Trickster Peter: The Story

Twitter is such an odd duck sometimes.  It’s a platform which is open to vile hate and also moments of genius hilarity.  And sometimes you can just have fun or make a friend.

Lately, I’ve actually been avoiding Twitter just for the sake of preserving my inner calm and mental health.  But, that doesn’t mean Twitter will avoid you in return, for good or ill.  This time, it was for good.

More than a year ago, I made friends with the Real Ghostbusters accounts on Twitter.  We’ve had moments of contention, but overall I really like the characters and I have a ton of respect for the people actually behind the accounts themselves.  And they don’t seem to think I’m a pile of garbage, in spite of us exchanging words — politely, mind — and sometimes very disparate opinions.

Anyway.

RGB Peter is the most most likely to reach out to me from Twitter on occasion, whenever he’s bored, I think.  And this time he specifically asked me for a story.

You have to understand, the reason these guys ever got on my radar, and I on theirs, was because of my RGB fanfic.  We have differing opinions on the concept of fanfic, its legality/ethics, and what we like to read, but what I write has gone over well with them in general.  So to have Peter ask me for a story, intentionally…

Well, I sure wasn’t going to disappoint him.

I was also, I’ll be honest, just fresh off a brain-numbing project at work and I was THINKING in spreadsheets — and not in the helpful way that enables creativity on my part.  So Peter’s request hit me at just the right time, when I was thrilled to think about anything other than math.

So this happened:

I don’t know that I’ll put the story up at my AO3 or Fanfiction.net accounts just because it’s really told best in Tweet format and I have absolutely no ability to embed Tweets or texts or anything else with graphics on AO3 (and ff.net doesn’t even have the capability).  But I thought I’d put it here since he asked me to post it somewhere.

You know?  I worry sometimes that my innate creativity is struggling, that I’m losing my edge.  And I won’t say this is a Nobel-worthy piece of literature.  But I invented it on the fly, thinking while typing (and trying to avoid autocorrects), and it fell together as easily as sunlight from the sky.

If I can tell Peter a slightly funny, slightly quirky, slightly clever story from out of nowhere with my mind dulled to everything but teleinformatics in the time it takes to type it out, I must not be doing too poorly, after all.

And it was fun!

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I think we can file this under “Unqualified Success”

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

— C.S. Lewis, from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”

Anyone who has read much on this blog or who knows me outside of it knows that my love for writing and, of course, reading, does not only extend to “great literature.”  It extends deeply into stuff which ranges from “published but silly” to “fanfiction and supremely silly.”  I’ve read Shakespeare and Ovid and Bronte, and loved them, but I’ve also read stories written by 13-year-olds about cartoon characters and loved those, too.

Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.

And that’s not just about people of varying gender expressions.

It’s about EVERYTHING.

When I was 5, I was introduced to the cartoon Rainbow Brite.  It’s a perfect show for kids in that age-range, and it hooked me completely.  But what came as a great consternation to my parents was that I CONTINUED to love it long past age 5.  They felt it was too childish for me, not advanced enough for my growing age, intelligence, and awareness.  They worried that it would stunt me to love something aimed at barely-out-of-toddlerdom.

What they couldn’t understand was that the only thing which could stunt me was to prevent me from loving the thing I loved.  And still love.  Though differently.

Rainbow Brite is not epic, Nobel-worthy work, but it has great value.  It was the first cartoon I ever saw as a child which was uncompromising in its feminism and egalitarianism.  Rainbow goes on a quest as ambitious as any Frodo or Taren or Luke Skywalker or Aladdin or Indiana Jones.  She defeats an evil monster on her own and wins rule over a kingdom which she is charged to defend against further evil.  She accepts the responsibility for caring for the planet Earth as a daily job — while her friends are playing games or having fun, she goes to her daily work of keeping the Earth beautiful and filled with joy.  The only times her gender ever comes up is in contrast to a few boy characters who argue that her competence is somehow lessened by her being a girl, which she promptly proves to be wrong.  Rainbow outsmarts various villains, enters into magical “combat” without backup, saves the universe, and continues to carry the mantle of leader and ruler and joy-bringer.  She has friends who help her, she has allies who fight with her, but she never needs to be saved or rescued from the harshness she herself is sworn to defeat.

