26 July 2013

Fan Art Friday!

Continuing with the bad guy theme: Constantine. The baddest bad guy ever - supposedly. In truth I know little about this guy. I know his history. I know his basic appearance. I know what has happened in his life. But his motivation is still a mystery to me. In writing HBL I had a close encounter with him... But this still leaves him a mystery to me. Thankfully, the edits I have in mind for Hard Bank Left give me the space to make Constantine the silent predator. I have very few pictures of him, but I'll share what I have.

There you go. That's pretty much it... only a little older. He's pretty much a scary business man. Aaaand I really need to work on him. *sigh*

But I do have pictures of The Twins. Yeah, that's right, The Twins. They're a pair of grotesquely evil torturing Dureri that I'm going to cover in Target Lost. I'm not going to tell you much in hopes that you'll find out in the webisodes. But, here are the reference photos that I totally love!

24 July 2013

The Implications on the Soul: The Creation of an AI

Over the years I've written many science fiction and semi-sci-fi (steampunk) stories that involve the creation of an artificial intelligence. Some are more in depth than others, but all involve the basics behind my belief in a soul and how the soul works.

In my faith, a soul is what happens with an intelligence enters a spiritual body. The soul is then placed in a physical body creating a "living soul." (Mind you this is my personal beliefs based on the teachings of my church.) So, what defines an artificial intelligence? Mainly the artificial part.

Now, I must clarify, my faith-based definition of "intelligence" is what I am going to refer to from now on as "the spark", and the "spiritual body" we are going to call "programming" or "the program".

Current AI programming is pretty obviously just that, programming. It's essentially a fully functional spiritual body, a body meant for the housing of the intelligence or spark, that can operate independently, but has no self-driven purpose. This in and of itself has helped me have a more complete understanding of my own existence, let alone the nature of God. But all that aside! A spark must enter an AI program in order for the program (either of its own accord or of Heavenly Design) in order for the AI to function as an autonomous, self-aware being. This is something I explore in depth in a sci-fi novel I've been working on for a while now. (Yes, you shall just have to wait and see!)

But, once a fully sparked, fully self-aware AI is born, what is the best way for said AI to become part of society i.e. how do we give it a body. This has been a point of contention between my husband and I.

He believes that this soul can enter the body of a brain dead person, or can possess a body forcibly. I see both of these as possession. Spiritually speaking, there's no God involved. The spark enters the body with no additional work necessary. This is where I get a little frustrated. It'd be like transplanting someone's memories into someone else's mind. If any of you have watched Fringe then you'll know what I'm talking about when I say that putting some one else's brain matter in to a person's brain, it literally makes them crazy. The existing wiring doesn't know how to interpret the foreign matter. Now imagine putting someone else's entire brain into a body and then connecting it to the existing wiring... not a good combo!

I believe that a more purist way of looking at how to make a body for an artificial intelligence. Think of Fifth Element with Leeloo had to have her body reprinted. (Yes, I know the science is wrong.) Think of having an entire artificial human. Think of building a body by manipulating the elements into proteins and then manipulating those proteins into a DNA sequence until you have a completely artificial body with no soul. This is where we cross the line into killing God... taking his place. It's dangerous ethically, but it's the next logical step in our evolution as human beings. But still, this empty human shell, void of any prior memories, void of any prior programing, is perfect for the installation of an artificial intelligence. This would perfectly fit the bill for giving an AI soul human form. Is it any wonder that our human souls only enter this world through new born babies and not through the preexisting bodies of the brain dead?

I'd like to hear your views on artificial intelligence, the soul, and what way would be best to give AI a chance at being a fully functioning member of society. Thoughts? Opinions? Awesome books and TV shows? Let the discussion commence!

22 July 2013

Trying to be the Next Shakespeare

Everyone who has ever put pen to paper (or imagination to some sort of medium in an effort to create a novel) has at one point or another, thought of themselves as the next William Shakespeare. To which I say "Poppycock!" while also admitting that I am personally guilty of such thoughts. *blushes* Allow for me to break down both why our world today is making it more and more impossible for Shakespeares to be reborn.

So, Shakespear is known for a lot of things, iambic pentameter, moving speeches that ring in our hearts for ages, stories we will never forget, but there are three things that people can unanimously say define Shakespeare: a world class sense of humor, moving dramas, and wordsmithing.

