Blame @melbsonmymind : the Hamilton Book Tag.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Today’s post is going to be a little different from my usual. To see why, you can watch this video where Kirsti tagged me. Basically, Hamilton is this amazing groundbreaking incredible new thing created by Lin-Manuel Miranda that contains some of the best music ever and happens to get people obsessing about the Founding Fathers of America while it not-so-slowly takes over your every waking thought. Or maybe that’s just me (and most of my twitter friends, and, like, half the internet.). ANYWAY, because Hamilton love is spreading so quickly around the world/internet, this book tag was created in which songs from Hamilton are used as book-related questions to be answered by the tagee.

At first this was hard because I was struggling to think of answers for some of these. As I wrote the post, however, it started getting really hard because I kept thinking of more and more and MORE answers to each question, and it was really hard not to just include ALL THE THINGS and have about half a dozen books/series for answer. Which is to say, all answers are subject to further extrapolation and additions, and if you want to talk about EVEN MORE BOOKS I LOVE, just let me know in the comments.

Now, on to the post! …after one last quick disclaimer: Since I am talking about books in this post, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. I pretty much stay away from anything huge, but if you haven’t read Code Name Verity, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Good Omens, or The Sandman comics, you might want to do that before you continue. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you.

Okay, all done? Ready to continue? Here we go:

Question One:

In the Room Where It Happens:

A book world you would put yourself in.

Really, I would chose any era of this world. The Custard Protocol by Gail Carriger just happens to be the newest installment, but if I were in The Finishing School or The Parasol Protectorate eras, I wouldn’t exactly complain about it. These books are the prefect blend of steampunk meets paranormal meets adventure comedy meets self-rescuing women, and they’re basically one of my favorite things ever.

Question Two:

The Schuyler Sisters:

Underrated Female Character.

I gave this question a lot of thought. My first answer was one of my favorite female characters from when I was a kid:

Eowyn from The Two Towers and Return of the King by JRR Tolkien is not only underrated by pretty much everyone around her, but she also — in my opinion — has her strength and power pretty undercut by the retelling of the story as done by the movies. But then after thinking about my answers a while longer, I thought of another book from my childhood with TWO female characters so underrated they get turned into ONE CHARACTER in the movie adaptation (plus another female that gets turned into a male for the movie)…

The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith features Pongo and Missis, and after Missis has the original fifteen puppies, the Dearlys adopt a canine wet nurse they name Perdita to help Missis feed all the babies. Perdita has her own entire backstory of forbidden love and lost puppies before she got found and adopted by the Dearlys, too. When the puppies are stolen, Pongo and Missis go to rescue them while Perdita stays behind with the Dearlys to try and comfort them. When they find the puppies, Perdita’s are with the others they rescue, and in the end, her forbidden love and father of her puppies gets reunited and adopted too, becoming the 101st Dalmatian.

Also, the tabby cat in the book is female.

Question Three:

My Shot:

A character that goes after what they want and doesn’t let anything stop them.

This is another one I gave a lot of thought. I was thinking about answering it with this…

…because Manon Blackbeak from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas is kind of ALL THE THINGS (even though I haven’t yet read the newest book and that makes me really sad). But, I’ve recently gotten on a Self-Rescuing Princess kick, and there’s a certain Princess of that genre who influenced my childhood a lot and she also totally fits the requirements for an answer to this question.

Princess Cimorene of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede bullies her tutors into teaching her useful lessons like swordplay and languages, runs away from home instead of marrying someone she doesn’t like, argues with a bunch of dragons until they finally agree to let her live, cleans and cooks and investigates, teaches herself more skills, does spells, makes friends, defeats the princes who try to rescue her, saves the day, and all that’s just in the first book. She goes on to rescue her dragon from kidnapping, and then on a quest to save her husband’s kingdom while pregnant. Clearly, she’s not about to waste her shot.

Question Four:

Stay Alive:

A character you wish was still alive.

There are so many answers I could give to this question, but there’s one that popped up first and stuck there, without a second thought.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. “Kiss me, Hardy” is a phrase that will make me start sobbing inside, because of this book. This book is also going to be showing up as the answer to two more questions, because it messed me up that bad when I read it. In a good way. In a sobbing heartbroken mess kind of good way.

That’s all I’m going to say about it now, because even with the spoiler warning at the beginning, I’m super reluctant to talk about this book in detail. Either you already know so you understand, or you don’t and I can’t explain it. Sorry. Just read it. You’ll see.

Question Five:

Burn:

The most heartbreaking end to a relationship you’ve ever read.

It should come as no surprise to those who’ve read Code Name Verity and understand my reaction that I’m choosing it again as my answer here. I don’t care if it’s cheating. It broke my heart and make me sob for a day, therefore it totally counts.

Also, I’m slightly taking advantage of the fact that relationship =/= traditional sexual. It can also mean friendship, family, asexual, and so on. #PSA

Question Six:

You’ll Be Back:

Sassiest villain.

