Saturday, April 19, 2014

Testing, testing...

A while back, I became aware of this thing called the Bechdel Test. If you aren't aware of what it is, that's okay, I'm going to explain it to you. If you are aware of it, then I'm going to explain it to you anyway.

Just play along for the ones who don't know, okay?

The Bechdel Test is a series of three questions that is meant to determine if a work of fiction, originally just movies, is women friendly. I say originally just movies, because the Test is now being applied to television, books, comic books, and all fictional mediums. The three questions are as follows:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something besides a man.

Now, right away, I want to point out, possibly for the millionth time, that I'm the first person to say women don't get treated even remotely fair in any medium of fiction. Regular readers of my blog, and anyone who has read anything I've ever written, will know that I'm not okay with that, either.

I feel I need to say that, because I'm probably going to make a lot of people mad in a minute when I point out everything that's wrong with this test.

Which isn't to say that I don't agree with it. In a lot of ways, I do. It raises all the concerns and brings to light all the problems women face in the fiction arena. Namely, the role of love interest or damsel in distress. In other words, The Object.

This is true of most all fiction, too. Fantasy has a bad habit of making the women the object of entire quests. Rescue the Princess is a particularly big infraction that comes to mind. Pretty much all genres and mediums have a similar grievous breech of belief that women are capable of being anything other than objects for a man to acquire or protect.

My problem with the Bechdel Test isn't really the test itself, but rather, the utter lack of common sense that is displayed in how people use it. I think the Test is a an excellent guide, but without a little common sense, it becomes a set of rules that severely limit what can and can't be done within the confines of writing.

The largest breech of common sense comes in the form of context. As most of you will no doubt agree, context is everything. Things heard out of context can sound truly horrible, but in context, can be quite mundane. So, applying a set of rules without using a bit of common sense to judge the context is not just absurd, but unfair.

Allow me to give an example, taken from something I've written myself. Three reasons I'm doing it this way that I need to cover to shut up all the twatwaffles that love to argue. First, it's my blog, so I'll use what I want. Second, it's a perfect example. Third, I know the context, because I wrote it, so I don't have to listen to anyone whining about how I'm misinterpreting someone else.

Okay, here we go.

"Can I ask," Bunny said as they headed down. "What's the deal with Marco. I mean, he is one of them, isn't he?"

Rosa stopped and looked back up the stairs. "He is, yes. I don't know why he's different, but he is. Saved my life when everything was going insane last night, too."

"Can you trust him?" Bunny asked her.

"Marco? Oh, I'd say he's pretty safe. All things considered, he seems to have whatever this is under his thumb. Regardless, it's not him you should be worried about," Rosa admitted as she started back down the steps.

"Who should I be worried about, then?" Bunny asked as she trailed after her.

Rosa looked up at her, eyes dark. "Peyton."

So, without any context, at least for those who have never read the book this comes from, that is a clear fail of the Bechdel Test. While it does have two female characters, and they are talking to each other, they are talking about a man. Not just one, either, but two. So, it doesn't make a total pass.

Now, I grant you, two out of three is not bad. Most people would call it good enough. That isn't the point, though. The point here is how context changes the entire exchange. Allow me to fill in the blanks.

First thing is Marco, the guy they talk about at first. Yeah, he's a zombie. To make it clearer, he's a very intelligent zombie, but he is a zombie. He's a dead guy, who is still the same person he was, just more dead than he use to be. He's also missing half his face, in case you were wondering if he's a pretty good looking dead guy. He's not.

The reason this matters is because the point of the Bechdel Test is to measure how much women are being used as objects. To that end, most conversations women have with each other are about the men in their lives, or about The Man the story revolves around, usually in the love interest capacity.

Which brings me to my second major point of context. Bunny is a lesbian. Like, very much so. Not on weekends, or when the 'right guy' isn't around, but all the time. Like most actually are.

Out of context, the excerpt only gets a two out of three on the Bechdel Test. In context, it's suddenly not such an easy matter to judge it. Bunny isn't interested in Marco as a love interest. She and Rosa aren't discussing how cool he is. Bunny wants to know if the guy is suddenly going to try and kill and eat them.

Forgive me, but I think that's a valid conversation to have. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it a necessary one.

Which is where the application of the Test falls down. It does not take into account necessary conversations. Like when a friendly zombie is wandering around inside the safe haven you've made against not friendly zombies. That sort of necessitates a conversation about him.

