Linguistic divisions

Posted on December 4, 2014 at 11:09 PM
 1 Comment »
Dec 042014
 

The news these days has had me thinking, and it finally made me realize something.

You see, I despise the [Whatever-American] terminology for ethnicity. Asian-American, African-American, all those. Hate those terms with a passion. And I’ve finally figured out why.

They’re dangerous. The whole non-racist/post-racial society that we want? Those terms are detrimental to the whole thing.

Why? Because they’re hideously racist. And even worse, they’re insidiously racist.

Because they imply, by definition, that white is some sort of default. “Oh, if you’re white, you’re just American. It’s everyone else who needs to be specially identified.”

That sort of thinking is what keeps “us vs. them” alive, even in the minds of people who otherwise aren’t prejudiced. It’s the sort of thinking that leads to people assuming that all characters in books have to be white, or casting Sigourney Weaver as an Biblical African queen.

When was the last time you heard someone referred to as a Caucasian-American? You haven’t, or at least not often, because the language itself has trained us to think of “Caucasian” as the unspoken default. We’ve already learned, throughout history, that you cannot have “separate but equal.” So how can we possibly reach equality when the language itself works at keeping us separate?

If you’re an American citizen, you should be an American. Period. Ethnicity should have no bearing on it, and the terminology for ethnicity should not draw on citizenship.

There is no “default” except human. Our language needs to reflect that, not cloud it.

 

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A partial solution to online trolling?

Posted on November 12, 2014 at 11:50 PM
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Nov 122014
 

So, online trolling and abuse have been in the news a lot. And a lot of people (including Wil Wheaton) have pointed out that anonymity, and thus lack of accountability, are a major part of the problem.

At the same time, there are truly good reasons for some people to stay anonymous. So how do we reconcile those?

Well, I’ve had a thought.

Lots of online games have PvP (Player vs. Player) and non-PvP servers. The user has a choice.

Why not offer Anonymous and Non-Anonymous servers?

Nobody who wants to stay anonymous is required to give up that right. But those who choose to can offer up their own true identity, for the right to play only alongside others who were willing to do the same.

I guaran-damn-tee you there would be enough takers to make it worthwhile.

Sure, that only solves the issues in gaming, not forums or social media or the like. But it’s a start.

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Marvel’s Well-Meaning Mistake

Posted on July 16, 2014 at 11:05 PM
 6 Comments »
Jul 162014
 

Among the many changes Marvel is making to its characters in the Marvel Now! line, the most recent is the announcement that Steve Rogers is laying down the mantle of Captain America (for what I believe to be the 247th time), and his replacement is said to be Sam “The Falcon” Wilson.

I have a problem with this, and it’s not the one you might expect.

I’m pro-added diversity in comics. Thor’s a woman now, great! The Ultimates version of Spider-Man is Miles Morales, great! And while I have a personal attachment to Steve Rogers, if there’s going to be a new Cap, I not only don’t object to, but celebrate, the fact that he’s black. (Even if his new mask is kinda goofy looking.)

But it should not have been Sam.

Oh, it makes sense from an in-character perspective. Sam Wilson’s one of the good guys, someone Steve knows well and trusts. My problem is with the meta-narrative.

Sam Wilson–the Falcon–may not be as big a name as Storm, or the Black Panther. The fact remains, though, that he is one of the few black superheroes to have built his own successful, popular identity. He was a success story, on a very limited list of success stories.

Making him Captain America is taking that away. It’s the opposite of diversifying the line, because it’s taking a minority character who made it on his own, and turning him into another minority character who had to build on the name of a straight white male.

I realize it’s too late, but… if by some miracle someone at Marvel sees this, please. By any and all means, give us a black Captain America–but let Sam remain the Falcon. He’s earned it.

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This is your culture on drugs

Posted on June 27, 2014 at 10:00 PM
 1 Comment »
Jun 272014
 

There’s a short story open-call going around that caught my eye. Or rather, one detail in the submission rules caught my eye.

I’m not naming the anthology in question, because my problem isn’t with the anthology. They’re just reacting to the culture in which we all live, and I don’t want people to misunderstand me and think I’m yelling at them. I’m not.

I’m yelling at a lot of other people, though.

The rule in question reads as follows:

  • Stories must conform to the “Indiana Jones” rule of thumb regarding, sex, violence, language, drug use, etc. We try to keep things here appropriate for most audiences, so if it’s something you’d conceivably see in an Indiana Jones story, it should be fine (i.e., melting faces are okay, F-bombs, in general, are not).

Really let that sink in a moment. “Melting faces are okay, F-bombs, in general, or not.” Think about it.

What the fuck is wrong with entertainment standards in this country?!?!

