Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Beautiful People #7

(Series by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In)
Since Dandy comes out this week, I'm going to slow down on the series. I'm going to switch to once every other week instead of every week, and switch to upcoming characters or just whoever I feel like at the time, ha ha.

1. What is their secret desire?

Dandy - to feel safe again.

Toru - to wake up and find that everything that happened was just a dream.

2. What is the best and brightest moment they experience during the story?

Dandy - waking up with her lover and being completely comfortable in her own skin for a few minutes.

Toru - finally letting go of his past and moving forward.

3. What are the emotional places your characters are afraid to go to?

Dandy - literally anywhere emotional - but in particular, about her past; even more specifically, about her family.

Toru - admitting that he doesn't really want revenge anymore.

4. Is there a place/city/room where they will never go? Why?

Dandy - no only because she would have to admit weakness if she didn't.

Toru - his family estate, because he feels he cannot return until he has reclaimed his honor.

5. If they were permanently leaving town, what would they easily throw out? What would they refuse to part with? (Why?)

Dandy - she would literally leave with the shirt on her back and nothing else. She doesn't keep anything particularly sentimental, and considers everything else replaceable.

Toru - His sword is the only thing he'd make sure to take with him, since it's a sign of his station and was given to him by his father.

6. What do they want (consciously and tangibly)?

Dandy - to get paid and get laid.

Toru - to fulfill his mission and return home.

7. On the other hand: what do they need (on the emotional, subconscious level)?

Dandy - to accept the support of her friends and move on from her past, and to realize she deserves nice things.

Toru - to realize his own shortcomings and work on improving them.

8. If they could change one thing about themselves, what would it be?

Dandy - she would never run away from home.

Toru - to be more suspicious (as he sees himself as too trusting).

9. What is the most humiliating event of their life?

Dandy - when she was the slave of Choi Shuon.

Toru - the first time he met Dandy, and was a sleep-deprived, half drunk mess in the gutter.

10. What things do they turn to when they need a bit of hope?

Dandy - opium.

Toru - poetry.


Digital Storytelling: The Importance of Context and Understanding What Your Story is Really Saying

Today I watched Hannah Gadsby’s hour comedy special “Nanette” on Netflix and it was so heartfelt, and a lot of the act spoke to me. One of the things she spoke on was the current romanticism of mental illness, and as someone that has ADHD, anxiety, and depression, this related to me a lot. She also spoke on her experience on coming out as a lesbian, and one phrase really spoke out to me: “You learn from the part of the story you focus on. I need to tell my story properly”. What she was discussing, was coming from a conservative Christian area in Tasmania, where she says “70% of the people who raised me, loved me, who I trusted -  believed that homosexuality was a sin, that homosexuals were heinous sub-human pedophiles” and how this affected her view of her self-worth. She goes on to speak about how she turned her coming out story into a comedy routine - as many young gay comedians do - and how it caused her to compartmentalize and minimize the pain she’d felt, instead of dealing with it the way she should have - the way she wished she had. While this is a very deeply personal story, and a very personal analysis, it made me start thinking on my stories and what I focus on.

My latest book, Dandy, had a very challenging main character for me. When I wrote the rough draft of my first book - Allaha of the Mountain - it was from a very depressed place. My cat, Zane - my first pet that had been my pet and not a family pet - died. And I largely felt that it was my fault for being a young, inexperienced owner. (You’ll also notice that the dedication is to him, and one of the main characters - Karejakal - is based on him.) I know now that that did play a part of it, but the larger problem was that Zane had somehow contracted feline leukemia (despite having been vaccinated) and so when one thing went wrong, everything did. The same thing happened to his brother, Ramses, whom Dandy is dedicated to. So at the time I wrote Allaha of the Mountain for the first time, I was in a depressive state. And while my ex thought that the title character, Allaha, was based on me, I would say it would be more accurate to say that she is my depression personified. It shows in her emotional detachment, the way she seems to have a hard time connecting to actual feeling - good or bad.

