The Allure of the City As a Supernatural Setting

In my reading experience, the sub-genre of urban fantasy feels like a very fluid thing to me, sometimes difficult to distinguish from the sub-genres of magical realism and of paranormal, save for paranormal being its own mixture of romantic and speculative fiction. And speaking of speculative fiction, that’s another genre that gets muddied with that which we call urban fantasy.

At its core, urban fantasy is basically when a story takes place in a world where the modern world we know intersects with fantastical elements. Honestly not sure that that modern setting has to necessarily even be urban (i.e., take place in a city), but that aside, I’ve come to appreciate a story that does take a city and fabricate a world of fantasy that lives and thrives beneath it, unbeknownst to those who live in the mundane above.

My first encounter with a story like this was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which took the city of London and reconstructed it as a city in which a very supernatural world is buried within its heart. The story revolves in part around our protagonist Richard Mayhew, a perfectly normal bloke from Scotland who lands a job smack-dab in the hubbub of London, only to find himself broken away from his normal life and getting wrapped up in the true nature of the metropolis’s underground. The other part of it involves a society built from London’s Underground, called the “Underside”, a kind of medieval, feudalistic world that’s more brutal, but also more exciting than what’s on the topside, interweaving beings like mythic boars reminiscent of the minotaur, even angels (touching on that tiny niche of literature that likes to use angels and demons and other beings celestial and malevolent as story devices). I definitely shelve this book next to all other books that have had a huge impact on me and the way I look at the world and think about how to imagine it in my own head.

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Apart from Gaiman’s way with words and how he can take anything normal and turn it into something magical, along with his obvious personal interest in drawing from classic and ancient mythologies, just the idea of a city harboring not only a world of its own, but a world of its own that transcends normality intrigues me in the fact that when you look at how intricate a city can be, it almost feels like its possible, and its cool to think about.

To paraphrase, I think Owen Wilson’s character in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris put it best, that every little street and alleyway in a city has its own story, there’s a poetry to it. True, he was talking about Paris specifically in that context, but I think that applies to all cities. And as it happens, that film too dabs into what I’d more call magical realism than anything like urban fantasy, but even so, it’s a story that takes place in the modern world that intersects with a fantastical element, that element being that every night at midnight, something happens that causes Wilson’s character to slide through time from the present day to the 1930s, during one of Paris’ heydays of literary genius from writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald and artists like Picasso.

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Which I think is what I find so fascinating about the concept of turning urban settings into playgrounds for the fantastical, interwoven with what we know of as reality. Thoughts like this occurred to me while I was finally getting around to watching the sequel season to the animeDurarara!Durarara! x2, which features multiple story lines and characters living in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, interwoven with elements of the supernatural, creating urban legends out of things like dullahans, guys with superhuman strength, and cursed sentient swords alongside gang brawls and entanglements with the yakuza. Apart ftom this sequel season taking things in a much darker turn, it’s cool to see the expansion of the Narita-verse, so to speak.

It makes for some really cool stories, and I just wanted to take a moment and share my love for it. For those who find their everyday world mundane, it’s nice to imagine that just at the edge of what they can see, there’s a fantastic world stirring and writhing and pulsing, and even funner to imagine getting caught up in it.

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A Little More Love: Why I Love Romance, Why I’m Not Ashamed, and How Anime and Manga Made Me Appreciate It More 

First off, hand clap for possibly my longest blog post title to date. Second, after all my ranting and raving about how screwed up the world is, I thought it was about time I go back to form in some capacity and wax lyrical about all the things I love about writing and storytelling. (Addendum: that and now I’m not as annoyed as I was before that I lost 90% of this post before putting it on the back burner before coming back to it, not that I’m bitter or anything.)

And I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to cover romance specifically, but then again, I’m glad it did, because I have a lot more to discuss than I would have closer to this blog’s inception. Because to face facts, love and romance are at the core of what I love best in a story. Give me a story with romance and I’ll give it a shot (usually) even if it’s gotten horrible reception. (Okay well that only really happened with Twilight and since then I’ve learned to be pickier, and moreover, not to let it bother me that I indulged in the first place, particularly in the instance of people gagging at the mention of romance because of Twilight‘s influence (see post here).)

Let me start out by saying that I am also praising this sort of thing at a time when some might take a look at a romance and go “Blargh!” possibly because of the oversaturation of those pesky YA “love triangles”. But like anything, if you can make it work, there’s nothing wrong with including this and other romance tropes (more on this later) in your narrative.

Also, as another addendum to my recent post on Twilight concerning Bella’s lack of agency in the plot, among other things, to be fair, we’re talking about a human being versus a world of superkiller vampires. Of course she’d be pretty useless. Which is where I have to give props to Stephanie Meyer for writing her little “AU fic” with the story of the first Twilight book written with genders of the two romantic leads swapped, just to show that Bella would’ve been just as weak and helpless if she’d been a boy rather than a girl, giving us Beau (*eye roll*) and Edith (meh) instead.

That said, Edward in the original didn’t help matters by procrastinating turning her into a vampire because “angst” and love triangle BS. Didn’t help that the both of them were such wet blankets. Don’t get me wrong, I love angst in a romantic relationship, but it can’t be all there is. Moreover, it can’t be all there is and be unfounded, as in the case of Bella and Edward.

Kay? Got it? Good. Moving on.

Because I would argue that romances, when done insightfully, demonstrate an emotional intelligence.

Why do I love it so personally? Well, aside from the elements I already mentioned above? Ha, ha. No, I’m not gonna say anything like “I believe in the power of love!” or anything corny like that. Well, not exactly.

Let me put it this way:

When I watch the progression of two people growing closer together and forming a bond between them that’s reaffirmed with acts and declarations of affection, it gives me the warm-fuzzies. Plain and simple. It’s part of that larger pattern in storytelling that serves to remind me that there are good people in this world, and good people worth fighting for (or something like that).

Or, barring a progression in the case of a couple that’s already done the meet-cute thing before the reader cracks open the book, or the viewer pops in the movie, as long as the relationship demonstrates that there’s an intimate and affectionate connection between the two lovers, I’m on board the ship, so to speak.

Why do you think shipping is so much fun for fans of stuff? It’s exciting!

Fans of Harry Potter got to spend seven books getting to know all sorts of characters, watch them grow up together and stumble their way through their teenage hormones to find that there’s something really special in finding that special someone.

We got all kinds of love stories, from the almost Lizzy-Darcy dynamic of Ron and Hermione, the rather slow burn of Harry and Ginny (only when you look back in hindsight, really it’s just that it took Harry forever to wake the hell up lol), the unrequited tragic love of Severus and Lily, the delightful surprise of Lupin and Tonks (my fave ship in that series by the way, mostly because since book three Lupin was built up as this scruffy werewolf sad flute who needed a hug BADLY).

You could even argue that there were hints that Dumbledore had something going on with Grindelwald, and I mean in that way that someone is enamored of someone else but it never really becomes a relationship, it just kind of evolves into this soul connection of sorts, further complicated by the fact that Grindelwald turned evil. 😦

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I’ve mentioned in one or two previous posts that the Chronicles of Lumatere trilogy has some hidden gems as far as romantic subplots are concerned, and there’s a sweetness to what Katniss and Peeta had in The Hunger Games that I fear other dystopian YA novels haven’t quite been able to capture (sorry Triss and Four). Though the love triangle of Lena, Alex, and Julian in the Delirium trilogy had its moments, mostly because it at least had a reason to be a triangle in the narrative. (Spoiler: we think that Alex has been axed off at the end of book one, then just when Lena’s finding love again with Julian, we find out at the end of book two that Alex is ALIVE! Dun-dun-DUN!)

Side note, I’m not gonna act like I wasn’t disappointed that Lauren Oliver didn’t exactly resolve this conundrum even by the end of book three, but on the other hand, I like that Lena’s best friend Hana wasn’t just a throwaway best friend character and her and Lena’s friendship was actually part of the crux of the plot. That and, me and my love for side-character romances found myself smitten by what was going on in the background between Raven and Tack, such that I bought a copy of Delirium Stories, which featured a Raven story, just to get more of them (because unfortunately, unlike Alex, I don’t think Raven is going to magically come back from the dead–oh yeah, sorry, spoiler alert, she dies).

Heck, I thought I’d never find a contemporary YA author I could jive to–my escapist tendencies don’t exactly gravitate towards contemporary in general–but then I found Rainbow Rowell. And in conclusion, Eleanor and Park are adorable, and don’t even get me started on Cath and Levi–Cath is like my fanfiction soul-sister for crying out loud, I don’t care that she already has a twin!

Point is, YA isn’t all full of bland, pale, pretentious lip-biters. But that still doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a carbon copy factory of YA books coming out like cars off an assembly line. And that there aren’t certain things I’d like to write for myself with my own YA novel that breaks all that I’m constantly seeing, right down to the hipster male lead! (You know who you are.)

But that’s for another post (maybe).

Because here’s where the anime and manga bit comes in.

(Bit of fun here: some of these pics have links to songs sprinkled throughout that I think appropriately give a good idea of the relationship of the couple featured, so click for feels!)