So, in context, and with necessity being a factor, does the conversation still fail to pass the Test? A lot would say it does.

The problem here is that while the Test itself is trying to do the right thing, too many people are applying it blindly, using zero common sense, and not even attempting to measure whether or not there is necessity or judge things within context.

Likewise, Rosa was right to warn Bunny about Peyton, who turns out to be dangerously psychotic. Does that make her warning a failure of the test? Should I have not written that? Seriously, a little common sense would be nice.

Sometimes, as a writer, you have to have these sorts of scenes. Two women can talk about a man and it not be romantic. It is possible. It is often needed to advance the plot or develop the characters. If we are suddenly not allowed to do those things, we aren't writers anymore. We are bureaucrats ticking off requirements.

Last point about the above excerpt. It's taken from my book Bunnypocalypse: Dead Reckoning. Bunny is the central figure of the story. She's in every scene. If it doesn't happen when she's not there, the reader doesn't know about it until she does. Marco appears in about half or less of the book, while Peyton is even less. The guys are the supporting characters.

Does this change anything? The Test doesn't make it clear if it does or not, and people slapping the 'rules' down without a thought don't either. Context, necessity, and common sense go right out the window in the frenzy to measure everything against a yardstick that isn't even a yard long.

This doesn't help. Slapping a pass or fail mark on something without even weighing the extra factors isn't advancing the cause of equality. It's limiting writers.

Before I get to my next example, I'd like to back up a moment and talk a little about the history of the Bechdel Test. This is relevant because my next example is a movie, the very thing the Test was originally meant to measure.

The first instance of the Test being mentioned was in the 1985 comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. In the strip, one woman explains to another her three rules for whether or not she is going to watch a movie, setting the basis down for the Test. At the end, she mentions that the last movie she was able to watch was Alien.

Not to be a party pooper, but I've seen Alien. Ripley and Lambert do discuss some of the other cast members, all of whom are men, so technically, that movie doesn't pass the test either. That's neither here nor there, but it is something that bothered me.

The movie I really want to mention is Pacific Rim. It's taken kind of a beating because of the Bechdel Test, and is again a victim of nobody applying a little common sense. This is something I do not think is fair, and as you all know, I'm big on fairness.

The argument against Pacific Rim is that while it has more than one woman in it, they never talk, giving it a generally failing grade. What nobody ever asks or even looks at is the question every writer has to deal with when crafting a story. Namely, was there a compelling reason for them to talk.

Every scene in a work of fiction has to develop the characters, enrich the story, or advance the plot. These are the only three considerations that go into writing every single scene in any work of fiction. It's the Holy Trinity of Writing, you might say. If a scene does not fulfill at least one of those requirements, it's a wasted scene and needs to be cut. It is not doing anything but bogging down the story in useless words.

So, with that in mind, lets look again at Pacific Rim and ask, was there any good reason for the two women to talk? Only one comes to mind. Right after Mako and Raleigh have their first Drift. It is reasonable to me that Mako may have wanted to talk about it with someone beside Stacker or Raleigh. Another woman perhaps, since she had just shared not only minds with a guy, but exchanged first person narratives of both of their past traumas.

Oh, wait. They would have been talking about a guy. Nope, that won't work.

Except it should. There is no compelling reason why she wouldn't seek another woman to talk about this experience with. Well, there is one, and it's kind of a big one. She didn't know that other woman at all. Like, not even a little.

Which brings me back to my original question, what would they have talked about?

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying there couldn't have been more women in that movie. With the exception of Idris Elba, Burn Gormen, and Ron Pearlman, I think they could have swapped out any other cast member for a woman and been fine. The reason I say except those three is because the actors did such an amazing job, I can't seem the characters being played by anyone else.

I mean, come on. Who would you trade for Idris Elba and Ron Pearlman? As for Gormen, he's just such a wonderful actor. I adore him.

That's not what they did, and the movie is what we got, though. So, within the context of that, inside the confines of the film we got, what possible reason would Mako have to talk with another woman she had only met in passing?

Because, outside of some small scene that's over in a moment about the state of care the Jeagers are getting, I didn't really see any good motive for it. Nothing that would enrich the story, develop the characters, or advance the plot. Which it would have to do, because in movies more than books, anything that doesn't do that, gets left on the cutting room floor.