Yes, of course, sometimes there are dumb episodes or setups.  Yes, of course, there are aspects of the story which can be problematic (or downright confusing for anyone who actually tries to reason out her capacity to ride a horse in the actual void of space at speeds that would make Star Trek engineers faint).  Yes, it is still a cartoon aimed at little girls.

But it has great value.  It set me up to believe that if you work hard, if you are willing to sacrifice and do the right things, if you hold onto joy and hope, you can do anything.  Even if you’re a girl.  Is there any doubt why I loved it?  And why it stuck with me for so long?

More and more, mainstream movies and media are realizing that it is not only possible to make childrens’ programming accessible and enjoyable to adults, but it is profitable.  It’s not just about dropping one or two jokes into a movie to shore up parents stuck watching something with their toddlers.  It’s about making art which works on various levels for everyone.  Some of the best movies of the last few years are traditionally for kids, but have been touted and loved by adults; Pixar in particular is incredibly good at this.  Think about Up, Inside Out, Toy Story 3.  Yes, movies for the PG crowd.  But it was adults who bawled their eyes out while their kids laughed at the fart jokes.

If you investigate the fanfiction I write, you’ll find it’s mostly cartoons.  Some anime, which has much fuzzier lines of adult vs kid content, and some live-action “grown up” shows, but mostly I stick to American cartoons.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of my most active fandoms.  Mighty Max, a show literally invented to sell plastic toys to 8-year-old boys is one of the closest things to my heart — ever.  I have written stories for Rainbow Brite (of course I have) and Teddy Ruxpin, and I’ve spent time carving out an entire mythology to go along with their worlds to explain what threads are left hanging by the originals.

The fact of my deep love for what one could easily call “childish” stuff does not, however, mean it is wrong.  The fact that these cartoons for kids not out of kindergarten give me profound, life-affirming joy, is not wrong or demeaning or indicative of some kind of immaturity.

Because really?  All it means is that these things have what I need in the moment I need it.

Sometimes you want complexity, deep political messages, complex sexual tensions.  There’s lots of places to get those between books, TV, movies, and the internet.  Sometimes you need something gritty and too real and bloody just to help you see your own world clearly.

But I think there’s a great mistake in thinking ONLY those things can entertain, can offer value, can hold you up.  If you count on Game of Thrones to alleviate all your worries about the real world, I fear you’re going to be in trouble.  GOT may have many amazing messages and things to say, but it is not necessarily going to be a comfort.  Not all the time.

Sometimes, comfort is what you need more than anything.

If it hasn’t been obvious from the last few weeks of my posts, I’ve really been struggling here in 2017 with my anxieties and depression.  I’ve swung back and forth between an empty apathy even to the things I truly and always love, and a dark despair edging close to danger.  I’ve had enormous difficulty finding the clarity and calm inside myself to write, to sing, to want to engage any part of me that’s real in a world I don’t want to be in.  To live creatively, you have to live with your chest torn open and your heart bared to every slice of wind and ice and iron that flies around in the wider world.  I don’t think it’s possible to be an artist and to also be immune to the world in which your art emerges.

At this time in 2016, I had written about 143,500 words.  In 2015 I was at 118,650; in 2014 I was around 131,260.  This year?  2017?  I’m somewhere around 76,000 — a little bit more than half what I did last year.  And they aren’t all complete stories, either; for every one that I’ve actually finished, I have another I began but just couldn’t pull all the way together.  It’s been enormously frustrating and vexing.  It isn’t a block and it isn’t lack of interest or discipline.  This is anxiety and depression, pure and simple.

And for me, for me personally, the only cure I’ve ever had to get me writing even in the midst of my worst downturn, is a shock of joy and love.

Early in 2015, I was in a dark place.  It was different from here, tinged with far more depression and far less existential anxiety, but it was no less damaging or dangerous.  And yet I still wrote 118,650ish words in the first months of the year.  How?  By writing in fandoms that fed me when nothing else did.  More than anything else, I needed Donatello and Quatre and Max.  I needed them like I needed air, and nothing else worked.  I needed them because they fed bright happiness into the dark well that was dragging down everything else inside me.