This was one of the hardest questions for me to find an answer. Mostly because I kept wanting to say King George from Hamilton. When I finally managed to make myself think of something else, I decided on this person:

Desire of the Endless, from the Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman. Desire isn’t as much of the “ha-ha” kind of sassy, but he/she/it tends to always answer serious questions with a smirk and a dismissive wave, which should count for a lot in such a dark narrative. If you’ve read the last issues, then you also know that Desire acts as quite the undercover super-villain throughout the story, too.

And yes, I’m totally counting this series as a book. Epic storytelling is epic storytelling, regardless of format. This format happens to be words printed with ink on paper. That means it’s a book. (#PSA2)

Question Seven:

The Reynolds Pamphlet:

A book with a twist you didn’t see coming.

I’m sorry, were you expecting something else? The moment the second part of this book started, it was unexpected twist after unexpected twist, right down to the sobbing mess I became by the end. It’s a brilliant use of one of my favorite tropes: The Unreliable Narrator.

Question Eight:

Non-Stop:

A series you marathoned.

Since “obsessive marathon” is my usual reading style, this was a hard one to answer simply because I have so many from which I could choose. I finally decided on this.

If I have to go with only one of the many non-stop reads Tamora Pierce creates, I pick the Lioness Quartet. Not only did it kick off her writing about girls and women who don’t conform to fantasy genre tropes, but it was also originally meant to be one book and got split into four.

The stories set in Tortall and those in Emelan should be read by every kid and adult, and ought to be classics on the same level as Narnia. The world-building and systems of magic are incredible, especially in Emelan, and the characters feel like they’re your best friends. The life lesson, ethics, and moral issues in the adventures are all tackled with compassion and care and a kind of idealized realism, with the combined result of it never feeling like you’re being preached at, but instead truly feel for the struggles these kids go through as they learn and grow.

Plus, since they’re written to be accessible for younger readers, I’ve sometimes almost made it through an entire quartet in one go. Talk about marathoning!

(Honorable mention in this category goes to The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. I read those in the exact same MUST DEVOUR ALL THE BOOKS NOW  fashion no matter how many times I’ve read them.)

Question Nine:

Satisfied:

Favorite book with multiple POVs.

I honestly just realized that there’s actually two ways to interpret this question, and I’d gotten stuck on one. So, in a last-minute change of plan, I’m going to answer this question twice, one for each way. I’d been thinking about it a lot, because I’d been thinking of it in a “best use of multi-POVs” kind of way, rather than a “personal favorite that happens to have multi-POVs” kind of way.

My flippant answer to this question, by the way, is to say “mine”, because I happen to be writing a series that uses multiple POVs as unreliable narrators, which is kind of amazingly fun and challenging. I was also tempted to say Code Name Verity again, because that’s how badly that book mess me up (in a good sobbing mess way).

HOWEVER. Here’s my real and final answer(s):

“Best Use” award goes to:

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. The chapters switch between POVs and each time it adds to the story and makes you question what assumptions came before it from the other characters. There was at least one time where new information made me want to start from the beginning again because of how much I felt like I missed from not knowing something about someone. THAT is a brilliant use of multiple POVs, and something I aspire to in my own fiction writing.

“Personal Favorite” award goes to:

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. A classic, as far as I’m concerned, and also a rather brilliant use of multiple-POVs as a vehicle in which to build the comedy, what with the whole switched-at-birth plot-line and the mistaken-identities tropes abounding throughout the narrative.

Question Ten:

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story:

A book/series you feel like will be remembered throughout history.

There’s a really obvious answer to this one, which is Harry Potter. And while that is good and true, I like to try and think of less obvious answers, so I decided to go with this series instead:

The books of the Discworld by Terry Pratchett are certainly going to live on in my heart forever, and I think a lot of people are going to be passing that love on to generations to come. That’s my hope, anyway.

(GNU Sir Terry Pratchett.)

Bonus Round:

Question One:

 

Helpless:

A ship you were pulling for from the start.

Zuzana and Mik, from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor. I’m picking them mostly because they compliment each other, and because I’m in love with Zuz. Also, they have such a lovely relationship, from the cute slightly inept fumblings at crushing on each other, to the kick-ass supportive teamwork when they have going on through one crazy adventure after terrifying revelation after another. There’s other couples I totally ship in other books and series too, don’t get me wrong. But Zuz and Mik are so awesome, both together and apart, and they just work so well as a couple without nearly as many problematic issues as other fictional couples, that I think they deserve to win this one. I was cheering them from the get-go.

(Runner up: Scarlet and Wolf from The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. They pretty much define the kind of characters I will over-relate to and get over-invested in their ship. Also Simon and Blue from Simon vs The Homo Sapients Agenda by Becky Albertalli because they are ridiculously adorably. Also a lot of others because I have shipper problems.)