Humor is something that requires great whit, something that many authors have in spades. I have a fantastic friend in the UK that has such a brilliantly dry (and very British) sense of humor that I can read some of her stuff and crack up for hours afterwards just remembering her sharp lines. The problem is that this humor, often times, removes us from the overall drama of a deep and interesting story line. Shakespeare was, in his highly gender biased, highly classist Britain, was able to blend these two things in such a way that it appealed to both sexes and all classes. His humor bled into his dramas. His drama bled into his comedies. This is something that is often lost in modern literature.

On another note, Shakespeare didn't have to worry about these stereotypes. From the dull underclass soldiers in Much Ado About Nothing, to the highly staunch and aristocratic McDuff in That Da** Scottish Play Shakespeare writes highly stereotyped, classist characters. And yet, we love and drool over these plays as some of the highest pieces of literature ever written.

So, why can't we write similar stereotypical characters? In modern terms, you'd have to write a plethora of stories that cross all classes, truly human stories. In our world of multicultural, international extremely diverse relationships, it's becoming increasingly difficult to write something that you feel may apply to all human kind without being called racists. This is particularly true for American writers.

The accusations and cat calls of whitewashing characters, calls for more diversity, are attacking our creative abilities. I write international characters. But I still believe that my characters would best represent their areas by not being hyper stylized, or hyper stereotyped! At the same time, there is absolutely nothing wrong with your character realistically representing a certain culture and that culture fitting certain stereotypes. Some tropes and stereotypes are true and accurate representations, but they do not represent the full depth of a character. We, as authors, must be careful when walking these stereotype lines.

Having addressed these two things, which are often addressed in modern literature and have indeed been conquered by many modern authors - JK Rowling, Steven King, Stephanie Meyers (particularly with The Host, I don't even count Twilight), and Suzanne Collins are just a few of the most popular modern authors that have managed to entwine humor, drama, and transcendentally human stories.

Now! Wordsmithing! In modern culture, it seems that wordsmithing has been transitioned from authors to music artists like Snoop Dog that think that adding -izzle to the end of a word all of a sudden makes the word cooler. But then when authors go to their editors with a new word that they feel fits the description better than any existing word and the editor tells them that the word doesn't work... this is a disservice to creators everywhere.

In Hard Bank Left one of the chapters is titled "Unwillfully Discontent". It is not a hyphenated/compound word. This is a portamento. My friend and editor offered me some better antonyms for "willful": involuntarily, unwillingly, unconsciously, unfeelingly, unintentional, unknowingly, disregarded, forgotten, neglected, unplanned, chance, indeterminate, methodical, wittingly, impartially, unenthusiastically... The list goes on. But the words didn't sit right with me. They didn't convey precisely what I meant with the word. For me, the meaning of "unwillfully" or "unwillful" means, "against what one intends to do, but not without desire to do so." In other words "unwillfully discontent" = "being discontent out of duty to one's personal code rather than being discontent by what one actually feels" or "being discontent out of sheer stubbornness, but wanting to enjoy one's self." I'm sure that any number of the antonyms would have done well, but I was looking for a perfect match - and seeing as how many if not all of the antonyms have predefined cultural and contextual definitions, they wouldn't do. I had to come up with something more specific.

When editors are involved, and you have Grammar Nazis around every corner all of whom see it as their duty to correct what they think are nonsense words like "acclimatize" *cough* my dad *cough* then the English language is not allowed to evolve. Sure, you have sites like Urban Dictionary that do post popular nonsense words, or words that are so obtusely mispronounced that they are considered a new word. But most true blue editors and hard core Grammar Nazis will use such sites as proof that new words cannot and should not be invented. And yet, there are so many options of what words can and should become.  Editors should not put limits on author's creative license because they (the editors) believe that there is a better word. Sometimes the author isn't just pulling crap our of thin air, sometimes they have actually weighed all the options and decided that their word is more tasteful and better fits what scope of language they are going for.

If anyone is interested in the English language, it's origins, and where it's headed, I strongly recommend one of my new favorite books: The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way by Bill Bryson.

20 July 2013

Fan Art Friday

Wow... is it Saturday??? Where did my week go? No seriously, my husband has a different work schedule on Saturday than he does the rest of the week, so I was freaking out when he got up at 8 and I thought it was 10... yeah, that was a bit of a shock.