This year, I turned to them again, but they just didn’t hold me.  I wrote a bit and petered out just as quickly.  What I needed this year was something else, something new.  Something I had yet to find.

So I floundered.  I pushed and tried to write in familiar fandoms and unfamiliar ones.  I let my new discovery of and love for the show Leverage carry me for a while.  I went back to my TTSA ‘verse and put an AU spin on it so I could put psychics into Jaegers.  I started several works that have been on my to-do list because they helped bandage up the parts of me that are bleeding.  It wasn’t enough, but it was something.

Anybody with depression or anxiety will tell you that something, even if it isn’t halfway to everything, can keep you afloat.  Even a twig is better than nothing if it’s all you have to keep you from drowning.  I made a basket of my twigs and I clung to them.

Because eventually, if you hold on long enough and keep fighting the water and keep looking for alternatives, eventually a life raft will come into view.  You might have to break yourself in half to reach it, but when you do, you’ll get out.  You’ll be okay.  You’ll have something strong enough and stable enough to carry you through the storm.

I’ll try to talk about that part more some other time.

Because now, mostly thanks to the FX channel running a bunch of wacky movies together on a night when I was too listless to do anything else but sit and stare, I have found something new to hold onto, something new to cherish and fill me with effortless joy.

Yes.  It is stupid.  It’s a movie fandom made for 8 year-olds.  It’s a movie that didn’t even do particularly well at the box office or with the reviews it received.

But it struck just the right tone, hit all the right emotional notes and dramatic points for me.  It made me laugh; it filled me with ideas; and I’ve watched it 2.5 times in 3 days and can’t wait to watch it again.

As with all things that I find I suddenly love, that also meant my creativity burst open and a world of various new headcanons emerged.

(The last time this happened was when I discovered the TV show The Sentinel and I promptly wrote 4 novels and 14 short stories, almost 400,000 words in 8 months.)

Now, it’s not impossible that this new love will not prove quite enduring enough to hold out and the depression and anxiety will return all too soon.  But right now this child’s movie is exactly what I need to love in order to breathe.  I don’t care anymore if it’s “good” or not by some outside scale.  It’s good for me.  It’s holding me up.  It’s making me FEEL again.

So I’m not going to knock it.  Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.

Right now, I just need to love a competent, charming, genius father and his clumsy, loyal, struggling-for-confidence son.

That love is keeping me together.  And I never would have found it if I had limited myself to “adult” shows and movies and books.  I never would have devoured every fanfic written about these characters I now adore and found myself desperately wanting more.  I found my mind firing at speed again, my heart pounding, and, of course, sighing with dramatic frustration as I realized that these ideas are not something I can tie up neatly in a oneshot.  Looks like I have another novel on the horizon.

There’s another C.S. Lewis quote for this part:

I wrote the books I should have liked to read. That’s always been my reason for writing. People won’t write the books I want, so I have to do it for myself.

–As quoted in C.S. Lewis, by Roger Lancelyn Green

Because when you really love something and it changes you, you want as much of it as you can get.  And if you create as a default approach to the world, it means you write the stories you want and need to exist for you to have.  I have wanted and needed so many stories, and they litter my fanfic portfolio.

(And sometimes other people need those stories, too.  That novel I’mma have to write at some point here?  It’s at least as much for Sarah, my wife and (in this case) more importantly, my beta.  I’m not the only one glomming onto this fandom.  I’m not the only one being fed happiness and betterment by it.  Which means she wants more of it, too.  And I can deny her absolutely nothing.  Blame any subsequent writings on her, if you would.  But credit them to me, of course.)

Rainbow Brite kept me together as a child and as I exited childhood, the example and beacon of the kind of person I could be if I lived without fear.  Mighty Max taught me to think about facing reality and having the courage to keep going even when there was blood on the floor and death on the horizon (yes, it’s for little boys but it is DARK; there’s a reason the Nightmare Fuel section on TVTropes for this show is FULL).  What began as youthful fannish squee became something real, something that influenced the way I think about myself and the life I can build.  Something that held me so completely, I could only add to it, create more of it, and offer it to anyone else with the same love and need.

