Fandom Exposition and/or Explosion

A few weeks ago, I found myself outlining to a friend exactly WHY I get so deeply into certain fandoms.  And then last week, I was again in a discussion of how I could find such merit in certain cartoons.

I figure that means it is time to put some of that here for those who are curious.  Because sometimes it’s not about the fandom itself, but what you get out of it that counts.

So here are a few of my top fandoms (in terms of what I write, not what I read necessarily) and why I have the deep love for them that I do.

And hey — the four of you, or however-many people read this blog, jump in the comments!  I want to know what aspects of these shows I’ve missed that make them worth all the love.

(Minimal spoilers ahead, I hope!)


Mighty Max =

This is one of those cartoons that got made in the 90s on a shoestring budget basically to sell toys. No, seriously. Do you know the Polly Pocket toys for girls? Well they made a boy-centric version and called it Mighty Max, and then decided to make a cartoon about it to sell the things. But I think it was that exact sort of “eh, who cares?” that gave the creators the freedom to write a truly spectacular show for its time. (It helps that the main characters were voiced by some of the true VA stars: Rob Paulsen, Tony Jay, Frank Welker, Tress MacNeille, and Tim Curry.) The basic premise is that an 11-year-old kid is the destined hero who has been summoned to start kicking evil’s butt and saving the world on a weekly basis.

Max himself grows rather a lot over the course of the series’ 2 seasons. For the most part, he’s a smart-aleck of a kid, snapping off one-liners in the face of danger and avoiding his homework with alacrity. He is very much a reluctant hero, especially at the beginning, because the world-saving tends to happen right when he’s having the most fun and being a kid. But as time goes on, and as the situations get more serious, Max’s “but why do I have to be the Mighty One today?” moments become more half-hearted. At his core, however, he is a real hero, and this comes out when needed. Max is a modern-day Odysseus in the sense of being able to outwit his opponents and taunt them into making mistakes. Max can face down odds and evil-doers many times his size, shaking in his shoes, until his back is against the wall. And then he takes a breath, and fights back. The destiny he carries gives him precious few actual “powers” as it were, but it tends to work in subtle ways. For example, if he finds himself in front of an alien computer and he has to turn it off, out of a thousand buttons, he’ll hit the right one. Fate and chance tend to play on his side, especially when it matters.

He is accompanied on his journey against all things nefarious by two companions/teachers/friends. First is Norman, a mostly immortal man who is the source of many legends (Thor, Hercules, etc.) who “eats bad guys for breakfast” and is effectively the ultimate bodyguard. But Norman is not at all the meathead he appears to be at the start. He is very aware of the fact that 11-year-old Max is, in fact, the Mighty One who is going to be the greatest hero of all time, which means he is completely happy to let Max fight or make plans and doesn’t try to coddle or smother the kid. He doesn’t actually try to impede Max’s growth as a hero, or tell him that things are “too dangerous.” Because, even if they are, the dangerous things have to get done to save the world, and Max is the one to do it — with Norman at his side to back him up, of course. Additionally, he’s a very deep, very feeling character — we get several episodes about his life and his experiences through time, including the death of his father and his guilt at not being able to protect him. For all Norman looks like he could take on every linebacker on the planet at once and win, he is tender-hearted and almost gentle in disposition (when not kicking asses, obviously).

The second companion Max has on his journey is Virgil, who looks like a chicken (fowl, actually), is half Max’s size, and is tens of thousands of years old. Virgil is a Lemurian, a member of an ancient, lost civilization which set in motion a lot of the events that led to the rise of all younger peoples. Virgil has been waiting for five thousand years for Max to arise as the Mighty One so he can guide the kid in his world-saving. Virgil is complicated in other ways, some of which you have to really think about — he is the last of his people, has some of the arrogance of a puppet master (including the fact that he admits that he knows almost everything and is rarely, if ever, wrong), and he is very imperious about pretty much sending Max into whatever the hell danger is in front of them, sure that Max is “destined to win.” But, that said, Virgil’s scars run deep. Virgil has watched heroes die before, and when pressed, reveals how badly he does not want to see Max’s fate go the same way. The ultimate evil the Mighty One will face (and goes up against many times during the series) is named Skullmaster, and Virgil and Skullmaster have *history.*

One of the things that makes the show unique for its time is that it is freaking DARK. Most episodes open with somebody getting killed just off screen, but complete with screaming. Wikipedia at one point described the series as “Adventure/Horror” and there’s truth to that. Skullmaster, brilliantly voiced by Tim Curry, is one of the most outright malicious, terrifying villains ever put to screen, who regularly talks about torturing Max, or “sucking the marrow from his bones” if he catches him. He is EVIL. And there are other evils, too, some comical, some subtle, some misguided. Not everybody threatening the world means evil, or realizes they’re doing it. From aliens to ancient sorcerers to demi-gods (or actual gods) to mutants, the monsters of the week tend to be neat either by motivation or, even more often, cultural association. Because another unique aspect of the show is that as the Mighty One, Max is given the Cosmic Cap (yes, it looks like a baseball cap, and there are *reasons*) which opens portals across the planet. It allows them to make quick getaways, but it also means they spend most of their adventures in non-USA places. So some of their villains are legendary creatures from Viking lore, some are from Hindu mythology, some are something else entirely. The focus on multiculturalism and multinationalism gives the series another edge.

I first discovered the series in middle school, and it has stayed with me my entire life. Especially as a lonely kid, the idea of having two protectors/teachers/friends for life was deeply appealing. It’s not the *first* fandom I ever wrote fic in, but it is as close to my heart as anything, and it’s certainly where I have done the most growing. I have a written HUGE series based on MM, developing the mythology, the characters, the history, and it’s still coming. I’ll probably write the next novel in the series starting in January, even. I don’t think I can ever be done with Mighty Max, honestly. There’s too much of me in it. And there’s too much of it in me. And there’s SO MUCH THERE. This series goes practically everywhere, and I’ve taken it all over the place, too (I think I’ve crossed it with 3 or 4 other fandoms at this point, sometimes in big ways). And, at heart, it’s about one kid learning to find the hero inside himself, accept it, and live it with two stalwart friends at his side.

Sarah jokes that she expects I’ll die at 100 years old with my Mighty Max series still unfinished. She might well be right.