So! Fan art Friday... again, I have little fan art to present, but I figured I might keep up with my theme of sharing what inspires me. (Seriously, I have a bunch, so I'll keep it coming.) So, it's bad guy day!

You've heard me make references to her, and seeing as how she's playing a bigger role in HBL, it's high time you guys see my inspiration for Ero Gleilien. This character, like many of my characters started off as something completely different in a completely different universe. Ero was originally a crazy Wild Elf in an RPG that had a major schtick with goblins. The best image I can give you of what she used to look like is this:

courtesy of Ashli Hara

But then I started writing a sci-fi novel and Ero became a care free pilot with an attitude that went a little something like this:

I still love this character, but I found in writing HBL I needed Ero and her partner Caprisha to fill a role, so she turned into more of a staunch bounty hunter working with a federal agent. Of course, all that would be a cover for her true self - a Commandant in the Shadow Cast's private military. (No worries my other characters got renamed, they have not gotten lost in the mix up!) So, now Ero looks a little something like this:

mixed with a little of this

 Yeah... I know, figure that one out. But I had a dream and somehow it worked! So, you'll just have to read on and see what I have in store.

15 July 2013

Decission Making and 276th drafts

If you've taken even the most basic writing class you will note that probably the most tedious part of writing is the extensive drafting process a.k.a. The Rewrite. It's  unpleasant, it's messy, and, most importantly, it's diheartening. I cannot tell you how many rewrites have left me wallowing in a pit of self-loathing because either A) "How could anyone hate this first draft? It's perfect, and yet I must rewrite!" or B) "How could I have been such an idiot?! I swear I did not write this crap." *sets about completely rewriting the story and creating an entirely new first draft which must be edited again*...

Does anyone else feel my woes?

With self-loathing pit A, I'm usually so deep in a pit of "woe is me" that I seriously can't see what's wrong with my writing unless someone else points out what is good with it. Take for example the situation that The Next Big Writer has set up where in order to post anything you must earn as certain amount of points by reading and reviewing other people's works. Normally this leads to constructive criticism, bolstered confidences, and new writing buddies that you can do fun projects with. However, in many a case, it also leads to a newbie getting bombed by other newbies with no social skills who turn around and tell them that their piece has a million spelling errors, that their sentence fluency sucks, and that they have a poor vocabulary, and wind up saying nothing about the story in general. The major problem with this should be obvious: if you don't tell someone what's good about their writing first, they will be less likely to accept your criticism. (Seriously you newbie reviewers, read How to Win Friends and Influence People; it should be required reading for being a member of the human race.) In short, sometimes we need a little outside help to get the ball rolling with edits.

But then there's self-loathing pig B... This may be best demonstrated by a little story about a little story I've been perpetually rewriting since I was - oh, we shall say - 10. It's gone by a number of different names over the years, but recently the entire conglomerated world that I've created has been known as Legend of the Fallen Moon.  When I was 10, this was my little outlet for my D&D obsession as well as a number of other imaginative things I had floating in my head due to an overactive imagination and a love of fantasy books. As you might imagine, it took my 10-year-old mind about two years to put these imaginings into more than a few scribblings in the back of an old notebook. And, at the ripe old age of 12, I was absolutely convinced that I was the best writer in the world. I'm thinking of putting some of my 12-year-old scribblings on my website as motivation to aspiring writers that they won't always stink...

This fantasy story has evolved over the last decade and a half until it reached its current state which mainly consists of a map, a list of races, and an extensive planetary history. Given the state of things, it would be better suited for development into an MMO RPG than a series of novels, but we shall have to see what my mind is up to after I'm done with the Shadow Cast Chronicles. I may very well write a book based off the story line of an MMO I develop out of my notes. Let me know in the comments below what you think after checking out the wiki!
I guess what I'm trying to say with that story is that your edits don't always turn out to be exactly what you intended them to be. Sometimes they fizzle, sometimes they soar.

Luckily, with the Shadow Cast Chronicles, I've had a bit more success in staying focused, though it might not always seem that way. When I first started writing the Chronicles, I was writing first person from multiple perspectives and it was really confusing. This pre-first draft went into my "original concepts" folder never to be seen or heard from again.... No, seriously. I only use that draft for some basic references of what I had originally thought would happen. It serves to keep my thoughts straight, but does little else.