I don’t know yet where this one will take me — I’m still in the fannish squee stage.  But it WILL take me somewhere, somewhere better than where I am right now.

And I haven’t cared about loving something meant for children since I was a child myself and holding onto the things that brought me joy even then.  Is it too young for me?  I dunno.  Is JOY too young for a person?  Helpless giggles at terrible puns?  How about simple, uncomplicated discussions about the meaning of family?

Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.

I have a deep regard for this dog and his boy, and I finally feel better.

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Defiance the Dragon

The last couple of weeks have been pretty tough on my end.  I’ve had everything from a hospital scare with an elderly and beloved family member to a financial crisis to a stomach-bug-thing in the last 10 days or so.  The accumulated stress of which, as if my bipolar depression decided not to be outdone by circumstances, made everything harder; the nights when I wasn’t imitating my insomniac high school experience were disrupted by nightmares that had me waking up sobbing.

Hey, it happens to everybody sometimes.  With or without any kind of bipolar downswing, depression, anxiety, or anything else that might push its way into the situation.  We all have those periods of accumulated suckitude that our psyches use to beat us to a pulp.

The worst stuff always does seem to happen when we are least able to deal with it.

I was going to write a whole post about how I specifically cope with stuff like this, but the more I wrote, the more it took out of me.  Like giving too much blood, even going through the process of my emerging from the deep well of helpless negativity was threatening to put me back there.  So I stopped.

I will write about it someday.  I’ve got lots to say.  But I’d be a pretty poor model of how one system of coping with depression can work if I actually increased the problem with the telling of it.  I have learned to trust my inner This Shit Is Not Helping Meter.

So, instead, I’m going to focus on something fun.

I have a dragon!Her name is Defiance and I got her from Rocky Mountain Dragons as part of a Kickstarter.  Sarah got one as well, red instead of blue, which she has named Trinket.

The dragons work as small carrying-packs for a cell phone and an ID and not a lot else, but that’s about all we really need for wandering a Con so that’s what we’re going to do.  I’ve already taken Defiance to a leaders’ meeting for CONvergence (more on that some other time) and she received a fair amount of appreciation and got at least one hug.

The only drawback to the pack design is the strap, which feels like it’s cutting into my throat when I wear it strapped under my armpit.  I can affix it lower, tie it to my belt or something, but then it gets tight on my shoulder and sternum.  What I really need to do is find a way of snapping it into whatever cosplay or something I’m wearing so she wouldn’t just have to hang on me.  If I figure it out, there will be pictures.

I’ve always loved dragons.  I also love unicorns, gryphons, sea serpents, and every other magical/mythological creature (who isn’t inherently evil — not a fan of evil, generally).  Defiance is a little bigger and built differently from the fire lizards of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, but there is a definite similarity.  The big dragons of Pern are near-human intelligent and telepathic, forming lifelong bonds with their riders.  The fire lizards, their tiny cousins, are less intelligent and more empathic than telepathic, but they still bond to people and can share memories and feelings.  In the same way, the dragons of the How To Train Your Dragon movie/TV franchise makes dragons more than animals with the mental capacity of a dopey cow.  Toothless is almost as clever as Hiccup, and all the dragons are able to interpret human speech after very little exposure (except Hookfang, who mainly ignores Snotlout; but, hey, I’d ignore him most of the time, too).  They are not pets — they are friends.  Partners.  Companions.

Assuming I can situate her comfortably on my shoulder, Defiance will be my constant companion for CONvergence.

When we were naming our dragons, Sarah opted for Trinket because it seemed like a good name for a fire lizard-sized dragon who might be useful for carrying little things and messages, but flighty and too curious as well.  She’ll carry the little one at CONvergence sometimes, too, or keep it at her side when she’s on shift on the Bridge.  Trinket will be her familiar, her teddy bear protector and her stuffed co-conspirator.  And keeper of her room key, probably.

My Defiance is a little different.