Question Two:

The Ten Duel Commandments:

Favorite Fight Scene.

Every time Granny Weatherwax uses Headology to save the day. (Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett, etc)

After all, you didn’t say it had to be a physical fight, now did you…?

Question Three:

Say No To This:

Guilty Pleasure read.

There’s not a lot of books I’d classify as Guilty Pleasures, because I don’t feel the slightest bit of shame over reading good books regardless of genre, etc. If I do feel embarrassed about having read something, it’s usually because it’s such awful writing that I’d rather not have anything to do with it, and therefore felt no pleasure in reading it in the first place. That said, there are still books I’ve read and will occasionally reread for a bit of light fun, that aren’t exactly mind-blowing stories or great writing. But they’re still engaging writing, so I still enjoy them, and I figure it’s close enough to an answer for this question.

Having basically no relation to the TV adaptations, the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris is totally light and silly paranormal reading, and happen to be the first books I thought of as an answer. I read the first one years ago, after someone showed me the pilot episode and I found out it was taken from a novel. It was a complete tonal opposite, and since I like a lot of books that would fall under the horribly sexist and dismissive category of “chick-lit” I figured it’d be fun to read more. Every once in a while when I’m in the right mood and need a distraction while stressed out, I’ll pick them up again.

(Random fact: my initial runner-up for this is the X-Wing series by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston. They’re the only Star Wars books I hung on to after my teens. The first time I read them was the week I had chicken-pox, and they kept me from getting scars because I was too busy reading to notice the itching as much.)

Question Four:

What Comes Next:

A series you wish had more books.

I have two answers for this. Can I have two answers for this? I don’t care, I’m going to do it anyway. No bending the rules or making up justifications like before. There’s just flat out two answers to this question.

First:

Little Brother and Homeland, two novels by Cory Doctorow, are currently a book and a sequel. I’m hoping it’ll become a series. They’re excellent commentary on modern society and issues, while also being lessons and tutorials on personal security with technology, masquerading as a barely-alternate version of current events at the time they were each written, all geared towards a teenage reader. I’ve written a review of at least one of them on one of my blogs. If you want to read it and don’t want to look for it yourself, just let me know and I’ll find it and link you.

Second:

As far as I know, The Gammage Cup and The Whisper of Glocken by Carol Kendall are in the same boat of being a series of two, except this time there’s no possibility of more, which makes me sad. This are charming books of a “grounded-fantasy” variety, that my sister read to me when I was little. They have a special place in my heart.

Question Five:

Right Hand Man:

Favorite BrOTP.

I mean, is there really a better BrOTP to read about than that of Colon and Nobby? I doubt it. Although I’d accept Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as an alternate. (Discworld series, Terry Pratchett, etc.)

Question Six:

What’d I Miss:

A book or series you were late to reading.

There are actually quite of few ways of answering this, and quite a few I could pick from each one, but I’m going with one that feels pretty significant in pretty much all the ways.

I read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee for the first time a couple years ago, in my mid-twenties. I did see a play of it as a kid, but I was really young and didn’t know the story so I didn’t pay much attention to it. I figure that doesn’t really count. When I read it recently, it certainly felt like the first time hearing the story. Plus, I finally get what everyone was talking about now!

Okay, that’s the end of the list, and also the end of my brain power for the day. Seriously, I’ve been working on this post for almost the entire day, and that’s not even counting the weeks I spend tweaking the original list I wrote on paper. And I could keep tweaking at this, but then it’d never get published, sooo…..

Feel free to tag yourself and credit me if you want to join the fun since I’m not actually going to be tagging anyone myself! Also, go listen to Hamilton if you haven’t yet. Seriously.

Love,

GeGi.

Storytelling is a superpower, and other thoughts.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’ve said (written) a lot of positive things on here about fanfiction. I stand by everything I’ve said before, but due to some recent discussions I’ve been seeing on Twitter lately, I wanted to add a little complexity to my position on some of the issues surrounding fanfic.

Storytelling is important. How we tell the story, what we choose to focus on, and what we do with it afterward, all matter very deeply. These things effect people in a very real way, with very real consequences to their lives. This post is going to talk about some topics that you might not want to expose yourself to right now. I talk about them in pretty general terms, but if even hearing (reading) the name of an issue will adversely effect you, please take care of yourself first and not read this post until/unless you’re in a mentally and emotionally safe place to do so.

The discussions that sparked my own thoughts into wanting to write this post was about toxic shipping in fandom and fanfics. The release of Jessica Jones on Netflix is starting lots of very awesome powerful dialogue due to the incredible handling of PTSD, abuse, rape, misogyny, and other relevant topics for today’s culture. It’s also brought out some less awesome behavior with those people who seem to see romantic tragedy where others see abuse, manipulation, and rape. These are people who ship Kilgrave/Jessica Jones, ignoring all evidence that that’s about the most sickening and unhealthy thing they could possible do. That’s not even touching on the fact that shipping an abusive one-sided relationship is triggering for survivors of such, and also the fact that it’s showing support and/or excusing that kind of behavior in the real world.