The really hard work has come with Hard Bank Left. HBL has been the most time consuming project I've ever worked on. And what's worse! I didn't even have the plot straight when I was writing it! I wrote down the beginning and the end and that was pretty much it for about two years. Then, about a year ago, I sat down, put together a play list on youtube of music and videos that I figured would fit HBL pretty well. After that, I compiled a plethora of inspirational pictures. This got me in the right spirit. After that, I set down a goal for myself: one chapter a week, and I started writing.

That was pretty much it for the first draft. It didn't have to be pretty, it just had to get done. And, as soon as it did, I felt as though there was a huge weight lifted off my chest. I felt that now that I had the story and all the characters down on paper, I could really begin to flush out the story, the characters, and all the details with a fine toothed comb.

...I am finding that fine toothed combs usually find unpleasant snarls - particularly in the "cliche" and "plot device" categories. Needless to say, it's still a work in progress.

Something I've discovered that has really helped in this tedious process is turning your novel into a short story. This... really hurts. Really, REALLY hurts. You have to cut out all the pretty words and fancy fight scenes and elaborate entangled character relationships, and condense the entire story into about 10,000 words. This, for me, has really helped strengthen the core of my story. It's helped build a back bone on which I can fit all my fancy filigree and crazy plot twists.

After this, after all the maiming of my convoluted story, I had a friend instruct me to do what her hubby made her do with her comic: reduce the story to one sentence. With HBL, this was difficult. I had so many things going on, even in short story form, that it took me until very recently to narrow it down. For me, HBL can be simplified to this:

Hard Bank Left is about overcoming and becoming.

It was a phrase that I'd heard since childhood which has had such a profound affect on my life. I didn't even realize that it had seeped its way into my story. Keeping that sentence in the forefront of my mind, I can rewrite the second draft to more clearly reflect the intended message of the novel. This way (hopefully) by draft three, I'll mostly have to worry about nitty gritty things, instead of having my editor point out that my story has no core. (Frankly, nitty gritty things, while tedious, are possibly the easiest things to correct when editing.) 

12 July 2013

Fan Art Friday

Again, I am a little low on fan art, but at least I'm getting a few more fans. :) *waves hello to the half dozen people paying attention* But, I have my website up and running! So, if you're still looking for the latest webisode of Target Lost to pop up here, you're out of luck, because it's over there now.

Whelp, I suppose it's about time I talk about the Keypers and their keys. I know, you haven't really gotten there in the book. I've only posted two chapters. But! For those of you that have seen the pictures of the really cool keys that I keep posting I still owe you an explanation.

I stumbled across Keyper's Cove about a year ago and was immediately inspired by their array of fantastical keys. This inspiration bloomed into an obsession with underground, grass roots movements society... thing! (Yes, I know that seems a little redundant. I'm getting to it!). Underground because it's society that has taken root among a culture/group/sub-race of humans that most people don't know exist, and grass roots movement because the majority of the culture doesn't even know the society exists. If you have (a) better word(s) to describe what I just said, feel free to offer it.

In my mind, there are many traits of these keys that are unique, which I really won't go into detail about here (a woman has to have her secrets), but the main feature is that each member of this society-thing has their own, one specially made for them and specially attuned to their aether (not to be confused with The Aether).

Here are just some of the keys from Keyper's Cove that I've used as inspiration in The Shadow Cast Chronicles:

 Cadence's key

 Jeldhen's key

Krys's key

Lia's key

Adrianna's key

Casandra's key

Drystan's key

Nereida's key

Renee's key

and finally...
Gabe's key

*waits patiently for the sudden wave of key enthusiasts*

10 July 2013

The Damsel in Distress: Jeldhen

Alright, so most of you are familiar with the "damsel in distress" cliche and how it objectifies those that are captured, blah, blah, blah. If you really want to get into it here's a feminist vlog that addresses this concept in depth (I strongly recommend that you take the time to watch the series later, though they're rather lengthy):

The essence of the cliche is that women are reduced to objects or victim states as a plot device to propel the story forward and motivate the main characters (namely men) into defeating the bad guy.

I've had some people voice concern over the squeal to Hard Bank LeftTailslide - being little more than a cheap use of a trope to motivate Krys and force her to confront her darker side. I can see where this idea comes from. All you have to do is read the description of the book and this is the first concept conjured. I want to assure you that this initial bulrb is intentionally misleading with the intention of forcing the reader to come to their own conclusion as to what Krys's inner darkness is. But, yes. Jeldhen does get "kidnapped" and Krys is intent on rescuing him.