Like I mentioned in my post on revenge (here), few years ago, my dormant otaku was reawakened when I started rewatching episodes of Sailor Moon. Reflecting on the whole romantic storyline between Usagi Tsukino and Mamoru Chiba  (or Serena and Darien, if you’re feeling really nostalgic), and how part of their romantic connection is the fact that they’re reincarnations of two people who were deeply in love in a past life. This continues to intrigue me, and it’s something which played a role in me finally cracking and grabbing a copy of the Daughter of Smoke Bone trilogy.

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Then I realized I wanted more. The anime bug had bitten me, and I had succumbed to its addicting effects. Because watching Sailor Moon again made me remember not only my love for animation and how much those giant eyes and emotional highs that are hallmarks of anime draw me in, but also the few episodes of Cowboy Bebop I had seen as a kid on Adult Swim–one of which was the last two episodes, left a lasting impact on me, their story and images staying with me decades on.

Yes, I am talking about the tragedy that is Spike and Julia.

That was my first taste of a really adult anime romantic relationship, and even though at the time I was probably too young in many ways to understand all of the nuances of what I was watching, I do remember that I felt sad seeing Julia get gunned down. And despite my not having not yet seen the previous episodes in the series connected to this subplot, I got everything I needed to know in order to feel that sadness compressed into those two episodes (and here’s where I tip my hat to the efficient and effective (affective?) writing of the show.

And that, incidentally, was my first experiences with two other things: Spike Spiegel was probably my first anime crush (before I even heard of things like husbando and waifu), and that was also my first love triangle–that being Spike, Julia, and Vicious. And honestly, you wouldn’t even really think about it being a love triangle until you really thought about it (oh yeah, there are three of them, and two of them love the same person). But that was a triangle done well (more on this later too).

Anyway, getting the chance to actually watch all the episodes and see what kind of person Spike Spiegel is when Julia isn’t involved in the plot, made those last two episodes hit me even harder when I got to rewatch them again in context. I attribute that to the fact despite such a painful past, a lot of the time he was more this reckless, roguish wisecracker. We get glimpses here and there in those three prior episodes in the series that make the merest hints at what Spike’s like when it comes to Julia, and how Julia talks about him in the time she’s been absent from his life. So there’s enough that we can make an inference about the depth of their relationship, and it hits all the harder when after finally getting back together, Julia ends up dead not two seconds later. This simple tragedy contrasts with the more humorous aspects of Spike’s character, another dynamic in romance that I find I enjoy to an immense degree.

And the words “I love you” weren’t uttered once. But the idea was strongly conveyed by the actions of the characters.

Something that always makes me laugh and roll my eyes at this friend of mine who became my anime-watching buddy is when she throws her hands up in the air and yell at the TV or computer screen about how little physicality there tends to be between couples in anime, even those who were actually established as such. I mean, in Clannad, one of my favorite romance animes of all time, the two main leads get married and have a kid, and we don’t even seen them kiss once on screen (some would argue that if we did see them do it, it would technically make it a hentai, but looking at shows like Golden Time or Parasyte: the Maxim, I’d beg to differ, but I digress). However, this turned out not to bother me quite as much as it did my gal-pal.

I tried to think why.

When I discovered the show Fate/Zero, and all that it entailed in terms of its place in the Fate franchise, the way I looked at love was changed significantly in this case by the character of Kiritsugu Emiya and the complicated relationship he had with his wife, Irisviel von Einzbern. I will NOT go into those details, as that would take another entire post completely, and I’ve probably made mention of aspects of their relationship before. But even I haven’t, feel free to check out their backstory at your leisure. To put it as simply as humanly possible though, there isn’t a moment in the anime where they do much in the way of expressing conventional affection towards each other, save for a couple of scenes, but in those scenes, along with references to their backstory (how they met, seeing Kiritsugu playing with their daughter early on in the show) sprinkled throughout, we get to understand the nuances of their relationship and the intimacy between them gets across to us. At least for me it did, anyway.

It doesn’t hurt that their relationship gets some well-earned angst, but the show doesn’t fawn over it like some others tend to.

This dynamic of such eloquent subtlety and implied beauty absolutely fascinated me, and to this day the two of them remain my number one anime couple. They just had this Arwen and Aragorn vibe about them, if that helps put it into perspective (though Arwen and Aragorn had a rather happier ending, to say the least).

And like with Spike and Julia, Kiritsugu never once says “I love you,” but his actions, if reserved, give us what we need (like the fact that he addresses Irisviel by the pet name “Iri”, and the fact that this address is unique to him alone implies he calls her this out of affection). No kisses,  no declarations, just what we see and what Irisviel says about what he’s done for her in the past (or what we see in the artwork for Fate/Zero’ s second ed).

And this is all indicative in part of Japanese views on love. I’ve read that in a Japanese cultural context, love would seem to be considered a divine feeling (like divine as in godly), and that because of this sacred reverence of love, the words that in English would translate as “I love you”, are rarely used, because they aren’t meant to be thrown about so casually. Not to say that we Westerners never mean it when we say it (well, unless we don’t, ugh), more that we have different ways and means of expressing those words when it comes up. For the most part, it comes from the same impulse. We’re all human, after all.

So in Japan, since it’s so important to use the words “I love you” (and within that there are different versions of saying it based on intensity, just like there are several ways to say “I’m sorry” depending on the severity of one’s transgression) with the greatest of care, it’s used sparingly. So where is the emphasis on the language of affection? Well, in action. Not that that also doesn’t come up in Western culture, but from what I understand, showing affection through action appears to take precedence in Japanese culture (again, from what I’ve read). Specifically in acts of service.

And honestly, I really love this idea (and I mean that ha, ha).

For storytelling mechanics in things like anime and manga, it seems to have greater weight as far as the development of a relationship between a couple. I just find that aspect adorable. That and the fact that the art of animation seems to heighten the sense of everything when it comes to storytelling through action in this way (part of why I enjoy animation so much, no less hold great admiration for it as an art form, considering how much work and artistry has to go behind giving animated action any verisimilitude to real life).

And, to be fair, even anime that aren’t anywhere near a hentai or ecchi, or even just a fanservice show, don’t always completely shy away from things like kisses and other forms of physical affection. In Steins; Gate, for example, the main character Okabe Rintarou falls in love with a fellow scientific colleague-turned-friend Makise Kurisu.

They actually share a kiss once they acknowledge their feelings for each other, even though the show is very much lacking in fanservice, save for those…you know…obligatory shower scenes. (They, by the way, also have a nice slow burn romance that’s built very much on their intelligent minds bouncing off of each other as they work on cracking the puzzle of time travel, and culminates in the two of them risking the dangers of leaping through time to save one another, which is another huge plus for me.)

Speaking of actions….

I have this memory that tugs at me every now and then of one of the courses I took in college for my English Lit major studying theatrical literature. I was a Theatre minor (formerly a English-Theatre double-major), so I think I’d thought it’d be beneficial to me to take a course that studied written plays from a English lit perspective instead of a theatrical one (a perspective I’d already studied in another course I’d taken).

One of the plays we covered was this old Japanese play (Have to look it up I can’t even remember the name of it, darn, and I conveniently misplaced my old textbook.) that we studied and the crux of the plot involved the romantic trope of the double-suicide, something derived, I believe (correct me if I’m wrong), from the samurai practice of seppuku. I personally was intrigued by the concept of the romantic double-suicide, not just for its having been made most notable (I would argue) by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

My prof on the other hand admitted that she didn’t see what was so romantic about the whole double-suicide thing, which made me mentally frown–you know, that way that you do right before you troll someone on the internet for trolling something you really like. I didn’t say anything though, there was no point or reason to argue, it would’ve childish. And she was entitled to her opinion. I could even see where she was coming from.

Didn’t mean I didn’t have thoughts like, “Bah! Methinks you lack romantic sensitivity.” My guess is that it’s flaw could be arguably be that it might be glorifying the act of suicide (as some things do–lookin’ at you again Twilight). But with what I know about what I’ve watched and read about the Japanese love of tragedy in storytelling etc, I think it’s about the melodrama, and the concept of both lovers killing themselves because of how tightly their hearts are bound…that as a couple they’re bound in all actions, including death. Probably. Something beyond that whole, “I can’t live without you’ thing.” Again, if we’re looking at love as being viewed as a divine feeling (something my romantic heart happens to agree with).

Think I came to this conclusion after remembering reading a Japanese short story years previously that also involved the device of the double-suicide, in which a husband and wife kill themselves after the husband is forced to watch his wife get raped. In both this and the play, there’s another plot-point where one of the lovers’ honor gets compromised (in the short story, it’s the wife getting raped, in the play it’s…um, think the guy gets publicly shamed by some jerkwad, but I forget, honestly), and well, in those situations, the act of suicide would be called for. Right up there with committing suicide in the event that you’re backed into a corner–it was more honorable to die by your own hand than by that of the enemy (and in often in the case of women, more honorable to die than to get raped and then killed by the enemy). And seeing as how one lover in both pairings was dishonored and feels the need to reclaim that honor through committing suicide, their partner does the same, as their loving each other means again, they’re linked in all things, including death.

He, he, good times.

But I’m being serious here, and quite honestly, I respect that level of moral conviction. Which is probably another reason I can add to the growing list of reasons I watch anime and (occasionally) read manga. Because yep, you guessed it, this device is totally used in those media too, and appears to have been built up as a significant means of canonizing a couples’ ship in a story.

