Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Personal take on Writing Diversity

Ah, diversity. How often we hear this word as writers. And not without good reason. Until very recently, fiction for all ages was relatively lacking in diversity of gender, race, culture, physicality and mentality in its characters. It still is, but now our attention is being drawn to it more.

I read a post on diversity and the Neil Gaiman effect by my lovely agent, Laura Zats, (Check it out here: http://redsofaliterary.com/2014/03/02/notes-from-the-armchair-8-the-neil-gaiman-effect/  ) and I decided it would be appropriate for me to do a post on how I write diversity. And also, how I don't write diversity.

Writers have a tendency to write characters similar to them and the people they've grown up around. I mean, the first rule they teach in creative writing class is "Write what you know". So a lot of us start out writing what we know best: ourselves. So in my early writing there were a suspiciously large amount of brown haired, dark eyed, pale skinned, nerdy girls who were outcasts *looks around* so you know, totally different from ME.

But write what you know doesn't just mean write about yourself. It can also mean write about the world you see around you. And I grew up all my life right next to what is, apparently, the most diverse zip code in the US. Name a race or country of origin and we probably have it. In my high school years especially, I had classes with Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, African Americans, Latino Americans and Caucasians. I was a minority in most of my classes in Junior and Senior year, actually, surrounded mostly by kids of Asian and Indian heritage. (I was in the International Baccalaureate program. Kind of like Advanced Placement but WAY more pretentious sounding. Its where all the cool kids went, in my humble but correct opinion.)

So naturally, since I saw so many diverse groups of people, I wrote books with the characters the same way. But, being a writer of fantasy more than anything else, I couldn't use nationalities to describe a race. Much like Hunger Games, where races are no longer acknowledged, I was limited by skin color. Dark skin, pale skin, tan skin, brown skin, olive skin etc. I saw my characters certain ways but I didn't always specify the exact way I saw them (I am sometimes bad at including all the appearance details of characters). I didn't think about it much until I read Ms. Zats post but... how many people will assume my characters are white if I simply omit skin color?

POCs are clearly common in our world. We see them everyday. So why are they so often absent from our media? Why is 'white' the definition of normal for us.

In the named cast of my YA Steampunk fantasy novel, HOUR OF MISCHIEF, I can count seven non-white characters. Two I picture as Indian in appearance. One I picture as Chinese, one as Latino, one as Arab and one as black. And my MC Janet? She's mixed race. In later books, there are even more named characters. But I can't say this specifically with ethnicity because this is a fantasy world. I never really specify skin tone for most of my cast. Hair, eyes and build, yes, but rarely skin tone. I mean it well when I don't mention skin, but during a time when the perceived 'normal' is Caucasian, the views DO need to be challenged.

Neil Gaiman made it impossible for readers to assume his characters in American Gods and Anansi Boys were just Caucasian. He didn't define the characters by their race but he wrote fleshed out characters that happened to be of a Non-Caucasian heritage. One day, specifying race might not be necessary or important. It will be another detail as arbitrary as hair or eye color. Same with sexuality. Maybe one day, diversity will become the norm. But until then, we have the responsibility as writers to change the established perception of the default race.

I personally can't wait for a day where diversity comes naturally to all of us and people don't throw temper tantrums when an actress with dark skin is cast to play a character who has dark skin (*cough* Rue *cough*). But we have to get there step by step. So for now, I'll add in details to make sure readers see my characters how I want them to be seen, and hope it might make a difference in how people see 'normal'.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunday Soundtracks: Lana Del Ray

Happy Sunday everyone. Hope the weekend has been lovely for you and that the looming Monday will be filled with as much sunshine and happiness as Mondays can be. Personally, my Mondays are Tuesdays because of my exceptionally busy class schedule on that day, but for most people, I think Mondays hold the crowing achievement for most dreaded day of the week.

But, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or any other day of the week, we all need to write and we all need some good music to act as our soundtrack and/or muse. So what shall we look at this week?

Its always a good day for Loki gifs
Well, last time we looked at the largely instrumental music of Wolf's Rain so i think its time for lyrical music again. But instead of a band, lets look at a singer and instead of rock lets go for something a little softer. Sounds look a good day for Lana Del Ray to me!


Chances are, most of you know her name. She really spiked in popularity after one of her songs 'Young and Beautiful' was featured in The Great Gatsby last spring and she even got a lot of airplay on her song 'Summer Time Sadness' (Usually the not-as-good version with the electronic beat in the background but who's asking my opinion?) Personally I like both of those songs though, they're not my personal favorite by her. I am really glad she's gotten more popular.

I first found out about Lana Del Ray at the beginning of my Senior year at high school when my friend sent me a song that she described as 'my character's thoughts if her love interest died'. You know, the cheerful facebook messages all friends send. (Yes, this is the same friend I was writing the gigantic book series with in the 'Giving Plot to the Plotless' series). I listened to the song and I fell in love with it and Lana.