I see my dragon as being closer to the daemons of the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman — an extension of myself as well as a sidekick.  I named Defiance with that in mind, after one of the six pillars of my basic personality/attitude/mental attributes.  I think I am made up of some kind of muddy confluence of honor, loyalty, kindness, courage, endurance, and defiance.  These are the things that help me thrive, that give me strength and energy, that hold me up and sparkle the brightest.

Sometime I’ll go into what they really mean to me and how I mean them about myself.

But of these, Defiance is the one I wanted represented outside myself, especially in places like CONvergence.

I am a rebel, born and undaunted.  Which is hilarious considering that I never did ANY of the supposedly normal teenage rebellion things.  I never tried to miss my curfew, never wanted a tattoo or to dye my hair, never pushed the normal social/parental boundaries.  And yet HOLY CRAP did I ever push boundaries.  Just…not the usual ones.

Why should I be conventional in my revolution?  Why would anyone, given the choice?

Now, I’m not suggesting I am a jerk who fights all rules JUST BECAUSE and plays the constant devil’s advocate or contrarian at every possible turn.  I’m perfectly happy to go along with things that make sense or are inherently healthy or follow with some kind of sensible logic.

But give me a rule “because that’s how it is” when I can poke easy holes in it?  Nope.

This pretty much extends to EVERYTHING.

A dear friend once made a mix CD for me back in college and she named it “Willful Defiance of the Box.”  And I have adopted that as one of my proudest monikers.  The only boxes that hold me are the ones I choose for myself, on my own terms, in my own time/way.  Anything else?  Fuck it.  I will joyfully, happily, gigglingly ignore the rest.  I might not do it in someone’s face or in a cruel way, but you’ll look to see how things are and — whoops, there I am busily being myself and defying expectations again.

I find that if I don’t let myself defy what binds me, I’m too easily confined.

CONvergence is an amazing, soul-affirming yearly pilgrimage, but things will be different for me from now on, having officially joined the leadership of the Con.  And I know I can do what will be asked of me, I know I can help people and I can be the kind of volunteer that will make things better in the end.  But sometimes I get lost in that press of people, thousands of others who are taller or more experienced or prettier or more confident.  I look into the crowd and I forget to hold myself up, my head raised and my shoulders back and my certainty undaunted.

Defiance is going to remind me.

She will be my shield, my physical, constant affirmation that I am at the right place at the right time and I can trust myself.  She will be my grounding reality that just because it would be easier to back down doesn’t mean I should when I really, really shouldn’t.  She will be the external reminder of the defiance that lives in me while unchallenged so I keep burning through the first real challenge.

It’s a slightly cheap psychological trick, but it works.  With Defiance literally perched like a chip on my shoulder, it will help me hold onto that part of myself when uncertainty or discomfort arrives.  She will help me be the best version of myself.  And she’ll be an ice-breaker and a conversation piece as well, all useful when you send an unconfident introvert into a sea of strangers.

Plus, then I get to carry a dragon around!

I will happily admit that I love Defiance with the same love that I had for my stuffed animals as a small child and that I’ll probably hug her just the same on some sort of frequent basis.  But that’s the great thing about CONvergence — I’m probably not the only person who will want to cuddle a dragon that weekend!

Though I will have to explain that I didn’t name Defiance for a class of ships from Star Trek.  That’s pure coincidence.

The only star I named Defiance for is the one I follow from inside my heart.

And you know what?

Having a dragon familiar is seriously cool.  Nerdy and adorable, but cool.

Everything’s better with dragons.

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Storming The Wrong Dungeon

If you’ve ever spent time on other blogs belonging to authors, whether multi-bestsellers or newbies or people who don’t write original fiction, you’ll be familiar with this idea.  I think it happens to all of us who write which, by the way, is incredibly comforting.  There’s not much worse than working alone in your head and wondering if your struggles are unique because you are just that unlucky.

I mean, they MIGHT be unique anyway.  Some of us really are just that unlucky.

But writing the wrong novel happens to us all, apparently.

And now I shall liken the work of an author to a D&D encounter.