For this, I point back to another anime couple, one I mentioned in my revenge post, that of Gray Fullbuster and Juvia Lockser from Fairy Tail. Now to be fair, they haven’t gotten to this point in their relationship that I’m bringing up here in the anime, just in the manga, but it has now been confirmed that the final arcs of the manga are getting animated starting in 2018 (and I can’t even count the amount of squees I’ve given over this fact).

To give a quick rundown of what I didn’t already mention previously in that revenge post, Gray and Juvia met as enemies, being members of enemy guilds in one of the earliest story arcs. But then Juvia comes down with a case of “insta-love” (though in this case I can forgive it because A) this is written for comedic effect on the part of the mangaka, Hiro Mashima, and B) they actually make it rather adorable, which is a feat in and of itself since anywhere else it’d be borderline creepy. And in falling for Gray, Juvia finds she really doesn’t want to fight him. And Gray really doesn’t want to fight her in the end, honestly.

Eventually, Juvia ends up joining the Fairy Tail guild as a result of her encounter with Gray, not just because she fell hard for him, but because he somehow managed to take away her curse of always being followed around by rainfall. It’s because of him that she gets to see the clear blue sunny sky for the first time in her life.

Initially, Gray makes it a point to fend off Juvia’s lavish proclamations of love, because A) he’s a tsunkuudere (a hybrid of tsundere (hard on the outside, soft on the inside)and kuudere (too cool to show I really feel)–wait, maybe that should be kuutsuundere), B) his past history with people close to him has mostly involved death, loss, and sacrifice, and, despite his growing feelings for her, the last thing he wants is for her to end up like all the other people he’s loved who’ve died, and C) it is a bit much overall. (I’m talking lots and LOTS of glomping.)

That said, the development of this relationship has its own brand of sweetness, as we see that Juvia actually takes her feelings seriously to the point that it’s touching rather than crazy, and, in his own way, Gray warms to her and eventually reciprocates her feelings in the only way he can. Being a man of action, and at the same time not so hot with words (lol, because he’s an ice wizard), he expresses how he really feels through actions as opposed to words, even in those times when he was trying to keep her at a distance for the reasons mentioned above. (There’s that act of service thing again.)

Eventually we get all the way to the final arc of the manga, and by this time, Gray’s at a point where he’s actually come to open up to Juvia in a way he’s never done with anyone else. And several chapters back, the two of them had had a private conversation where he’d promised her that after this last fight’s been settled, he’s going to give her an answer (in other words, confess to her that he loves her and wants to spend the rest of his life with her and have beautiful babies with her waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!).

Then we get a scene before the final assault on the ultimate boss, dark wizard Zeref, where the two of them are confronted by an opponent who forces them to fight each other to the death. Juvia, of course, as we would come to expect of her, eventually makes the choice to kill herself, because she’d rather do that than either kill the man she loves or leave him with the guilt and responsibility of him killing her.

Only for us to see that Gray actually has done the exact the same thing and also fatally stabbed himself. OMG!

If that weren’t bad enough, Juvia just so happened to have taught herself blood transfusion magic in the event of a worst case scenario, so she uses that to save Gray from dying of blood loss, but then that leaves her to die on her own instead. And well, let’s just say the feels levels that comprise Gray’s reaction when he realizes what she’s done for him hits him like a screaming runaway train.

Gah! Man pain! That dreaded trope that has melted the hearts of many a fangirl. (Which makes wonder if all fangirls aren’t secretly slightly sadisitc, and makes me reexamine my own level of fangirling.)

Happily, as was explained in my revenge post, Juvia gets discovered by Wendy, who can use healing magic, and is magically healed, since she was of course just barely holding on, Gray only thought she’d died cuz she wouldn’t open her eyes. (Why does no one check for pulse?) Which leads to Juvia finding Gray and bringing him down from his revenge-splosion. It’s all full of wonderful, wonderful feels.

Speaking of wonderful, the new Wonder Woman managed to use the them of “love conquers all” to actually great effect. Not sure if it’s just the jaded climate everyone’s in right now or what, but somehow something like that manage to ring the right note with people, myself included. That and they made Diana and Steve frickin’ adorable together, which made me include them alongside Peter and Gwen from The Amazing Spider-Man on my list of awesome comic book couples (and in both cases, Steven and Gwen can both join the Hero’s-Bae-Who-Ends-Up-Dead Club).

And wouldn’t you know it, even the Wachowskis can get a good romance out of a story. Like Corky and Violet in Bound. Too bad that film’s so underrated compared to their other stuff like The MatrixJupiter Ascending, and Cloud Atlas. Especially since that film features a really well-written same-sex couple with some damn good chemistry.

But I think I’ll save that for another post.

So I’ll leave off here for now. I might come back to this subject in other contexts, but for now I’ve gotten out everything I’ve wanted to cover as far as what I love about romance in stories. Like in Wonder Woman, it might be corny and cliche, but you work with it right, make it genuine, you can create something really magic between two characters when you have them fall in love.

 

Don’t Let the Specter of Bella Swan Keep You from Writing a Romantic Heroine Who Actively Has Romance On Her Mind (Or Something Like That)

So, before I get to that sweet, sweet romance post that I was working on before it got ruined and I opted for a post on revenge instead, I want to address something that otherwise would have been a tangent in said romance post. And to be honest, I’d rather get this out of the way first, because this one’s something of a thorn in my foot.

If I haven’t mentioned already, I’ll mention it now: yes, I have all four Twilight books, and I have all five of the film adaptations, in my possession. And I actually do re-watch those movies, bad acting and all.

At best, I can defend the franchise by passing it off as the brain equivalent of junk food. Moreover, I can’t fault Stephanie Meyer for having the good fortune to tap into something that apparently a good size of the reading market was thirsting for (no pun intended, lol). Honestly, that seems to be one of the biggest factors in becoming a literary success, that you’re just lucky enough to build off of something that the masses didn’t realize they wanted until you gave it to them.

My guess is that at the time Twilight was coming out, there were a lot of readers (most of them straight female, but not all) who were tired of logic and just wanted a man-angel who struggled with a “dark past” to sweep them up in their arms and let them know that they were going to take care of everything, and hold back their animalistic urges to suck blood just for them.

Ha, ha, sorry guys, but anime beat you to it.

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Plus, mechanically speaking, Meyer’s not a bad writer. Whether you like the stories she tells or the subject matter she brings up, she’s got a grasp of taking the English language and fashioning a book out of it. (Whether there’s anything about the style that “sparkles” (he, he), I’ll leave up to your personal taste (ahem–but between you and me, I thought the films sparkled more ha ha).)

But yeah, on a practical level, she knew how to write this quadrilogy so as to make it worthy of binge-reading.

I’ll also admit that when I first read Twilight, I was A) rather forgiving of Bella Swan’s character as far as her idiocy goes, because I remember being a naive teenager, so I cut her a little slack, and B) I was already swept up in the romantic tropes offered by vampire romances, care of all of the Christine Feehan Carpathian novels I’d been shamelessly devouring thanks to my bestie introducing me to them (man, you want something trite and formulaic made worthy of binge-reading!), so my mindset was ripe for being taken in by this most recent literary sensation being, at the time, hailed as “the next Harry Potter” (uncomfortable coughing).

And despite all the backlash Twilight has suffered over time, I can still get hooked by the vampire romance premise (something that led me to revisit underrated gems like The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause, and pick up other underrated gems like Nocturne by Syrie James, both of which should be appreciated for the fact that (SPOILER) the sexy vampire and the human woman who falls for him DON’T end up together, which is really the only other realistic outcome apart from turning the woman into a vampire too (a.k.a. the “Twilight route”).).

But I’m not naive enough to forget that vampires are still monsters that suck human blood either. Lucky for me, there are an abundance of vampire anime (apart from the above-memed Vampire Knight) that can be both romantic and legit hardcore (the way vampires are supposed to be) so I can have my cake and eat it too (thank you Hellsing and Shiki).

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Getting back to the actual story of Twilight though, here’s where anti-Twilighters really like to cut their teeth on the thing. Not only is Bella Swan an idiot, but she’s a tool too, rendered embarrassingly useless without her freaking vampire boyfriend.

It’s pretty insta-love when she and the cold and mysterious Edward Cullen meet, and from there she’s got a pretty one-track mind as far as wanting to spend the rest of her life with him, even after finding out he’s a blood-sucking vampire. And the moment he tries to cut ties with her (to “protect” her) of course, she’s like a puppet with her strings cut, barely able to function and pining for the guy to the point of pissing off her friends (and rightly so, actually).

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Gah! Okay, who put those wings there so Edward would look like a friggin’ angel? Jeez, subtle guys.

And the only thing that gets her somewhat functioning again is her friend Jacob, who predictably turns out to be a “werewolf” (except not really because Stephanie Meyer likes to do stuff like that). Which gives us the theme of trying compare the plot of New Moon to Romeo and Juliet, and Eclipse with Wuthering Heights (I imagine William Shakespeare and Emily Bronte both shivered in their respective graves).