The things we create in fiction don’t live in a vacuum, safe and away from all “real world” consequences. It doesn’t matter if we’re creating TV shows, best-selling YA fiction, or internet-only fanfic. All it takes is other people, even just one other person, seeing it. The moment that happens, it’s effecting the real world. It has become part of the world, released into the wild to spawn and grown and change in someone’s mind, becoming part of their thoughts and ideas. So us storytellers must, MUST, be responsible about what we say. But we also have to let go after it’s out there. The time for us to make sure we’re getting it as right as we can is while we’re creating it. After that, it’s too late. It’s already out there, and we don’t get a second change to fix our mistakes.

So when the story is about an abusive relationship, it needs to be called out on being an abusive relationship IN THE NARRATIVE. This is something Jessica Jones did. My skin crawled seeing Kilgrave, despite how much I adore David Tennant. They never shrank away from the fact he was a horrible awful person, even when they gave him complexity and backstory and explanations (and please note: these were NEVER framed as excuses except by Kilgrave). Not all narratives do this; in fact, very few of them do at all. They turn abusers into someone misunderstood, broken but fixable through love and sacrifice. That’s the lessons learned by people who ship Kilgrave/Jessica, because like Kilgrave, they learned about love by seeing it in movies and TV shows. That kind of narrative about love not how the real world works, and survivors of abusive relationships know it.

People who buy into the toxic narrative and defend it are hurting the survivors. They’re also hurting themselves and anyone else who listens to that narrative, because it makes it easier for the myth to perpetuate. They’re giving confusion and uncertainty to people who won’t always recognize abuse because it’s been dressed up as romance. They’re giving excuses and justification to those who will use romanticized abuse to get what they want from other people, consciously or not. They’re supporting a culture that doesn’t acknowledge rape, abuse, misogynist, violence against women. They’re supporting a culture that can’t tell the difference between what’s okay and what isn’t. They’re supporting a culture that devalues the abused and their experiences.

I’m not saying the people who ship these things are bad, necessarily. They might be. I don’t know, because I don’t know them at all. All I can tell is that they’re certainly misinformed and in desperate need of some feminist education. I’m sure a lot of them would disagree with me and call me a lot of horrible things if they read this. I’m sure a lot of them wouldn’t even realize the irony of doing that, how it would in fact prove my point better than my own words can. This happens all the time, both on the internet and in the “real world”. Despite all progress, we’re still living in a toxic culture, one where just telling the truth about it on the internet can, and often does, lead to death threats, rape threats, and verbal abuse.

Which is why storytelling is so desperately important. The real world hurts, and a lot of us use escapism to survive it — I certainly do. The thing is, it isn’t really escapism. It’s just a different way to change and explore the very same narrative we’re living in day after day. The way that narrative is framed will either make our wounds bleed more, or help them to heal. If someone is telling a story with toxic relationships, framing them as tragic romance is adding to the very thing that’s hurting us in the first place. But framing them with in-your-face honest realism, showing just how bad and awful and insidious they are, makes them become something we can then point to and say, “See, this is what’s really going on. This is what it feels like to be stalked and manipulated and trapped and then survive. It’s not romantic. It’s not something you get over by the next episode. It’s scary as hell, and it changes you for life. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you strong. It’s awful, and it’s happening every day. But we can still fight back.”

There was another conversation happening a few days ago. It was about how J.K. Rowling was continuing to tell people the right and wrong ways to interpret her characters. These people were talking about how hurtful it was for an author to do that. They had bonded with the people in these stories because the characters resonated with real life experiences and people. The characters were real to them, like all our favorite fiction characters are real to us. They had claimed them, had written and read fanfiction about them, had created their own narrative and framing about them, both by using what was in the text and by going beyond it. These people were offended and outraged at the author telling them they were wrong in their own interpretations.

So how are those people different from the people shipping Kilgrave/Jessica Jones?

They’re different for a very simple reason: the framing and narrative created by toxic shipping is ADDING to a toxic culture. But these outraged fans are creating interpretations to DISMANTLE toxic culture. They’re creating narrative to add POC, to add queer relationships, to call out abusers, and other important issues that were overlooked or deemed unimportant in the original text. No work of fiction is perfect, even Harry Potter, and it can certainly be hard to tackling every issue at once. So these people are taking something they love, something profoundly important to our generation, a touchstone of our culture, and they’re adding this framing to it. They’re doing it because they love it, and because they have the real life experiences and knowledge to understand where the failings and shortcomings are, and they have the passion to try and fix them. This is something I love and adore about fandom, by the way.

