Bright Young Things

So I’m really into Wakfu now. For those who don’t know it, it’s a French animated series based on an MMORPG (or MMPORG, if you get the reference), and stars a young Eliatrope (being who can control portals) called Yugo. He’s awesome. He hadn’t been on the screen for more than a few seconds (well, after we saw him as a baby) and I’d already decided I had enough of an affinity with him to cosplay him in the future, because he’s that damn cool. He’s kind and optimistic and capable, and I’m actually a little blown away by how taken I am with him. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised though, because I am still dedicated to the Mysterious Cities of Gold series, and Esteban was full of exuberance and adventure and good will, even if he did tend to get himself into danger a lot. Naruto is a similar character, albeit a lot more outspoken and defiant (and rude). And the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series followed Aang, who had nothing but compassion for the world, and struggled to see it brought to peace, and was dedicated to making his friends happy and safe. He’s my favourite part of that three-series journey, as he leads it perfectly.

He puts the AANG in Prot-Aang-onist. Wait, let me try again...

He puts the AANG in Prot-Aang-onist. Wait, let me try again…

It just brings to mind the reactions people have had to Legacy; specifcally to Tierenan, the deuteragonist (of sorts) who travels with Faria and follows her adventure.

A Hero Who Didn’t Know He Was A Hero

Without exception, everyone who’s spoken and written to me about Legacy has told me how much they like Tierenan. He’s run away with my audience, heh. And he deserves it- he’s a very cool guy, and I don’t think any of the other characters would complain that he gets as much praise as he does. The weirdest thing to me is that he was the character I planned least. He just happened. I didn’t spend ages constructing a specific development arc for him within Legacy or honing his personality. He came as he was and fit in perfectly. I’m really grateful for that, because if I’d tried to write him, I probably would have ruined him.

And we all know how that turns out.

And we all know how that turns out.

The people who know me have said that he’s me, but I always saw myself as Alaris; not a main character, for one, and also more of a support role and a play-as-much-by-the-rules-as-possible sort of person. The more I think about it, though, the more I realise there’s more in Tierenan than I first anticipated, whether it’s reflective of me or not.

When I first wrote Legacy I kind of brushed him off as someone to fill in the gaps between Faria, who carries the main narrative, and Aeryn and Kyru, whose story I had been invested in since the very early concepts (even before any of them were animals). To a degree, I figured that what he said either wouldn’t matter or would be there as a commentary to prevent the whole thing from being too serious. I always wanted him to be likeable though, and not as artificial as a lot of obnoxious Disney comedy placeholders are. But through spending time with him, I think specifically because he wasn’t constrained by preconceived plot ideas, he took a shape of his own that reacted to the environment and the other characters. It really was a more natural progression for him, and I wasn’t even aware of it.

One thing remained constant, though: his unfaltering hope. I’ve always wanted my stories to be full of hope, and he is the sole character that carries it from the moment we meet him. I think people fall into the trap of making stories dismal or harrowing or unpleasant, especially for young adults, and they focus so much on the loss of innocence and certain cruel realities of the world for no reason other than to be evocative. It’s probably what irritates me most about the direction the Harry Potter series went in, especially in the final book. War begets casualties, of course, but stories are such an investment for the reader. Killing off everyone you care about (and not even giving them a final justification or battle scene) doesn’t make you fulfilled as an audience member. Personally, I find it very unsatisfying. Especially for young adults who’re about to make their mark on the world, they shouldn’t be discouraged from trying, or from dreaming big or wanting to protect or include everyone. There’s already so much cynicism in the world, and I think the ones who will change it need to be given hope. Not promises, but hope.

Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”- Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I’m really glad that Tierenan is liked so much. It’s humbling to me. I want to keep his light going in the rest of the books, and it would be an honour if he was talked about in the same way that Aang and Yugo and Esteban and Natsu and Groot are some day. And not just by me :p

We're on the fence about you, boy.

We’re on the fence about you, boy. Haven’t forgiven you for the weird plot developments.

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.

TRUKK NOT MUNKY Part 1: Furries

Welcome to the first of my three-part blog post about Steampunk and Furries, two very differently-perceived science-fiction and fantasy subgenres, both with large internet fanbases and not a great deal of exposure in the mainstream media. I’ll be doing some comparisons, and trying to break down with can make both of these seem somewhat… unapproachable at times to people unfamiliar with the cultures, and why they can seem to be at odds with each other.