So she’s beyond passive as a character. Pretty much the only active thing she manages to do is to get herself into mortal danger so one of her pretty boys can save her. She makes the very life-changing decision of wanting to shed her humanity in favor of becoming a vampire just to be with her vampire boyfriend (dude, you’re giving up, like, chocolate for crying out loud!), without a second thought, and deflects pretty much every good reason that other people give her (consciously or unconsciously) not to go through with it (or at least give it a bit more thought). She turns the emo up to eighty-leven when one of her boys isn’t around, and while this is some fair emotional turmoil, she acts like she was in some kind of mortal pain before she met Edward, and then he changed everything.

(Oh, and lets not forget what a gigantic tease she is to Jacob.)

Even when she finally becomes a vampire, she still lacks the edge she should have. Very disappointing, for all of us who were excited to see her finally get turned.

There have been better spins on the story of teenage-girl-falls-in-with-the-vampire-crowd plot.

Try The Blood of Eden trilogy by Julie Kagawa for instance. The girl gets turned right from the get-go in the first book, The Immortal Rules, because it was either that or die, and the vampire turning her had no inner conflict about either decision she decided to make. Plus later on in the book, she later finds herself traveling with this band of very Christian humans who definitely cling to the concept of “all vampires must be staked”. And our vampire girl in question, Alison, kicks ass. She gets a katana, and she learns how to use it.

Heck, the Parasol Protectorate books by Gail Carriger have a gay vampire (I mean, what do you expect from something steampunk?), and he’s way more macho than Edward Cullen is.

But here’s where we all get the short end of the stick in the fallout from all of this reactionary negativity to Bella’s character (which actually made Kristin Stewart’s stilted acting in the role understandable–seriously, watch her in the movie Zathura, she’s actually interesting to watch in that movie).

Now it feels like there’s all this pressure to write female characters not only as strong, but one of the requirements for being strong is that they “don’t need no man”. At least at first anyway, they’re allowed to still fall in love, but they gotta be tsundere (tough on the outside but soft on the inside) or kuudere (cold) almost about it, either just at first or most of the time. And even then, there are other restrictions to that, like if the guy they like gets torn out of the picture for a bit, she can’t like, wallow in how bad she feels, she has to take it with her teeth ground. Writing her with any kind of dependence on her love interest seems to make her weaker.

At least, from where I sit. I could be wrong. I’m just making this observation because of the Hunger Games phenomenon and its many, many carbon-copies that followed in the fallout of Twilight, when many realized what a tool Bella was and started thinking: “You know, I don’t know if I like the idea of a woman who can’t take any initiative in her life. I want a girl who has agency in her story! Give me a poverty-hardened teen girl with the archery skills of Legolas please!”

(Then again, The Hunger Games was conveniently quite well-written, all things considered. The whole reason I read them was not for the hype, but because I’d gone to this writing con in San Diego and I heard about this one track about evoking emotion in writing, and Hunger Games had been used as a good example of that. And I would say, good example.)

And yeah, she does get caught in a love triangle, but first and foremost, her character is all about trying to survive on her own, because she’s learned through hardship that she can’t expect to depend on anyone else (leastways, not without becoming a “slave to the system”). True, at the beginning of Mockingjay, she’s screaming Peeta’s name every five seconds, but by this point, she’s suffered enough trauma and she and Peeta have been through enough shit that her freaking out about his being captured by the Capitol is warranted.

So, I guess it’s not that she can’t let herself “go soft” for love, but come on, if she loves the guy, and losing him like that makes her feel like crying, let her cry for crying out loud! Let her get rid of all those toxins in her body through the expression of sadness! (That’s a scientific fact, by the by, that crying relieves the body of toxins.)

It’s like there can’t be any middle ground, a girl isn’t allowed to be lovestruck anymore. No, I’m not talking about insta-love, I’m talking about lovestruck, where you just look at an attractive person and go, “Whew! He/She’s hawwwwwwwwwt!”, and then actively decide to flirt because hey, you’re human and you got needs.

The theme of doing things for the sake of love, I think, has been warped here because of all this Twilight mess. And that shouldn’t be. The idea of doing something for the sake of love should be a source of inspiration, and when done well, it can even be done without coming off as corny! Just look at Harry Potter: those books took something that in any other hands could have become some kind of My Little Pony knock-off, but Rowling treated it with the kind of gravity and seriousness that it deserved in the context of her narrative, and made the concept of “love conquers all” a very epic and believable and inspiring thing. (Claps.)

So I’m here to tell you that you should not feel ashamed to write a female character who’s just a little clingy, or just a little flirty. Hell, look at it this way, Bella was a terrible mix of all-clingy and no-flirty, which really worked against her, along with everything else. As long as your female character is charming, can hold her own when she needs to, and doesn’t have a one-track mind about her boyfriend or love-interest (unless it’s for comedic effect, like in my exception to this rule, Gray x Juvia from Fairy Tail) let her love as much as her heart wants to.

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She can still be strong.

Actually, I’d argue that if you can make a female character brimming with love and still have her kick ass, either literally or metaphorically, so much the better! I’d look forward to reading that.

And quit letting Bella Swan’s shadow hang over you every time you put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper. Romance is not for the weak. Good romance isn’t, anyway.

Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge

You know what? I was gonna actually have my next post be about why I love romance in storytelling so much, but something jacked-up happened, and basically a ton of edits and things I’d added had been undone for SOME reason. It just…reverted back to an older version of the post and now I can’t recover all the changes I made.

And I’d made a LOT of changes. Like, 90% of the article was those changes.

If there is one thing that pisses me off to the point of wanting scream (apart from idiots who somehow end up in charge), it’s when something like this happens and I have to rewrite from scratch. Mostly because usually what I’ve already written felt pretty magical, and now I have to try and recapture that magic with the understanding that I probably won’t get everything back to how I had it before. That said, there is comfort in the idea that I can write it even better on the rewrite. But still, all that work, plus uploading the images, the formatting, the tags (yeah, I’d put in a bunch of tags and now they’re all gone). It’s just a pain.

Though I’ve also tried to take heart after hearing about another author’s story of how he lost an entire novel when his hard drive went kaput, and how he learned not to feel bad about it. Something about what we write as being impermanent, I think…. Point is, he learned how not to let it eat him up inside (even if that novel was meant to be his livelihood).

Regardless, my own feelings of frustration needed to be cooled off by some other means. So, I decided to put that post on the back burner and work on this one instead as my next post. What better way to purge angry thoughts than to write about that thing that makes angry people feel better (sometimes)?

Yes. It’s time for some sweet, sweet revenge. Tee, hee, hee.

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More specifically, examining why it’s a trope that comes up ALL THE TIME, and whether or not it’s a trope we’ll ever really get tired of.

And I suppose, if there’s going to be a discussion of revenge, the best place to start would be the “original revenge” story, Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

I remember reading it the summer in between my sophomore and junior years at college. Think it was like, a thousand chapters long with like a million pages…well not really, but yeah, it’s a REALLY thick book. The only other book I’ve read that was that long was Les Miserables, which took me a month (and a half actually, maybe) to read back when I was in high school. And that was by managing to squeeze in the max amount of chapters that I could per day around everything else. You know, like homework and junk.

Obviously, I don’t remember every teen-weeny detail, or at least…I thought I didn’t. Couldn’t possibly. But I was surprised at how much much of that story had actually stuck with me when I watched the anime adaptation of it.

Yes, such a thing exists. There is an anime adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, or, Gankutsuou, if you prefer, (he, he). There’s also an anime adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, but that’s for another post. Maybe.

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And even though the anime takes a few liberties and plucks the story out of the nineteenth century and sticks it in this cyberpunk, sci-fi alternate futuristic timeline, it’s actual a more faithful adaptation than the Hollywood film–probably because in spite of those changes, being a twenty-five episode series, there was more time to flesh out and explore the billions of plot points and intricate specifics to protagonist Edmond Dantes’s revenge scheme from the book that a two-hour movie just couldn’t, in which case I’m willing to somewhat forgive the film’s very Hollywood ending–plus in that scenario, things turned out better for poor Mercedes. (Except then I remember that the character of Haydee was cut out entirely too, and then I’m back to square one in hating on the thing. I mean come on, the Wishbone (remember that show? I sure do) adaptation managed to get the story across faithfully in a half-hour episode on PBS! (Though Haydee was still quite out of the picture, at least from what I remember.))

Seeing the anime adaptation though, I remember watching it and (along with feasting my eyes on the very unique and bizarre, almost wallpaper-esque art style) going, “Oh yeah, that did happen in the novel, I totally remember reading that!” And I’m being completely serious here. I totally remember the kerfuffle with Danglars and his daughter, and the romantic subplot of Maximilen and Valentine. Now they did make some changes, like they took out the lesbian runaway part of Danglars’ daughter’s character and made her actually share a mutual affection with Albert Morcerf, and not sure if Franz in the book actually had an alluded-to thing for Albert in the book, but he definitely has one for him in the anime. And well, it couldn’t escape some other anime tropes besides, like putting a lot more emphasis on Albert’s relationship with the Count (like almost in bad-touch territory, but not quite so it still kinda works). And yeah…they even managed to squeeze mechs in there. Sort of.

Even so, it was pretty damn faithful to the source material in terms of the overall narrative, except for the ending. In the anime, the Count dies (which is a shame) but in the novel he lives and realizes that he can have a future and learn to love again with Haydee (so sweet, I love it). Honestly though, either of these work. Both serve to illustrate what a demon a thirst for revenge can be, but before our revenge-seeker can come to that conclusion, we do enjoy that surge of adrenaline that comes with racing toward’s vengeance’s finish line.