Now, without giving away too much *inhales deeply and tries not to burst*, in the first book, Krys is put into a situation where some damselling occurs, but it is clear throughout the book that Krys has the ability to take control of the situation and simply has to figure out how. She is never objectified in the reader's perspective - though she is objectified in the eyes of her captors. I did this in an effort to draw attention to what women go through when being brutalized or victimized. However, rest assured that her kidnap is not merely a plot device, it does serve a higher purpose - and no, it's not the purpose of making Jeldhen come after her. There are greater powers at work here. What that is, though? You'll just have to read and find out!

In Tailslide *again holds breath and attempts not to explode* Jeldhen has already been captured, forcing Krys to confront her so called "inner darkness". Here's where one might draw the line between the damsel in distress motive and the sire in distress:

When a woman is put into the damsel position and the main character is a man, the essence of the theme becomes (as Anita points out here) is that the man is driven by a loss of masculinity due to an implicated failure of his duty to protect the ones he loves. While this is not wrong, nor is it a misrepresentation of what husbands, boyfriends, and fathers would truly experience if put through a member of their family being kidnapped or killed, this is not what Krys, nor on a whole women, go through when put in the reverse scenario.

When Jeldhen is kidnapped, Krys - much like any male counterpart in a similar scenario - is anguished over losing her best friend, experiences feelings of inadequacy in her ability to protect the ones she loves, and overall feels as though she has lost all control. However, she does not allow these things to stop her from progressing as a person. She is not solely driven by her need to prove herself, or a need to get her best friend back - though this is certainly how it seems at first.

Krys does not go on a solo, destroy all Shadow Cast killing spree (even though she would really like to). Instead, she steps up to her tasks as a Keyper and does what she has to to bring them down without unnecessary loss of life. She does not become a super soldier, even if she is capable of it, nor does she become the universally praised hero that wins metals and gets all the recognition. Krys is the epitome of an every day soldier with a cause, and (hopefully) someone young people of every gender can look up to.

08 July 2013

Cyberpunk and Why it's Not *Exactly* What I Write

Alright, so due to my previous post about steampunk, and the vid at the end featuring the future of glass, I've had some people ask questions about my world and why I classify it "steampunk" and not "cyberpunk" and, while I have to say that this is an excellent question, I also have to say that based on the highly adaptive definition of both terms, it's really up to me to define where my world fits.

Take for example, Final Fantasy XIII  - heck, the majority of the FF series! - most would consider them some kind of fantasypunk or mythpunk. This is where things start getting really confusing and annoying for me. People seem to overdefine... well... everything! My friend considers this ^^^ cyberpunk. I could agree, but then I'm not an expert on subcultures and therefore couldn't classify it one way or the other.

Most true punks like to simplify cyberpunk into one term (much like steampunk) "high tech, low class". We see this a lot in the crazy cyberpunk 80s movies that have recently been making comebacks: Bladerunner, Demolition Man, Total Recall, Tron, RoboCop and all the rest. There are also modern movies that are clearly cyberpunk like Surrogates  and Babylon A.D. But then you have the more modern movies that some people are pretty skiddish to call cyberpunk, but clearly fit into the definition. These movies of course include Minority Report, Paycheck, and Avatar.

Where do you draw the line between cyberpunk and straight up sci-fi? Where do you draw the line between cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic? In my case, where do you draw the line between steampunk and cyberpunk? For me these fall under the same category as questions like "where do you draw the line between sci-fi and fantasy?". The answer is that you can't clearly draw a line, which is why book stores put them all in the same jumbled up section under the label of "Sci-fi/Fantasy" and call it a day. In my opinion, it's up to the authors to decide, not the reader.

For me, I feel as though I am clearly in the realm of steampunk even though any hard core hyper-classifier would consider me to technically be an atompunk because of the era it takes place in. (You can find the list of sub-genres here.) I mean, the difference between atom punk and steampunk are simply explained with these pictures:



Then again, if you look very closely at my world, it could be clearly argued that I write a retro form of cyberpunk that isn't really classified as steampunk at all! In fact, with CeLeSTe being an AI that pretty much runs the ship along the same lines as Cortana from Halo, and with all the talk of advanced biology, reprograming brains, pockets of space-time, and glass interfaces, it begins to sound very cyberpunk. To all of these arguments I say "Shut your pie hole and go write your own story" and I wish to inform you that while atom punk is pretty darn cool, it wasn't the esthetic I was going for.