It doesn't necessarily lie in the complexity of the lyrics. She has some good ones now and again but its nothing like the stunning lyricism of Florence and the Machine (which I will talk about another time, because I love them and they are perfect). The real kicker with Lana's music is the haunting quality to her voice and the way it drifts through the song like a dream. There's a reason they got her to do the new cover for 'Once Upon a Dream' for the new Maleficent move. Her voice sounds like its right out of the realm of sleep, like she's trying to hypnotize you.
Also, my level of excitement for this movie cannot be contained.
Most of her songs deal with relationships or the pain of being young. Or both. Most of the songs she writes are pretty depressing. Nothing about true love but usually about addicted love or stupid love or love that won't last. There's a hint of suicidal tendencies and depression to a lot of her songs and the tunes don't help. There's a lot of songs in the minor key and they all have this slow tone that seems to mimic a feeling of hopelessness.

So clearly this is a GREAT person to listen to when you need to be uplifted.

In all seriousness though, she does provide some awesome word fodder with a lot of her tunes so lets talk about some of my favorites from her.

Young and Beautiful- Getting this one out of the way, I do really like it. I like how the drums emphasize the beat and it sounds like a great song for a lamenting dance. And of course it asks the question often wondered in young love: Will it last? Will it matter when I don't have my looks anymore? Not exactly a new question but its the execution that works. I'd tell you to listen to it but you probably already have.

Dark Paradise- This was the song my friend sent me and the song that made me fall in love with Lana. Its a hell of a first song to hear but I really liked it. Its one of her more depressing songs because it sounds like she's mourning someone who has died rather than someone who has left her. She's clearly trapped and grief and can't escape it. This fits more than one of my characters in the past. That being said, this kind of depression can be hard to pull off writing wise but that's a post for another time.

Born to Die- This is another song that doesn't just seem to sing about a relationship but also an addiction. An addiction to living the high life. The singer now seems to regret such decisions but is resigned to the situation she is now in. This song has similar themes as a lot of songs, talking about living on the 'wild side' but here it isn't lauded as the right life but regretted. I like the subtly of it, and Lana's voice is a big part of making the song work.

This is what makes us Girls- Another song about living wild when you're young. There's a since of nostalgia and regret in the song. Its matter of fact, not necessarily condemning the behavior but not celebrating it. I really like the tone of the song and some of the subtle throw away lines that hint at something darker. I always love finding little, dark lines in songs.

Serial Killer- This is probably the lightest song on the list. Its about a girl who 'murders love' by jumping from guy to guy for the rush, but she's pretty unashamed of it. Its a good villain song actually, and she sings it in a sweeter voice that contrasts nicely with the subject matter. This is a fun song, unlike most of her other ones, but still good for inspiration

Once Upon a Dream- All the same lyrics of the original song from Sleeping Beauty but with a tone that gives it a completely different meaning. Listen to it and watch the trailer while you're at it because its amazing. It perfectly suits Maleficent. Lana Del Ray actually has the voice I picture if Maleficent were to sing. (Which would be awesome.

Look at her. You know she has an awesome villain song bottled up inside

So those are my personal favorite songs by Lana, but there's a lot to find. If you like her voice, you'll like most of her stuff because it all has a similar tone and cadence to it. I think this kind of music is especially good for contemporary and romance pieces. It also always puts me in the mind of the 50s and 60s if you're doing a piece set in that time. But it can work for just about anything with some kind of relationship or addiction in it.

That's it for today's Sunday Soundtracks. If you have suggestions for good writing music, let me know. Otherwise have a good day. Go forth and get some writing done before Monday's hellish call finds you.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Let's talk Fanfiction: A Strongly Worded Response

Today I read two blog posts, on by Sarah Rees Brennan and one by Cassandra Claire, and these posts made me very angry.

Not at the authors of course. I love both of them and their work and I'm so glad that they decided to speak out about the accusations and bullying they have endured because of their hobbies. I am mad at the very people who gave them cause to write such an article and I wish with all my heart that they never had to endure this. If you haven't read the articles, read them here, I reccomend it. They're both long but I think its important.

Sarah Rees Brennan's Post: http://sarahreesbrennan.tumblr.com/post/77926940735/ok-dont-get-me-wrong-because-its-just-curiosity-but

Response from Cassandra Claire: http://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/86064084.html

I've read Demon's Lexicon and the Mortal Instruments series and I did not, at the time, know that either of these two authors wrote fanfiction. I was actually quite excited when I found out. I thought, "Really? These two published and super awesome authors used to write fanfiction just like me? That's so cool!" And when I found out Cassandra Claire's books were loosely based off of her Harry Potter fanfiction, I applauded her because I had no idea while reading the books. I didn't make any connections between the characters or the magic system until someone told me about it, and even then they had to outline the similarities for me. (Them: Clary has red hair and Ginny has red hair so they're the SAME. Me:...Kay?)