J.K. Rowling coming along and telling them that no, those things are wrong, is hugely upsetting. Harry Potter and co are her creations, but as soon as she published the stories, their names and experience became ours, too. They’re part of everyone who reads the books or watches the movies or listens to the audiotapes. They’re part of our culture, a lexicon in our ongoing dialogue about the world. She doesn’t get to invalidate that by telling us we’re doing it wrong. She can and does try, but it doesn’t mean we have to listen to it. She had her chance to tell that story, and now it’s our turn. Which means the responsibility in how the story is framed falls to us, too.

A storyteller gets one shot to get it right. And, regardless of if they do or not, everyone who received that story then gets their own shot to get it right. And on, and on, and on. Stories never really die or go away. They keep mutating, traveling, forming and breaking apart and reforming, over and over and over. Stories are alive, even the ones pinned down with print or film or tape. They’re alive in our minds, as soon as we read them or watch them or listen to them. They never leave us, and they never stop changing our thoughts and feelings and actions. They get passed on, warping themselves through the lens of our perceptions and experiences, and again through those same things of the ones who receive it from us.

How we tell the stories is so important. They can literally change the world for someone, for good or bad. The moment we’ve told the story, we’ve lost the chance to tell it better. So we’d better get it the best we can the first time, because that’s all we get, and with that one chance we can heal or break someone else. It’s scary and huge and real, and it’s powerful and beautiful and magic. Storytelling is the ultimate superpower. It doesn’t matter if you think you have an audience or not. Chances are, someone somewhere is still listening. You’re touching their life. So you can either add to the toxic culture that’s probably already hurting them, or you can use that superpower to help create dialogue to dismantle it, and let them know they’re not alone.

We all have our own experiences, our own truths and struggles and wounds and insights. Storytelling is how we can share those things, finding the common ground with others and opening the eyes and minds of those who never realized what life was like for us. It’s a chance create understanding, compassion, empathy, outrage, revelation, and a myriad of other things that are extremely hard to pass on without the wonder that is storytelling. Storytelling is how we learn about other people, it’s how we can grow to understand the world, how we remember the past, and how we can shape the future.

That’s one reason why I think fanfiction is so important. Not everyone has the same experiences (obviously), so when someone can take a beloved narrative like the Harry Potter books and flesh it out even more by drawing on their own unique view, that adds to both the story as a whole, and to my own views of other people. I can become a little more aware of other peoples’ realities in the real world, and the world of Harry Potter gets a little closer to being complete because more than one voice is adding to it. The more voices and the more diversity gets added to it, the better it gets at breaking down toxic culture for more people. No one is going to get things 100% right, but the more people who add to it, the better the chances get for the overlap to make up the difference. Not to mention how cathartic it can be to add to that narrative and framing yourself, which is exactly what I experienced the first time I venture into writing fanfic as an angsty teen.

I’m a storyteller myself. Not just in this blog, either. I recently finished a first draft of a novel I hope to actually publish in the next year or so, and I’ve started on a sequel already. I’ve been world-building fantasy and sci-fi worlds for stories since I was about twelve or so, and do it by playing Let’s Pretend for as long as I can remember. Saying I love it is kind of a “does not compute” understatement moment for me, because it’s just part of who I am. It’s not something I’m passionate about, because it’s synonymous with passion for me. I breath, I blink, my heart beats, I create people and worlds and scenarios in my head. It just is. Obviously, thinking about getting to share one of those worlds and some of those characters is exciting and cool. But you know what the thing I’m most excited about is? It’s seeing what other people will do with them.

I want to see my own stories get out there, because I want to see how they grow and change with each new interpretation. I want to see what other stories get told with these characters who are real to me, because that means they’re real enough to someone else to inspire those other stories. I want to see what will happen when someone else uses them to tell personal stories, uses them to explore other issues, uses them fulfill other dreams and hopes. I want to see how someone else thinks the story should end. I want those things because seeing them will make me a better storyteller, and a better person. Those are the things that will help me understand someone else, and help me to understand the world and the cultures and all those other things I’m not going to experience as myself. I don’t know what it’s like to live the world as someone else, but using stories like this helps me get closer to that. Especially if they’re using the power of storytelling for good.

Stay strong, cyber-friends, and keep telling stories that help to heal and dismantle those toxic cultures.

Love,

GeGi.

Fan Fiction.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about writing a post on for a while now, and a moment ago a twitter-friend told me to do it, so here it goes…

Fan fiction, for those who don’t know, is not-for-profit original stories using various elements from established works. Basically it’s a way to play in someone else’s sandbox, use their toys, and giving them back afterwards. There’s fanfic of books, movies, tv shows, video games, songs, real people…basically anything. There’s cross-over fanfic that combines elements from separate works, alternate universe fic that takes elements (for example: characters) and places them in a completely new setting, slash fic that explores potential relationships between various characters, and on and on. Again, it’s whatever the author can think of. There are really no limits when it comes to fanfic (except maybe legal ones).