For those of you still confused by all my uses of the term "punk" and the argument in general, I have to say I'm right there with you. Here's the long and short of it. Cyberpunk has evolved over the years to include a number of different sub-genres including but not limited to!: Steampunk, Teslapunk, Dieselpunk, Decopunk, Atompunk, Biopunk, Nanopunk, Stonepunk, Nowpunk, Splatterpunk, Elfpunk, Mythpunk, and now including Rococopunk (yeah... look it up - it's pretty much along the lines of the latest version of The Three Musketeers). These are all technically subcategories of Cyberpunk, namely they are featuring some sort of "high _____" (whether it be biotech, magic, or steam) and definitely includes "low class".

Notice that all these sub-punks have one thing in common. Yeah, you guessed it. "Punk". These genres are for the rebels, the crazies, the teens, and the working class. This is the major thing that sets any of these genres apart from historical fiction or literary fiction or straight up sci-fi/fantasy (which is a point of great contention among fans and creators in these fields).

So, if you're looking for a straight up clean cut definition of what the difference between a steampunk and a cyberpunk is, you aren't going to really find one other than "they obviously take place in different time periods".

That said, I want to hear your takes on what sets these sub-punks apart or what you would classify The Shadow Cast Chronicles as in the comments below!


You will also find in each of these sub-punks there is a heavy focus on fashion and gadgets. Seriously! Look them up! The first thing that pops up in each search is "____-punk Fashion".

05 July 2013

Fan Art Friday!

Well, seeing as how another week has come and gone and I am rather short on fan art (though fortunately, I've been gaining fans!) I figured today is a day for reverse fan art!

You know how some days you're really stumped and just can't think of a thing to write? Well, most of those days I revert to scoping out the interwebs for some inspiration. The years have granted me with a wide variety of fantastic art that has inspired me, inspired my world and, sometimes, inspired specific characters. I showed you a lot of Krys last week, allow me to introduce some of my other characters!

Jeldhen was inspired by one particular character and, if anyone has seen the Mummy franchise, you just may understand why.

Mind you, Jeldhen is 21, but you just can't beat Rick O'Connell for that classic international cowboy swagger. And then you have to throw in one of my favored artists who has inspired a great many things in my world:

Then there's Ve. Well, Ve has been inspired by a number of people, not the least of which being my lovely friend Kato. Most particularly, you may recognize this as being the main inspiration for Ve's appearance:

However, I am pleased to say that Kato is not, nor ever has been mad - at least not in the sense that Ve is. For that I can only thank Joss Whedon's vamptastic character Drusilla whom I adore.

Cadence is next, I suppose. But the thing about him is that I stumbled across a random pic on a random search that kind of lead to a number of different, completely unrelated pictures that eventually lead me to an underdeveloped character that very happily blossomed into the obsessive, slightly disturbed man that he has come to be. (Wow... I'm beginning to realize just how much I like writing crazy people...)

Fes sprung out of two pictures (one comes from Kato, no idea who took the other one). But in essence, these two pictures:

 gave me an entire attitude to an entire character that lead to an entire chapter that deserved to be in her very specific voice. Thank you whomever took these pictures.

Lia, as well, came from two random pictures... both of which are results of a random search:

The top one gave me her attitude which has been my favorite part of her whole obnoxious character. The second gave me her irrational fear of heights... no idea how I got that off the picture, but there it is!

Krys is the only character left from HBL, so I suppose I might as well feature her as well. But, I have so many pictures that have inspired her, that it's difficult to count and even more difficult to credit. I can say that the second one is from The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, the first one is the lead actress from Peter Pan, and I believe that somewhere in there is a steampunk Princess Leia. So, just for the heck of it, here are the inspirations for Krys:

03 July 2013

Artists, Stories, and The World We Live In

In writing my stories, I try to keep my characters as diverse and creative as I possibly can. This is my personal reflection of a modern society put into a modern fairy tale. I live in a global universe, so do my characters. But, when my characters go to a certain location, I expect to find people living in that location that belong their. I don't expect to find Scots living in Singapore. Likewise, I would not expect to find Santa Clause (or in this case the Snow Queen) to be living at the South Pole.

