I’ll Hold You To That

The title was something someone said to me when I confirmed I’d hopefully be able to update them on a project towards the end of the week. I don’t know if it can be considered innocuous or if I’m just stressed, but it really pissed me off. Probably unnecessarily so. I’m working pretty hard at the moment (although I’m not sure I’m able to say specifically in what capacity), doing a lot of things for other people, and for one that I’ve already been helping both automatically and at their request to say that felt… like a kick up the arse, but not in an encouraging way that I normally appreciate. There’s a group of around a dozen people I’m working with/for, a lot of whom I haven’t been able to touch specifically because I’m working on projects for both this person and someone else. It just jades me when I felt I had started to get on top of things.

I guess you can always do more. But it’s not like I don’t have my own stuff that I really want to finish. I’m a little over a third of the way through Fracture’s edits, and there’s some amazing cover artwork for it that’s coming on really well that I’m desperate to show everyone. And even aside all that, I have an enormous laundry list of projects that I want to finish in my lifetime one way or another.

I actually have a pillow on my desk for this very purpose

I actually have a pillow on my desk for this very purpose

My Wish List

This one’s a little flipped round, because this is a wish list of things that come from me, not to me from others. This is what I have in my head at any give time, for all the projects I want to do. This might explain why it annoyed me so much.

Writing

In the Resonance Tetralogy
Fracture (in edits)
Ruin’s Dawn (started)
Resonance End (plotting)
Spiritus Ex (plotting)

In The Song Chronicle of Thera (Steampunk series)
Firesong: Ballad of Phoenix the Blade (started)
Moonsong: Fugitive of the Snow
Therasong: Heart of the World

In Clandestine
Book One: Protectors
Book Two: Shieldbreaker
Book Three: Tears

Other writing projects
Fantasy Stereotype High School (plotted)
Aeterno (plotted)
Foundation (plotted)
If You Think That’s Hell, You Should Try Working Here (plotted)
The Story of Phoenix the Mechanical Werewolf and Tohru the Electric Corgi: A Steampunk Children’s Tale (drafted, published on Tumblr; would like to get illustrated some day)

Being even half this productive would be great right now

Being even half this productive would be great right now

Costume Projects
Rocket Raccoon (2-3 outfits)
Steampunk Werewolf Mk III (because two isn’t enough punishment for me, apparently. It’s just the head, though. Probably)
Pangolin Fursuit
Mega Lucario
Yugo (from Wakfu)
Mystogan (I swear if it doesn’t work this time I’m going to kill you, you bastard)

Miscellaneous
Voice acting projects, auditions are always ongoing). I’ve been really lucky to be involved with some great productions so far, not least of which includes guest narration of episode 484 of the fantastic Escape Pod podcast. My episode is called That Tear Problem, by Natalia Theadoridou, and you can listen to it here
I have ideas for various comedy podcasts that I haven’t even been able to plan yet, but they’re a distant second to every other item on this list at the moment.

And this doesn’t even mention the stuff I do for work. How hard I work will determine what I get paid. I order for this to be sustaining, I need to dedicate time to my work, or I lose the opportunity to take time to work on what I want to.

In terms of deadlines, only one of these has a specific time limit aside from my work work, and that’s the Rocket Raccoon costume, which I want to get done for Animazement at the end of May. Fracture, unfortunately, while I will get the edits done as soon as I can, may sit impatiently for its release window, as my publishers are fully booked for this year’s novel releases. Small presses have immense respect for artistic integrity, and there’s nobody I would trust more than Inspired Quill with handling my books, but unfortunately it’s partly the nature of the beast that you can only manage a certain number of releases per year until you can widen your foundations. I have always wanted to keep my books affordable and if I self-published it, I’d be forced to charge a fairly unreasonable minimum price to get a markup that would earn me a living.

Pictured: current events

Pictured: current events

So while I know I’m not always great at keeping with things, it’s not like I’m being lazy. Please don’t accuse me of that. If I’m TRULY not doing anything, I’ll have to convince myself that I might actually deserve it, even just for a little while.

Because if there’s one person who has always told me ‘I’ll hold you to that,’ and unforgivably so, it’s me.

Endings and Beginnings

It’s been a while since I last posted in here, and there I was thinking that I’d turned over a new leaf in productivity.

Well, I have now!

Fracture’s manuscript is finally finished. It needs editing and it’s a little shorter than Legacy so far, but there’s a lot in there. I hope I can do justice to all the great comments people have been sending my way. Thank you again for all your encouragement. It means the world to me.

To give some background as to what I’ve been up to and why this is ACTUALLY different: I quit my full-time job to write; specifically to finish up the Resonance Tetralogy and dedicate myself more to my passions and try to make them part of my living. They’ve been in my head and part of my dreams for such a long time. I couldn’t take having to restrict myself from them any longer. I’ve been very lucky to be supported in this, and I will try my hardest to get everything finished quickly. I think I’ll have a much greater incentive to do that from now on. No distractions, no excuses. Except cosplay, but that won’t take over my life so extensively. I swear.

funny-anime-girl1

This happens a lot when I’m writing. Or making costumes. Just generally.

So, what happens now?