TMNT =


So, for the uninitiated, you have to understand that there are LOTS of versions of TMNT out there. Most people, when you start talking about mutant ninja turtles, think about the 80’s version of pizza-loving,G-rated dudes. But TMNT itself began as a comic published by Mirage in 1984, and was far darker than the cartoon that came out to sell toys to boys through the early 90’s. Then there’s the live-action trio of movies that came out around the same time, but which were based on the Mirage version of the universe rather than the cartoon version — which had taken some interesting liberties with the original plots and characters. There was a separate run of comics published in the 80’s and 90’s by Archie Comics and another the late 90’s by Image Comics, too, though Mirage continued publishing again in the 2000s and 2010s. (We don’t talk about the brief live-action TV series. Seriously. It is DEAD to us. Hell, it’s even dead to the creators!) Then, in 2003, the series returned as a cartoon again. It ran for 7 years and really reinvented the series for a new age of consumers right before the Mirage property was sold to Nickelodeon. Another movie came out in 2007, this one CGI. IDW Comics has a separate TMNT line running since 2011 or so as well. With the sale by Mirage, in 2012 Nickelodeon created their own version, a CGI series that only just concluded this year. (Also not gonna talk about the Michael Bay version; many TMNT fans enjoy it, but I do not.) And that’s before you get into weird alternates, like TMNT mangas (they exist) or the video games, or the daily comic strips, or TMNT the RPG.

So…basically, when you say “I like TMNT,” that’s kinda like saying “I like Star Trek.” Because you have to ask “Oh? Which one?” and “Series, or movies?” to start getting at the *which* Star Trek we’re talking about here. There is no one TMNT, even if the characters are, at their core, consistent from one to another. But the stories, plots, even backstories, vary WIDELY between versions. Some are dark as hell, others are lighthearted and cheerful. Some challenge assumptions about personhood, or morality, or honor. Others focus on jokes and puns and slapstick humor.

For me, I grew up watching the TMNT of the 80’s, the cartoon, but it always felt a little bit hollow to me. I would pretend it with my brother and other kids (Donatello was my favorite turtle, but I was a girl so I thought I had to play/had to like April best — ha! Gender norms in childhood suck!), but I just wanted…I dunno. A different story than there was. And yet, something about TMNT stuck with me into adulthood in that nostalgic way you look back at cartoons and see more than was ever there.

What I’ve learned since, of course, is that there IS more there — you just have to look at it with the discerning eye of an adult and parse out the secrets the writers hid there for you.

I didn’t even start watching the 2003 version of TMNT until more than halfway through its run. When I did…DAMN. HERE was the version I was looking for. Here were the brothers, complex and struggling and learning and awesome and overwhelmed and courageous and still so young. Here was a supporting cast of people who could be folded into more camps than “good” and “bad but not that bad.” Here were some actually badass girls. And here were some writers who really, really knew what they were doing.

(It helps that Peter Laird, one of the original creators, did consulting on it, and helped with the writing, and basically lended a hand to steer the ship and keep it from going the way of The Series That Shall Not Be Named.)

Even when it was campy, or silly, or clearly had too much 4Kids for breakfast, it still had the heart of TMNT which was what I had been looking for all along. And if you have trouble seeing it, put it this way:

Take the mutant part out of it. Think of the story in terms of characters.

An immigrant to New York loses his entire family, watches them be murdered in front of him by his Clan’s ultimate enemy. Wounded, heartsick, he goes into hiding. In the sewers, he finds four children who have been abandoned, and decides to raise them as his own. In some tellings of the story, the implication is that these children were to be his army to send against the one who killed his family — that he took them in so that they would rise up and administer his vengeance for his lost loved ones. But, over time, he became more than teacher and they more than students — they became family, and he grew to love his sons far more than he hated his enemy. He taught them the skills of his Clan, so that they could survive and protect one another, and feared for the day they might be faced with the murderer of their adopted family.

Compelling enough yet? Now add the brothers.

Leonardo is a natural leader, strong in his ninjutsu, honorable, trying to follow the ways of Bushido to the best of his ability. He is focused and observant, and loyal to a fault. He will face down literally anything to save a member of his family. He will risk anything when his family is in need. And yet, he can be haughty about being the best, or being the leader. He may doubt in himself, especially when battles go against them. And he gets frustrated being the only voice of reason sometimes when his brothers are not working with him. He feels deeply, and the burden of leadership is very, very heavy on his shoulders — because Leo knows that someday it may fall to him to make a decision that will mean one of his brothers isn’t coming home again.

Donatello is a calm and cheerful soul, loyal to the family as much as Leonardo, but entirely different in every other way. Donatello is unconditionally a genius. By the age of 15, he was building vehicles that could hover, or a computer array that could seamlessly hack the NSA. He is the team’s engineer, their scientist, and sometimes their medic. Virtually every situation that needs a resolution rotates on Donatello’s ability to outthink any problem and any opponent. In some cases, Don is the least skilled of his brothers in ninjutsu, and he is vastly more likely to solve a problem with his brain than his fists. This makes him something of an outsider amongst his brothers, their resident geek, and leaves him sometimes thinking and speaking at levels not one of them can really understand. But everything Don does is for them, from building them a lair in which to live to putting every bit of his knowledge and intelligence to work to get them out of everything they get into — no matter what.

Raphael is as hot-headed and poorly tempered as Don is calm. Raphael is a constant foil to Leo, fighting him on practically everything, sometimes just on principle. But Raph isn’t antagonistic to no reason. Raph has spent his entire life trying to prove himself worthy of the family he loves so much, and also to protect them. He is a free and independent spirit and HATES being ordered around by anyone, much less Leo whom he can take two falls out of four on his good days. Raph is also deeply, deeply afraid to lose any one of his brothers. He deals with this fear poorly, generally. He would take a bullet for any of his brothers, and regularly in battle ends up watching the others in fights so he can swoop in to help them if the get overwhelmed — most often Donatello, in fact, since Don is often trying to fight AND reprogram a computer on the fly or something. Raph burns off his endless, furious energy by punching things, or riding a motorcycle, or, sometimes, patrolling the city alone and doing a little vigilante work. Because Raph burns against injustice, and he will not stand for it. Of the four of them, Raph’s emotions tend to explode in every direction the most — when pushed to it, he feels grief profoundly, or rage engulfingly. And all those feelings, without limit, center on his family.

Michelangelo is the baby of the family — although in almost all incarnations the brothers are literally the same age because they don’t know how old they really are and the all mutated at the same time — and acts as its main source of tension-breaking and comic relief. This is as much a part of his carefree and goofy personality as it is a deliberate attempt on his part to keep the peace. The quickest way to get his three brothers aligned is to make a bad joke and gang them all up on himself, and he clearly knows it. He also loves easily, and not only his family. Of them all, he tends to be the one with a pet, or the most friends, or the greatest desire to meet and help more people in the world. Mikey pushes Raph to his limits, tests Leo’s patience, regularly breaks whatever Don builds, and “forgets” to obey his father, but he never lets them down when it matters. And all that happy-go-lucky, cheering goofiness is yet another mask for his own feelings, and his own fears. In some ways, Mikey is the most resilient of them all, because he is possessed of an endless kind of optimism — things will work out eventually, and he’ll keep helping them along until they get there. When Mikey stops kidding around, he is a terrifying force to be reckoned with, but his brothers need him to be their kidding, joking, cheerful heart, and he is happy to oblige.