Writing a story is like storming a fortress or a dungeon to kill a monster inside.  You have to prepare yourself, have all your tools ready and be in good health, physically and mentally.  Sometimes the hardest part is crashing the gate, making the first move, entering into the fight knowing that it won’t be over any time soon; and the fight itself gets harder once you’re inside, though the motivation to keep going gets easier when there’s no turning back.  But the dungeon has its own dangers, too — you can’t just bust down the door and expect an easy stroll to the end.  You have to know the lay of the land, the pitfalls and traps and distractions and false passages so you can stay on course.  You have to battle a hundred tiny things, or medium things, or huge things, just to get from one room to the next.

There comes a point when you want to give up and go home.  For me, that point often happens twice, at the 1/3rd mark and again later at the 3/4ths mark.  You get through the door and into the first floor and run into your first miniboss and…suddenly something in you starts to debate the merit of giving up.  But when you fight on, when you beat the entry-level problem, you feel better than ever and slam open the next door to keep going.  And sooner or later you’ll hit another miniboss much bigger than the first, and much more daunting.  It would be easier at that point to give up and retreat while you can.  Maybe come back someday and hope the monsters are all gone.

But they won’t be.  That’s not how monsters work.

So you shore up your courage and charge and, hopefully, emerge with another win.  And this victory is sweeter than the first because now you know there’s nothing between you and the end, the final monster, the big boss.  The scariest part of all.  And everything you’ve encountered and learned until this point becomes relevant.  The item you picked up in the first room comes in handy or spontaneously tears into you and you have to figure out how to use it or get rid of it before the final monster stomps you flat.  Even exhausted and wounded and low on supplies, you have to fight or accept that you came all this way for nothing.  You have to fight because the monster is RIGHT THERE and this was the point all along, wasn’t it?

So you fight.  And it might be ugly or it might be a cutscene of beauty, but you win.  You kill the monster and victory is yours.  The story is written.

(To continue this analogy, the editing process is very like trying to get out of the dungeon once you’ve beaten the big boss.  You still have to backtrack every place you’ve been, and sometimes you find whole sections you missed, hordes of monsters you woke up who have come to see what all the racket is about who want to end your journey before you ever make it back to the gates.  And sometimes the monsters you defeated aren’t quite dead and you have to handle them again.  But if you stick with it, even if you have to go the long way around, or even if you find out you have a whole additional big boss to fight before you can truly proclaim victory and escape.)

Sometimes you don’t get a say in which fortress you crash– either because you take contracts for specific jobs or because, frankly, a particular dungeon calls to you and you can’t and/or don’t bother to resist its siren song.  Sometimes you stomp around the forest for weeks looking for any damn tower to go invade.

And sometimes you get through the gates of one to realize that you are TOTALLY unequipped for what this particular dungeon will require.  And, really, discretion is the better part of valor — if you don’t want to end up resembling Adventurer Kitten-Chow, maybe you should back off, go find a fortress that fits your current state, and come back later.

That’s the story of me and the month of January.

As of right now, my overall average words-per-day production hovers around 1,720.  That’s including everything back to 2004, counting whole years where I didn’t produce anything, and counting the crazy 2-month period where I cranked out 100,000 words and about 4 oneshots.  Generally speaking, I can write a hell of a lot in a day when I set my mind to it.

But so far this January, up until yesterday, I was writing BUPKIS.  I was averaging no better than about 300 words in a day and producing those was like wringing blood from my feet.  It wasn’t lack of ideas — the project I had chosen to write had already been fully outlined, researched, and I even had most of my jokes in mind; I was truly only lacking for writing it all down.

But I just couldn’t do it.  All things being optimal and arranged for full productivity, and I could barely stand to type.

I kept trying to force it anyway, long after I figured out the root of the problem, partially because I’m stubborn and partially because sometimes that works out — sometimes I find I really can push through whatever mire has entrapped my creativity and can produce quality work even when it would be easier to extract each individual alveoli from my lungs with tweezers.

Sometimes it is a fortress for which I am genuinely not prepared, but I can go ahead anyway and pick up what I need along the way and be better for it.

If it is depression, a normal bipolar downswing which is impeding me, there are tricks that I have developed for myself to work in spite of the lack of innate energy in my mind.  If it is stress, I can turn to music, meditate for 5 minutes, and find my head cleared enough to proceed with work.  If it is lack of inspiration, well, then I saddle up and go hunting for the muse because it is NOT up to her when I write.