To explain first, the title ‘TRUKK NOT MUNKY’ is an internet meme popular with Transformers fans (well, at least people familiar with the tfwiki), relating to the advent of the new Beast Wars series in which the principal character Optimus was incarnated as a gorilla rather than a lorry. It’s an argument that’s both supportive and derisive of people who object to change within a given mythos. A more elaborate explanation is given here: http://transformers.wikia.com/wiki/Trukk_not_munky

To give this some personal context, I was into Beast Wars before Transformers, and entered into a sort of retrospective fandom. I did own original Transformers (well, Generation 2, I think), but didn’t watch the series. I bought the animated movie after getting into Beast Wars and Beast Machines, which in my mind are actually better for character development and overall plot, setting, etc. So I get frustrated when people go on abusing things just because they’re different. Franchises (and fandoms, too) need to evolve or they become dead in the water and left behind, practised by gnarled, over-protective fans with a fear of moving on.

Incidentally, I adore the TF Wiki. And Shortpacked.

So this post stems from a debate I’ve been having with myself for some time. After I attended the London Expo back in… October 2009, I think it was, in my first Steampunk costume, I was looking around the Steampunk panel and so impressed a Steampunk artist that he drew me and my impossibly heavy weapons. We talked, and I was really excited that he liked my Phoenix, but then he dropped in something that really threw my perceptions of the fandom. He was admiring my saw, and asked me if I wanted to join them later, as they were going on a ‘furry hunt’, and followed with something mildly disparaging that I don’t really remember. returning home, and looking about on some Steampunk forums I noticed some hostility towards furries, and it kind of worried me. I don’t know whether that’s just the internet in general, mind you- being still a relatively fledgeling fandom, Steampunk is likely to generate hardened internet loyalists before anyone newer to such subcultures.

But still, having written Legacy, and continuing the tetralogy whilst creating my Steampunk series The Song Chronicle, is there a place for me in both fandoms, or will I end up being ignored by both? One is a fandom fixated with animals, the other with vintage technology. Can they mix? What creates the tension between them? This we shall examine…

Man’s Best Friend
I’ll admit, for having written Legacy I haven’t given much attention to furries in my blog posts here, and I’ve put myself at somewhat of an imposition trying to distance myself from the connotations that the word ‘furry’ carries with it. But how justified is the prejudice? How different is the internet subculture that seems to be vilified on the same level as criminals and the most perverse of Internet lurkers? Actually…

In brief, a ‘furry’ is a fan of anthropomorphic fiction, artwork, movies, costumes, music and/or individual characters- principally depicted by animals or animal-people, or, more loosely, people with animal characteristics. But be warned, there are key distinctions that people on either side would gladly take you to task for if you incorrectly categorised them. ‘Anthro’ and ‘Furry’ have a slight distinction in their definitions too, if only to serve to separate something considered more mature from the stigma of ‘Furry’ by itself. ‘Anthro’ is likely the correct term and ‘Furry’ is the adopted nickname. I actually see them as different myself, but I’m in a position where I want to make that distinction, so I can’t exactly be called unbiased.

Po-Ta-To, Po-Tah-To; Anthra-to…
So it’s a selfish distinction, but I think it’s an important one. To me, ‘anthro’ dictates something deliberately given anthropomorphism in a reality or story to distinguish them from humans. Examples to me include Watership Down, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Dogsbody and Warrior Cats. They’re still fantasy, but kind of… milder fantasy, I suppose, something not quite so heavily caricatured, and still within the context of a human world. They keep their basic animal physicality, for the most part. Which would make stories set in an entirely animal world, given personalities and physicalities (such as bipedalism, non-digitigrade legs, clothes and/or armour) ‘furry’. Like Redwall, and, um, Legacy. So I’ve kind of defeated my own logics there, but oh well. Maybe I should learn to embrace furry a little more and make more of it. Maybe at the same time I can be encouraged to break the mould of furry fandom and convince others it’s not all about the porn.

(NB: In researching my post, I came across an old but really interesting list of Furry Novels, where the books are separated into ‘Animals Acting Intelligently’, ‘Intelligent Animals’ and ‘Intelligent Animalmorphs’. It’s really interesting to see, and probably a more succinct description than I have, in all honesty. See it here.)