There’s a huge stigma about fanfic; basically that it’s a shameful and shallow no-talent thing, often full of porn and/or “Mary-Sues” [the author inserts themselves as a “perfect” original character in order to be loved by their favorite characters]. While some fanfic can indeed have these things, there’s so much more to it than that. Even if there weren’t, I’d argue that fanfic can still be an important expression of creativity.

First, the big picture: as a storyteller/bard and druid-in-study, here’s my take on fanfic in general.

Stories are meant to be alive. They are meant to grow and evolve and change with each new telling, with each teller of the tale. We are suppose to be able to make each telling of a story relevant to ourselves and our audience, adding or changing or taking away as we are moved to. We are suppose to explore and connect with our stories. Taking familiar characters and putting them in new situations is a story-telling tradition as old as stories themselves. Some of our most famous and beloved tales are basically fan fiction: retelling someone else’s story with new elements. From King Arther and his Knights of the Round Table seeking the Grail and having love triangles and bastard kids, to the fairy tales we all grew up listening to and watching, our culture is seeped in retold tales that have evolved beyond recognition of the original versions.

I’ve said before on this blog, it’s only because we humans started writing down stories that we started believing there was “one true version”. Even if having a true version is important to you, fanfic still doesn’t take away from the original; on the contrary, it can often add to it and even draw in a new audience to the original work. There are several examples I could use from my own personal life in which I gained an interest in a new show or found new value in something I was already familiar with, all thanks to concepts from well-written fanfic. It can give someone insight into a character they can’t otherwise relate to, or fill in missing scenes, or point out a subtext you may have overlooked. At the same time, the original work is still there, intact and unharmed by these new ideas surrounding it.

Second: let’s look at fanfic from a writing angle.

Writing something completely original can be huge and overwhelming. You might get lost in the little fiddly details of world-building, or struggle with creating multifaceted complex realistic characters. Original writing is a great skill to have, and it needs a lot of practice to hone it. It’s also a hard sell; there’s a lot of competition out there for getting your original stories into the market. Internet and social networking is opening up new ways to do that, but using those tools is practically a full-time job on its own.

Writing with someone else’s creations is a whole other beast. It takes a lot of attention to detail and tone to create accuracy and authenticity with an established character and/or world. It takes a lot of imagination to create new scenarios and figure out how these well-known and beloved characters would react to them. Playing in someone else’s world means playing by their established rules, or at least knowing them well enough to figure out how to break them. There’s a lot of dedication and passion involved, especially since it’s done out of love rather than hope of profit.

There’s several points I’d like to make about this. One is that writing fanfic is an amazingly powerful exercise as a writer; it trains not only better writing skills, but also an ability to write with someone else’s voice. This is exactly what a lot of markets call for (tv shows and franchises being only two examples). The other point is that both writing and reading fanfic can be hugely therapeutic.

Let me give a personal example here for what I mean. When I was a teenager, I self-injured. I couldn’t deal with the feelings I was experiencing, and I scared myself by not understanding why I felt the need to hurt myself. So I wrote fan fiction, and I placed those feelings and urges into an already-familiar character, giving myself an outlet for exploring and putting into words what I felt and why I did what I did. It was a safe place for me to figure out something that scared and confused me, and I was able to understand myself better after I did. I published the story anonymously, where I was given positive feedback from other fanfic writers. I felt accepted into part of a community, and it gave me more confidence in my own talent. I still self-injured, but I didn’t feel as alone or afraid, and I understood why I did what I did a little better. I was able to start helping myself. I started to heal, and as I did, so did the character in my fanfic.

As an adult, I’ve had a lot of traumatic emotional experiences. I tend to bottle those feelings up rather than process them (a bad habit I’ve had since childhood, that I’m actively working on breaking), and then they burst out in unhealthy ways. If I read fanfic about characters I already feel connected to, and go through similar experiences with them while I read, it helps me draw out those emotions, dwell in them, and express them. Then the overwhelming feelings become something manageable, and I can process and move on. The fact that it’s characters I’m already familiar with makes the whole thing easier and more accessible, especially when I’m feeling run down or mentally fatigued. I don’t have to work as hard to connect to them, and the journey they go through can therefore have more impact quicker. I don’t have to commit to a novel, but I can often get the same effect.

Same goes for fluff, the lighter feel-good pieces of fan fiction. If I need something distracting or that will give me warm-fuzzy feelings, and I don’t have the time or energy to invest in something completely new, and I don’t feel like re-reading something I’ve already read, I can turn to fanfic. You know that feeling when you finish a favorite book and you wish you could just keep reading about those characters who have become your best friends, and you don’t care if they’re having adventures or just hanging out? Fanfic can make that dream a reality.