Without even getting into other characters, or the plotlines, or the villains…just this is enough for me to love. The brotherhood between the four turtles, the bonds of family and honor and Clan that link them and Splinter — it is a source of endless joy and fascination for me. Most of the times I write TMNT, I’m looking at those connections, and I’m testing them. There is something about these bonds that go beyond blood (or mutagen), that go beyond Clan, that go beyond family, that connect at the place where the immortal soul latches onto fate, that I never tire of writing about, or reading about.

Most of the fandoms on this list can be characterized one way or another as “team-as-family against the world,” but it’s never more true or more acute than it is with my very-much-beloved turtles.

Gundam Wing =


This is an anime I just pretty much love for too many irrational reasons. It’s mecha! Empathy in space! The meaning of conflict! And…um. Those boys.

So, the funny thing is that the *characters* of Gundam Wing are fantastic, but the plot is…convoluted doesn’t even cover it. It takes a few watchings to pin down the exact political situation behind the events of the series, and it changes ALL THE TIME. At some point, I think there’s 5 or 6 factions in play, and some of them are aligned more than one way, and it just is a giant mess. Which is kinda the point, the whole chaos-of-war thing, but it makes for some tough watching. In short, 90% of the human race has left the Earth to live in colonies in space. The 10% who remain on Earth are the wealthy who pretty much rule everything. Conflict arises when the colonies want some actual representation in government, to say nothing of economic parity, and war breaks out. The war goes really south and a band of scientists each train a 15-year-old pilot to go to Earth as a terrorist, basically destroying the Earth’s military resources under the cover of being a high schooler. Then things get weird and the colonies turn on them and…yeah, it gets weird. Anyway, it’s the pilots themselves that draw me in.

The five pilots are very, very different from one another. Heero Yuy was raised by an assassin and conditioned to suppress almost all emotion in order to accomplish whatever mission is set him. But in spite of that, he is dedicated, insanely stubborn, and oddly sympathetic. He knows he is a killer, and he does so when required to accomplish his goals, but I don’t think he is ever okay with that fact. His heart is buried under layers, and only he knows how deep it goes.

Duo Maxwell was an orphan who survived on the streets, watched the only people who ever took him in burn to death or die of plague, and copes with it by being the wise-cracker of the group. He calls himself the “God of Death” (“Great Destroyer in the dub because *reasons*) and has a kind of manic fury to his hilarity. He has fabulous snark in the heat of battle, and walks that line between being truly friendly and fiendishly deadly with a laugh.

Trowa Barton is…really an enigma. He has no idea who he is or where he came from, and until the series begins he doesn’t even have a name of his own, going by No-Name. He was raised with a mercenary group and has spent virtually his entire life as a spy or a soldier. But once he starts connecting with people, starting with the pilots and then with a few civilians, he begins to show how very kind and protective he is. He learns that his identity is his own, as are his feelings, and decides to live based upon whatever choices he can give himself.

Quatre Raberba Winner (totally my favorite, not gonna lie) is the son of one of the wealthiest men in the world and in line to inherit a corporation that would be about 12 of the top companies in the US put together times four. He is, to a much-debated extent, an empath, reacting when he can feel the pain of others. But he is a skilled fighter regardless, controlling his emotions by sheer focus. Quatre is also the strategist and tactician of the group, able to lead effectively and come up with a battle plan that wins out even when overwhelmed. Quatre’s emotions are close to the surface, and he is gentle and affectionate and peace-loving even when he has no choice but to fight. Mostly. Except when…kinda brainwashed. Then he is TERRIFYING.

Chang WuFei is a kid who was never meant to be a pilot at all. Wufei was married by family custom at the age of 13, I think, to his arranged bride, who was chosen to be the fifth pilot sent to protect the colonies. But she was killed in battle, and Wufei took on her duty for himself, though he would be more of a scholar and wise old Chinese guy if you left him to his own devices. Wufei despises weakness because he hates himself for what happened to his wife (whom he didn’t exactly love, they barely knew one another and fought all the time), but he feels it was his fault she died anyway. He is looking for justice, and he’s going to find it by burning his way through anything in his path.

Over the course of the series, their relationships shift a lot. Some of them get on really well (there is good reason the series *almost* straight-up ships Quatre and Trowa), some of them mostly yell at each other. At first, they don’t even know there are more pilots than themselves out there fighting — as they meet and realize they have the same mission and the same goals, they shift into and out of alliances with each other. In the end, though, the five of them stand up as the last force which can stand for peace in the face of total annihilation (because it’s a Gundam trope — somebody always wants to just do away with the world eventually). And they all have to decide who they are and where they stand and what they believe. In the end, they choose life, they choose to fight for the sake of those who can’t fight for themselves, and they choose to do so together.

It’s a pretty great fandom for character speculation. I LOVE those boys. I’ve written about them A LOT and for good reason.

Leverage =


So, this was a series that ran for 5 years starting in 2008 and is pretty much perfect. It’s a series about a group of 5 thieves who band together to help people. As in — if someone can’t sue a big company because they can’t afford it, the Leverage team will run a game on the company’s CEO and ensure that the family gets a compensation package. Or if someone is conning people out of their life savings, the team will con the conmen right back and return the money. It has a lot of the same kind of humor or one-liners or pacing of a good Joss Whedon production, but on a different scale. The interesting thing is that it was timed specifically for the 2008-2009 market crash stuff, and is basically the story of honest people, who happen to be thieves, getting back at the rich fatcats hurting the middle and lower classes. The social justice is strong with this one, in the best possible way.

The team is made up of five people who have a specific skill set each:

Alec Hardison is their Hacker. He is unmatched when it comes to computers and gadgets. He is frighteningly brilliant, but he tends to get distracted. He’s also an unrepentant nerd, spouting Star Wars or Star Trek lines or whatever references to fandom he feels like. He can grift fairly well, though his accents are awful, and he sometimes tries to plan the team’s cons, but he doesn’t quite have the right perspective for it — Hardison wants so badly to make the real world as perfect as the coding he lives and breathes, and it just doesn’t work out that way. Hardison is dangerous when mad because he can ruin you six ways from Sunday, but he tends towards prankerism instead (as in, sending a thousand porn magazines to a jerk’s office rather than, say, emptying their bank accounts). Hardison has a HUUUUUGE crush on Parker.