I write. Passionately and extensively. I’ll also pepper this blog with updates so everyone can know what I’m up to and what the status of the book is, where you can get it from, and various other things I’m doing either in conjunction with Resonance or separate from it. This’ll mainly stay a creative blog though. But I’m always happy to answer questions, and if something is of particular interest to me I’ll make an article out of it. I’m looking forward to that.

Plus there's that real world crap to catch up with. Ugh.

Plus there’s that real world bollocks to catch up with. Ugh, I’m so behind.

So, as a teaser for the next few weeks/months… you guys like artwork, right?

Cool.

I will be pre-emtively excited while dropping infuriating hints, to you all, bwahaha.

I will be pre-emptively overexcited while dropping infuriating hints to you all, bwahaha.

 

Inspiring Teens Blog Hop Interview

Back in October last year, I was asked to participate in the Inspiring Teens Blog Hop, a multi-blog extravaganza of author interviews and book discussions organised by Greta Burroughs aiming to encourage teens to read. Unfortunately the site my interview was hosted at is no longer working, but I enjoyed the opportunity to take part very much. It meant a great deal to be able to discuss my passion and share my work, so I saved a copy of the interview, and here it is:

Inspiring Teens Blog Hop interview (Originally hosted by Kate Bainbridge on read2review.com)

1. Reading

Why do you think Teen Read Week is important?

Reading is such an important tool- more than being a basic life skill in communication, it opens you up to such wonderful worlds of creativity that, today, can be so easy to avoid through computers, TV, games, and everything else that encourages a simpler, more graphic interaction. It goes without saying that everyone needs to read just to keep on top of things on a daily basis, but particularly the opportunity and ability to read books is such a rich and rewarding experience that nobody should miss out on.  I’d have so much less of myself now if I hadn’t read when I was younger, and I’m always grateful for the amount of self-development and inspiration I gained from books.

How do you think we could encourage youngsters to read more?

I think giving them something, be it a story or a character, that inspires them will make the biggest difference. You only need to look at the success of a series like Twilight to see how many young women were dreaming of a ‘perfect’ guy to fall in love with- as much as tastes differ, you can’t argue with the power of that inspiration even on a basic level. I’d challenge anyone who read Harry Potter who didn’t at some point during their journey want to be a wizard. There has to be a fantasy, an escape, an adventure, or something, that really speaks to them. But you need variety. If you don’t like vampires (like me), being sat in front of the teen paranormal section in a bookshop isn’t going to encourage you to read anything. I get frustrated with the prevalence of fads in fiction that essentially restrict the creative outlet for audiences. So there has to be something, even a single book, that lights a fire within and makes you want to dive straight into that universe.

When you were a teenager what books did you like to read and did you have an all-time favourite character?

I loved fantasy and adventure books. The ones I read time and again were The Deptford Mice trilogy by Robin Jarvis, particularly the first book- The Dark Portal. Mr. Jarvis was a major influence on my imagination and writing style; I was about six or seven at the time and even though I’d read books like Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series, it wasn’t until I read The Dark Portal that I found such deep inspiration. I devoured that trilogy and the Deptford Histories books that came afterwards. Thomas Triton was my favourite character throughout it all- a mouse who lived on the Cutty Sark with a needle for a sword (I was also obsessed with fencing and sword fighting, you see). My friends all liked the characters who were supposed to be around our ages, and Thomas was much older, but it didn’t bother me to pretend to be him when running around the playground or at home. He was just that cool to me. I went bananas when he had a whole book devoted to him in the Histories series.

2. Writing

Were you writing as a teenager? If so, what were you writing and what inspired you? Did a person inspire you to write?

When I was about two or three my older sister would write and illustrate simple stories for me when I was upset, or just because she loved art.  Somewhere I think there’s still a half-finished story about a fox in a cage that she began for me! So I’d been exposed to storytelling and shaping dramatic narrative for as long as I can remember. But I played around with stories with my various toys from a very young age as well. I’d get frustrated when a favourite character of mine in a TV show was ousted for the show’s star- a lot of 80’s and early 90’s cartoons had the one singular hero who did everything and the secondary characters were essentially cheerleaders for the most part aside from their obligatory one-episode-per-season showcase, and my issue was that I often preferred the secondary characters. So in my games I’d make sure all of the characters had a role, and that continued into my first ‘serious’ writing when I was about thirteen and started on fanfiction. Essentially if I wasn’t happy with how a show or book I was into was going, I’d invent my own, and from that, once I learned the basis of a story and how to create a unique world, I began developing my own original ideas.

My biggest non-book inspiration was probably the TV series The Mysterious Cities of Gold, which still has a profound effect on me when I hear the music or see any clips. I take huge inspiration from music, and my collection of orchestral scores is vast and varied. I have anime, video game, movie soundtracks and will swipe whatever songs inspire me even if I’ve never heard of the band before.

Do you think today’s teens are in a better position if they want to be a writer than you were all those years ago (hee hee)?