So my goal with Allaha has become accurately portraying someone with depression, and in her story it’s the support of her friends and her responsibility for other people that helps her to reclaim herself. Because initially she turned to religion as her support system, and I don’t mean to discredit anyone whose faith has helped them - but I was raised in a Christian household, and I needed more than faith. Faith itself is not wrong; but oftentimes, and usually well-meaningly and unconsciously, it is postulated as a cureall - anything can be fixed with enough faith. So when your problems - when your pain, your feelings of isolation, your feelings of being not quite right - when they don’t go away, it’s because you don’t have enough faith. And you don’t seek outside support, because you’ve been taught that all you need is faith, and maybe you’re ashamed that you don’t have the faith you’re supposed to have. Because how can you, when your problems still exist?

Allaha focuses on a woman who buried her pain in blind religious faith, and found that if she just made herself enough of the perfect model of the ideal practitioner of this faith, she could pretend that the hurt wasn’t there. In reality, she was suffering from a prolonged depressive state, and it made her emotionally unavailable. Not because she relied on faith, but because she only relied on faith. Throughout the series, I want to be able to depict her journey back to herself through confronting her pain, rather than burying it. Through relying on the people who love her, rather than blindly following doctrine. And it’s a personal battle that I’ve experienced - the fight between faith and personal beliefs, and what to do when the two stop matching up the way you thought they used to, and how sometimes faith can isolate you instead of give you a place to belong.

Circling back, if Allaha is a representation of my depression, Dandy is a representation of my anxiety. From the outset I knew Dandy would be a complicated character to portray. I wanted to accurately portray someone who was using extremely unhealthy coping mechanisms for their mental illness (PTSD) without making her entirely unsympathetic. Dandy is crass, and mean - sometimes it’s clever, but most of the time it’s just mean. There’s one particular scene where she crosses a line with a friend because she’s in pain and wants to push them away so that they don’t recognize she is (even though they already have) because she has come to believe that she is the only person she can rely on. There are other times that she can really be outright vicious.

Now, I have never gotten to the point where I have crossed that line - but I have been more cutting than I meant to, and I can sometimes be mean. Especially to myself, if I’m being completely honest. And while I have never abused any illicit substances, I have wondered what it would be like to use them. Fortunately for Dandy, she also has a support system of friends that are there and ready to catch her when she falls. They forgive her - now, they don’t brush it off like what she said wasn’t legitamitely hurtful, because it was - but they know it was coming from a place of pain and make the deliberate decision to forgive her because they know she needs help.

Coming back to Hannah Gadsby - “You learn from the part of the story you focus on. I need to tell my story properly.” What do I focus on in my stories? I focus on people who bury their feelings in different ways instead of confronting them, and how it negatively affects them. I focus on the pain - but I also focus on relationships. I focus on people in dark places getting help from the people who care about them, and eventually how confronting their feelings helps them to be better people. More confident people who are more accepting of themselves. The kind of person I am and I strive to be more.

Gadsby, in the beginning of her show, talks about a man who almost beat her up because he had mistaken her for a man and thought she was flirting with his girlfriend (she was). But because he realized she was a woman he apologized and left. It was funny, lighthearted delivery, and a comical situation in general.

At the end of her show, she reveals that he realized she was a lesbian and came back to “beat the shit out of” her. She discusses how ending the story where she did was on purpose, because she knew it was funny at that point - and that her getting beat up was not. You can see the emotion on her face - you can see how much it hurts her that she didn’t report the incident, or go to the hospital because, in her words, “I thought that was all I was worth”.

I really had wondered why I wrote such dark themes into my stories. Why did I feel the need to focus on terrible things happening, instead of happy endings and fun adventures? And it was watching this special, and seeing someone who had felt some of the same things I had - hearing them articulate some of the things I had done in different ways - that made me realize it. I needed to tell my story properly.

