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 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…