Apparently, however, I seem to be one of the few people in this camp of "fanfiction is cool and good writers can write fanfiction and still become successful authors". Because the cyberbullying and accusations these two authors have gone through is not only bad but absolutely, unacceptably, nasty. It makes me want to flip tables. So in this post, I'm going to flip all the metaphorical tables as I defend fanfiction writers, what they do and why the righteous fandom members should back off. I apologize in advance if I seem a bit angry because I am and I will not attempt to restrict that. This is a rant by numbers, so you know I'm pissed.

1. The Merits of Fanfiction

People write fanfiction because they like a book/movie/show/other form of media and they want to expand upon it. They want to make up an alternate ending or add a scene or put two characters in a situation and see what happens. The write fanfiction because, in most cases, they respect and enjoy the original property. I've read a lot of fanfiction and there are a lot of very good writers there. They further develop characters and make me reconsider relationships the way I've never seen them before. They also offer a chance to see something you love through another perspective. Writers can also add other characters into the mix to create an entirely new story line.

Fanfiction also offers writers a chance to practice. Because when anyone first starts writing, they aren't very good at it. A teenager doesn't put their pen to paper one day and start writing sonnets. Skills have to be built up over time and fanfiction offers a great place to practice this and receive feedback from readers.

So perhaps it is mine boggling to me that people look down their nose at fanfiction writers. What they want to expand and explore something they love. They consider non-canon possibilities? How UNORIGINAL of them. If they REALLY wanted to be writers they would start writing REAL books. Oh wait, you've switched to REAL books? CLEARLY this is influenced by your fanfiction. You wrote fanfiction once and that means you are incapable of thinking for yourself or writing a single decent word. Fanfiction as ruined you. Throw your computer in the garbage and give up.

No, no, no, no, no, no.

Fanfiction is not a weird hobby. One of the reasons I loved 'Fangirl' by Rainbow Rowell so much was because the main character wrote fanfiction and that was cool. I'd never read a book where the main character wrote fanfiction. But to most people it seems fanfiction is the cess pool of writers who will never be. Teenage girls shouldn't be writing fanfiction. They should be writing Faulkner and Fitzgerald by the time they hit puberty. But not exactly, because paying homage to them would be plagiarism. Anything that seems derivative of anything at all should be locked up in a box and never let out into the world. Seriously, you thought you got to practice writing for something you love in an online community when you were young? You should be shunned.

This is what stuns me about all the flack Sarah has gotten. So she wrote fanfiction when she was 17? And she should be ridiculed for it? She improved herself as a writer and published a really good book. I'm happy for her. Its not like we'd ridicule her for lying to her parents that one time when she was eight or cheating on a test or something. Why is fanfiction, a harmless hobby, something to be ridiculed for?

The answer is, its not.

2. Completely Original Ideas... Aren't a Thing Anymore

Its not the ideas that are original. Its the combinations of ideas and situations that give a piece of media a fresh new look. We don't call ET a rip off of The Day the Earth Stood Still because they both involve a friendly alien, do we? No, we call it a fresh new take on it. We don't call Disney Movies rips offs of their original fairy tails. They just change the story around and present it in a new way. We don't call Harry a ripoff of Aragorn because they both have brown hair. Jack Sparrow isn't a ripoff of Jack Dawson because they have the same first name. These are the stupidest little details. Why is this a thing? There are a limited number of relationships, appearances, plot devices and characters in this world. Heck, according to Vladamir Propp in 'Morphology of the Folktale' all stories are inherently made up of different combinations of the SAME 32 mythemes.

What does this mean, critics? It means you don't get to call "plagiarism" every time you see a slightly similar sentence or character trait in a book that you saw in another book. You especially don't get to do that solely because the author once wrote fanfiction and must therefore be a plagiarist. If I see that happen again, I might have to start flipping the metaphorical beds as well. Don't make me flip the metaphorical beds.

3. Fanfiction and gender.

The majority of fanfiction writers are female. The majority of authors accused of plagiarism are female. In fact usually, whenever someone accuses a male author of 'ripping off' another book, they call it 'derivative'. Funny enough, I'm not the biggest fan of the Inheritance Cycle because I found its world way too similar to that of Middle Earth and other previously written fantasy novels (certainly more derivative of Middle Earth than I think the Mortal Instruments universe is derivative of Harry Potter's universe). But most people seem to accept this as homage to old fantasy stories. Which is fine. I dislike the books because find them a bit boring and cliche but that's my personal opinion.