That said, I've come across a post on Tumblr that has really got me seething. You can find it here. There are many arguments made in this post, which goes back and forth over many different reasons why characters at Disney look similar. Some assume that the artists are lazy, or *rolls eyes* racists. But here's what I have to say on the matter.

Individual artists, successful artists, make their money out of being stylized. This is how they make their money. An artist is selected out of hundreds of thousands because the producers like their style. Any artist or animator will tell you that!

And I would leave it with "That's it. Nuf said." but there's so much more to this than just that simple fact! I recall watching one of the extra features on Lilo and Stitch where they were talking about the specific style of the movie coming from this key animator that had been a concept artist for years and had always had that similar style. They talked about how, for animators, it was difficult for them to do because it was SO stylized, but it was well worth it!

Now, from what little I know about 3D animation, it's a lot easier for everyone to be on the same page animation wise - and by a lot easier I mean A LOT easier. But there's still a distinctive style! Looking over all the Disney classics, you can tell they're classics just by the animation style. The eyes, are the same, the proportions are the same.  Sure, the styles may vary from film to film, but they all have that classic feel.

On a different issue having to do with artistic style, has anyone noticed that you can look at a film and guess with darn good accuracy who the film was made by? This goes for live action or animated. Go ahead, explain to me why! Explain to me that directors have a specific way they want the film to look and they get it. Explain to me that they have a style to convey a theme, a location, a common thread in a series of adventures. But no, the people on Tumblr that criticize a successful person for sticking to their style is simply a jaded critic that has yet to do anything truly successful with their lives.

That said, on to point 2.

The argument of racial ambiguity really pisses me off. Disney does a good job of keeping a story's characters racially tied to their place of origin.  The Jungle Book takes place in India. The Legend of the Emperor of Cuzco takes place in the Andes. Atlantis is Mediterranean. Tarzan is about a white boy found by white people in the depths of Africa. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is French. Hercules is appropriately Greek! Aladdin distinctively reflects the tales of Scheherazade in her classic 1,000 Arabian Nights. Mulan is a Chinese historical figure, just like Pocahontas is to the new world. Peter Pan, The Sword in the Stone, and Alice in Wonderland are all British classics by British authors which they set in *gasp* Great Britain!

The point of fact is that Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel are all fairy tales compiled by the Grimm brothers. These fairy tales are from the German and French country sides and have things central to their story that require that setting. Just as I fully anticipated The Hunchback of Notre Dame to take place in *gasp* Paris!, I expect to see these classic Germanic fairy stories to take place in *gasp* Germany! Now, The Princess and the Frog, while sweet and a really creative take on a classic Grimm story (The Brothers Grimm being, of course, German) did not stick to it's alleged country of origin. Then again, there aren't very many story centric references of to culture in the fairytale which Disney botched. But, seeing as how they've completely changed the story before *cough* The Jungle Book *cough* I won't contend it.

Now, if you want to get really persnickety about this, which I most surely shall, The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, and Thumbelina are all H.C. Andersen stories. He is Danish. I expect danish influence in these movies. The Little Mermaid has Danish ships, a Danish castle, even Danish countryside. Now, seeing as how The Snow Queen is written to take place in the northern most part of Norway, or possibly Russia, and that the Snow Queen's castle is supposed to be at the North Pole... And seeing as how the South Pole is so frigidly terrible weather wise that even modern explorers avoid it at all costs... And seeing as how even the great and mighty Inca didn't sail in those treacherous southern waters - whereas the Northern Sea used to freeze over completely on a regular basis and peoples have been known to cross them - I expect that Scandinavian/Slavic touch, white skin and all.

But take heart! Disney's running out of tales from my ancestors. I believe the only the only ones left are: The Princess and the Pea, and The Troll King. But then after that, you have the stories of Baba Yaga, The Tales of Ulster and any number of Viking tales. Yeah... us crazy white people were really good at coming up with some frighteningly entertaining stories. And it's not that other cultures don't have them too, it's just that the majority of Disney animators are white, the majority of their watchers are white and they - LIKE ANY OTHER CULTURE - love sharing their favorite bed time stories! I, personally, have been waiting 13 years for them to make a featured film out of Rapunzel. From the time I was 8, it was my favorite fairy tale. 