Parker is their Thief. Parker, she has no other name, is basically a ninja thief. Parker can come and go from a bank without ever being seen, can lift items from a mark’s pocket and they won’t even know she was there, can crack any safe you put in front of her, and spends a lot of time in air ducts and dangling from rooftop harnesses. Parker is neat because she is very much neuro-atypical. She misses common social cues and doesn’t always understand people, but she isn’t autistic per se. Even Sarah isn’t quite sure how to define her. Parker is in some ways a very angry woman because she comes from a very broken background, but in other ways she is the most vulnerable of them all. Parker is ADORABLE, even though she’d stab you with a fork for saying so. She’s been alone for most of her life, and so her developing relationships with the team, particularly Hardison, are awkward and beautiful.

(Funny story. The actress who plays Parker took some pick-pocketing lessons early in the first season so she could do it correctly. Not only did she learn so well that her teacher said she could make a living just by what she could steal on the street, but some of her lifts were too invisible for the cameras to pick up and had to be reshot!)

Eliot Spencer is their Hitter. (FYI ELIOT IS MY FAVORITE) Eliot starts as a “retrieval specialist” which basically means he will take a job and get you the thing you need, probably by dispatching literally every person in between him and his target. He is a martial artist, weapons specialist, combat master, and all-around total badass. That said, he doesn’t like guns and he doesn’t kill. Eliot’s known history starts with him joining the US military at 18, becoming special forces and more, and then going to the dark side and ending up as a hitman and hired gun for some really bad people. By the time he joins the Leverage team, he is absolutely famous as being unstoppable and terrifying, a reputation he uses, but isn’t proud of. Eliot is EXTREMELY protective of the team, even early on, and he will DESTROY anyone who hurts them. While he is usually positioned for bodyguard duty, though, Eliot is a fair grifter himself, and he can also make and execute plans that work far better than Hardison’s. The reason he doesn’t, though, is never stated, but I think it’s obvious from everything else — the person who makes the plans (see Nate below) has to be willing to push the team, even endanger them, to get the job done. And that is something Eliot will not willingly do. Eliot loves this team even when he wants to strangle them all. Eliot is played by Christian Kane, which means they could do other things with the character, since he’s a frighteningly skilled human being; Eliot, therefore, can sing and play guitar (Christian Kane being a country star when he’s not acting), and can cook (which Christian Kane can also do — it’s not feigned). Eliot is the sword and shield of the team, and in some ways, its heart.

Sophie Devereaux is the team’s main Grifter. She can charm anything out of anyone, playing a dozen different roles in the span of a few minutes. She shifts her accent around to become a British Duchess, a South African diplomat, an Indian doctor, or an Aussie escort. Sophie plays a little bit the role of team mom, teaching the others, talking to them, guiding them through being part of a team or learning new skills. She is a thief in her own right, though, known worldwide for the art she has stolen that has never been recovered. This is how she met Nate — he spent a huge portion of his career chasing her. She has also, obviously, had romantic feelings for him since long before the series began, but she understands that she has to let Nate figure himself out in his own time.

(In the middle of the 2nd season, Sophie semi-left the show due to the actress’s pregnancy, so she sent in a grifter friend of hers to fulfill the role and balance out the team. Tara’s an okay character, but she’s not Sophie.)

Nate Ford is the team’s Mastermind and leader (and the one I enjoy writing the most outside of Eliot). Nate was an insurance investigator, chasing down big-ticket items and trying to recover stolen property so his company wouldn’t have to pay out the losses. In this way, he came into contact with all four of the others, hunting them over the years in different capacities. However, when the series opens, he has been reeling from a pair of double tragedies — the death of his 8-year-old son and a divorce from his wife — and has lost his job as well. Nate is magnificently intelligent, able to read a situation in seconds, perceive more than anyone not in the mold of Sherlock Holmes would see, and design sometimes elaborate plans for the team. He is the chessmaster (also literally) and he has earned the loyalty of the team because he is *just* *that* *good.* Nate can grift as well as plan, and he was raised by a thief himself so he has some slight of hand tricks as well (and sometimes he punches people, but usually only if Eliot has softened them up first). Nate is the team’s leader and dad, pushing them, supporting them, and also holding onto them for dear life because they are all he has left. Nate struggles for the first, eh, 3ish seasons with a drinking problem, going from what he calls being a “drunk honest man” to a “sober thief” to a “drunk thief.” (He also calls himself a functional alcoholic which is a joke the writers tell about one of the series creators.) Nate’s feelings for Sophie grow throughout the series, though the chemistry is there from the start, but he’s just too broken to do anything about them for a long time. Nate sometimes balances on the edge of insanity, and when that happens, it is the team who pulls him back.

The whole team has a strong family parallel going of Nate as the dad, Sophie the mom, and the other three as kids — Eliot the eldest, Nate’s right hand partner and go-to, Hardison as the middle kid looking to prove himself but also keep the peace, and Parker as the wild youngest with too much of her father’s crazy in her. The jobs they pull tend to be amazing, but it’s that team dynamic, different from TMNT but just as wonderful, that really holds me. These people would walk into hell for each other, would follow one another to the end of time, and, in some cases, would kill for each other. They are better together, and they all know it — even if they rarely want to back themselves into the corner of talking about it.

Cardcaptor Sakura and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle=

         
I’m going to talk about these together for reasons that will become obvious. I’ll start with CCS.

Basically, Cardcaptor Sakura is one of the finest magical girl animes out there. Really, it is. Yes, it’s about a cute girl with magic powers, but it’s also about a lot more than that. Sakura herself is utterly charming, and the 70 episode series is an intensely slow build of character interactions, relationships, and revelations. CCS is one of the few series I watch about once a year all the way through, and it brings me joy every single time. There are things it took me 5 watches to pick up on, tiny hints foreshadowing reveals, character quirks or throwaway lines that turned out to be literally the entire answer. But at its center is Kinomoto Sakura, a girl who found a deck of magical Cards and promptly lost them. She is charged with collecting the deck again, which means overcoming each one, because each is magical and will defend itself to keep from being caught. So, for example, the Fiery Card sets an amusement park on fire and Sakura has to defeat it. Or the Sword Card possesses one of her friends and attacks her. Sakura has been warned by the Guardian of the Cards, a little bear with wings named Keroberos, that if she does not succeed in recapturing all of the Cards, a great tragedy will befall the world. She asks Kero if that means the world will go “boom.” He responds, rather tellingly, “No, nothing like that. Depending on who you are, it might not be too bad at all. But…for someone like you, it might be more painful than the world going boom.” And he is right.