My characters start in dark places and find bad ways to cope with them. I fight for education on mental illness because when I tried to articulate my depression to my mother as a teenager, she didn’t realize what the problem was and didn’t get me the help I needed. That is not a denigration on her - it’s a side effect of a society that stigmatizes mental illness. I had realized that I did not feel things the same way as other people early on - and I hid it, because the few times I had been myself, I was told things like “you shouldn’t feel that way”. So subconsciously I just started shutting down the feelings I wasn’t supposed to have and “played normal”. I didn’t make plans for the future, because I didn’t know what I was supposed to want, and I had stopped trying to figure out what I actually wanted.

“I need you to know what I know - to be rendered powerless does not destroy your humanity,” Gadsby says, “Your resilience is your humanity. The only people who lose their humanity are those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless - they are the weak. To yield and not break - that is incredible strength.”

One of the things I thought of when writing Dandy was how much I did not want it to be about a bounty hunter “with a heart of gold”.  Dandy is just a person - a woman who has been through hell and hasn’t quite left it yet, and while she can be kind and decent that doesn’t make her better than anyone else. The “heart of gold” trope is always used to make it seem like suffering makes you a better person - it doesn’t. You can suffer and turn into a giant asshole. It romanticizes suffering as a prerequisite for sainthood, and normalizes the thought that if you are a good person while suffering you will eventually get good things because you deserve them for being a good person.

You learn from the part of the story you focus on. Where is the part of these stories that focuses on how the other characters, the ones around the “heart of gold” character, living in the same terrible conditions with the same sad backstories, are just as deserving of kindness and human decency? Dandy and another character, Gurujhal, are not “good” people. They both have dark pasts, and both of them have done bad things in order to survive. Both of them were broken and needed to rebuild themselves. Their stories focus on their resilience - but they don’t shy away from the dark places. Because I need to tell my story properly.

I realized that I write from these dark places because I focus on getting out of them. I focus on building a support network of people who love you and are willing to help - even, no, especially on your bad days. You learn from the part of the story you focus on. How powerful is that statement? I could just write happy stories about people with superficial problems going on adventures and being victorious - but what does anyone learn from that? Nothing.

Sometimes you need an emotional rest, and happy stories provide that, and there is nothing wrong with that. But that is providing you exactly what I said it was - an emotional rest, not a lesson. Happily ever afters are wonderful - but the kind I write are earned. Because the kind of stories I want to tell - the kind of characters I want to build - are people who went to dark places and came out to make their own happy endings. Happy endings they had to fight for, because I had to fight all the negative feelings I had internalized. Because I had to fight to stop “playing normal” and realize what I wanted, and stop caring about what I was supposed to want. I write characters who buried emotions instead of confronting them, because I buried my emotions and needed to confront them later.

“What I would have done to have heard a story like mine; not for blame, not for reputation, not for money, not for power… but to feel less alone. To feel connected.” Like Gadsby talks about here, I am writing the stories I wanted to read when I was younger. These are love letters to myself, and anyone else who has felt the way I have.

Throughout her show, Gadsby talks about the real history of Van Gogh and why we misrepresent him, and why he was not successful, and she ends on a note that resonated with me: “Do you know why we have the sunflowers? It’s not because Vincent Van Gogh suffered; it’s because Vincent Van Gogh had a brother who loved him. Through all the pain, he had a tether - a connection to the world.”

My stories have dark themes, and trauma - but they focus on how making connections, and finding people to support you can help you through those dark times. I focus on moving on from the past - not forgetting it, but not letting it turn you into someone you don’t want to be. And I couldn’t tell those stories - at least not as well - without the dark places. So remember when you write your stories, that you need to tell them properly. That you learn from the part of the story you focus on.

I’m sharing all of this because it’s made me reconsider how and why I tell stories, and why both of these things are very important considerations. When people used to ask me what I wanted them to take away from my stories, I used to say I didn’t have anything in mind. After watching this special, I realize that I just didn’t realize how much of myself I really had poured into these stories. And I want to share this revelation so that when others are making stories, they’ll take the time to also consider what their stories are focusing on, and what others are going to learn from it.