In fact, we all hope that most protagonists who seek revenge decide not to go through with it in some way, or at least get away with it with their moral compass unscathed. Why? Because the best revenge-seeking protagonists are the ones who started out as innocents. This is even in the case of when we don’t learn that the revenge-seeker in question was an innocent until later on in the story. (Except for Inigo Montoya, cuz he’s just ten flavors of awesome.)

At the same time though, we like how revenge drives a character. Because we know that if we were in their shoes, we’d see the allure of taking revenge ourselves. It’s that eye-for-an-eye philosophy, its’ that, “You hurt me, so I’m gonna hurt you just as bad or more so you know that what you did to me was wrong.” Like it’s the only way that the person the revenge-seeker seeks revenge against will understand the revenge-seeker’s pain (speakin’ a which, the angst that seeking revenge is in and of itself an allure, especially for the fangirls, lol). In short, we seem to feel it will equalize the scales. An idea of achieving balance comes into play in this instance, like, “You kill my kid, then I get to kill yours. Now we’re even.”

Really though, it all comes down to what the consequences are if the revenge-seeker is successful in taking their revenge. Does it turn them into a monster as bad or worse than the monster who wronged them? If so, then yeah, the whole, “You should learn to forgive instead,” plot point works. But, if they’re the kind of character who can take their revenge and still retain their integrity as a character, then revenge doesn’t need to be painted in so dark a light. Referring back to Inigo Montoya one more time, we see that he did not lose sight of who he was deep down as a character, he got his revenge, and then moved on. (That, and he got one of the best revenge lines EVAR.)

“I want my father back, you son-of-a-bitch.”

Oh, and let’s not forget the preceding:

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

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Which gave John Wick (a pretty good revenge story too, actually) something of its own to meme itself with.

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Bottom line, if your revenge-seeker turns into a villain, revenge wasn’t the best medicine. If he/she stays a good guy despite getting their vengeance, then break out the party favors (and figure out what the heck you’re gonna do with your life now).

Unless of course you’ve got a Titus and Andronicus situation, in which case, HIDE EVERYONE YOU CARE ABOUT!!! Otherwise they’ll get cooked into a pie (you think I’m kidding, but I’m serious).

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Now while the ideal outcome is that the revenge-seeker finds a way to be the “better person” and doesn’t let their thirst for vengeance consume him or her, it’s admittedly pretty badass in its own way to see the revenge-seeker just hang over the precipice into the abyss of turning full-on wicked. This character development journey is a treat in and of itself, like we get a taste of what a cool baddie our hero/heroine would be, but still get to see them come out the hero/heroine.

As an aside, I suppose in one way, it’s a good thing I didn’t get to my romance post yet, because that means I can give some background on one of the couples I was going to cover in this post, which might keep the romance post from dragging having to explain so much plot all at once. Because part of that background also ties into the theme of revenge as well as romance.

That said, I turn to Fairy Tail as one such bit of media that uses this to great effect, at least in my opinion (SPOILERS by the way to anyone who only watches the anime, this plot point has only happened in the manga, though considering the sensation of the manga on the Internet, that Pandora’s box has probably already been unleashed anyway).

In a HUGE story jam-packed with characters who all seem destined to get paired with their special someone, there’s one couple that I’ll bring up here, and it happens to be my fave in the franchise. It’s the relationship between Gray Fullbuster, an ice-make wizard, and later on ice demon slayer as well, and Juvia Lockser, a water mage.

Near the climax of the manga, during the final battle to defeat the forces of the dark wizard Zeref, Gray and Juvia end up caught in a fight where Juvia dies saving Gray–or Gray thinks she does anyway (she gets deus-ex-machinaed back to life later).

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As luck would have it though, this isn’t the first person to do that kind of thing for Gray, he’s had people close to him die before–his parents, and later the teacher who taught him ice-make magic (and to add salt to the wound, he feels it’s personally his fault his teacher died because she died saving him from a mistake he made). So, losing Juvia like this basically pushes him over the edge.

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Killing the villain who drove Juvia to her “death” in the first place is pointless though, as Gray comes to terms with this after he pounds the ever-loving bejeezus out of the guy, when he says:

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That’s actually a nice example of a revenge-seeker who realizes on his own the futility of making the rat bastard who killed his waifu pay for what he did. That and really deep down he’s wrestling with his own guilt at not being able to save her. And then there’s the fact that his ice demon slayer magic is starting to nom-nom on his soul from the inside out. He’s not exactly in a rational mindset, which is why it’s easy for him to go after Natsu next when it’s revealed to him that Natsu is the demon E.N.D., whose continued existence is (somehow) the reason for all of the losses Gray has suffered up until this point.

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So now we’re back to square one, at least until big sister Erza comes in and cools the two feuding brotherly BFFs off, and then Gray sees that Juvia is alive almost immediately after. Crisis of hero-morphing-into-villain-because-vengeance averted. Phew! Yay love.

Now touching on one of the earliest anime I watched when I started to watch anime seriously was Code Geass, the premise of which involved the main character exiled Prince Lelouch seeking revenge for the murder of his mother, one of the many wives of his father the Emperor of Britannia. Yep, gimme revenge mixed in with an exiled prince and I’m on board to give it a try. Happily, the show had so much more to offer in the way of story and characters, so I actually cared about what was happening when the revenge angst kicked in there as well. Sure the guy had an air inborn aristocratic arrogance about him, but one of the first things that endeared him to me was actually the way he interacted with his little sister, who was crippled and blinded as a result of the traumatic events involved in his mother’s murder.

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We definitely see Lelouch cross a LOT of lines (along with some glorious moments of manic laughter) morally speaking, but we kinda manage to forget where he faltered when he basically (SPOILERS) ends up bringing about world peace. So, we get a case of the revenge-seeker intentionally becoming a villain as a means to execute revenge. And it brings about FREAKING WORLD PEACE. (WTF?)

But here’s another thought: can a revenge-seeking character choose not to execute revenge but also not forgive the person who wronged them?

In the case of Avatar: the Last Airbender, the writers of that show did something really unique with the scenario of Katara finally getting the chance to avenge the death of her mother. After confronting the Fire Nation soldier who killed her mother, and seeing what a pathetic wretch he’s become, willing to throw his own mother under the bus to save his own life, Katara comes to the conclusion that killing him would solve nothing. But she also doesn’t forgive him either. And she still remains true to herself as one of the most morally centered characters on that show. Now that’s some strong characterization.

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We even see her exploit to taboo of blood-bending for crying out loud, and her character still gets away with it. Badass.

So this plot device–the quest for revenge–is something that can either hook a reader or sink a story. If it hooks you in and it’s written well, then it can be some of the juiciest parts of the story. It sinks the story when it comes off tired and keeps you from being invested.

How does that last part happen?

Well, I’d say it’s when the characters are written so horribly and or flatly that I could care less. Like with any other facet of a story, just hanging the revenge out like a carrot isn’t gonna be enough. I have to give a damn. Sometimes this can work, if you manage to get the generic beginning right: you get the bit with the hero or heroine is with his or her happy family or people he or she is close to, and then you bring the injustice hammer down on them, and then when the ashes clear and the hero or heroine realizes they’ve lost everything, they can vow revenge. Sometimes you’re right there with ’em, and sometimes you’re yawning, “Oh my God, I totally did not see this coming.” So, see every bad movie ever made that tried to fit in a revenge plot. That usually explains a lot.

I know the bad revenge plots when I see them. Give me two seconds of a movie trailer that has a revenge plot, and I’ll tell you whether or not it’s gonna be worth my time.

Like taking John Wick again, on the surface it looks like a pretty standard action-revenge flick, but actually they make it kind of work. John’s wife dies because cancer, not because sniper bullet or some junk, and what triggers him is actually some douche who kills his puppy (a puppy his wife gave him before she died so he wouldn’t be lonely without her). There’s just something so SAD about that that I totes right there with him and pissed off as HELL. Congratulations, you somehow combined two pandering agents–dead wife and cute puppy–and made it rage-worthy. You go kill that douche, John Wick.

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Compare to this every other Gerard-Butler-lead-character-action-revenge flick that I’ve seen trailers for and hopefully you get what I mean.

That and there’s the “using revenge to justify being a jerkwad” ploy, because in that case, if a character gets to be so terrible that we can’t stand them, not even using revenge as an  excuse can redeem them. That or there’s the “too convoluted revenge execution” (with the exception of Count of Monte Cristo, because all that planning and prep actually leads to some stuff that’s pretty kickass as far as revenge goes), where the way a revenge-seeker gets revenge is so confusing that we’re just like, “Huh?”

Seeking revenge is not boring. It will NEVER be boring. We LOVE it. We love to see wicked people get their just desserts. We love seeing the one seeking revenge triumph over their personal demons on their quest for vengeance (or just triumph in general). But we have to care about what drives that revenge-seeker in the first place. Otherwise then yeah, I guess then questing for revenge would be boring.