Now, that's not to say that other cultures don't have great fairy tales and cautionary stories, they do! And shame on Disney for not drawing attention to those stories. But don't take my favorite fairy tale and try to turn it into a story about a culture I know nothing about. Turn that culture's fairy tales into feature length movies instead! Why not? There are the Native American tales of Cayote, and the Mayan tales of the Jaguar warriors, and the Chinese tales of Monkey, and you can pick from any number of Hindi stories. Then there's the African tales of Spider. Or, heck! You can go do some more of Scheherazade's  1,000 Arabian Nights. I know for a fact that they didn't even even cover half of them in the Aladdin TV series. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of other multicultural fairy tales to choose from, so stop ragging on Disney for keeping the culture that the fairy tales belong to in tact.

Now for those of you that saw this, thought "tl/dr" and skipped to the last paragraph, I suggest you go through and reread the entire rant, it's pretty interesting. If not, then I leave you with this: Disney is running out of northern European fairy tales to tell in their animation. So, now they actually have time to research some far eastern tales that don't involved being eaten by tigers (or dragons, or wild demons, take your pick), or they're going to have to move on to the Irish tales of Ulster... which aren't really that pretty either. 

01 July 2013

Steampunk and other such things

 Steampunk: what you may not know

For just about anyone that is interested in anything Turn of the Century, you may or may not be familiar with the term "steam punk". For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, here's a little video that may answer some questions:

Okay, now that this one singular interpretation of the word "steampunk" I am here to clear up a few things! While each different author or creator in the steampunk genre have their own view on what the definition of "steampunk" is, we can all agree on one thing: retro-futurism. 

I know some of you are looking at this word and wondering what on Earth that could possibly mean. Let me clear it up for you - or elsewise confuse you just a little bit more. retro-futurism can mean either of two things (and often both at the same time). The first thing retro-futurism refers to is this "what would the future look like if it were designed by the great Turn of the Century thinkers?" Namely, the future as Edison, Tesla, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Rice Burroughs saw it.  The second, and possibly more controversial view of retro-futurism, is a future built of reflections on the Turn of the Century. 

"Purists" who consider themselves "true steam punks" tend to lean more toward the first definition. These steampunks focus more on the "steam" than the "punk" part of their cultural name, and, in fact, will even go so far as to get on people's cases about whether dieselpunk isn't an entirely different sub-culture than steampunk, even though they exist in the same era, and a diesel engine works the exact same as a steam engine, just with a different fuel. These people are the ones that seem to simply relive the late 19th century with large fancy machinery. This is best reflected in the film Steamboy - which, if you've ever watched it, is pretty self-explanitory on this front.

The other group tend to put more emphasis on the word "punk" than the word "steam", not really caring about sub-sub-cultures. These are the overly creative ones that create an alternite reality where steam age devices still function and airships still roam the sky. The most prevelant in this group seem to be in the music field. Abney Park, for instance , even go so far as to create an entire back story for their band which explains their sudden transition into the steampunk culture.

These two groups, however, intermingle frequently and, in spite of many contentions on the subject of all things concerning steam and punks, they still manage to have a good time. 

For further explaination on the steampunk culture, or if you're interested in getting more involved in the steampunk genre, I'd recommend the following two websites:

The World of the Shadow Cast

 Now, in spite of all this bickering between the purist steam punks and the jazzy fun-loving steam punks, there's a class that seems to pretty much get shunned by steampunks with a shrug of "well, I don't think that really counts." This narrow-minded view of steampunkery leaves a good number of stories and creative works that might be considered steampunk outside the realm of steampunkery. Take, for example, my world.

The Shadow Cast Chronicles, as you may know, takes place "less steam, more punk" retro-futuristic/alternate-reality society. For those of you still thinking that the stemapunk genre is what happens when goths discover the color brown, you might be a little surprised by the brilliant colors and flavorful characters in my stories. You may even think that my world would be better classified under the catagory "cyberpunk", but that's where I'd like to tell you that you're, sadly, mistaken. (Cyberpunk is a topic for another time, so don't even get me started.)  Allow me to share with you some fantastic little peaks at things you might find in my world:


 In conclusion, I suppose what I'm trying to say is: if you're looking for a simple definition of steampunk, you're looking in the wrong place.