Definitely. I think the potential for imagination has always been there, but there’s such a rich library of creativity to take from nowadays that there’s no reason for anyone not to be inspired. And you can be inspired by anything- movies, music, TV, video games, books; it doesn’t have to be just written down. I feel like I read far less than most other writers I know, but it hasn’t curbed my imagination or ability to write. When I told people that I wanted to be a writer and subsequently revealed that I hadn’t read Lord of the Rings, they were shocked, as if I was supposed to be physically unable to write fantasy until I had. I still haven’t, by the way, and I don’t regret that- I don’t need it, and nobody that knows you should tell you what you can and can’t study for inspiration. The amount of resources and support available to writers now is incredible- there’s nothing that should hold you back if you want to try.

What advice would you give a youngster who enjoys writing?

Watch intently, listen carefully, and don’t be afraid to question anything in front of you. Encourage yourself to enjoy something fully, and if you don’t then ask yourself why and break down what you would have done differently. Think about how that would change the outcome, and plan it out from there. You can even work backwards: think about something you’d like to see happen in the series/show/book/whatever, and decide how you’d begin that plotline. I’d encourage anyone to write fanfiction if they want to. It’s an easy way to get started with story construction and character creation, and you can change story elements at will without worrying hugely about your basic setting. It’s a sandbox environment for writing, and a great development tool. One thing that helped me, is, when watching TV shows or movies, or playing games, is to always have the subtitles on. It a great tool for reading dialogue and ‘seeing’ how it’s constructed instead of just hearing it.

3. Your books

What is your latest book about?

My latest book is Legacy, the first in a series of four books (collectively called The Resonance Tetralogy) set in a fantasy world, Eeres. Much like The Deptford Mice trilogy and the Redwall books, the characters are anthropomorphic animal species. Here’s the blurb for you:

“Her power is unmeasured. Her abilities untested. Her destiny inescapable.

Faria Phiraco is a resonator, a manipulator of the elements via rare crystals. It is an extraordinary and secret power which she and her father, the Emperor of Xayall, guard with their lives.

The Dhraka, malicious red-scaled dragons, have discovered an ancient artefact; a mysterious relic from the mythical, aeons-lost city of Nazreal. With their plan already set in motion, they besiege Xayall, pummelling the city to find Faria and rip more of Nazreal’s secrets from her.

When her father goes missing, Faria has to rely on her own strength to brave the world that attacks her at every turn. Friends and guardians rally by her to help save her father and reveal the mysteries of the ruined city, while the dark legacy of an ancient cataclysm wraps its claws around her fate… and her past. She soon realises that this is not the beginning, nor anywhere near the end. A titanic war spanning thousands of years unfolds around her, one that could yet cost the lives of everyone on Eeres.”

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

Currently I’m working on Legacy’s second and third sequel novels, Fracture and Ruin’s Dawn, and a trilogy of Steampunk books called The Song Chronicle of Thera, set in a world where geothermal energy can be harnessed to give mechanically-augmented warriors extraordinary power, and the incredible battles fought to protect the world from total destruction.

And there are about seven other stories all trying to get out of my head too. Writing just one or two at a time is very difficult when there aren’t enough hours in the day.

What do you love about being an author?

Your imagination is completely free. You have license to create anything in your head that you want to. You want a talking cake? Done. Evil guinea pig from another world? No problem. A cursed, blood-sucking pen that traps its users’ souls forever in paper? Sure. Anything is yours to create, and it’s a wonderful feeling. You’d be amazed how liberating it is to have a story before you, however long it is, and know that you created that entire world. You begin to see worlds behind and within other worlds, and even in reality you see so much more than face value. Everything becomes richer, deeper, and all of the things that inspired you before become that much more enjoyable for knowing how they’ve affected you. The absolute best part, though, is when people start telling you how your work inspired them in turn, and, unprompted, start linking your work back to your original inspiration, or something else that inspires them too, something new to you that helps open a completely new facet to your world. That is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, and I hope to create many more.

TRUKK NOT MUNKY Omnibus: Parts 2 and 3

Well… almost exactly three years since my last post is atrocious, and while I could say ‘life’ is my excuse, part of my life has always been writing, so unfortunately that ‘life’ section has been devoid of one of my major passions for the most part. Oh, except…

LEGACY WAS PUBLISHED IN PAPERBACK OH GOOD LORD.

This is definitely an announcement I should have made at the time, but things were crazy busy. Inspired Quill Publishing took me up, mostly thanks to the amazing communicative skills and passion of the editor-in-chief Sara-Jayne Slack, who deserves amazing props for the business she’s masterminding. I have a real respect and awe for her work and the publisher’s mission, which, after having vowed to only self-publish, is why I have dedicated my loyalty and writing to their front lines.

Now I need to dedicate myself a little more *pulls socks up, but not too high because it’s hot and humid here*

This is the Amazon.com paperback link. It’s re-edited, reformatted, and reinvigorated me to no end. The new edition is also available on Kindle, and both separately from the Amazon UK store too.

So, in the spirit of reinvention and improving efforts to fulfil my passions, I’m actually writing a blog post, something which has been on my to-do list for the aforementioned three years. It’s a long time to have a psychological debate sitting in your head, and I’m hoping that getting it out will make room for more creative endeavours. Like finishing Fracture, which is almost four years in the making.

But it is almost done already. The first draft, anyway.