Bullets flying, people dying, acts of horrific, gory violence… These are no problem. But a “bad word”? A breast on prime time TV? That’s a goddamn outrage.

This is wrong; so wrong. Aesthetically. Ethically. Morally.

It’s a word. Fuck fuck fuck. Fuckity fuck fucking fucky fuck.

Or a body part. Oooh, your kids are going to be traumatized seeing something for two seconds that not only do they already know mommy has, but which they fed off of for a year and a half.

I like violence and gore in fiction, where it’s appropriate. I’m not suggesting it be curtailed (though a case could be made for certain TV shows). But the idea that it’s okay, where the others aren’t? It’s backwards, in every conceivable way, shape, or form.

Get your act together already, American culture. This isn’t even Puritan; it’s just lunacy. And hypocritical lunacy to boot.

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Seriously, Fuck Cancer

Posted on May 31, 2014 at 11:32 PM
 2 Comments »
May 312014
 

I have far too many friends and colleagues, people I genuinely care about, suffering through one form or another of cancer right now. Hell, one would be “far too many.”

I’m tired of wishing there was “something I could do.” So I’m doing something, however minor a gesture it may be.

I have dropped the price of my short story collection, Strange New Words, across Amazon, Smashwords, and DriveThruFiction. This applies to both e-copies and hardcopies. I haven’t decided yet if this price drop is permanent or temporary.

What I have decided is that I will donate the entirety of any profit I make on sales of Strange New Words, throughout the entire month of June. Not to an institute or to a program, but directly to a handful of the people I know who are struggling with cancer right now, to help defray the ungodly medical costs these things accumulate. It probably won’t be much, in the grand scheme of things, but I’d like for it to be something.

If you haven’t picked up SNW yet, please consider doing so now. If you have, please encourage other people to. And definitely help me spread the word, if you’d be so kind.

Thank you so much, every one of you.

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Any of this sound interesting?

Posted on May 14, 2014 at 6:55 PM
 1 Comment »
May 142014
 

I haven’t a clue where I would find the time or energy for this, but…

As a means of challenging myself a little, as well as providing some regular original content for my web site, I’ve been thinking of doing something I’m calling the ABCs of Fantasy. (Inspired by both the ABCs of Horror anthology film, and the various ABC blogging challenges.)

It would work thusly:

1) People send in suggestions for a word starting with the relevant letter. Said word (using C as an example), could be a mythical place (Camelot, Carcossa), a historical place (Coventry), a culture (Celts), a mythical figure (Cu Chulainn), a historical figure (Charlemagne), a mythical creature (cockatrice, Cerberus), a mythical item (Caliburne), a fantasy concept (conjuring), a writing concept (cliche), or basically anything else that could reasonably come from, or be applied to, fantasy. Creativity and outside-the-box suggestions would be encouraged.

(It could also be a modern fantasy character, but it would have to be one of mine, since I don’t have the rights to anyone else. So, sticking with the above examples, C could be Corvis Rebaine.)

2) After a week of people sending in suggestions, I would then put the various suggestions up for a vote (with some judgment on my part; see below). After a week, the word with the most votes wins, and I would then write a piece of flash or short fiction somehow involving, incorporating, or representing that word.

(I would reserve the right to omit from the voting anything profane, racist, or otherwise objectionable to me.)

Said story would be written during the following week, while people were sending in word suggestions for the next letter.

3) Said story would be posted for free on the site.

(I might, on occasion, post a guest story in place of one of my own, if one of my author friends has an idea for a chosen word and would like to participate.)

The intent would be a tiny story every two weeks, but I wouldn’t guarantee it. Real life–and real deadlines–come up.

Now here’s the thing. If I decide to do this, if I decide I can somehow dredge up the time and energy, it only works if I get serious audience participation, as well as help spreading word of the series. So–again, with the understanding that this may or may not happen; nothing’s decided yet–what I need to know now is, would you participate? Would you send in suggestions, vote on them, maybe comment on the resulting fiction, etc.? Does this concept even interest you? Please answer honestly; I need a genuine sense of whether I’d be wasting my time or not.

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Horror: Anatomy of an Ending

Posted on May 10, 2014 at 3:21 PM
 2 Comments »
May 102014
 

Those of you on my Facebook page or Twitter have recently seen me ranting a bit about horror movies. You’ll have seen some of this before, but by no means all of it.

In trying to recharge my brain, in the midst of multiple big projects, I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies (mostly supernatural horror, which is far an away my preference). And I’m starting to get seriously frustrated with them, almost enough–at times–to make me swear off the whole bloody lot.

Point the first: End your Goddamn movie!

You can have a happy ending. You can have a grim ending. You can have an ambiguous ending. You can have an open ending. All of those are fine in horror (but see point two). But guess what, guys? You still have to have some sort of ending!