We like to see wrongs made right, we love to the line between what is and isn’t justice blurred beyond recognition, we love the redemption that can come as a result of seeking revenge or answering for what someone’s done to deserve having vengeance rained down upon them. But, most importantly, I think, given the examples listed above, we just love seeing how much it can change a person, for good or for ill.

If you’re stuck on making a character a little more interesting, I say try giving them a revenge backstory to stir things up and see where that takes you. I’ve done that with a couple of my characters, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The most important thing though is that vengeance can’t be the ONLY interesting thing about them. Otherwise, they’re still not interesting, and your reader could really care less.

 

 

I Have a Tumblr! (But I Will Only Use This Power for Good)

So yeah, got some housekeeping news. And I’ve got a Tumblr page now! Though I’m surprised it took me this long. (Actually my biggest fear was that it would be too big of a time suck–swear though, that won’t be the case!) Though I’m just in it for the fandom posts and anime and manga goodies. And explaining to people why they’re wrong about the two characters they shipped, and that you are obviously right. Or entertaining myself in the grocery store line instead of picking at that latest Sudoku puzzle I haven’t finished solving.

I’ve also revisited my Goodreads page, and being that it’s spent years in disuse, I’ve been slowly working to update it (cause I’ve definitely read more than 37 books).

Additionally, I’ve added a link to my page on Pinterest, which I’m also rebuilding. And I’ve included some links to three different channels on YouTube (Overly Sarcastic Productions, Terrible Writing Advice, and one for Jenna Moreci, author of Eve the Awakening) that give some great writing and storytelling advice and info in rather amusing ways. So next time you’re tooling on YouTube, when you should be writing, you can totally say it’s for research! (No wait that’s bad advice.)

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I’ll also be putting up a link to an Anime Amino page possibly if it strikes my fancy. But for now, I think we’re good.

So check out the updated links page, and in the meantime, there’s a reconstruction of my articles page in the works, featuring articles I’ve written for The Bolde and MyAnimeList.

 

Stop and Think (PLEASE!!)

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Okay, I gotta vent again, even if it’s just a small point that’s been niggling at me. But it’s on my mind since we had Trump’ s 100 Day marker and the White House Correspondence Dinner (which Trump ducked out of to hold his own “pity party” rally, the narcissistic, insecure coward) reaffirming the fight to stand up for free speech and the first amendment.

And that’s what I keep hearing from his supporters and his base. “Why can’t Washington just let him do his job and get stuff done?”

Well, my friend, what you’re thinking of is NOT a democracy. What you’re thinking of is a dictatorship. Or an autocracy.

In a democracy (which is what WE have last I checked), there’s a little thing called compromise, so we don’t run into the authoritarian trap of letting one person have all the power of the government. We finally got the budget through because of this thing called compromise (more or less). But, like the child Trump is, he whined about it on Twitter. And, I might add, griped about wanting to “change the rules”-rules which are there in the first place as a safeguard against dictators and autocrats (who, last I checked, America’s foundations are not fundamentally a fan of-but hey, I guess it’s in vogue now to treat the Constitution like a napkin for your meaty BBQ sauce drenched baby back ribs).

And that’s thing about hypocrites, they’re like crazy people: totally unaware that they are what they are. They’re embracing the very dispicable values that go against those of the country they claim to love SOOOOO much. Which I guess is why it’s totally cool that the prez gets away with stuff like praising autocratic snakes. Cuz if you say you’re planning on changing things, you should be allowed to do anything you want even though you have the brain of a thirteen year old entitled brat.

So, you can say what you want (because you know, we have that first amendment that your precious Trump has so little respect for (but it’s all good as long as we can make it easier for mentally ill people to get guns, cause that’s smart! because obviously as long as everybody else has guns there’s no need to worry about insane people carrying guns!! adding more guns doesn’t complicate things at all!!! *tears hair*))–

BUT!

For heaven’s sake, YOU quit whining, if only to give yourself a chance to hear your own brain think! You can have your pity parties and your ridicule rallies all you want–I have no right to stop you–but quit telling other people to quit whining when YOU won’t quit whining!!!! You are ADULTS!!!!!!

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Oh, and thank you, so much, because you guys just screwed yourselves over for healthcare because you’re idiots, now that Trump’s F-U Care just passed the House. Speaking of which, by the way, I should mention that I have this thing called asthma, where like, if I don’t get the medication I need when something triggers it (which might as well be everything since we’re pumping poison into the air all the time), I either have to go to the ER, or die. And considering this new bill gives states the option of not having to cover the cost of an ambulance, I almost like to think I’d rather die. At least that way I wouldn’t be stuck paying an insane hospital bill just for them to stick a plastic tube in my mouth to inject medication.

Now, I’m quite while I’m ahead and cool off on this, if only because I know if I keep going, my words will just devolve into profanities. Bottom line, I may disagree with your opinion, but I respect your right to express it. And well…okay, I guess telling you the quit whining undermines that, so…can’t we just agree to disagree?

Gah! It’s the Anne Coulter Paradox all over again!!!

Ugh, yes it’s a free country, but you wanna know who uses that excuse to disrespect other people? Children. Definitely remember that one ALL the time from when I was young.

Or you could just quit being an idiot.

If for no other reason than for yourself so you can save yourself the regret later. Because I’m sorry, but very few people can pull of being an idiot and still be awesome.

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A Retrospective: Looking Forward to 2017 With A Clean Slate Ahead

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Ah, that dreaded “new year’s resolutions list”. I always hate those. The spirit is there on New Year’s Eve, and then it kinda…peters out.

Not to mention that I’m five months late getting this out!!!

Oh well. Better late than never.

To be fair though, I actually succeeded in mine this year. I got a new job. I’ll admit, I feel kinda good about that.

Bad news: this past year REALLY kinda sucked otherwise.

I mean…I guess it wasn’t horrible in the sense that I personally didn’t suffer any tragedies or get the news that I had some terminal illness or that I was gonna be evicted from my apartment or fired from either my old or my new job, but…guh. 2016 was more of a slog than I bargained for.

Started out with having to give up an arm and a leg to get my car fixed before my lease ran out so I wouldn’t have to give up my other arm and leg for the dealer to fix the car instead when I turned it in. Except now there’s an oil splat or something on my new car that a simple car wash doesn’t appear able to fix. So, meh, gotta figure that one out. :/

And that’s actually a highlight compared to everything else, which, now that I think of it, kind of went by in a bit of a blur. I think all us Americans came out of Election Day feeling like we’d just binge-watched the mother of all Netflix dramas. Like “House of Cards” on steroids and crystal meth. With rage-infected monkeys thrown in there.

And don’t even get me started on celebrity death after celebrity death. Not to say that I keep up with celebrities for the sake of being in the know about celebrities–I only care because a lot of these celebrities meant something to me somewhere on the road of life I’ve thus far traveled.

I think the first time I encountered Alan Rickman in my life was either in Galaxy Quest, or in Dogma. Can’t remember which. All I know now is that I will cry twice as hard when I watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (well, all the Harry Potter films really), and when I watch Love Actually every Christmas.

Labyrinth was introduced to me by a friend of mine from my early childhood, enraptured by all those dark, insane, beautiful kids films that only the 1980s seemed capable of producing. And incidentally, my first encounter with David Bowie.

When a friend of mine texted me that Carrie Fisher had died, I had just finished re-watching the original Star Wars trilogy for old times’ sake after having gone to see Rogue One, reliving again just how great those three films were. Better than I remembered them, all while thinking the romance between Leia and Han Solo was even better than I’d been able to appreciate when I’d been younger. Getting that text felt like a punch to the gut, and I’m still having trouble fathoming it, even while I’m writing this.

And well, Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka was basically a hallmark of childhood. More than that, but with everything I saw him in, from Young Frankenstein, to Blazing Saddles, he always brought a charisma to the screen that I don’t think we’ve seen since. It was like his own brand, no less that despite his Willy Wonka being a pioneer of the kind of wonder and imagination that’s boundless in childhood, he could still just sit back and let a stupid kid go be a stupid kid (you know, let themselves get blown up like a blueberry, or let themselves get zapped by a laser that breaks them down into a stream of particles and reassemble inside a TV) and still be likeable.

That’s just to name a few, but those in particular stick out in my mind, alongside Prince and Leonard Cohen.

With that in mind, I felt compelled to consider what I still had in my life to be grateful for, what still lay ahead that I’m hoping for. I guess if I were to put up a resolution list, it would simply be, “Get my novel finished for publishing.” As for the rest, I think it could be better described as a sum of everything that gives me joy in life, and keeps me going and getting out of bed every day (apart from the fact that I would most definitely get fired if I didn’t show up to work). Think of it as my own personal “Favorite Things” song a la The Sound of Music.

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J. K. Rowling

This year, I actually got a Christmas vacation, and believe me, I enjoyed it. One of the best things about it was I got more time to work on my book, but, I am one of those writers that at least needs something in my ears to get me going (once I do get going sometimes I don’t need it, or even notice that it’s gone cuz I’m just enraptured in my work). Something I always like to come back to to get me motivated when I can’t think of any good music to listen to instead is the Lifetime channel’s unauthorized biopic of J.K. Rowling, Magic Beyond Words. Corny in bits, but whatever, it’s Lifetime. I love watching it when I need that extra push. After it ended though I pulled a few documentaries and TV specials done on Rowling to keep up the momentum. And…yeah, it just made me think how awesome the world was for having her in it. (Though now I keep thinking about those unfinished Harry Potter fanfictions….).