I’m not gonna spoil it, obviously. And the thing is that the Cards capturing ends around the episode 46 mark, and there are 24 more episodes after that because things are never quite over.

Sakura herself is a cheerful, brave little thing, filled with kindness and friendship and earnestness. She pretty much fills me with happy.

But the series would not be complete without Li Syaoran. Syaoran shows up in episode 8 or 9 as a transfer student from Hong Kong. He is a blood descendant of the magician who made the Cards in the first place, and he has sworn to retrieve them himself. At the beginning, he is an unmitigated jerk. No, really. He doesn’t care about Sakura, he doesn’t care that Kero has chosen Sakura to find the Cards, he doesn’t care about feelings or being kind or anything. He has been training in the traditions of his family since he could walk, is skilled with his own magic and with his swordwork, and he knows more about the Cards than Sakura — and is out to prove he is the rightful one to collect and master the Cards. But as time goes on, he slowly gets pulled into Sakura’s kindness and friendship, and he becomes protective of her, too. Even if he wants the Cards for himself, he doesn’t want anything to happen to her. And then…well…ye gods does he ever fall for her. It literally takes him 50 episodes to get there, though if you’re watching him closely you can see him starting to blush around her far sooner.

When Syaoran does fall for her, it is complete. And it is EPIC. Syaoran’s whole world becomes Sakura, and she doesn’t even know it. How they handle that, especially because Sakura spends the ENTIRE series in love with someone else, is just…well, I still cry, okay?

This show also has a lot of unusual relationships in it, too. There are implied lesbian romances (one-sided, sadly), and a canonical gay relationship which is just as beautiful as the slow burn of Syaoran’s love for Sakura. The True Love is strong in this series, and it is everywhere.

Besides being just an exquisite example of family and friends and loves, it also has this thread running through it that Sakura is brave enough not to give up, no matter how scared she is. And that, if she’s the one still trying, in the end, she’ll succeed. Several characters comment on it. “If it’s you, Sakura, it’ll be okay.” And Sakura learns for herself what she comes to call her Invincible Spell: I will definitely be all right. No matter how bad it gets, she keeps finding enough belief in herself and enough love for her friends to keep trying.

I’m still discovering how much of an effect that mentality has had on me over the years.

Of note — don’t EVER, and I mean EVER watch the American version of this show called “Cardcaptors.” It’s not just poorly dubbed. It’s not even that they changed at least one gay relationship to make them “cousins.” It’s that they decided they couldn’t air the series as it was, mostly about a girl, and so they chopped it up to manufacture episodes of greater conflict between Sakura and Syaoran for the Cards. They actually plug bits and pieces in from different episodes, even from different seasons, to try to make a totally different story. It is AWFUL. It is UNWATCHABLE.

Now, here’s where Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle comes in.

CCS is made by the manga/anime house CLAMP. Because it was SO wildly popular, they decided to do an AU of their own series and created TRC. Tsubasa takes place in a different world, but has Sakura and Syaoran and several of the other CCS characters making an appearance. But it’s a REALLY different anime.

The premise per the first 2 episodes is this: Sakura is a princess in the Kingdom of Clow. Syaoran is her childhood friend, who loves her SOOOOOOOOO much, and whom she loves in return. But before she can confess her feelings to him, and him to her, they are interrupted by basically a curse. Sakura’s soul, and her memories, are ripped from her body and cast into multiple dimensions and even through time, leaving her a dying shell. To save her, Syaoran takes her to another CLAMP character from another series (but, ultimately, the entire CLAMP universe is one long story with lots of bits and pieces spread throughout their various series) called the Dimensional Witch. The Witch can give Syaoran the ability to travel through dimensions and time to track down the pieces of Sakura’s soul, but there is a price. If he accepts this power, he surrenders his entire relationship with Sakura forever — no matter how many memories she gets back, he will never be in them. She will never remember her feelings, will have gaps and blanks and empty spaces in her mind where he should be, and all that they were for all the years they grew up together will be gone. Syaoran never even hesitates. He sacrifices every memory she’ll ever have of him and goes on the journey to save her. And, as they journey (because she has to come with in order to receive the pieces of soul as he finds them), every time she gets close to wondering what used to be between them, it is taken away again.

And Syaoran. Oh, ye gods. He loves her more than I think I’ve ever seen any character in anything ever love another. When she first looks at him and doesn’t know him, I mean, he is DESTROYED. But he never stops loving her, ever. He risks his life a million times just to call her “princess” instead of “Sakura” and to have her refer to him formally in return. He listens to her recount each new memory she gets when he finds them, only to realize she’s remembering him, but not, and he has to hold onto that for them both. He LOVES her. And it is HEARTBREAKING.

Sakura, for her part, is rather different in TRC from her CCS counterpart. For almost the first half of the first season, she has almost no personality at all, since it’s all been ripped away. The more she grows, though, and the more she regains of herself, the stronger she becomes. And, frankly, the more like her CCS self she becomes. And she, not knowing Syaoran from a stranger, falls in love with him, agonizingly slowly.

But the thing is that this journey is…not at all what it seems. There is another force at work, the one who scattered Sakura’s memories in the first place, and who is directly connected to the person who made the Cards in CCS. And he has an EEEEEvil plan. And…then it gets SUPER EXTRA COMPLICATED.

See, the thing is that the anime stops before it is resolved. Literally, the series ends, and then there’s an OVA of 3 episodes that rips apart literally *EVERYTHING* you thought you know about every single person in the cast. And then it stops. And then there’s another 2-episode OVA that picks up an arc and a half later which makes it ALL WORSE. And then the anime stops AGAIN.

To finish it, to get the actual plot wrapped up, and to have any freaking clue WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED you have to either read the manga, or let me tell it to you. Because I’ve read the manga several times, and I’ve taken several friends through this series. It takes me an hour, and that’s without the visual aids I took of critical pages from the manga. But it…uh. It makes it all several times more complex than it was, and more heart-rending. In the end, though, the central story is one of love that lasts beyond life, beyond time, beyond form. It is love willing to move every universe, no matter the consequences, to protect. It is the most intense and both soul-fulfilling and soul-killing series I’ve ever watched. Not to be undertaken lightly, but very much worth it.


So, there you are.  Some of my top fandoms, and the reasons behind them.  What did I miss?  What awesome isn’t accounted for?

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Year-End Writing Review and TWO MILLION WORDS

So, I’ll be honest.  This year was TOUGH.  So many days I couldn’t quite find the inner balance to write, or to continue with whatever I’d started the day before.  Ah, the joys of existential dread and anxiety because of current events!

It’s the opposite of the gift that keeps on giving — it’s the curse that keeps on cursing.