TRUKK NOT MUNKY Part 2: Steampunk

Steampunk is kind of the British Empire of fandoms. It’s invasive; it can be considered elitist to outsiders; it’s silly in a posh sort of way; it’s difficult to explain to someone who has no idea what it’s like, and it can make everything more versatile with the addition of its unique but varied accents. I’m not considering that anyone currently reading the blog doesn’t know what Steampunk is, but the most succinct definition I can give is: a genre of science-fiction (or fantasy) as seen from a Victorian or pre-Victorian point of view, typically embellished with steam power, clockwork and brass.

To recap from the last entry, the first experience I had Steampunking was at one of the London Expos and I received compliments about my costume, and in some of the same breaths, disparaging comments about furries. I’ve been trying to come to terms with where I am in the fandoms and wondering how safe it is to have feet planted firmly in both whilst not associating with the elements I’m not personally comfortable with in either.

I’m glad to have had more experience in fandoms since then, and for me, this has developed into an entirely different argument than what I was expecting over the last three years.

The experiences I’ve had with Steampunk have been excellent, mainly. The fans are passionate, silly, and incredibly talented (which, admittedly, is where I considered some of the elitism to be simply because some of the costumes require such intricate mechanics and constructive processes. This is also the case with furries though- I could never make a fursuit as amazing as some of the ones I’ve seen online, and nor could I make a decent, working hydraulic thingummy that lights up a la Hellboy II like other Steampunks have). Part of the launch parade for Legacy involved sitting at the Inspired Quill table with my book at the Lincoln Asylum, a city-wide Steampunk convention in northern England which has a reputation as one of the best Steampunk events to go to in Eurpoe. I was really nervous. My book has Steampunk elements to it (Tierenan, for one, and the Gargantua for another), but ostensibly it’s a fantasy, and a furry fantasy. I was terrified that I’d be getting stink eyes from everyone who passed and was ready for a real fight if someone decided to get bitchy, so I steeled myself and stayed determined to have a good time despite my misgivings.

Welcome to the Asylum… Oh, it’s you.

It’s a self-compounding issue with paranoia that it heightens your sensitivity to expressions and actions that may mean nothing at all if you were completely calm. You can’t be objective, and, in your mind, everyone sways between either consciously ignoring you or talking about you out of sight, when in reality you probably barely even registered on their radar. A large part of my time was spent smiling at people and making general happy comments, and directing people to my fellow author Craig Hallam‘s Steampunk book Greaveburn, as, you know, Steampunk.

Having said that, I tried hard not to act on my assumptions that I’d be chased out of town with a variety of interesting, ornate, and fragile weapons and fought myself into accepting my book as a fantasy that people can enjoy as genre fantasy. I can be proud to tell people it’s not got any sex in it, and no, not all furry stuff is like that anyway. True enough, there were people looking at it with genuine interest. They’d pick up the book and read the blurb and nod and smile, and I sold a few too. There was one lady who came round about three times trying to decide on it, eventually picking it up at the end of the weekend. The people who bought it looked genuinely interested and passionate, and it was a wonderful feeling.

Inevitably, I did come across those moments I’d been fearing, although they were more subtle and sparse than I had anticipated. There was a man with his family who picked it up and said he didn’t like ‘furry stuff’. I told him that I never wrote sex because I found it objectionable, especially in young adult fiction, but he was still fairly dismissive of it even though his daughter seemed to like the artwork. There were people who raised eyebrows, and at least one who made a comment along the lines of ‘Hah, no!’ when he saw it. Recently, utterances like that really frustrate me, to criticise someone’s passion like that. Even if it had been The Furry’s Ultimate Book of Disgusting Porny Porn, someone really cares about that and its freedom of expression. I wouldn’t ever buy it, but I also wouldn’t scorn the author who wrote it or the fans who’d pick it up.

We’re All Mad Here

Moving back to the States, and the subsequent ability to sell my book to coworkers, and discuss my stories in interviews, has helped boost confidence in my abilities, my passion, and my stories to the point where I’ve met more people on both Steampunk and Furry sides who share the same passions, and actually, I’m beginning to see less of a difference between fandoms, and more between individuals. Everyone has their own standpoints on infinite issues, and while people who gravitate towards certain interests may have certain personality traits, there’s no uniformity across any of it.

When I started this blog rant, I was assuming there would only be aesthetic differences between the two, but considering the mindsets, that it would be a hard slog trying to bring two fandoms together in a weird niche market. But as Furry and Steampunk are colours that any genre can be painted with, the potential already exists. There’s probably more Steampunk in Furry art than the other way round, currently, but Steampunk is a technological tweak rather than a fantasy race, so lends itself more to the accessory than the subject. But overall, five things came to mind:

Prejudice is universal. Across all fandoms, people will be prejudiced against others, with no necessary indication or reason. And with prejudice comes conflict. This can be curbed through meaningful and respectful discussion.

Sexuality is universal. Arguing that furries are more sexually inclined than other fandoms is incorrect. The sexualisation in anime, movies, and comics is rampant, but major publications keep things barely within the modesty line for it to be acceptable. And it’s humans, so that means it’s normal, right? Right.