Neil Gaiman

Now when I actually started this post, I didn’t know about this next bit, so I guess it’s good I’m writing this now, knowing what I know. I am of course referring to the American Gods TV show. It says something though that I can be excited about something for which I haven’t even read the book yet (I HAVE it, it’s still sitting on my TBR shelf, I’m savoring it, okay? Like a fine piece of chocolate.). But yeah, the premise alone was enough to suck me in, and the copy I have has the honor of being the last book I bought in England while I was studying abroad in the UK. Yep, bought it right in the airport magazine shop, with a note on the cover that reads “author’s preferred text”.

So I will be reading a book called American Gods which I bought in Britain (lolz).

Anyway, I did have a bigger point here. And that’s that I love Neil Gaiman, as much as, if not more than, J. K. Rowling. My favorite book of his to date is  Neverwhere, though that may change depending on my opinion of American Gods once I read it. And the what I’ve read of The Sandman comics has been golden, scratching that itch I always get for exploring old mythologies and mythoi and creating new ones. Either way, there’s always been something about everything I’ve read or seen by him or seen a work based on what he’s written that hasn’t enchanted me in some way, from The Graveyard Book to the book he wrote with Terry Pratchett (rest his soul), Good Omens. I just love the way he just takes the world and finds his own way to explain it, turning the reality we know inside out, and yet, at the same time, giving a better understanding of it. And it’s helped to set free the chains of logic and the concept of “this is how things are done” in my writing. I love it.

Anime and Manga

Yeah, gotta put this in there too. Just real quick. I won’t wax lyrical for a huge length of time–mostly I just wanted to touch on the fact that the breadth of storytelling these media offer is what draws me in, perhaps back since my first episode of Sailor Moon back in the 90s. And it’s an industry that’s always continuing to surprise and give me new wonderful things to latch onto in terms of emotional inspiration and entertainment value. Which is a nice anchor to have when your fandom tendencies were once restricted to YA book franchises that must all, regrettably, come to an end. I don’t like to think that anime and manga will end (at least not in my lifetime–but heaven forbid if it doesn’t last at least until the end of days!).

The TBR List

For my birthday recently, I had a book buying spree, and grabbed a bunch of titles I’ve really been looking forward to reading. Like…

The last two books in the Blood of Eden trilogy by Julie Kagawa

The Girl at Midnight trilogy (last book comes out later this year) by Melissa Grey

The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown

Magonia and it’s sequel Aerie by Maria Dahvana Headley

And of course we’ve already discussed American Gods

Earthsea series by Ursula K. Leguin

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (maybe–first I have to make sure it ends happily romance-wise, otherwise I don’t know if I could bear it) by Laini Taylor

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

And the list just keeps growing!

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Music

I couldn’t write without this. I couldn’t live without this.

I basically love anything that’s got a good beat and melody to it, and well-written lyrics aren’t bad either (if the song’s not instrumental). But I wanna give some props to a few that really get me going creatively:

Anything that on YouTube that starts with “World’s Greatest (Insert Adjective Here) Music”. So a lot of epic, trailer-music sounding stuff–but it’s amazing how gloriously beautiful a lot of that stuff is. That and some Vangelis-y stuff to get my sci-fi/fantasy fix.

Almost anything by Yuki Kajiura goes without saying, but gotta give a shout-out to Yoko Kanno as well. She’s the epitome of what it means to compose rich and lovely music for an OST. And, well, there are any number of anime soundtracks I could get into, but that would probably be a whole post in and of itself.

Lately I’ve been on a Sia kick as far as pop stuff goes, but I’m very attached to Clean Bandit’s “Rockabye” too. And high-octane emotionally packed, screaming symphonic metal songs go without saying too. As do songs by Lindsey Stirling, and anything else with a moaning violin and the rich tones of a cello.

Neil deGrasse Tyson (And Other Celeb Nerds) 

Ha! Another Neal made this list. But seriously, I was never that into science per se until I watched “Cosmos” (which deGrasse Tyson hosted) on Netflix. And I’m a huge nerd, but I subscribed to his podcast, “Startalk” too. I mean, he’s like this one math teacher I had in seventh grade who was the only teacher who get me to get As in that subject because she was engagingly enthusiastic. He just makes facts about the world awesome, and a lot of those are facts are mind-blowing, which is a plus.

And OMG Bill Nye has a new show for adults on Netflix. Ugh, the childhood feels. Okay, so Bill was there before Neal, and he made science cool for me first, but Neil reminded me how awesome it could actually be to read about physics, whether astro or theoretical (unless you’re reading something REALLY dryly written, which I did once).

Here’s to hoping though that Michio Kaku has the same effect on me.

The Joy of Writing (Once I Can Get Myself Going)

Sticking in the ear buds now and gonna try and get some writing done. And editing. And re-reading. And re-drafting. But I love it I swear!

Seriously, apart from the books and the people I love, I can’t imagine my life without it. I love being in that place of my own making, taking the helm of a world I created and driving it for myself, if only to help me understand it better. It’s the same reason I love stories as much as making them up. I honestly can’t remember  a time in my life when I wasn’t making up stories.

And with the novel I’m writing in particular, I really hope I’ve created something sculpted from everything precious and meaningful to me.

Okay, okay. Enough with all the flowery prose. Real people don’t talk like this! (Lol) But in all honesty, no matter what I’m writing, it’s that breathing space I can find within myself that keeps me going the most through every day that passes. It’s…my one and only true, true love (until maybe that special someone comes my way *sigh*).

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The Kitchen Sink

I dunno. Because I probably forgot something, and that something is probably been thrown in with the kitchen sink.

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Ha! Story of my life. Well, not the ghost part. Just the crazed expression.

That’s that for now, and I’ve got quite a bit on my plate on things considered. Things like $$$ (the utter bane of my existence at the moment–that and idiot “politicians”). Long as no one is threatening to break my legs, I think I can still manage to count myself lucky. That and the friends I have in my life. (Which should probably go up on my list, but then, they’re so integral to my life that I figured that it went without saying.) Nonetheless, don’t let it be thought that I don’t appreciate my friends and family, because I would definitely be nothing without them (and that’s why you’ll get to be named in my acknowledgements page when my book(s) get published–you know who you are).

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Now let’s try to have an an awesome 2017 (or what’s left of it, anyway). I leave you with Sia, and I wish to all of you the very best! 😉

 

 

 

 

 

The Asterisk Principle

When I woke up on the morning of November 9, I’ll admit, I was a little surprised that the world was still moving along, same as always. But, I suppose you gotta do what you gotta do.

Thinking about it, we are a restless nation. We have been since day one of its birth. We’ve always been about change…and we always get dissatisfied very quickly. We like our shiny new toys, but we get bored with them soon enough.

Look, I get why it happened. I get why Trump won. I get what he tapped into, that it shouldn’t have been underestimated as it was, that there were a lot of people who were sorely out of touch with those who felt abandoned.

Live and learn.

And I’m not gonna act like I haven’t been frustrated with the status quo either. I just barely manage to get by month to month at my job, so I’m not a stranger to long nights lying awake wondering if I’m still gonna be able to keep on paying the bills and keep food in the kitchen and gas in my car and pray that nothing so horrible goes wrong that it puts me in the red.

But PLEASE–enough with the hypocrisy.

Here’s what gets under my skin.

When I hear the words, “Now is the time to reach out and come together,” I hear: “Time to fall in line and come to my way of thinking.”

When I hear the words, “Enough, let’s stop bashing Trump and give him the chance to lead,” I hear, “Sit down and shut up.”

Oh, I’m sorry: I thought we had a little thing called the First Amendment.

The right to free speech.*

*Unless you make fun of or slander Trump, or say things that don’t agree with his perception of the truth, then you get sued and apparently have no rights.

Outside of my day job, I am working to become a published writer, a novelist. But now I entertain fears that I’ll never get published because my writing addresses my concerns about the environment and global warming, never mind that it WILL get printed but have a big black marker taken to it to censor out anything that Trump doesn’t agree with. Or that I’ll just get straight up sued or jailed for it.

How many ridiculed and tore into President Obama? And he never childishly threatened to sue, or started a Twitter war. (Note the word, “childishly”.)

Now, I can’t say I’ve laid my eyes on the official Bill of Rights, but I don’t think there are any asterisks on it. But apparently there have been some added without most people’s notice.

I get it. Trump won. But please don’t deny me my right to express my grievances over it. When did it become okay to insult somebody and get away with it? Or shoot someone and get away with it, for that matter?

No, I’m sorry. He hurt a lot of people. He disgraced a lot of people. You can’t just brush that off. Because we might as well just throw up our hands right now and say that we are a nation of assholes. Because that’s basically what we’ve done.

You want me to give him a fair shot. And I like to think that over the years I’ve learned to have a more open mind about things, whether I agree or not. You try to assure me that he’ll stand by his vow to be a president for everyone, so why am I not just shutting my mouth?

Because he has yet to demonstrate that he IS a president for everyone.

You can’t say that you’re a president for everyone, when you’ve spent a campaign insulting half of them. No, he’s never held public office, so I can’t say that I know for sure how he’s going to govern. But I’m sorry, the evidence has done nothing to convince me otherwise. He has done NOTHING to convince me that he is a president that speaks for me.