But this was not any of those things.

Or, rather, it was a combination of all three and more besides.

This time, it was a dungeon I genuinely was not going to defeat.

For reasons having to do with everything from the state of the world, ongoing political uncertainty, the freaking dreary winter, to no small amount of personal anxiety, my head and my story were simply not in the same place anymore.  The story I wanted to write is about betrayal, about entitlement, about guilt and regret and shame.  And those things were picking too close to everything else in my head.

I was a fire mage trying to beat a water dungeon and I was mostly just getting wet and cold and frustrated.

I couldn’t think about the story without thinking about everything else.  Which meant that the story I wanted to write was edging closer to the real world, and therefore it was losing its autonomy.  I would have done better if I were trying to write something that was directly parallel to what I was dealing with, or totally the opposite; either one would have gone better and allowed me to gain separation so I could focus on the story and not life.  My whole head was clogged up with a story that didn’t want to be written and an emotional/mental state that needed to be working on anything else at all, and they mashed up together as a giant knot of non-productivity.

Yesterday, when I finally admitted that, YES, this was the problem, and, NO, I wasn’t going to be able to deal with it this time, I abandoned the project that had barely progressed and opened the first chapter of a new one.  In about an hour I wrote more than I had in the previous week or more.

I went out and found a fortress of wind which could only make me stronger and I blew the gates open in one try.

I’ve had to teach myself that there’s nothing wrong with realizing that I’m going down the wrong path as long as I correct course.  I’m hard on myself when I feel like I screw things up, when I feel like I should have known better and gotten it right the first time.  But this isn’t a thing for which I should feel I’m at fault.  There is no fault.  There’s just a strategic retreat and locating a different avenue.

You’d think after 21 novels and 2.3 million words I’d be better at picking my fights.  I’d be able to assess my status and go “Eh, not up to that dungeon today.”  But, well.  Nobody’s perfect.

And, truthfully, sometimes you have to fight the wrong fight to figure out why it was wrong — or why it was right.

For example, I was most of the way through this blog post and I went, “Duh! I should do this as ‘your princess is in another castle’ instead of the D&D thing!”  And I thought about it.  And ultimately said, “Nope!”

Why?

Because the analogy of the princess is more like getting published after you slay the final monster.  You do all this work, kick all this butt, and you are rewarded with gold or a hug or whatever; personally, I’d hold out for knighthood; being a knight would RULE.  But the thing is that you can’t and shouldn’t assume there’s a princess in every fortress or dungeon waiting to reward you.  99.9% of the time, there isn’t anything at all at the end but the corpse of the final monster.  You have to charge into that fight for the sake of the fight itself and nothing else.  You take on a dungeon for the experience of battling monsters and winning.  That’s what makes you such a badass adventurer.

In this case, my analogy was right all along.  I went down a path, questioned it, and had to figure out why it was right along the way.  Just like I went down the wrong path with the story that would not go until I figured out that I was in the wrong place.

And I’m not sorry I lost most of the month in the wrong dungeon, not sorry I fought it and had to retreat.  Because it’ll be there when I’m ready, when I’m better equipped, when that fight needs fighting.  Plus, I’ve got this whole new fortress to tear apart and enjoy every moment doing it.  I spent most of the month in the wrong place, but now I’m exactly where I need to be and those monsters are going DOWN.

Roll your initiative.  Let’s get to work.

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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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2016 Writing Year in Review

Halloween means many different things to different people, from awesome candy party night to elaborate costume-and-decorations time, to serious religious holiday, to day-before-discount-bulk-candy joy.  Halloween has two very different meanings to me — and one of them is the celebration of the end of my writing year.

Which means it is time to see how I did!

Somewhere between 2010 and 2012, I made the decision to commit myself to writing more significantly, both in terms of quantity and quality.  Up until then, I had been happy with the occasional bout of inspiration or the odd oneshot here and there.  But no longer.  Party born out of a push to complete the outstanding works which had been left half-done, and partly because finally I was mentally and emotionally healthy enough to want to create, I vowed to set a standard and hold myself to it.  I recognized then that I can’t change whether or not I have writing “talent,” but I could sure as hell instill discipline and hard work in myself wherever inspiration or innate ability left off.