The biggest problem with the Bechdel Test, however, comes in the fact that it just isn't very realistic. As a tool for trimming out outdated misogyny in fiction, it's a great scalpel, but as an actual set of rules, it misses the mark very badly. Mainly because real life can't pass the test.

Ladies, how often in life have you had a conversation with another woman about a man? Raise your hand. Yeah. You just failed to pass the Test. Your life doesn't pass the test on gender bias.

Let that really sink in a minute.

This is the problem. There exists an excellent tool for weeding out ingrained misogyny, but due to the lack of common sense in application, appreciation for context, respect for the three major rules of writing, and a basic understanding of reality, it's being abused and misrepresented, which is not helping anything, or anyone.

I'm really not okay with that. I don't get how anyone is.

Before I close, I want to mention the Russo Test, a derivative test that was born out of the Bechdel Test. It applies to gays instead of women and goes like this:

  1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
  2. The character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  3. The character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.

In a twist that is possibly ironic, while Bunnypocalypse doesn't quite pass the Bechdel Test, it passes the Russo Test with flying colors of rainbow stripes. Go figure that one out.
The world is such a strange place.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Say Hello To My Little Friend

His name is Merlin.


Now, I know it may be a bit odd for a writer to use their blog to talk about a cat, but there's a story here, and as a writer, I love to tell stories. Even better, this is a character driven piece. The best part, though, is that it looks like it's going to have a happy ending.

This story starts just last Wednesday, February 19th, 2014. It was a cool morning, but not cold, as we've been having some unseasonably warm weather. I'd gone to work, and was dealing with some problems there, nothing exciting, just the run of the mill stuff you deal with when you work the restaurant business.

My manager, Sam, and I had stepped outside for a smoke, both of us dealing with the general stress of things in the store, when I noticed something else. This is a little thing, but it has major bearing. This story starts with a mop handle. A broken one at that.

On Monday, when I'd come to work, I'd found one of our mop handles broken and left, for no apparent reason, in the kitchen. I'd asked my employer what he wanted me to do with it, since the handles were provided by the linen company that did our laundry. He taped the broken piece down and had me put it with our rag baskets.

Come Wednesday, the mop handle was gone. I asked Sam about it, and she told me Kelly, our boss, had told her to throw it away. Why, I can't guess, but this is what sent the two of us to check the three dumpsters behind the store. We didn't find the mop handle, since the trash had run since Kelly had told her to toss it, but in one of the dumpsters, we found a tiny kitten.


I do mean tiny, too. He was maybe five weeks old, but certainly no older. Sam and I looked down at him, and both of us knew, just from looking at him, that he was in a bad way. His eyes were matted, and when he tried to hiss at us, no sound coming out, his gums and tongue were almost white. His inner eyelids were half way up over his eyes. I knew, he wasn't going to last long.

We couldn't reach him, so Sam went back inside and got a milk crate for me to stand on so I could reach him. When I picked him up, he weighed almost nothing. I can't guess how long it had been since he'd last eaten, but judging from his state, if had been quite some time. The kid was on verge of starving to death.

I'm not sure how he came to be in the dumpster, whether he was left there by someone, or had somehow managed to get in it looking for food. All I know is that he was there.

Naturally, he struggled to get away from me, which leads me to think he was a stray that had wandered away from his mother. His attempts were so weak, though. Mostly just flailing about in fear, too weak to really even put up any kind of a fight. Because of how frail he was, it wasn't easy to hang on to him, though. I feared crushing him if I gripped him too tightly.

Once we got him back inside the store, we put him in a box, a big one that our paper towels come in, and Sam offered to give up her breakfast burrito from McDonald's so he could at least eat something. It was just egg and cheese, so we unrolled it and laid it out for him, and gave him a small dish of water to drink.

Now, for the stuff some people will complain about. No, we did not take him into the food prep area. He was placed by the back door, near the office door, nowhere near any food prep. Yes, Sam and I both washed our hands before handling food. Obviously, neither of us are idiots. That said, neither are we so heartless as to walk away and leave a kitten to starve to death. Shame on you for having your priorities seriously out of balance.

With the kitten as secured as we could make him, we set about getting the store ready to open. While we worked, both Sam and I took turns giving him little bits of food, as he had utterly devastated the burrito. Seriously, he'd eaten the entire thing and half the tortilla as well.

Once we got things set up, Sam let me pack him up in one of the boxes we get our chicken breasts in, so I could take him home. The box was already empty, clean and dry and waiting to go out to the trash, by the way. The drive home is less than ten minutes, as well, in case someone more cynical than even me was wondering.