I wonder if Christopher Paolini would have met with quite the same reaction if he was a teenage girl (a demographic which gets a bad rep by virtue of their age and gender). It does seem that Stephen King and Neil Gaiman can get away with making references and paying tribute to their favorite books whereas several female authors cannot. This is nothing against Mr. King or Mr. Gaiman as I like their work. I just wish female authors received the same treatment.

4. Regardless... This Treatment is not Okay

Even if all the claims were true and these authors were plagiarists who never had an original thought, even if all these horrible accusations had evidence and grounding, the treatment of these authors is still not okay. It is not okay to call names. It is not okay to 'kick people out of a fandom' (You know... as if it belongs to you or something). It is not okay to make threats on their lives or the lives of their families. Cyber-bullying is NEVER okay, especially when it makes someone genuinely afraid for their lives. And in the end, why do you do it? Is it because you take pride and upsetting people? Is it because you want a reaction out of them to heighten your sense of self worth? Every time I try to analyze these types of people, my heart hurts for humanity. What part of basic human morality makes ANYONE think these threats are okay?

These authors are human beings who are published and whether you like their books or not they do not OWE you a PERSONAL apology because maybe their characters have the same hair color as a character in your favorite book.

The thing is, I am a fanfiction writer. I'm also hoping to be a published writer one day. Guess what? I'm not ashamed of either. I do not regret writing fanfiction and I will defend its merits to the grave. And for all the metaphorical tables and beds I've flipped, in the end I'm not just angry. I'm sad. I'm sad that authors have to go through this kind of abuse. I'm sad that there are people out there who feel the need to enrich themselves by breaking down others. It is not right. It should not be considered right. It should not be allowed.

This is not just an issue of fanfiction or misogyny. Its an issue of human dignity. Grow up, realize that, and respect your fellow writers no matter what they've written in the past.

And if you can't do that, keep your mouth shut.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sunday Soundtracks: Wolf's Rain

Well, since last week we talked about music with lyrics, lets drift back into the world of instrumental music this Sunday and talk about a woman named Yoko Kanno.

File:Yoko Kanno.jpg
This wonderful woman right here

Yoko Kanno is a Japanese composer and one of the biggest names in Anime scores. She has yet to turn out a bad score for a show. Whenever her name is attached, the music is gold. And often times the shows are as well, but that's a topic for another time.

Yoko Kanno is a woman of many genres, composing blues, jazz, techno, J-pop and classical, to name a few. And all of them fit fantastically with the images on the screen.

The soundtrack I want to talk about today is the Wolf's Rain soundtrack. This show is comprised mostly of classical music, unlike one of her other well known projects, Cowboy Bebop (We'll talk about that one another Sunday) which uses largely jazz and blues pieces. 

And the music is gorgeous. Some of the most stunning orchestral pieces I've heard. There's just such emotion in each song and it really fits a fantasy setting. I'd say it would be good background music for sci-fi, dystopian and post-apocalyptic settings too. Anything with really grand visuals and locations, or with a lot of emotional scenes.

Here are a few of my favorite tracks.

Strangers- Good music for a journey. Its thoroughly pleasant and though it has lyrics they kind of fade into the rest of the orchestration. Really pretty and good for writing calmer scenes or transitional scenes.

Gravity- This is the ending song of the show and there's a sense of calm and perseverance in this song. Like someone who has been working toward something for awhile and still has a long way to go. I really like how calm and pretty this track is.

Heaven's not Enough- Another song with lyrics (I promise there's orchestral music in here somewhere). This one is rather depressing fare. Which you probably picked up from the title. But its really good theme music for a character going through a rough time, especially after a recent loss.

Shiro Long Tail's- This is the music for a triumphant comeback. When a hero gathers all their strength and makes a final stand. Its emotional and powerful, definetily one of those tracks that just fills you up as you listen to it. A personal favorite of mine.

Tsume no Suna- This is the song for a character's dramatic entrance. You know who I'm talking about. The first meeting of the really badass character no one messes with. This makes a perfect opening theme to that character, or the build up to a fight scene.

Friends- This is the kind of music that plays behind emotional dialogue while two characters are having a moment in their relationship, romantic or otherwise. Obviously, there's a reason its called Friends. This is a softer piece but none the less powerful.

Go to Rakuen- If you listen to NO OTHER song on this list, listen to this one. Its absolutely beautiful and one of my favorite classical pieces in general. The emotion of it is hard to duplicate. I know I'm using 'emotion' a lot but that's the best way to describe this. An absolute surge of emotions and the conclusion to a long journey. Its a peace full of hope and beauty. Listen to it. NOW. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwvQ6Hs7tJE )

Emotional is really he best word to describe all of the Wolf's rain soundtrack and I highly recommend every last song from the show. I recommend the show as well but only if you're prepared to let your feels take a pounding. Because they will.

That's all for this weeks Sunday Soundtracks! Enjoy the Oscars and keep a look out for the nominees for best music. You could find some gems for your writing!