I’ve written before about my tracking spreadsheets and these were very much born in that time.  By the close of 2012, I was pushing myself to write most every day and I was finishing the projects I began no matter what.  But I also learned something about my habits — I don’t write a whole lot in November and December.

There’s lots of reasons for that 2-month downtime.  It’s a busy season for many people and I am no exception.  Between sometimes two different rounds of travel halfway across the country, holiday gatherings, gift-buying, and bracing for winter, I add onto that sometimes multiple gigs and/or concerts every week from about mid-November until January.  It’s a very hectic time to be a musician, believe me.  And it cuts into the free time I have, as well as my emotional energy.  Writing can be a form of stress-relief, but it brings its own stresses with it, too.  Performing is AWESOME, but it is also very, very stressful.  And these things do not mix necessarily well.  And that’s before there’s any hint of the changes that happen in a person’s psyche when the days get dark and short and you have to wear 18 layers to go outside.

I learned pretty quickly that I could not depend on myself to be able to write a long or substantial work in November and December, and that pushing myself to do so tore the fabric of my well-being.  I could still plot for future works, and I could write a lot of oneshots or short stories, and I could circle back on abandoned projects and give them a last push, but I couldn’t necessarily work through something big and new and difficult.  Which made trying to track progress really frustrating when the last 2 months of the year were something of a wash.

So I adjusted my inner calendar for the purpose of writing.

Now my writing year begins on November 1st and ends the following October.  November and December have become my fallow, planning months rather than a rush to get done before New Year’s Day.  I spend them cleaning up from the previous year to some extent, but mostly clearing the way for what is to come.  Over the course of a year I tend to come up with a lot of ideas for stories; November and December are when I actually sit down and sort them out.  Is this a novel or a oneshot?  If it’s a oneshot, can I get it done right now?  I also tend to get some of my best ideas in about mid-November which then spend December simmering before I dive into them with abandon at the start of January.  I might not write at all for these two months or I might write two short stories a w eek.  But whatever I do or don’t do, it’s the time I give myself to rest before the next push.

And since I have closed the book on my 2016 writing, it’s time to see how I did.

From November 1st 2015 through October 31st 2016, I wrote the following:

  • 4 novels (40,000 words or more)
  • 6 novellas (17,500-40,000 words)
  • 1 novellette (7,500-17,500 words)
  • 7 short stories (fewer than 7,500 words)
  • 2 character background projects for gaming
  • 17 blog posts on this site

…and other random assorted journaling/chronicling, including for gaming and my own personal diary/journal

Not too bad, actually!  I don’t count the blog posts or the random assorted stuff towards wordcounts and my official totals because they don’t involve the same level of creativity — they’re mostly just typing.  Maybe that will change if this blog becomes more robust with time, but for now, we’ll stick with what we’ve got.  Here is the more detailed breakdown by wordcount:

2016-writingAs years go, this one is my second-most productive.  To date, my biggest single year of writing remains 2014 when I maxed out at 517,373 words.  That percentage of Overall Total above proves that 20% of all the creative writing I have ever completed since 2004 was done in 2016.

Note that I don’t count works that I started and abandoned.  They have to be done to count.  This is as much me being persnickety about data as it is a motivating factor.  If I don’t finish, my numbers won’t be as good!

Here, then, is my total writing since 2004:

all-time-writingNow, that number also includes a short story I wrote for Yuletide on Tuesday, because 2017 is already underway.  But the ~6,300 oneshot doesn’t really change much at this point.

Worth noting in the 2016 data is that there are 4 fully original works included.  Three of them are short stories.  One is a novel…that I might try to publish.  That was my last writing project of the year, written in September and October, which tends to be my pair of most-productive months.  I’m going to let it rest for a while before I go back and edit it to pieces, and then we’ll see what all my beta groups say about it.  If it passes muster, well, there might be posts about the joys, ahem ahem, of querying.

But that’s for later.

For right now, I think I’ve earned a small rest for a year well done.

I think I’ll spend it writing another story.

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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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