are other Studio Ghibli films that can fit in this chronology such as When Marnie Was There, which I’d slot in the first half as being more Earth and spirit sort of magic than deliberate human magic.  I haven’t watched others, but if you have and want to add them, please do so!

I’ll try to update this theory as new movies come out or I catch up on older ones, but I’m thinking this will probably work pretty consistently.  There’s even room for stuff that happens on other planets thanks to Nausicaa making it explicit that humanity had space-travel before breaking the whole world.  The advantage my Miyazaki Theory has over the Pixar Theory is that the stories are a lot more internally consistent with mostly human or spirit protagonists.

What do you think?

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New Song: Ode to Fanfiction

So, when I’m not writing original novels or fanfic novels, I’m often helping my awesome wife write music for our band, Candles Enough.  We only do a few gigs a year for various reasons, but music is too much a part of us not to be forever digging into that side of our creativity.  In future posts I’ll talk about already-posted songs and what they mean to me or the context for them.

For today, here is our newest song, “Ode to Fanfiction” in all its YouTube glory!

I told you I wasn’t going to be shy about the fanfic side of my writing, didn’t I?

The song is basically what it says on the tin — not a lot of hidden meanings here.  Though I will note that the reference to the show “Merlin” is purely for the benefit of one of my dearest friends who is a Murthur shipper to the end.  And I’ve never ever read (and never intend to read) anything from the Twilight ‘verse.  But I couldn’t not toss Sherlock and HP in there.  Couldn’t not.  And if you’ve seen either of my profiles under Mendeia and looked at my favorites, you can see why.

Also?  I can tell you that until I wrote that song, I genuinely could have bet I would go my entire life and never sing the phrase “omega m-preg”…probably ever.  But that’s the great thing about writing parodies — even I don’t know where the hell we’re going with it until we get there!

Everybody wave to Sarah on guitar, the BEST WIFE EVAR (™) who writes all our original melodies, most of the harmonies, figures out the key we both like in which to perform, bugs me about rhythmic accuracy until I stop trying to squeeze in AS-MANY-SYLLABLES-AS-FIT-ON-ONE-NOTE-AS-POSSIBLE, and dives into my craziest ideas with me with very little eye-rolling.

(She’s far more accomplished musically than I, which is fine — I’m burstingly proud of her for it — and she plays something like 20 instruments where all I can do is play hand-drums but only then if I’m not also singing.  She’s the real powerhouse behind our music — I’m just the wacky frontperson.)

Sarah’s a nerd in totally different ways from me, particularly in her adoration of history, but she loves my nerdity and I love hers and she lets me sing about mine a lot.  SHE IS BEST.

And hey — if you like our song, go share it!  First of all, it’s good for everyone to see someone dorkier than themselves just loving the thing they love; I think it helps people find the freedom to embrace whatever it is they would adore but for Evil Pressures of Society of Cool People.  Second, yeah, we get paid.  Like…… $0.0000000000000001 for a view maybe.

Woo……the weight of wealth…….we can almost buy a stamp……

Anyway.

We’ll be singing this song live at CONvergence in Bloomington, MN over July 4th weekend, so if you’re local or if you’re at Con, come see us!

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