I want to take a moment here to thank Sam for not only incredible generosity, but her kindness and understanding. I've no doubt the little guy wouldn't have lasted the day without her. She covered my station until I got back, as well as her own. She is, without a doubt, one of the most wonderful human beings I've ever known.

Thanks, Sam. You are fantastic.


Once I got him home, I had to wake Storm to let her know there was a problem. As many of you may know, she battles with insomnia, and is often awake all hours of the night. So, while I hated to wake her from her sleep, I kind of had to.

We have a rule in our lives, Storm and I. Black cats, and especially kittens, in need always get priority over our own needs. In general, we help out cats and dogs whenever we can, and have both been active for many years in rescuing abandoned and abused pets, but black cats are extra special to us both. I'm sure most people can understand why, with the bad reputation they have, through no fault of their own.

As soon as Storm saw what I had in the box, she was wide awake and already on the way to the kitchen to fix the little guy something to eat. Meanwhile, I busied myself setting up a box to hold him. Much like the paper towel box we used at work, only slightly larger and taller to contain him, I put the box I'd brought him home in inside as well, now filled with a folded bath towel. We fixed him up a litter pan, got him some water, and a small bowel of soft food with vitamins and antibiotics mixed in.

Also, the flour tortilla. He had clung to it when I had gathered him up to take him home, so I'd let him keep it. It was, without any doubt, the first thing he'd eaten in a couple days at least. It was no wonder he hung on to it. It had probably saved his life.

He made short work of the food, and attacked the water just as desperately. This was when it happened. The most wonderful thing. The thing that makes doing this sort of work so rewarding. There's no money in it, and a fair bit of ridicule for doing it, especially in my neck of the woods. There is, though, a moment when it is more worth it than any dollar figure can ever be.

With the little guy, whom Storm had already dubbed Merlin, stashed in a safe place, I got ready to head back to work. As I walked to the door, I heard him start crying. My first thought was that he was in pain, or worse, that our efforts were too little, too late, and he was dying. I hurried back to his box and looked in, only to have him stop crying. He was sitting up, looking up at me.

I smiled, thinking he had just wanted to check and see if we were still there, and went to leave again, only to have him start up the crying once more. I went back, again, and looked in, only to have him stop. I got it that time, and as I leaned down to reach for him, he reached back for me.

Only two hours before, he couldn't muster the strength to run from me. Now, he was reaching for me. There is nothing in the world that feels better. Nothing.

Storm says, “That's it. I'll be right back.” She went and got another bath towel, the second we had dedicated to him that morning, and wrapped him up in it. He was quiet when I left to go back to work that time.

Storm spent the day holding him in her lap, wrapped in a towel, as he purred. By the time I got home, his body temperature was much closer to normal. Still, we knew we had to have a place to put him while we slept, or ate, or tended to the other pets in our care.

This was how Pandora lost her room. Pandora, by the way, is our dog. She's not a big dog, but a solidly built medium sized one, and she loves cats. I mean, she really just adores them. However, she's kind of excitable and a little clumsy, so we have a large dog carrier that she goes in when she needs a time out, or we go to bed.

Pandora is almost two now, though, so we decided she didn't really need a carrier anymore. We cleaned it out, and moved Merlin in. While it's rather spacious, it's what we had. Merlin is still very small, and somewhat scared as he adjusts to his new life. Our other cats are pretty big, and while they aren't mean, they would be intimidating to someone so tiny and frail. For the moment, the carrier was the best place for him to make his recovery.

Which, I need to say, I wasn't sure he was going to. He was in very bad shape when I found him, and I didn't know if he was even going to live through the night. Still, if nothing else, he wasn't going to die cold and hungry. I could give him that much, at the very least.


It's now Saturday, the 22nd of February, and after four days, I'm happy to say he is making a complete recovery. His eyes are clear, with the inner lid fully recessed. His tongue and gums are a vibrant pink, growing better every day. His weight is growing, and he is energetic, playful, and affectionate.

Just yesterday, I was holding him in my lap as he rolled on his back, gave me his tummy to rub, while he licked and play bit my fingers. He purrs so loud you can hear it from several feet away, though he hardly ever meows, unless he wants some more food. Even then, it's more of a soft squeak than anything.