Alright, for my third point, let’s look at those stereotypes I talked about at the beginning of this post. What value lies in badly-written Mary Sues and porn? Well, for one thing, every aspiring writer has to start somewhere, and a Mary-Sue is often a jumping-off point for someone’s first attempt. There is no reason in the world not to encourage someone’s passion for writing, and eventually they might evolve beyond those Mary-Sue stories. Also, see my above point about therapy; maybe the writer is at a point in their life where they need that kind of escapism to survive whatever it is that’s going on. There’s no call or need to shame them for it. (This doesn’t mean I don’t support clever parodies of the Mary-Sue troupe. Writing those is a valuable practice for hopeful comedians and satirists. Being funny is amazingly difficult to pull off. Being dismissive and/or hurtful, however, is a talentless and useless non-skill.)

As for the porn, well, that’s easily avoided if it’s not your cup of tea, and if it is, a lot of the fanfic is better than the stuff making money. Fanfic means it can be exactly to your tastes, and involving the characters you might really want to see in those positions (as it were). It’s not hurting anyone, and it might even be helping some people figure out what really turns them on — something that can be difficult to safely explore given some of the issues and stigmas our society still has ingrained.

So that’s my take on fan fiction. Let me know if I missed anything, or what your own thoughts are on the subject!

Love,

GeGi.

6

A Brief Rant about Film Noir.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Today’s topic is not so much a review, as it is a rant. Please allow me to indulge as I strive to vent all my thoughts on the matter.

For those not familiar with classic Film Noir, here’s a quick primer:

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That’s a good basic overview of what elements go into creating the unique atmosphere and themes of classic Film Noir. And of course, there is the obvious cross-over into the Hard-Boiled Detective, but for the sake of this rant, let us set that aside as an overlapping but separate subcategory.

I just finished watching a movie that described itself as “neo-Noir”. Now, I’m not sure exactly what it is they’re trying to do with that genre, but one thing I CAN tell you: It Was Not Noir.

I went through a phase in my teenage years where I was deeply captivated by the imagery and emotions which could be evoked with skillfully mastered black-and-white film. I (briefly, off and on) wanted to be a cinematographer almost solely due to classic Film Noir imagery. It was powerful, each frame deliberate, full of symbolism and art. It showed care and skill not seen in modern Hollywood — not often, anyway.

Those filmmakers didn’t have a lot of resources around with which to tell the story. But what they had, they used to great effect. Every shadow and interplay was a reflection of morality and emotion, the inner world of the character playing out around them with parallels and mirroring. The silences and pauses, the beats between words and scenes, were laden with tension and meaning.

In contrast, this “neo-Noir” film held NONE of that. Yes, it had a lot of silent scenes, but they added nothing to the ambiance. They lacked a feeling of deliberate meaning. They were instead like empty space without significant edges to define it. The characters were disconnected, flat, and their moral ambiguity was neither sympathetic nor tense. There was no meaning in the locations, no interplay at work to enrich the story, no journey into a dark night of the soul to give weight and credence to the protagonist’s struggle. Every aspect felt boring and familiar; a story we’ve already seen, with nothing new to add.

This is not unique to the film I just watched. This is problem I’ve been seeing again and again in various subcategories of the supposed “action/thriller” genre, as it’s been trying to reinvent itself in recent years. This “neo-Noir” sub-genre in particular seems to go hand-in-hand with the Hollywood tradition of remaking successful foreign films; I’ve found the trend especially prevalent with stories originating from Sweden, Finland, etc.

The problem then becomes cultural translation. I’m not an expert, just a geek, but I have noticed a lot of meaningful silent imagery in a lot of Scandinavian films. It works there, at least for me, because it’s part of the culture and part of the dialogue between filmmaker and audience. It works in the same way classic Film Noir does, because in both cases the filmmakers know what they’re doing, and are using a silent visual language as part of their storytelling.

Some contemporary American filmmakers can do this, but for the most part it seems a skill that we’ve lost over the years as films became more focused on other aspects. Tastes change, and that’s fine. People experiment, and that’s fine, too. People remake things they admire, and that’s a great way to learn to be more, sometimes.

But sometimes, you need to take a step back and really consider what it is you’re trying to say, and what it is you’re trying to emulate. It is really a lack of dialogue between characters and a lot of scenery shots that you’re after, or is there maybe suppose to be a deeper meaning in those pauses and landscapes? Are you actually telling the story you want to tell, and evoking the atmosphere you want to evoke? Or are you just making a not-so-hot mess of everything?

Let’s return to the subject of the Hard-Boiled Detective again. It, too, has had several remakes and reinventions in modern Hollywood — Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Brick both spring to mind right away — as well as on TV — Veronica Mars, anyone? These examples all show a far more successful pilfering of the past for inspiration. And it’s not just because of the snappy dialogue, either, although it certain helps.

These films (and TV show) all have successful use of theme and reoccurring imagery throughout. Watch repeatedly, and you catch more hints and clues to the outcomes, more reflections and parallels to the inner landscapes and moral turmoils. Watch with a friend, and they catch even more that you missed.