Kept me cursing, too.

Anyway.

Ultimately, 2017 will go down in history as the year I wrote the least since I really made the effort to write on a consistent basis in 2013.  I did write more in 2017 than I did in the years before 2013, and by a good margin, but still.  Worst output in 5 years.  Bah.

Every writing year has been given an epithet so I can quickly remember what was going on in each given year.  They go something like this:

2012 = The Time Before Discipline
2013 = All Things Gundam
2014 = Year of the Sentinel Quest
2015 = Survival and Max
2016 = Sound of Dragons

The first few were meant literally, as in 2013 when I wrote SO MUCH Gundam fic, or 2014 where I wrote 4 Sentinel/JQ novels.  2015’s was a little different, in that it was a year I was dealing with a pretty serious cycle of depression, and so I wrote whatever it was that helped me cope, including wacky crossovers and goofy oneshots.  2016 is my own private joke, because I spent 8 months of the year writing The Death-Knell of Silence series (thus the “Sound”) and then the original novel about dragons I still want to query before January.  But TMNT connects to dragons, too, and the one really fed me for the other, so it worked out.

The epithet for 2017 is: Battling the Darkness

Because I did fight back against anxiety and worry and stress and distraction, and, in the end, I made my minimum goal — I have a chapter to post for every week in 2018 that I intend to post (I take a few off for holidays and times I know I’ll be busy).  That’s the part that matters.

Even if the numbers themselves strike me as being comparatively shabby:

You can tell where and when I got stuck — I was able to bang out the oneshots in about a day for the most part, but the longer works were far slower.  That’s about what I expect when I’m having a difficult time.  Oneshots and short stories typically come more easily than longer works.

In addition to this, I also started 7 different works, 3 novels, 4 short stories, and stalled out on them before the end of the year.  Those 7 works currently total 42,002 words, which would have brought my 2017 number up to 227,835 words.  But I don’t like counting the incomplete stuff.  Anybody can write half a story, or the first words of a story.  It doesn’t count as an accomplishment until the end is accomplished.

However, I get to celebrate a different accomplishment tonight.

With the chapter that goes live tonight, the first of Act 8 of TDKOS, I will be publishing my 2 MILLIONTH word of fanfiction!

I’m using AO3 for the word-counts because it is a little bit more reliable than ff.net, and it only counts for the stuff that is up on the site, not stuff I’ve written but isn’t live yet.  But, still.

TWO MILLION WORDS.

The funny thing is that my very first published word of fanfic was “my” and my first millionth word was “footsteps.”  My second millionth word is “giving.”

I didn’t even have to make it up or manipulate anything.  It just happened that way.

My.  Footsteps.  Giving.

Nothing could be more appropriate.  Because writing has given me so much, and, as I talked about two weeks ago, has given something back as well.  Writing has kept me sane some days, has provided an outlet for my feelings and experiences, has offered me a way to understand myself and my world.  Writing has also put stories out onto the internet and into the hands of friends, new friends and old friends, and has brought them joy and laughter, no matter how dark the day.

My first story’s first chapter was published to ff.net on August 12th, 2004.  It took me three years to finish and post that 12-chapter story, my first ever novel.  Back then, I was not even half the writer I am now, and I had literally no idea where writing would take me, how it would save me, what it would mean for me.

It has truly been a long, strange journey to two million words later.  Plus 14 unposted fics which will go up in 2018.  Plus two original novels and four short stories, one of which won me an award.

And still I stand here thinking I’m only at the beginning.  And so I am.

This quote, part of it, lives at the top of my profile on ff.net.  It’s by Madeline L’Engle, a writer who probably changed me for life as profoundly as any other I’ve ever read.  And this is writing, as true as I understand it standing here where I am today:

My husband is my most ruthless critic. … Sometimes he will say, “It’s been said better before.” Of course. It’s all been said better before. If I thought I had to say it better than anyone else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me; ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it in our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn’t what human creation is about. It is that we have to try; to put it down in pigment, or words, or musical notations, or we die.

Good or bad, great or little, I have to write.  Create.  Be.

I’m already working on three million.  I wonder what we’ll find when we get there.

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Writing and Soundtracks

(I know it’s the day before Halloween, so you’d think I’d be writing something vaguely seasonal, but I’m not, mainly because I don’t have a picture to show you!  Maybe next week.)

Music breathes in just about everything I do, not unlike how writing and characters and plots dance in my head no matter what else I’m thinking about.  So, for obvious reasons, these things tend to help one another, particularly when I’m having trouble.

I don’t always write listening to music, particularly when I’m so hyper-focused (or trying to get a ton done really quickly) that I fail to notice that I’m not listening to anything.  But if I’m even an ounce less intensely banging out words, I notice the quiet in my head and I try to fill it up.

How I fill the silence, though, depends on the project.

I have a playlist of 4 songs which I will put on continuous, permanent repeat at times, especially when I don’t have any particular themesongs in mind for whatever I’m writing.  If I don’t mind words and lyrics in my music, and I don’t have specific songs I am using to drive myself or the narrative or the atmosphere along, I go for my set of four:
Desert Rose by Sting
Sound of Silence by Disturbed
A Song of Storm and Fire from the anime Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle by Yuki Kajiura
Yoake Umarekuru Shoujo from the anime Shakugan no Shana by Yoko Takahashi

When I don’t want sung lyrics in English but I don’t mind words in general, I often pull up the Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle soundtrack, or, if I’m in a really bright mood, the music from the anime Macross Frontier by Yoko Kanno.  The advantage of both is that I know all the songs really well and I know all the lyrics, even in Japanese, and I can generally listen to them without being distracted.  The disadvantage is that, if I’m even slightly likely to get caught up and NOT focus without singing along in my head, they can bring me to a complete and total halt in a matter of minutes.

(Especially when Seikan Hikou or Northern Cross come on, because then I not only want to be singing along, but I want to be practicing the dance, and that is even less helpful for writing.)

Lately, if I’ve wanted music with no lyrics (in English or otherwise), I’ve been drawing on the instrumental soundtracks by Ramin Djawadi, with particular emphasis on Iron Man and Pacific Rim.  Game of Thrones works, too, but I don’t love it nearly as well.

And then there are stories and series which have their own specific soundtracks.