So thank you, Hannah Gadsby, for sharing your story - you helped me to realize some things about myself and the stories I tell, and if it makes any difference, you’ve helped me to feel a little less alone.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Digital Storytelling: Preparing for Video #2

So I think for my next video I’m going to create an abridged video for my first book, Allaha of the Mountain. I like doing in person skits, but I also have low access to resources (money). So, rather than try to create something that looks like it was professionally produced, I plan to embrace my low budget madness and - even though my book isn’t a comedy - making the skits more humorous than serious. This way, I want to draw more interest to the story while still entertaining an audience with a shorter, less accurate version.

It’s kind of ironic, to me, to make an abridged version of the story because the abridged version would consist of a series of interconnected skits that skip through time. The reason I find this ironic is that the rough draft for Allaha of the Mountain started as a series of “episodic” chapters that focused on what became the climax of each chapter, but lacking the character development and time spent in between each high points. Now, creating an abridged video, I need to use a script that would focus on the climax of each chapter and leave out the character development and time spent in between… each… climax…

Anyways, the scripts I’ve written so far have been written in Google Docs, but I think for this video I’m going to use an actual script writing software called YouMeScript, which automatically formats scripts. I already wrote a movie script using it, so I think it will make it easier to create a video like this. I also think I’m going to call in my friends to help out, instead of doing all the parts myself as I’ve done in videos in the past. While playing the parts myself could be funny, it would be difficult at my level of editing to include multiples of myself in the same shot.

Speaking of parts, it will also be difficult since I lack the resources (money) to hire professional actors to play the parts of the characters. So I’ll have to do the best I can, or look into using a cartoon video making service. This is still somewhat limited, since it would depend on the options available for creating avatars.

Either way, this is going to be a big project, and I think it’ll be a lot of fun. One of the “abridged” influences I’ll be looking at pretty heavily is Team Four Star, since I love their comedic style and way you can tell they love the source material, even when they acknowledge its faults.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Beautiful People #6 - Lovers in Love

(Series by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In)
These questions were originally posted in February of 2015, so they are Valentine's themed. While Dandy is not a romance book, the main characters each have a romance, so maybe skip this one if you want to experience the growth of their romances through the story?

1. How long have they been a couple?

Toru & Gurujhal - Two years at the beginning of the book, about two and a half by the end.

Dandy & Azuka - They meet for the first time in the second chapter (Kazu the Hand), and are more or less together through the end of the story, so about ten months.

2. How did they first meet?

Toru & Gurujhal - Through Dandy. When Toru first started working with her in a bounty hunting capacity, Toru met Gur when they went to get information from him for a job.

Dandy & Azuka - At a noblewoman's coming of age party during a bounty hunting job.

3. What were their first thoughts of each other? (Love at first sight or “you’re freakishly annoying”?)

Toru & Gurujhal:
Toru - Thought Gur was annoying and crass.
Gurujhal - Thought Toru was uptight and fun to tease.

Dandy & Azuka:
Dandy - Thought Azuka was interesting.
Azuka - Thought Dandy was mildly entertaining.

4. What do they do that most annoys each other?

Toru & Gurujhal:
Toru - Gur instigating public displays of affection.
Gurujhal - Initially, he doesn't really think anything Toru does it annoying - later, though, I'd say it's Toru's way of cutting to the heart of things.

Dandy & Azuka:
Dandy - Azuka's way of always calling her bluff.
Azuka - Well, not exactly something Dandy does, so much as his own tendency to underestimate her.

5. Are their personalities opposite or similar?

I honestly didn't even realize that both couples had opposite personalities until my editor pointed it out. In his words:
I love the dichotomy of your romantic pairings. Dandy, the crass, sexually open woman paired with the prim and proper noble in Azuka. Tough, badass, stoic Toru paired with fidgety, nervous, unsure of himself Gurujhal.