(Sexism is a whole ‘nuther rant, by the way, and one I’ve become very passionate about recently)

Creativity is universal. It knows no boundaries. Mash-ups are awesome.

Passion is universal. In every fandom you will find someone for whom this is the best thing in the world, bar none. There will be no greater thrill or love for them.

Acceptance is universal. Among the minefield of treading your dreams, there’ll be people who’ve never heard of you or your interests who’ll still be blown away by the scope of your accomplishments, or at the very least, give you all the encouragement in the world, simply because they know they have the same level desires that you do, even for something completely unknown to you.

I learnt a lot over three years.

Literary Revolution, Anyone?

Well, I had the full intention of posting my Dystopias discussion piece… only to find that I’d already done it back in June. Good Lord, I’m out of touch. Bleh.

So anyway… If I’m honest I’m not really happy with how I’ve written my last two blog posts, if only because I’ve written them out of self-created necessity rather than a true honesty. It doesn’t feel like my voice, and it’s kind of a violation. Given the past few months’ stressors and circumstances, I’ve not felt I can truly relax into myself for a long time and it does have a profound effect on my writing. Well, as far as I see it, anyway; someone who doesn’t know me might not see the difference. The upshot is that I’m going to try and write in a more honest voice from now on. My writing is what I’d want an audience to appreciate me for as a writer, and I can’t expect them to commit to something that isn’t truthful. I’ve always believed in honesty, and I stand by that. Thus, without further ado:

Jamie Oliver Lives In Us All

My wife and I have been engrossed (and sometimes grossed-out) by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution series, both in West Virginia and Hollywood incarnations. And I really feel for him, as a writer. Watching him try to change the processes of a huge, sometimes tyrannical industry really makes me draw parallels with getting a book published. In the same way that cooking your own food at home is fine if you’re only sharing it amongst your family, so you can write a book just for yourself. But if you really believe in it, and you know somewhere along the line that your food is in some part worthy of being shared elsewhere, why does the industry insist on creating so many mass-market, generic meals which fall apart under scrutiny, especially when people ask for better?
The biggest reason, arguably, is money. It takes far less money to produce something already on the shelves than invest in a new creation. And anyone can swear blind they know what people want because ‘there’s proof it sells’. Of course it will sell if that’s the only thing available. Clothing fashions are in large part dictated by a select few designers, who then pump out designs and collections to major retailers, and they’re bought because they’re there; the savvy shoppers know to pick up on stuff earliest to get ahead of the game. It amazes me the qualities of people who can buy something new simply because it’s available rather than because they actually want it. Maybe there’s some instinctive hoarding behaviour to be capitalised on as a writer…
But anyway, it irritates me to think people look at a pre-published book and say ‘I’m not picking it up because it hasn’t sold anything yet’, especially if it’s a debut author with no other works. To give credit where it’s worth, though, an agent has to have complete faith in your work, and if they don’t like it, then it’s either personal preference on their part or you might need to do some editing. I’d be lying if I said I was fed up of editing, and feel a little daunted by the idea of writing something else just yet even though I should resign myself to doing so. I’d hoped for more success, I suppose, but you can never tell what’s going to happen, and I’m running away from the point a little.
I don’t mind so much judgements based on the writing; an agent/publisher shouldn’t knowingly be investing time in a poor writer (ptchh, as if that ever happens…). But I do take greater objection to being told a story isn’t unique enough, when publishers can be guilty of generating profit from more of the same stuff that’s already on the shelves. I know a market has to be taken advantage of, but short of endlessly publishing repeat copies of the same book, everything will be different. A quote of Philip Pullman’s has stuck in my mind ever since I read it:
“I don’t believe that it’s the writer’s job to respond to some vague idea about what readers want. Readers don’t know what they want until they see what you can offer. Nowadays, we’re told, they’re all asking for the next Harry Potter, but no-one ever asked for the first Harry Potter. It took JK Rowling to think of him before people realised that this was something they might like to read. The writer and the idea always come first, and are always the most important thing.” -Quote from a book about self-publishing that I don’t actually remember; I just have the quote. It was a good book though, if anyone recognises it >.>;
So with this in mind it begs the question: If people have read a book, enjoy it, and have proven to spend money on it, why isn’t it worth taking a chance?
I understand the need for publishers to be selective. A company that took on every author that applied would go bust very quickly, and an agent that did that same would explode all over their office, leaving a greater slush pile than the one sat on their inbox. How much proof is proof enough, though? It’s unfortunate that you can’t just open your brain and show them what the ideas are that fit in your head, and the more I write the greater the part of me is that says I just need to shut up, deal with it, write more and write better. I hope I’m not the only writer who gets jealous reading about other people’s successes, though. The article about the first Kindle author to sell over 1,000,000 copies was in equal parts inspiring and kinda depressing to see how much extra I have yet to do and worry about how much time I’ve lost, and, I suppose in a weird way worry about if I’m already too late for someone to have such a similar idea to mine that it’s not worth bothering.
People who walk straight into publishing deals have no idea how lucky they are. They’re probably very few and far between, to be fair, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that there’s someone just getting a default position somewhere. And it’s stupid to think like that, but at the same time I see travesties of literature appearing like Snooki’s… and I know no matter what I write, I’m at least better than that. I don’t even need any reviews to know that.
So apart from Jamie’s diligence in transforming kids’ health around the world and the stellar job he’s done in raising awareness of food nutrition, hygiene and preparation, seeing him run up against brick wall after brick wall by people in a position of complacency really struck a chord. There are a lot of differences between Jamie’s situation and that of every struggling self-published author; principally that there’s only one of him and millions of collective ‘ones’ around the world. But I have to view the impenetrability of the publishing world as the same stonewalling that Jamie received, albeit that publishers aren’t generally doing it out of fear or dubiety. It is hard not to take it personally, though.