And I’m not saying Hilary was a saint. But there it is again, that damn double-standard. Just like when a woman who gets a lot of guys is a slut, but a guy who gets a lot of women is a stud. Not saying gender is the whole picture, but it comes to the same thing. That double-standard.

That hypocrisy.

What she’s done to offend has to be answered for, but what Trump has done to offend doesn’t matter. The one child who always gets punished, the other who always gets rewarded, even though neither are perfect.

Since the dawn of our nation, we’ve prided ourselves on being able to break away from and declare ourselves independent from tyranny. From a bully. But now I’m thinking…all along, maybe it wasn’t so much that we were mad that we were being terrorized…but that we wanted to be the ones doing the terrorizing, the bullying.

So after years of telling our kids, “Bullying is wrong,” we’ve elected a bully into the highest office in the land.

You can be strong, without being an asshole to everyone. In fact, I’d say being an asshole is the weaker choice.

BUT–

I also know I can’t change everyone’s minds. Or anyone’s. And I’m not going to try to. But PLEASE, for goodness’ sake, everyone allowed for one side’s grievances to be heard, please do them the courtesy of respecting the other side’s right to voice theirs.

And to everyone who voted for and supported Trump: I sincerely hope you’re happy.

 

 

 

 

What Makes A Good Prequel?

Ah, the prequel. One of the strangest concepts in storytelling, one that backtracks on the timeline and yet is created after the original work comes out. If done right, it can make for more interesting insight into the world you create as an author. If done wrong, it can do nothing but undo all the work you put into the original work. But isn’t it just an excuse for an author to milk the success of a first novel or series in a story line? Well, perhaps, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if there’s good entertainment value to be gained out of it.

So what makes a good prequel? Well, it has to be good, for one thing. But more importantly, it has to contain its own worthy resonance as a story, something that establishes itself as a tale that has value in its telling. If it can overcome this (as well as manage to avoid creating plot holes in the narrative of events that this story is meant to predate), then there can be meaning found in creating a prequel. In particular since you’re already fighting a battle against a degree of lost tension, being that if the reader or viewer has already experienced the original story this one it’s preceding, they already know what’s going to happen, thus removing the element of mystery. So the prequel, simply said, has to be compelling enough in some other way in its own right, since it can’t be compelling in terms of where the plot and characters (if they’re featured in the original narrative) end up. After all, that’s one of the number one arguments against prequels: “We already know what’s going to happen, so what’s the point?”

In the book world, I’d say, in my experience, that prequels aren’t nearly as brought up as they are in the movie world, but prequels exist in both media. There’s the Throne of Glass series prequel, Assassin’s Blade, and there’s the young adult prequel to the more adult Alexia Tarrabotti series. The Hobbit films I tentatively put on here, because even though the books those films are based on came before the Lord of the Rings, the films were made in the reverse, thus qualifying the films as prequels. While I can’t speak for the first two franchise prequels, I think the Hobbit films did very well for themselves, and with their being split up into three films served to give characters in that universe proper care and attention, in addition to a nice expansion to the world of Middle-Earth as portrayed on film.

The safest prequel plots are ones that don’t really have anything to do with the plot of the original storyline that was written first, but might involve one or two characters from that original work to ground it in the same universe. It could be argued that this doesn’t technically make it a prequel, but it does make it easier to create a plot with tension, since the story line is in fact new, it’s just taking place on an earlier period in a story’s universe’s timeline. But what can be as much a draw as a flaw in a prequel can be a fan-of-the-original-work’s curiosity in “how did this all come to be in the first place?”

It’s always interesting to explore the prior events that take place before those of a well-enjoyed, established narrative. In the event you’re ever reveling in the success of being published, and you find your churning mind conjuring up possibilities of exploring the precursor to the world you’ve created, I’d make a recommendation to just keep these prequel restrictions in mind so you don’t fall in the trap of making the prequel an uninteresting read: your audience is already going to know that any characters involved in the original work are going to make it and not die, that you already know what Fate has in store for them; it’s important to maintain character consistency between this new, “before” version and the one you and your readers came to know in the original work; that the arc those characters have to go through has to be interesting enough to overcome the fact that no matter what, the characters are going to end up in the place everyone already knows they’re going to end up in.

Another good way to test the effectiveness of a prequel is to view it in reverse to the source material: to see how it pans out if someone were to experience the prequel before the original source material, as if the source material were the sequel. Either way, as long as you take good planning and care, you can develop a good, compelling prequel that works to expand the universe of the world created.

While prequels are far from necessary, there’s something about them that feeds the same kind of satisfaction that fanfiction writers get from expanding on existing literary and media universes in their own way. It’s just in your own universe, and, you can further your media exposure and launch a franchise. No, money shouldn’t, in theory, be your sole reason for writing (the only way money ever becomes a thing is if you get as big as J. K. Rowling and Stephen King), but it doesn’t hurt to be ambitious with your work either, and that includes being monetarily ambitious. 🙂

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“Oh. My bad.”

The Kind of Books I Want to Read….

Here’s a question you may or may not have asked yourself in a while: “Why did I decide to become a writer? Why do I labor over page after page, pouring years of my life into a single book? Why do I work so hard towards my first big break as an author?” Okay, three questions, but still…they’re worth asking yourself now and then, especially when you find yourself lost in the mire of words and story structures and plot lines and character development, all while trying to squeeze it into the very narrow gaps of time you have in-between papers and schoolwork and work-work and bills and blah, blah, blah.

Flicking through the special features on the extended edition Lord of the Rings DVDs, my favorite bits will always be the background stuff on Tolkien himself. Not that I don’t enjoy all the behind-the-scenes stuff (all the work involved to make the Battle for Helm’s Deep is an epic unto itself), but the wide-eyed I-wanna-be-a-writer-just-like-you side of me gets a nice dose of motivation out of watching that kind of stuff. One of the blurbs I best remember is about how Tolkien and his friend C.S. Lewis came to realization that they were going to have to write the kinds of stories they wanted to read, seeing as how no one else appeared to be writing them. And from them we got The Lord of the Rings (of course), the Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia (that last one being Lewis’ obviously).

For myself, I’d say that’s part of it. Actually, there’s almost a dark side to that kind of thinking. Or maybe a healthy envy: when you come across a book so freaking good you wish you’d written it yourself. I have a personal shelf of books that I’ve come across that I would say I love so much I’m almost jealous of them in that respect, in that I wish I’d written them myself. Chief among them is the Harry Potter series. In that case, I wouldn’t say for the wealth or the fame that resulted and fell into J.K. Rowling’s lap, so much as the profound effect it had on the world. Yeah, I know that sounds like the same thing as fame, but I mean it more as the fact that it reached the hearts of so many people and basically created a shift in the entire industry of literature and the printed page. Coupled with the fact that it stirred controversy on par with Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, you know with the whole witchcraft thing and all. Yeah, it’s ridiculous to judge a book based on stuff like that, and it’s my disagreement with that thinking that makes me not feel so bad about having stuff like the Twilight saga on my shelf next my copies of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.

Controversy aside though, at its core, Harry Potter is a beautiful story, simply put. And that’s what strikes me most. It’s full of heart and sincerity, and stands on its own as something wonderfully unique. This is what it is about all the other books on my personal shelf of books-I-wish-I’d-written. For my money and personal taste, that’s something I will never get tired of, and will always look for in a story, and so…that’s always the story I try to write. Another book that does this for me is Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is probably my most favorite book by him (though that may change once I get around to reading American Gods). It’s just one of those stories that somehow fits into the real world even though it’s so fantastical at the exact same time. Again, a kind of story I enjoy reading as well as writing. I would also put Melina Marchetta’s The Chronicles of Lumitere trilogy on that shelf too, if only because of the profound effect it had on my feels while reading it, and doing so far more than I expected. Let’s not forget the His Dark Materials trilogy either by Philip Pullman, one of the best science/magic crossover stories tapping into the ticking of the universe this side of Fullmetal Alchemist.

And right at this very moment, I’m reading a book that I’ve barely dented and already I can tell it’s gonna go on that shelf with those other books: V. E. Schwab’s Vicious (mentioned previously). I’ve FINALLY gotten to reading it and it looks like my anticipation will be generously rewarded. More than that, but it scratches an itch inside me I can’t describe, but it’s one that only a story like this can satisfy. Perhaps it’s something in my current state of mind, my recent mood, what I’ve gotten into and exposed myself to lately that influences my interests and tastes (including listening to songs like “Bad Blood” by Bastille). I guess I’d call the kind of itch I’ve got now a “wicked” itch, an itch to see wickedly badass characters who harbor a kind of bitterness towards something in the world, leaving me curious how things are going to turn out when two such characters become locked in a clash with each other. That and of course revenge is always a dish best served…well, anytime for me.

It’s the same reason every now and then I enjoy reading or watching something high on nightmare fuel masterfully combined with beautiful imagery, grim and yet alluding to the possibility of hope shining through all that darkness. There’s not one genre of story I enjoy reading or writing, but there is one thing that they all have in common to make it onto that personal bookshelf: they have such heart and soul that they feel like living entities, real and breathing worlds of their own.

Oh, there I go again, getting high on my own words.

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