Cutting to credits in the middle of a scene, where a few of the main characters are still alive and no actual plot points have been resolved beyond “Lots of people died”? That’s not an ending. That’s lazy. It’s bad storytelling. If there’s not something that tells the viewer “This is why the story ends here,” it’s not an ending. And your movie, no matter what has led up to that point, is a bad one.

Now, on a purely personal level, I really don’t much care for the “Introduce a bunch of characters, kill off all but one or two, make it look like they’re going to survive, then kill them and roll credits” technique. To me, that’s almost not an ending; it escapes qualifying as the above problem by the skin of its teeth. And it annoys the crap out of me. But, as I said, I recognize that as subjective opinion.

Point the second: Did you know that horror doesn’t have to be nihilistic?

Horror is one of the few genres where you can get away with really grim, downbeat endings. The protagonists are all dead. The monster wins. The world’s destroyed. The hero’s soul is doomed for all eternity, trapped inside a haunted bidet. Whatever.

Problem is, the fact that it’s accepted has made it common, and the fact that it’s common has made it a crutch.

If your ending is good, make it as grim/downbeat as you like. Again, that’s one of the genre’s strengths. But a lot of horror scripts seem to have down endings because it’s easier. Once again, it’s lazy writing.

It’s easy to kill everyone off. It’s easy to go for that last jump scare. It’s easy to do, and it’s just as easy to do badly. You know what happens when it’s done badly? It makes the whole movie utterly meaningless. It becomes a non-ending, as above, because the whole film has become a non-story. If you’r going to do it, you need to do it in such a way that it still feels like the actual story has reached an actual end, not like you ran out of characters.

You know what’s a lot harder? A happy ending in horror that flows well and feels natural to the story. You know who tries to write the harder stuff? Better writers.

(No, I’m not saying if you don’t have a happy ending in horror, you’re a bad writer. I’m saying that if you have a horrific ending for no better reason than that it took less effort, or because you feel like you’re “supposed” to, you may need to polish your craft a bit.)

Also? When down endings in horror were a significant minority of endings, it upped the suspense level of every horror movie. You honestly didn’t know if the characters would make it or not. But now that they’re so damn common, and so often lazy? I’ve found it much harder to get invested in the characters or stories of the horror movies, because I’ve reached the point where I don’t expect anything they do to matter.

Before I go into point three, let me be clear: I am fully aware that point three is entirely subjective. While I have some opinion in points one and two, I maintain that the core of those points has some basis in the actual rules of storytelling. I make no such claim about point three; it’s entirely my own thing.

(You’re still wrong if you disagree, though.) ;-)

Point the third: There’s enough damn injustice in the real world, thanks.

Did you notice above where I said that I vastly prefer supernatural horror? That’s largely because it simply falls more in line with my tastes. I’m a fantasy guy, and frankly, dark/urban fantasy and supernatural horror are the right and left hand of the same creature. I just enjoy it more, across the board.

That said, there’s another reason I prefer supernatural horror to horror with human “monsters.” And that’s a question of, well… Justice, to be dramatic about it.

If it’s a ghost, or a zombie, or whatever, then I can deal with most kinds of endings, happy or grim. But if it’s a human? I despise horror movies where the human villain wins or gets away with it. Hate them. It makes me literally gut-clenching, want-to-hit-someone angry, to the point where it’s so unpleasant, it utterly ruins my experience of the movie. If the villain of a horror movie is human, they need to get their comeuppance in some shape, form, or fashion by the end, or else I’d honestly rather never even watch it. No matter how good it otherwise may be.

Along similar lines, I really don’t like stories of struggle to no avail (such as most of the “kill off the last character in the last shot” movies tend to be). Even if it’s a grim ending, I want the protagonists’ travails to have accomplished something. Again, personal opinion, but it’s a personal blog. :-P

Given all of the above? It’s getting harder to find supernatural horror that I enjoy. I’ve reached the point of looking for spoilers before I watch a movie. How self-defeating is that? To know how a horror movie, of all things, ends before watching it. But all the above frustrations have gotten so ubiquitous that I find it preferable to spoil myself than to run into one of said endings without warning.

So please, guys. At least points one and two, okay? I can work through the personal taste stuff on my own if you’ll stop trying to make me eat lazy writing along with it.

P.S. Less about endings than horror movies as a whole, but…

Supernatural horror shouldn’t try to explain everything, no. Leave some mystery, some stuff for the audience to ponder. But explaining too little? Leaving the audience without even a semi-clear idea of what happened? That’s not “Making the audience think.” It’s not “deep.” It, too, is bad, lazy writing.

