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.

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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.

Preface

Featured

Welcome to the blog and website of Hugo Jackson, author of The Resonance Tetralogy, and general creative person. Please feel free to explore the site as you please, and don’t be afraid to comment!

BOOKS:

Legacy, Book One of The Resonance Tetralogy

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Barnes and Noble | Inspired Quill (Worldwide shipping)

Fracture, Book Two of The Resonance Tetralogy

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Barnes and Noble | Inspired Quill (Worldwide shipping)

Social media links:

Tumblr | Facebook | Twitter

If you have found me at a convention and want to tag or follow my cosplay stuff on Facebook, you can find me here:

BritFang Cosplay

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…

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