Merlin's story begins with me and Sam trying to figure out why Kelly told her to throw away a mop handle he told me to save. Without that odd event, we never would have even known he was out there. At least, not until it was too late.

I'm not going to question that odd event, mind you. I've experienced enough strange things like that in my life to know it doesn't matter. What matters is that Merlin is alive, well, and growing stronger. That's all that matters.

His health improves daily, as does his energy. He plays with the toys that so many other kittens like him have enjoyed. The difference here, though is that Merlin won't be heading out to another home when he is fully recovered, as so many of those that pass through our home do. He's staying here, with us.

He's our little touch of magic.

Yes, his story starts with an odd twist, but hopefully, it doesn't end there. With a lot of love and care, his story will go on for many years yet. He's so young, so tiny, yet, and has such a sweet disposition. I can't wait to see how big and strong he grows.

Let's all see together. I'll keep talking about him, sharing pictures as he grows, and telling his story. I hope you guys will watch him with me.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Flashback

Well, I've had a crappy weekend, how about you guys?

I'll get to why later, but let me start by telling you guys a little story from my childhood. Yes, my childhood, which as regular readers here will know, was a magical time for me. Okay, so not magical, more like traumatic, but still, stuff that's happened this weekend has brought this one particular memory back from my childhood.

Being the nice guy I am, I thought I'd share.

Mmm... Childhood misery. It's like a warm gooey cookie.

Anyway...

I was about nine or ten when this happened. I can't really recall, because it was thirty some years ago now, so my memory of exactly how old I was is a bit hazy. The event itself, on the other hand, is very clear. It was the day my mother took me to see a psychiatrist because "Something Was Wrong With Me". Dun dun duuun.

Yes, "Something Was Wrong With Me". I'd heard her say that more than a few times over the last couple years, to both my dad and my step father. Never quite a whisper, but not really out loud, either. Like she wanted me to hear it, but not make it like she wanted me to hear it, ya know?

My mom. She was great at those games.

So, one day, off we go to see a child psychiatrist, who would discern and cure that unknown "Something" that "Was Wrong With Me". I forget the dudes name now, but I still remember what he looked like, where his office was, and that he had the most amazing toys in his waiting room. A bit more on that in a minute, as it matters.

Now, my mom, she heads into his office first to talk to him, to explain just how "Something Is Wrong With Me", while I sat in the waiting room, playing. One thing in particular jumped out at me. I couldn't tell you now what the name of it was, but I remember it very clearly. A gray square plastic base divided into smaller squares inside, along with a number of buildings of various shapes. The object, I figured out very quickly, was to fit all the buildings into the base, making a little medieval city. There was a church, that I think was red, and others structures.

I completely lost track of time playing with this thing, putting the buildings in, making and remaking cities. It was like Tetris, only you had something cool at the end of the game.

So, anyway, after while, my mom and the doc come back out and he looks at me playing with this thing. He asks his receptionist how long I've been at it, and she tells him since I got there. I don't recall touching a single other thing, and the guy had, like, a toybox full of stuff.

He takes me in the office, to talk to me one on one, leaving my mom out in the waiting room. Which was fine with me. He tells me how she's worried about me, and I remember thinking, "That's a first", but saying, "Really? Why?", like a good little boy should. He says it's because I don't seem to have many friends, because I'm always off playing by myself, and seem to spend all my time daydreaming. Because there's "Something Wrong With Me".

Then, he asks me, simply, why.

I can't explain how it felt to have an adult ask me a question like that, then sit back and just listen. My mom never listened to me, and my dad, well, he wasn't around much after they got a divorce, so I never had anyone to talk to. I think I talked about this before. How the thing I heard most was, go in the other room and be quiet.

Yet, when I did, suddenly, "Something Was Wrong With Me".

Odd, that.

I answered his question, by the way. I told him all about how I didn't really have many friends because it was embarrassing to tell them I lived in a shed, or for them to see my step dad passed out drunk in the yard. I told him how it was easier to just create my own imaginary things, and play with those. I even told him some about the stories I came up with while playing with my G.I. Joes, or Star Wars figures.

When I was done explaining all that, he asked me about the toy I had been playing with. He asked if I had made up any stories about the cities I made with it. I told him all about that, too.

We talked for about an hour, before he took me back to my mom, who immediately, and without waiting for the doc to say anything, asked, "Does he need Prozac?"