For example, my Tears of Revelry series from 2013-2014 was written with a very particular list of songs associated with it:
Seven Devils by Florence + the Machine
Remember the Name by Fort Minor
We Are One by 12 Stones
Lexington by Alpha Rev

I did the same with Bonds of Honor later that year, too:
What I’ve Done by Linkin Park
Animal I Have Become by Three Days Grace
Some Nights by fun.
Phoenix Burn by Alpha Rev

The Temple Steps Alight the following year had a soundtrack I actually described in detail in my massive “here’s what all went on in my head while writing this behemoth” story:
Through Glass by Stone Sour
I Will Not Bow by Breaking Benjamin
Bright Lights and Cityscapes by Sara Bareillis
Aquarius by Digital Daggers

Nexus Rising had one, too, borrowing from those above but adding some new ones of its own:
Wrong Side of Heaven by Five Finger Death Punch
Born to Rise by Redlight King

The entirety of my Fate Is A Gift series has been given a single anthem, which I really only identified around the time I was writing #14 in the series: All These Things That I’ve Done.

The series that’s been going up all year, The Death-Knell of Silence, has a soundtrack of one song per book/act in the story, but I’m going to refrain from putting them up here because the last one hasn’t gone live yet!  Similarly, the stories I’ve written this year that will go live next year have soundtracks of their own, with a whole bunch of new music I’ve recently discovered (with a lot of help from Sarah and her various radio stations).

If you ever hear an AWESOME song that you think to yourself, “Hey, that would make a good theme for a story,” send it my way!  This past year, I’ve added more music than usual to the ranks of the songs I use for soundtracks and inspiration and chapter titles, and even themes.  A few of the songs Sarah found for me actually induced me to write something new.

So if you have something, let me know!  Who only knows what it will inspire me to write next time?

Of all the songs I’ve ever associated with writing, though, there’s one which always, always works for me.  One song which, no matter how distractible I am, no matter how hard it is for me to get my words moving, will center me and reignite the part of my brain that can think and create and write.  One song in which I lose myself, and always find myself.

And, no, I have no idea WHY it’s this one.  But I’m going to trust in it to carry me today and tomorrow for the end of my writing year 2017!

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Symbiosis: My Readers and Me

This year has been a nightmare, and there’s only been a few things that have carried me through.  One is, of course, Sarah and my family and friends out here in Minnesota keeping me going.  Another is music, particularly the TCWC and Encore.  A third is CONvergence, which is now an enormous, life-affirming time-suck of working with awesome people to make sure we are providing and protecting a community and a space which is welcoming and safe and fun and kind and respectful for all, particularly those who really, really need it.

But the fourth is writing, both what I’ve been producing and what’s been going up online.

For this year’s writing, I’m a little behind on my yearly goals, I’ll be honest, but I should make the absolute minimum I require of myself.  By the end of Oct 31st, I need to finish enough to have 47 chapters/oneshots/installments to go up each week next year.  (Then I get to spend November on Yuletide and editing the original novel and adding a chapter to the work currently being posted because it needs a little more than it has.  I have no idea if I’ll write at all in December, or, if so, what.)  More on this after the end of October when I’m hopefully done.

The flip side of writing, though, the part where I wrote it last year but am unveiling it this year, that has been awesome.  I have developed a whole Monday night ritual of putting off posting the next chapter for about an hour because I get nervous, then slamming my laptop open and proceeding to agonize about authors notes and final edits before I publish the update to both fanfiction.net and AO3.  And then I respond to any outstanding comments or reviews.

Two or three years ago, I decided I would respond to comments and reviews left on my stories, and for the most part, I’ve done well.  Even a “I liked this, thanks!” gets a reply from me.  It may only be a few lines, or it may be paragraphs.  But I try very hard to respond to the people who take the time to tell me they liked my work.

(This is sometimes funny on my end, when the same person reviews 3 or 4 chapters all at once and I respond to each review one at a time, or when the reader who translates my stories into Spanish leaves a review and I have to dredge my lingering Spanish up out of my brain to respond in kind — they are very, very nice about my stumbling written Spanish and always offer me hugs.)

The current work that’s been going up since the first week of February has garnered rather a lot of commentary.  Not necessarily dozens of different people, but a group of dedicated readers who respond sometimes at length to every single chapter, sometimes leaving 2 or 3 comments just because what they have to say is longer than the review box.  These readers have made and commissioned art for me, have written their own AUs and crack!fics based off my story as it unfolds, and have tossed speculation back and forth amongst themselves about what is really happening and what I’m going to do next.

What was just my story has become a gathering place, apparently, a little ecosystem feeding off the environment I’ve set down, and growing all on its own.

So after the chapter goes up on Mondays, I tend to have several different people who deserve answers, considered responses and not just “Yay thanks!” on my part for all the effort they’re putting in.  These wonderful, enthusiastic, kind people are taking their precious time to heap love and interest and speculation and emotion on my stories.  The very least I can do is respond in kind.  So that takes far longer than actually posting the chapters themselves.

And then I end up having to yell at my phone, because it ALWAYS happens that I’ll JUST have finished clearing all my comments and reviews from the last week when I get one from somebody who just read the new chapter.  And I thought I was DONE but now I have to go back in and reply AGAIN to someone, sometimes with them having reacted with many, many exclamation points, and it is always funny.

And I can’t stop grinning until bedtime, and sometimes until I actually fall asleep.

Because this dedicated group of fans, of readers, of friends — they are reading and reviewing and I can almost feel the collective OMG of them taking in and responding to what I post each week.  And it just…it fills me up.  No matter how bad a Monday has been, I go to bed happy because I put something into the world that gave something to them, and they gave it back.

There is an Avengers fic on AO3 I really like by Scifigrl45 named “The Act of Creation Will Be Your Salvation” and that title sums me up pretty well.  Music, writing, even building a family out of friends and a convention community out of nerds — this is what I have to give the world.  I have this drive to take a piece of myself and put it into the ether to be found by anyone who needs it.  And doing so, producing writing and offering it to those who need it, or producing music, or working for CONvergence, it fills me back up again.  It is an exchange of energy and love and spirit, and it makes us all better when we share in it.

I’ve written so many stories that don’t get read by more than one or two people, but they are just as necessary because sometimes they are there for that one person who really, really needs it.  Just as there are stories I really, really needed and still need sometimes.

It is everything on those Monday nights to put my story, my heart, my gift into the world, and know that it has made a difference.  Even if for just one person or just one moment.  It is everything.

The way I understand myself, my job is to stand at the edge of shadow, to hold it back from anyone who seeks shelter behind me, and to find something to bring some light to shine forward.  Just as I was a scared kid when I first discovered fanfiction or CONvergence and, through them, managed to hang on, I know there are other scared kids out there.  So I protect them when they come to me, be it to read my stories or attend CONvergence or share Thanksgiving at my table.  I stand up against the shadow.  I keep the storm back.  And I find a flashlight or a lantern from inside myself and push that to shine into the dark.  So the next scared kid can find their way, too.

Every one of my 114 stories would be worth it, all taken together, if they gave just one person that moment of light.  And they have done far more than that.