6. How would their lives be different without each other?

Toru has a arc involving a lot of self-reflection, and I feel like he'd take longer to realize some things about himself without his relationship with Gur. Gurujhal would likely never get into a really emotionally fulfilling and intimate relationship without Toru, and because of his past and why he wouldn't get into that kind of relationship, his self-esteem would suffer for it.

Dandy also goes though a growth arc, and having someone that is mature and laid-back and doesn't expect anymore of her than she's willing to give  really helps her keep her head. Getting into a relationship with a partner she comes to deeply trust is also part of her growth. Azuka never planned to have a long term partner, but is beginning to change his mind.

7. Are they ever embarrassed of each other?

I think the only one who gets embarrassed is Gurujhal, who sometimes gets embarrassed by how straight forward Toru can be.

8. Does anyone disapprove of their relationship?

Toru & Gurujhal - Nobles in general disapprove of Gurujhal, but the only person close to Toru would be Lt. Urataro of the militia, who grew up as a ward of the Katowaro family. Zueng - Gur's dad, doesn't approve of Toru because he's convinced Toru will end up hurting Gur.

Dandy & Azuka - Rin, Dandy's friend and half-owner of the Mountain's Beard Inn with Dandy, doesn't approve of Azuka because of past experiences with Azuka's family. Azuka has the same societal disapproval as Toru, but no one close to him that disapproves.

9. Do they see their relationship as long-term/leading to marriage?

Toru & Gurujhal - They're just seeing where this leads.

Dandy & Azuka - Azuka is starting to make long term plans, but Dandy is more nebulous in her plans of the future.

10. If they could plan the “perfect outing” together, where would they go?

Toru & Gurujhal - Honestly a picnic with their family (Gur's dad, Toru's mom and kids) and friends somewhere quiet.

Dandy & Azuka - They wouldn't really go "out" - more like staying in bed all day.


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Digital Storytelling M1 Story: My Book is Not YA

Kitchen table, cloth background


So, I want to talk about something that keeps coming up and why it’s very frustrating. My book is not a Young Adult book. (Add in a YA book on the side.) Look, I have nothing against YA novels. (Add another YA book.) In fact, there are a lot (add another book) of YA books (add another book) that I greatly enjoy. (Add all of the YA books I own.) YA is a great genre that helps its target age group deal with the problems unique to the point in their lives they’re going through, and when it comes to diverse YA, it’s even more important in showing young adults that they aren’t alone in their more specialized experiences. There are a lot of very talented, very hard working creators that are making brilliant YA fiction that inspires confidence and positive change in young adults. (Take out all the YA books) I am not one of them.

Now that we’ve established that YA is great, let’s talk about some of the comments I keep seeing on my work. I’m not going to say who said what, because this is not meant to attack or discredit any individual, but to address certain arguments I keep running into. There are two big ones I see - that I shoehorned in adult content, and that my writing style is too much like a YA novel.

Let’s start with adult content. At no point in my writing process, did I stop and think (Cut to typing at a computer desk and stop to gasp “Oh no, if I don’t add in some violence, bad language, and sexual content, this will be…. Young Adult.”) First, because none of these topics are outside the realm of YA - it’s the combination of the degree of graphicness and the way the material is handled that makes the difference between whether these are the themes of a YA or an adult novel. My novel is pretty graphic in some regards, and implied in others - but I write about these themes from the point of view of an adult, as my main character is one. A more recent critique I received was that my adult content made the book inaccessible to children even though there were childlike characters.

The first way I’ll address this is that my characters that are children are just… children. Not childlike. It’s an important distinction because you can have childlike characters that are not children. And in the same way that I didn’t stop to think about whether or not my book would be YA, I never went to my author lair like (Cut to “evil author” persona “Oh, yes, by adding this, I can ensure that no children get a hold of my story). I also don’t have a problem with young readers - I was a young reader. But just because a story has children in it doesn’t make it a book for children - A Song of Ice and Fire (Cut to Game of Thrones) has characters that are children, but you wouldn’t assume it was a children’s book because of it.