Next Post- TRUKK NOT MUNKY: Steampunk hates Furry?

Why So Serious? Dystopias and Post-Apocalyptica

There are many warnings of human greed or knee-jerk nuclear wars that leave the world in ruinous dust. If I’m honest, it doesn’t make the future much to look forward to. Where’s the hope gone?
Freedom of information can be a dangerous thing when it demonstrates the cracks in your world’s safety. A whole wealth of information about recession, government corruption, climate change, drug statistics and a million other things can make you believe the Earth’s a lost cause. Anything can kill you, or threaten to unseat civilization as we know it (especially according to the Daily Mail).  You begin to wonder what the point is. A story that runs over and smacks you round the head screaming ‘WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!’ won’t help; more likely make you curl into a ball and mutter yourself into a safer existence.
I don’t believe in being bleak. A favourite line of mine in the Glee episode ‘Born This Way’ is when Emma is seeing a psychiatrist for her OCD, and, being in denial, she says that it’s part of her and she was just born that way. The psychiatrist retorts: “You’re a guidance counselor. If a student came to you and said ‘I have diabetes,’ would you give them insulin, or tell them ‘that’s who you are supposed to be’?” That’s generally how I feel about hopeless visions of the future.
Not only can dystopias/post apocalyptic worlds be ultimately dingy and depressing (everything looks like rust, even the plants), too often they convey the wrong message about how to avoid them. I want to feel good about the effort I’m supposed to make, rather than chastised for doing nothing. I dislike the endless charity adverts that show lingering pictures of crying children or abandoned dogs, not because I don’t care, but because it dejects me into hopelessness (they’re also overdone, clichéd and ridiculously overstuffed with schmaltzy guilt-trip). Generally, unless I find a cause that I identify with and believe can make a difference, I feel more compelled to give out of guilt than by reasoning, and it disturbs me that the rationalisation seems to be lost- even giving to charities I know nothing about just out of guilty admonishment. And it’s not a true acceptance of the change I’m making, it’s just not wanting to have my ear pulled about it.
Frightening or saddening children with scary and depressing stories might work, but when you’re adult enough to reason, you need a much stronger explanation as to why it makes a difference. You also need to show that it’s easier than people think. The complicated terms that adults think in make decisions a lot harder, especially if they require considerable effort to put into practice. For kids, it’s a no-brainer: something’s wrong, so fix it. If a TV series or book is good, make more. Candid interviews with kids are amazing to watch for the innocent simplicity of their answers.
The Problem With ‘Pocalypses
So how do you address a serious issue, maintaining the gravity of the situation and rally people to a cause at the same time? Hope. There has to be that moment that suggests things are going to turn around. That’s what people respond to. Depression nurtures introversion, which doesn’t necessarily equate to benefaction. Happiness, or hope at the least, creates extroversion through positive reinforcement and inspires motivation, communication, and the idea that helping others and using your voice to express a concern is the right thing to do. It’s at least partly why people turn to acts of charity after a bereavement- they find hope, and the desire to see others survive perpetuates it.
Dystopias and post-apocalyptica make good settings for video games for this very reason- your purpose, as protagonist, is to make the world better. Whether for yourself or otherwise, the purpose and meaning behind your quest would be pointless if you got to the end and found out that all your work was undone. You have to feel like you’re making a difference, and that requires reward for all your work. That’s why the end of Half-Life 2 was so damn annoying, as you didn’t even get to see the payoff (at the time, anyway).
While dystopias preserve more of a functional level of society, at least superficially, they’re just as bleak at times- we’re all alive and doing well but vampires, or mutated, or have lost all vestiges of our humanity. Great. It still serves as a warning, especially in books like Brave New World by Adolus Huxley, but the fact that we devolve into deranged, sex-crazed drug addicts at the slightest excitement doesn’t exactly fill you with inspiration. Or it might, if sex and free-will eliminating drugs are on your to-do list.
I Am Legend (the book), then, treads a really unique middle path, where what begins as twilight for humanity becomes dawn for another kind of existence, and the balance is re-struck, albeit at the expense of everything we know. And through the horror of the end of the human race you see the justification of it in the eyes of Earth’s new inhabitants whose civilisation actually becomes the better path for the world. There’s a twisted kind of hope, but if you’ve been cheering for the protagonist it leaves you in complete shock. So that’s not an ideal example.
Brave New World’s contemporary, Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm, bears similarities but has the greater promise of something good coming by the end of it. We’re not the same, but somehow better. While at the beginning the human race is ending and struggling to come to terms with inevitable extinction, cloning technology enables more generations to be constructed, and groups can be assigned specific purposes according to specialised genetic structures. These clones at first cannot exist without the confines of company created for them, but as ‘isolation’ sets in, they begin to discover what had made humans ‘human’ before them, and it in equal part inspires and terrifies them. The terror of silence means they aim to, essentially, eliminate individuality and free will from all members of their race. By the end, it’s clear that while you may ‘create’ a human for a specific purpose, it is doomed to extinction without these differences and idiosyncrasies that enable free, unrestricted thinking. The human race effectively dies out, but is reborn a few short generations later by virtue of its own recessive genetic memory. And even in a near-barren world, life grows, and the scars of the world fade.
Planting the Seeds of the Future
The thing is, what makes the story compelling to follow is the idea that things can change; you root for good winning out over evil. That works even if you hate the protagonist- you follow the story for the characters you like. Yes, create the jeopardy and ruin the world, but save it afterwards if you want to make people feel like saving it was the right thing to happen.
But if something’s completely hopeless and laden with guilt, my motivation disappears entirely, and I don’t want to invest emotionally in a situation that makes me feel bad every time I think about it. People are drawn to making the changes that are productive, both selfishly and through altruism. It’s the same reason you don’t give a homeless man a huge sum of money knowing he’ll spend it on drugs or Crocs shoes.
The post-apocalyptic story I want to talk about most, probably my favourite, is Shade’s Children by Garth Nix. This is one of the better adventures which maintains equal desperation and hope throughout. It’s not sappy, far from it- the characters have to work every step of the way to secure even the smallest victory and escape with their lives. They experience horror and huge losses, but never stop moving towards a goal that ultimately reshapes the altered world they’ve known for years.  It’s an incredible book, and it made me want to fight alongside the characters all the way, even after the end. It’s not been through human error that the world’s been all but destroyed, though, so that’s a fundamental difference. But the establishment of a terrifying hierarchy rings true whether it’s a dystopia or otherwise; something that, while maintaining power, works consciously or unconsciously to destroy everything beneath it.