This, then, is a key to what creates the genre. And this creates even more possibilities as to films that might actually qualify. Think about Fight Club, and go look at the Film Noir list again up at the top of this post. How many of those boxes does it check off? Heck, even The Boondock Saints had water imagery when the boys receive their divine inspiration to go kill everyone evil! (Yes, that was a slight spoiler; but honestly, it doesn’t ruin the film or anything. If you haven’t seen it yet, go do so after you finish reading this post. I promise it will be just as good.)

Obviously, we have some talented filmmakers still capable of creating good Noir films with a modern twist. I completely love that. But I also really wish the ones who aren’t — the ones who don’t understand the language of visual symbolism, who can’t paint with light and shadow, who think silence is the same as a lack of dialogue, who think landscape and set dressing only exists as scenery rather than part of the story, who fail to grasp the importance and role of foreshadowing, who had never even heard of what makes classic Film Noir worth watching — I wish those people would leave the genre alone.

What are you thoughts on the matter? Seen other movies that fit the genre, or ones that sucked? Interested in hearing my opinion on other genres? Leave a message in the comments below! And please, always remember to play nice with the other geeks.

Love,

GeGi.

Meanwhile, In Middle Earth…

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’m a huge Tolkien fan; grew up watching the cartoons, listen to the BBC dramatizations, and of course reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy annually. I was endlessly excited about the first movies, dressed up with friends to go to the theater (something we sometimes did anyway, just for fun), and I even went to Trilogy Tuesday when The Return of the King was released. I could go on for hours discussing passionately why it bothered me every time they showed an elf using tack on a horse, or the character assassination they did of Faramir in The Two Towers, or how perfect Sean Bean was as Boromir, or…well, you get the idea.

There’s a situation every fan of an original work faces when an adaptation is made: how forgiving will you be of changes to the source material? As a geek, I tend to obsess and analyze pretty much everything. While there is nothing wrong with that approach and while it can be quite enjoyable, sometimes that can get in the way of appreciating the storytelling that is being offered.

It can be hard to separate the feelings and emotions and nostalgia you might have for the original from the adaptation, especially if it’s a story that has a lot of personal history for you. Seeing the adaptation, you might spend the whole time arguing in your head with the choices the creators made, picking apart every flaw and alteration. This can be a good exercise in critical analysis, but it’s not exactly a helpful frame of mind for losing yourself in a story.

My approach lately, thanks to the Bardic training over the last two years, is to think about adaptations in terms of oral storytelling traditions. The heart of the story is always present, but the details and events will evolve with each retelling and each storytelling, altered and embellished to become the most compelling it can be, the most meaningful or exciting, to that particular audience at that particular time. The idea that there’s only “one right way” to tell a certain story comes from having written accounts, but that’s an illusion. The old stories grew and changed as much as the people telling them; they were living things. Seen that way, new adaptations of original stories are simply the latest fashion in a very ancient and honored tradition.

With that line of thought, I can separate the original story — which is still whole and complete and able to be revisited at any time — from the evolved version, and enjoy it for what it is. I can compare the different versions from a position where my emotional investment isn’t at stake. I can see it from the viewpoint of a storyteller, and judge it accordingly.

That said, I’m really enjoying the Hobbit movies so far.

Yes, there’s a lot of changes and additions from the source material — even more that The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in certain respects — but I honestly don’t have issue with that. They have kept a lot of little details while I get a thrill out of seeing (the blue butterflies above Murkwood spring to mind). I loved that they used some of the songs in the first movie, by the way, because the books are so full of songs and poems that it seems a shame not to include them. Parts of the first movie came off a bit silly for some people, but The Hobbit was a story for a child. It’s meant to have silly bits.

Of course, making one short book into a trilogy is a bit of an ambitious move, to say the least. However, I personally thing that a lot of the material they added was actually a very appropriate move. Including events Tolkien wrote about in the Indexes gives the story a broader picture of that time in Middle Earth. It’s still drawing from the same source, and it ties the story back into The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as setting up for the epic conclusion.

There are things they added that have no basis in the original writings, of course, but again I can see them as a product of both the medium (what works better in a movie than in a book), and of the times (what current storytelling requires in this era, as apposed to that era). There are very few changes that do not fall into one or the other of those categories.

It’s like the way the story of King Arthur grew and changed over the years and continents, adding the Round Table, adding the Holy Grail, added the love triangle, adding the sister and bastard son. Those parts can tell you so much about the society and politics, about the cultural priorities and beliefs. They become the rings of a tree, that can tell you the age and conditions of the original tale, and map out the path it took to get to you.

The words Tolkien wrote will always be center in my heart. The movies will join the cartoons and the BBC dramatizations to become part of the tale, to add to my experience and pleasure, to creating new paths and new places where I can immerse myself in Middle Earth. And for that gift, I will always be grateful.

Love,

GeGi.