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One last howl

Posted on April 14, 2014 at 7:05 PM
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Apr 142014
 

Today, CCP–White Wolf’s parent company–pulled the plug.

Didn’t know White Wolf was still around? That’s understandable. They stopped publishing pen-and-paper RPGs some years ago. A great many of the staff went and founded Onyx Path, the company that is currently publishing the World of Darkness games, as well as Exalted, Scion, and other stuff. They’ve been a worthy successor.

But White Wolf still existed, in the form of people at CCP working on the Vampire MMO. Today, a huge number of them have lost their jobs, to say nothing of years of hard, thankless work that will now never see the light of day. The last formal vestige of White Wolf is gone.

This is a big deal for me (though certainly not nearly as big a deal as it is for the people who were laid off). Vampire: the Masquerade was the first non-D&D game that I got into long-term. (I’d played others, but only briefly or sporadically). It was the first RPG I played with the woman I’d later marry. It completely changed the way I thought about running games.

But more than that… White Wolf gave me my career. After years of failing to break into fiction, it was White Wolf–and Justin Achilli, specifically–who gave me my first professional writing shot. It was the freelance work for WW that led me to D20 work; the d20 work that led me to official D&D work; and it was through WW and Wizards of the Coast that i was finally able to get my foot in the fiction door.

Would it have happened without them? Maybe. But it wouldn’t have been the same, and anyway, it did happen with/because of them.

As I said, Onyx Path is a worthy heir. Heck, it’s many of the same people. I hope to work with them again in the future, and I wish them all the success in the world. But I’m still sorry to see the end of the company that started it all for me, and the effect it’s having on some very good, very talented people.

Farewell, old wolf.

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What We Darn Well Better Not See in Star Wars VII

Posted on March 28, 2014 at 12:08 AM
 4 Comments »
Mar 282014
 

There are a lot of places the new Star Wars movies could go. A lot of directions they could take. Plenty of options, plenty of ideas.

Let me tell you what is pretty much at the top of my list for options that would be absolutely the wrong idea.

(Well, my “worst realistic possibilities” list. I’m not counting things like Gungan Jedi or finding out that Jabba is Han’s twin sister.)

And the funny thing, it’s already been done. And it was a bad idea then, too.

Let us return to… I don’t remember. Some year in the early 90s. And a comic book series called “Dark Empire.”

“Dark Empire” was quite popular at the time, and to this day, I cannot fathom why. I mean absolutely zero disrespect to the creative team–there was nothing wrong with the writing as such, or the art, or any of that. Nonetheless, it was an absolute travesty as a chapter of the Star Wars saga, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Jar-Jar was less damaging to the saga than “Dark Empire.”

So, back to the movies, my number one thing I do not want to see. I won’t be so hyperbolic as to claim it’s a dealbreaker–I’ll be standing in that line, and we both know it–but it’s close.

Do not, do not, do not, DO NOT bring back the Emperor. No miraculous survival. Sure as hell no clones. Not even whatever the Dark Side equivalent to the “Force ghosts” might be.

NONE OF THAT.

Vader’s sacrifice at the end of Return of the Jedi is the entire reason for the original trilogy to exist in the form we know it. (Stress “in the form we know it.” Before Lucas decided Vader was Anakin, it would’ve gone differently, of course, but that would’ve made two of the three movies entirely different.)

It winds up being the focal point of all six movies we have to date. It is not only the single most meaningful decision point in the Star Wars saga, it was one of the archetypal such decision points in genre/popular culture. Period. Full stop.

Bringing the Emperor back, after that? In any way, shape, or form? It renders that sacrifice utterly meaningless.

I can already hear the arguments. “But it still showed his change of heart!” “But it still dealt the Empire a major defeat!”

Yes, this is true. It’s also not enough.

You cannot take away the primary accomplishment of that act, the single most impactful, important victory, and still claim it has the same meaning. It doesn’t change damage the story of that moment, but of that entire movie, and through that the entire series.

“Darth Vader killed the Emperor at the cost of his own life, in order to save his son.”

It is not just a weakening of symbolism, but literally bad storytelling, to come along afterward and undo that. To literally undo a prior story.

Find a different direction to in the new movies, okay? Don’t try to recapture old glories. Create new ones.

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A Heartfelt Thank You

Posted on January 8, 2014 at 12:44 AM
 1 Comment »
Jan 082014
 

Well, it’s taken me longer than I’d intended to put this up, but at least it’s here.

Guys, I cannot begin to thank you enough. The call for help I posted was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but you all really came through with more generosity than I could have hoped. While things remain extremely tight, we were able to get through the immediate crisis due entirely to all of you who helped out.

No idea how I’m going to show my gratitude yet, but I’m damn well going to think of something. You’re all the reason I do what I do.

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