A good book isn’t one that patronises and tells you all the way through that it’ll be all right. Sugar-coating the reality of the work involved or the dangers of complacency is equally as fruitless, not least because it’s false (and generally boring). But you should still necessitate the idea that justice can continue, because that’s ultimately what makes any sacrifice worth the price. I’m always fascinated by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution as an example. Not that Los Angeles is a dystopia just now, though. Maybe.

That’s not to say stories can’t be bleak. I wrote a couple of Animatrix fanfictions that were dark and didn’t end well, and I enjoyed them as much as anything else I’ve done. Each author should be free to build their story as they want, but I get fed up with being told how bad the world is and how little I have to look forward to. What a load of bull. Get out some and enjoy life. We’re not on fire yet.

UPCOMING POSTS:
Why I feel like Jamie Oliver
TRUKK NOT MUNKY: Steampunk hates Furry?
She-Man! Beefing up Women in Fantasy
Steampunk 101: How to be the Future We Never Had Yet

Werewolves vs Vampires vs Teenagers

I hated puberty. The insults, the isolation, the hormones, the mood swings, pretending to fit in for fear of being alone, and anger at nobody taking you seriously. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just a week, but this thing lasts around six years. There’s a lot to discover during puberty, and it’s not always great. I look back at it with a real trepidation, wondering how far I’ve actually moved from those swirling insecurities and the restless, adirectional meandering between friends and ambitions trying to find what my true dreams were.

There is a comfort in mystery during puberty though, to an extent. If I admitted it, I sometimes enjoyed hanging onto depressive feelings; they were my problems and nobody else’s grievances could take them away from me. It felt more satisfying to tell people that nothing was wrong even though I was lonely or jealous of everyone else’s girlfriends or just generally pissed off. Being able to tell people would suddenly devalue them, either by comparison or because helpful advice would solve them. For the most part I already knew they were fuelled by hormones or rather superficial situations, and at the time I didn’t want to lose that, because I wanted to have something larger to grasp onto in my life, something true to me. It’s an odd, almost detrimental selfishness, and given that puberty’s a whole swell of new, often quite dark or unfamiliar emotions it’s not hard to see why paranormal creatures of choice begin creeping into our minds as allegories for our own transformations.

I want to suck… 
Vampires are not my favourite cryptid, I’ll be blunt. I hated vampire films, books, tales, anything much to do with them. Even though I helped a friend write one. That was different.

I guess for my part they represented the more attention-seeking emotional lot that wandered around. I was definitely more goth-orientated when I was younger, not that I had the confidence to show it completely. Being more introverted myself, the goth friends I had who were into vampires always seemed to take what seemed like more than their fair share of the issues and attention that I wanted from those around me. They wore their feelings in their clothes- black, baggy, and hooded, as if trying to dress themselves in shadows and hide their insecurities. It’s a mask, and anyone can attest that the clothes you wear are a reflection of how you feel about yourself.