Moving on the the second argument - I know I write in a simplistic manner. This is on purpose. (Cut to finely dressed and sipping tea “Because while ostentatious, esoteric, superfluous words and long strings of poetic philosophical prattering may make me appear erudite…”) ...if I do it only to sound smart, I also come off as really pretentious. No one cares what you have to say if they don’t know what you’re saying. I want my stories to accessible to the widest audience possible - and shutting people out because they have a smaller vocabulary than I choose to employ is silly. So I wasn’t writing simplistically to appeal to a younger audience, but a wider one, which accounts for people who may not have had the same academic advantages I have. 

In conclusion, I don’t have a problem with YA novels (Cut to all the YA novels back) but my book is not one (Cut out YA novels and leave my book) and this was not done purposefully, as I honestly put no thought whatsoever into whether or not my book was YA when I wrote it.
I like talking to people so leave me a comment or question if you have one. And oh yeah - in the words of the venerable Varric Tethras… “Buy my book.”


(Post credits scene) By the way my new background is a tablecloth I got for going to cons in the future, with a map of Magdra, the fantasy world of my book, printed on it.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Beautiful People #5 - Let's Talk About Me, Apparently

(Series by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In)

1. How many years have you been writing? When did you officially consider yourself a ‘writer’?

I have been writing - as I like to joke about - since kindergarten, but I didn't realize I wanted to be a writer until late middle school. Like, I have a notebook of a story I wrote in 4th grade and more in-between, but before middle school - where I started entering competitions - that I realized I wanted to actually be a writer.

2. How/why did you start writing?

I just always have - as I was talking about in the previous question. I just... do.

3. What’s your favorite part of writing?

Dialogue. I like to think I'm pretty good at it, and it's the most fun for me to write. Sometimes I need to reel the characters back, though.

4. What’s your biggest writing struggle?

Keeping track of my large ensemble cast - sometimes I will have to write a list and basically check to make sure I haven't forgotten anyone. Especially animals - I constantly forget Asvorian and Hanuel.

5. Do you write best at night or day?

I write best when there is something else I should be doing.

6. What does your writing space look like? (Feel free to show us pictures!)

Well, when I'm not out on my laptop or using a notebook for a rough draft, I'm at my desk:

7. How long does it typically take you to write a complete draft?

So a rough draft will usually take about a month, because I focus on the key scenes I want to include, and then about a year for the rewrite so far, though I would like to improve that time.

8. How many projects do you work on at once?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.... too many.

9. Do you prefer writing happy endings, sad ones, or somewhere in between?

I prefer writing happy endings, but usually after dragging my characters through a lot of terrible things, so...

10. List a few authors who’ve influenced your writing journey.

Tamora Pierce, Isaac Asimov, Tanith Lee

11. Do you let people read your writing? Why or why not?

Absolutely - I love talking about my stories and hearing what other people think.

12. What’s your ultimate writing goal or dream?

To make a living wage doing what I love.

13. If you didn’t write, what would you want to do?

I honestly have no idea - maybe something working with people?

14. Do you have a book you’d like to write one day but don’t feel you’re ready to attempt it yet?

Uh, the last book in the Wildflowers Saga, ha ha - I have 15 books to get there, though, so hopefully I will work my way up to it.

15. Which story has your heart and won’t let go?

I don't know if this means a story I'm writing or one I've experienced - writing wise, the Wildflowers Saga and side stories about it. Experience wise, I never get tired of the movie Ever After.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Allaha of the Mountain June Freebie!!

That's right! For the month of June, you can get my first book, Allaha of the Mountain, absolutely FREE when you order it from my Square Store

This sale is in celebration of its sequel, Dandy, coming out this month! Ebooks only, get it while you can!

Beautiful People #8 - Siblings

(Series by  Cait @ Paper Fury  and  Sky @ Further Up and Further In ) Alright! Getting back into the swing of things! So my plan is to ...