Essentially the terms are interchangeable. But it depends you as to how you want to address it, and the fans themselves as to how they want to be perceived. I’ve said before that I’m not a furry, and that’s true (even though I twice cosplayed as Tony Tony Chopper from One Piece), but I have talked to a fair few. They’re really nice for the most part, if sometimes shy, secretive and a little cliquey (considering the abuse they can get from wider society, it’s not surprising, really), and it’s a shame that the whole group gets vindicated because of the mire of porn that hangs around. It’s not as if anime was any different when that was breaking out. For a time ‘cartoons or animated porn’ were its only descriptors, but now it’s turned into a pretty well-rounded subculture and genre-crossing medium. And furry is the same- you have kids’ films like Kung Fu Panda or Robin Hood, and currently My Little Pony, and then… the internet. And very little inbetween, save for what small efforts computer games and anime make to generate interesting anthropomorphic characters.

Like any subculture, or culture as a whole, furry has its weirdos with obscure, sometimes disgusting fetishes and has a fair share of introverted, defensive spokespeople and antagonists who just look to hate on it for its differences. But anime is exactly the same, and so are other fandoms. Complaining about furry gay porn and then singing the praises of ‘artistic’ shonen-ai or yaoi (‘young boy’ and gay manga/anime respectively) is somewhat of a double-standard: no matter how it’s dressed up, porn is porn.

Having said that, I can understand some of the reasons why furry generates slightly more detractors.

It’s The Fuzz
Before we even get into the obvious divisions between perceived bestiality and ‘normal’ sexual tastes, there’s something more emotionally intrinsic within furries. Going back to my ‘Werewolves vs Vampires’ post, it seems like there’s an introversion more inherent in furry than other fandoms, and that for a number of reasons. If you’re looking at the characters themselves, they’re able to wear their ‘inner selves’ on their sleeves, as it were, because the animal becomes a representation of a particular psyche. Not only have you got the cultural and spiritual associations of the animal itself, but you have the natural aesthetics of the creature, and that creates self-confidence. Combine this with the ideas that instinctive behaviours become more acceptable to show in this form, and you have a fantasy to escape to.

Fair enough, this doesn’t go for all people- I’ve never had a ‘fursona’ and I’m sure a lot of people don’t. For me, I love the looks of the animals and enjoy creating variety in characters and story as a result- they’re visual (or literal) representations of the characters. But for others, it must be a huge release, especially with the internet opening up the world to people with undernourished social skills or contacts. Let’s face it, who hasn’t been shy and self-conscious at some point in their lives, especially during puberty? But I think the people who wear the costumes, moreso than people who just draw or appreciate the artwork, wish to be accepted for what they want people to see of them, and use the costume to create that, rather than the costume itself.

It’s interesting from what I’ve seen of furries, they tend to be rather disparaging towards themselves and their own fandom, even within their comfort zone. Is it a kind of acceptance of their position and trying to diffuse criticism before it even has a chance to emerge, or the afore-mentioned introversion creating a lack of self-confidence? For being a fairly tight community there are some really deep rifts, and every so often tales of drama amongst community figureheads seems to seep down through the ranks and cause equal parts apathy, derision and name-calling on both sides. And for the most part it’s a self-sustaining fandom, with its works created by furries, for furries, which creates a kind of perpetual motion of more of the same. It was admittedly very difficult finding an artist for Legacy‘s cover because I wanted to find a great artist with no porn in their back catalogue. ShadowUmbre (Minna Sundberg) was an incredible find, heh. But she’s proof, along with many other artists, that furry art and culture can be accessible to a much wider audience if it wasn’t quite so saturated with its own history.

But then, it’s these characteristics that make it so unique. There are infinite shades across the spectrum from tasteful to outright disgusting, but it’s up to someone who wants to make a real name for themselves in the wider world to show everyone the bigger picture rather than just trying to please those who already know them. I want Legacy to be a success for me because I love the story, but if it helped furries generally, that’d be fine too.


Next time – TRUKK NOT MUNKY Part 2: Steampunk
An introduction to Steampunk, the colourful personas that fill its eccentric anachronisms, and the darker side of the machines…

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.