Perhaps it’s just personal bias, but I could see great parallels between the emotional state teenagers considered themselves to be in, and the aesthetics vampires seemed to provide. Sleeping habits are disrupted during puberty, and the excitement of staying out at night makes the prospect of activities in the dark (whatever they might be) far more exciting. A whole new fascination for life after 9:00 opens up once you’re old enough to start asking questions and challenging your own boundaries. As your emotions develop, you also start experiencing more of the bittersweetness of emotions, the idea that things can be both good and bad, and that both can exist almost constantly within one entity. Anti-heroes and even villains become opportunities to experience the darknesses of life and actually wallow in them for a time.
The fascination with blood comes hand in hand with a sense of adventure and adulthood. The link between both vampires and werewolves with the advent of periods is probably too obvious to go into; monthly transformations and free-flowing crimson is probably all the description you need to make the connection. But more than that, blood signifies danger, risk and assertion, and an irreversible pact with whatever spills it. I can remember fantasising about wanting to protect something so much that I would throw my life in front of it, and wanting to feel that heroism within me. It didn’t seem worth it without the spilling of blood, almost. And as a teenager, when you’re struggling to find a way to express your emotions to anyone, friends or relatives, the frustration can become so much that hurting yourself, drawing blood becomes a justifiable, almost enjoyable pain. I’ve only done it myself once (I pinched part of my skin between my fingernails; hardly substantial), and I’ll never do it again. But I understand the inescapable frustration, and with that the feeling that you know better what your feelings need to resolve themselves (usually someone being hurt or bumped off) and the ‘rage superiority’ that comes with being affronted. The idea that you could swoop down on someone of your choice in the night and suck out their life-force becomes immensely satisfying, and becomes an emotional quest for justice, whether it’s against you or vigilantism for a friend.
Werewolf Bar Mitzvah
For werewolves then, the emotions are similar, but the expression is subtly different. As anyone knows, werewolves are normal people about 95% of the time, but every full moon turn into hulking powerful creatures and go on a rampage. Where vampires are consistently dark and brooding creatures, werewolves have a greater deal of balance, at least until the rage quotient builds up enough that they explode in a fit of fur, muscle and poor special effects. Werewolves, then, are better at concealing their emotions and have a greater disguise than vampires, who have to be more overt about their nature simply because they have a fundamental disability to do otherwise. Turning into cat litter when you step into the sun makes you more obvious than someone who inexplicably disappears once every four weeks.
While vampire-archetype personalities might revel in the emotional turmoil they feel and mutually licking each other’s wounds (and thereby reinforcing the need for wounds to be greater), werewolf-types may well be embarrassed by it or feel they’re unworthy of those same emotions. I’d refrain from telling others about my issues because I believed theirs had greater merit or urgency, or that nobody would be interested anyway. But I still got angry. While a vampire has precision-killing abilities, the anger a werewolf feels is more omni-directional, a rage against many things leading to a situation rather than a single vendetta. There are definite parallels between both, though: the aspect of darkness and self-isolation, introversion, an injustice or imbalance against something the ‘creature’ holds close, and the idea of a hidden power that could unleash deadly force if provoked.
And, perhaps, coming to terms with a sense of loneliness. Puberty teaches us so much about emotions and how different we each are, so the longing to find someone who we can share ourselves with becomes hugely important. Everyone at some point will feel like a monster or a freak, and for some those feelings will last a lot longer than others. We’ll start to analyse what makes us different, and often there isn’t an answer, something that leaves us trying to create one rather than be left without an explanation. The idea of transforming one way or another into a deus ex machina that can tear all our problems apart and rid ourselves of the need to ask questions becomes very attractive.
“But… what am I?” “Over-reacting. Now piss off and get on with your work.”
I suppose it would boil down to what causes your angst and how you deal with it. The popular image of vampires of being dark, clad in leather and fiendishly strong is well-established in the media and will rarely fail to appease a budding pubescent with dreams of becoming equally impressive. Werewolves have far less to go on in media portrayals that aren’t dated or fairly crass, so their image remains more internal and personal. It’s easier to be a vampire not least because it ties in well with goth fashions and popular culture- you can see more clearly what you belong to. In return goth fashions embrace people who feel (or at least want to look) ‘abnormal’, and popular media enhances the ‘lone wolf’ image attached to it. Because a werewolf can look like anyone, you’re wandering without a pack a lot of the time. Unless you’re one of these spiritual therians, but… well… different strokes for different folks. I’m not judging.
It’s always interesting when the next vampire movie comes out what they’ve done to address the emotional perceptions that these characters have. To be honest I don’t think certain popular teenage franchises have done anything good for either race, and I always wonder why it is that werewolves come such a distant second in the race for screen-time. Van Helsing was a crap movie, but at least the werewolves didn’t look like the greasy, oversized rats of Underworld. Vampires get all the glory, in both good and evil, while werewolves seem to be the plight of the accidental and ugly. I guess majority perceptions of furries probably haven’t done any favours to appeal to the eyes of Hollywood (I like anthro characters, but too much sex, guys, seriously). But it still seems unfair when there’s an untapped mythos waiting to be unleashed. Vampires, for all their self-obsessed vanity, are dull and overplayed.
But maybe that’s my inner werewolf talking.