I have received comments and reviews from people who were struggling to remember to breathe all day long, fighting depression and worse with all their flagging strength, who said they felt better for reading my stories.  I had a year-long exchange with someone who took my chapters with her to her chemo appointments, and the novels I unfolded for her helped her cope with her battle to survive.  I have formed friendships with people I’ve never met which result in much giggling — but also which open up an avenue between us so that neither of us needs to ever feel that we are truly alone in the world.

Because we aren’t.  Max and Don and Blair and Quatre and all the rest have given us to one another.

When I do someday publish something that isn’t fanfic, it’s going to be because so many people have given me so much to get here.  Because these fans, readers, reviewers, friends made me believe I had something to offer, light worth shining, and gave me their own when mine went dim.  Writing is, at its best, a symbiotic relationship between author and reader, a circle of creation and inspiration and admiration.  I would have written those 114 stories just for myself, but it makes it so much more worthwhile to know I also write them all for every single person who has ever found and read and loved them.

(And every single person who read them and loved them and needed them but never left a comment, either — I don’t have to know them to know they’re there.)

So, to you, my wonderful, inspiring, soul-affirming friends and fans and fellow fic-nerds, thank you.  Thank you for everything.  And thank you on behalf of every author who was lifted by you.  The world needs a million more of you.

And for myself, for you, because of my heart, because of yours, I will never stop telling my stories.

Which really are my stories.

But they all belong to you.

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Dead and Counting

(I will never pretend that I have any true gift for poetry, because I haven’t. But what I have is pain and rage and choking helplesness and grief. And this is its outlet.

Please forgive its every flaw and the person who was alive to make them. The only thing that matters is those who are lost, and those who are hurt, and those who are now both.)

 

Dead and Counting

You were dead in a roar of thunder
Before your body fell
And the body beside you
And the next and the next.
You died laughing, or screaming,
Or crying out to Jesus or Allah or Shiva
“Why” or “Please” or “No”
But no one saved you.
You died in a hail of hatred.

You did not die alone.
And one tragedy becomes two
Becomes twenty
Becomes too many
And the street is red
And the lights flash blue
And no one wants to score the dead.

There will come reasons, shouting,
“It’s your fault, you people!”
“It’s you who are to blame!”
But the blame we parade on sets and soundbites
Doesn’t kill the tears or the pain
Doesn’t cure the nightmares of those
Whose hands knew blood that night.

And we forget to blame hatred.
We forget.
Again we forget.

We light candles and sing
Signs and flowers and wreaths
We change banners and pictures
We hashtag our pain and prayers
We say we will remember
But we hate and teach hate and grow hate
And the candles are not soft memories now.
They are become the start of the next wildfire.

Forgive our tears
That we mean today
And will forget tomorrow.
Forgive our candles, our songs,
Our momentary grief
That will last in your bones.
We died tonight
Or yesterday
In any hail of hatred
And only still live by forgetting

You died,
You,
Whose name we do not know.
But you died in a war
Not between lines on a map
But within the human soul —
You died and we died with you.
We are your blood, cold on the street.

But you do not know this.
You do not have to know.
You already know.

You were dead in a roar of thunder
Before your body fell
And the body beside you
And the next and the next.
You died laughing, or screaming, or sobbing
Or crying out to Jesus or Allah or Shiva
“Why” or “Please” or “No”
But no one saved you.
We all die in a hail of hatred.

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My GPS Winning Entry!

Since the GPS competition seems to be having trouble getting the version of my story up on their site, I figured I would post it here.  I know there aren’t a whole lot of you reading this, but some of you have expressed interest in knowing exactly what story won me the contest, and I really want to see what you think of it!

So, without any further ado, here is the tale of DIOGENES THE GOAT, Scott Imes Award winner for 2017!

Continue reading “My GPS Winning Entry!”

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ANNOUNCEMENT!!!

This is something I’ve been waiting a long while to celebrate, and since it’s actually also the week of my birthday, this is the time!

I am OFFICIALLY an award-winning author!!!

Back in the spring, I entered a local writing contest run by the Geek Partnership Society, which is a fantastic alliance of geeks and geekdom in the Twin Cities.  I had dithered about what kind of story to write for them and actually started two different works, but ultimately settled on “Diogenes the Goat.”  And I won!

I actually won the Scott Imes Award, which is an extra special honor given that it is named for one of the great patrons of science fiction and fantasy literature in the area.  To win the contest was one thing, but to be granted an award naming someone that geeks in the area almost unanimously revere is something else.

My story will be posted here for those who wish to read it or enter the contest themselves.

Now that I’ve got this contest under my belt, I guess it’s time to see what I can do about publishing the next.  But now, when I query a novel or submit a short story to a magazine, I get to be “K.M. Clantoren, winner of the Scott Imes Award.”

I have no words but thanks.   And YAY!!!!!!!

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Happy Eclipse Day!

I did get a neat picture with my phone during the eclipse — the clouds parted just in time:

I wanted to say, for those 6 people who read this site, that I’m sorry for not posting and I’m sorry for spamming all the backdated stuff.  This is nearly the last of it.  See, I realized at some point that my lack of posting was actually making it harder to post, and it went around and around until even considering typing out an entry was overwhelming.  So the only way to get through it, I decided, was to sit down and remedy the whole situation all at once before I could talk myself out of it, and then I wouldn’t have a great 3-month void to contend against going forward.

Writing this year has been hard.  I’ve done well in bursts, but not well overall.  I can finish short works, or I can alternate between works, but sustaining writing has been tough.  In July I started another original novel, but I gave it up a week or two ago and put it on the back burner.  However, that decision did seem to help and I’ve written more consistently since then, working on a short fanfic novel.

I also stepped away from Twitter for the same duration of time I stepped away from this blog.  There was just too MUCH there.  Too much anxiety, too much ugliness.  And I couldn’t balance the world on my shoulders while stumbling over marbles, so I put the marbles away to focus on the weight that really mattered.  It helped.  My anxiety and my distraction-prone lack of focus decreased significantly.

I’m back to the blog now, and I hope to keep at it.  I’m back to Twitter only in bursts when I really feel like I can keep it compartmentalized and away from the rest of my head.  But the writing will always come first.  And if it’s a choice between writing a chapter and writing a blog entry, the chapter will win every single time.

Still, I’ll try to do better.

This whole year has felt like an eclipse, like there’s just a deep shadow that blocks out light and energy and everything else.  Maybe it’s temporary, and then we get some light back, but those moments of darkness feel endless.

Art is my lantern, keeping the warmth and light alive until the shadow passes over.

Time to light the lantern once more.

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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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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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