I didn't know what that was, but I remember the doc looking at her and saying I didn't need anything. There was nothing wrong with me. I was just a creative, imaginative kid with a crappy set of parents.

Yes, he actually told her I had crappy parents. I really liked that guy. Wish I could remember his name.

Anyway, my mom gets all ticked off and storms us out of there. Later, I hear her telling my dad how DHS sent her to a quack, and she needs him to take me to a real doctor who will give me Prozac to fix me. You know, because "Something Is Still Wrong With Me".

It was my dad's weekend with me and my older brother, so after we got back to his place, he sat me down and asked me the exact same thing the doc had. Why. It was one of the few times I really remember my dad ever listening to me. I mean, really listening. At least he had the excuse of only seeing me three days a month and working his ass off. I can't really fault him much for not always paying attention when I tried to tell him stuff.

I told him the same thing I had told the doc. So, when he took us back to our mom, he told her there wasn't anything wrong with me. If anything, there was something wrong with her.

It took me years to really get what had actually happened.

Prozac was a pretty new thing at that time, and I think I was around sixteen or so when it all clicked in my head one day what my mom had really been after. The Prozac wasn't for me, it was for her. If she got me the prescription, though, welfare would have paid for it. Free drugs for her, plus a bonus side of pity from everyone she cried to that her kid had to have Prozac, because "Something Was Wrong With Me".

I never said anything to her about it when I did sort it out. There wouldn't have been any point. She would deny it, like she did everything terrible she did when I was a kid.

My mom firmly believed in the theory that she never did anything wrong, everyone else did. All her problems were someone else's fault.

However, I never forgot the feeling of being betrayed that finally understanding this weird event in my childhood left me with. Half the reason I still have trouble connecting with others is because of this, and the many other times, she used me and my brothers for her own personal gain.

Hyenas are better parents.

So, what brought all this back to me?

For about the last month, I was playing a strategy game, that I won't give by name. I got in early on with a what I thought were a decent bunch in an alliance. The cornerstone members had to leave soon after for personal real life reasons, but still, I made some friends and we had fun, even though our alliance broke up after those two people left, and we wandered to different groups.

A couple of these friends of mine were always screaming at the top of their lungs about what a threat a particular alliance was to everyone and how we all needed to declare war on them RIGHT NOW! I took them at their word, as I tend to do until people give me reason not to, and worked hard to build myself up so I could be ready to fight the good fight alongside my friends.

One of them in particular was constantly harping on me and yelling at me to get cities next to hers. Oh, right, the game is all about building and capturing cities. Anyway, it seemed like a good strategic move, so I did my best to comply.

Then, last night, my current alliance reveals to me a lot of really good evidence that my friend, the one who wanted me close by her, was pulling some dirty tricks. I attempted to mediate the argument between them, but ended up just walking away from the debate, frustrated by everyone's desire to argue rather than find a solution.

Well, that's not fair. The alliance leaders didn't want to argue. They were, however, giving my friend a chance to explain her actions, which she couldn't do in a very convincing manner.

So, today, I get up, log in, and see my friend in the very alliance that she was screaming was the biggest threat in the game. Along with a sizable number of my other friends who had been saying the same thing. Suddenly, they wouldn't give me the time of day.

I'm not a kid anymore. It didn't take me long to figure it out. They had always been loyal to that alliance, and been helping them grow by getting people to attack them, giving them battle points. I can't explain how that works without naming the game, but it's a pretty crafty plan.

You just have to betray people who treated you like a friend to pull it off.

See the connection now? Using others for personal gain? Yeah.

The thing is, I've never really understood people like that. Real friends are so hard to come by, especially on the net. When someone, say myself, treats you like one, how do you just stab them in the back? I'll never get people who think that way. Not in every day life, or in online gaming.

Somebody stands by you, you stand by them. It's not a hard philosophy. It's one of the easiest things in the world to do.

I made my apologies to my alliance, logged off, and have no plans to ever play that game again. If the only way to succeed is to act like my mother, it isn't a game I'm interested in playing.

The worst part, however, is that it left me sitting here, with various projects I'm working on open on my screen, feeling like I did when I finally understood why my mom so desperately wanted there to be "Something Wrong With Me".

I've gotten very little done today as I sort through the emotions that memory brings with it.

It's strange how easy it is to derail an otherwise perfectly nice day of writing.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Misconceptualization

First, I spelled that title right on the first try. No reason to be proud of that, yet I am.

Anyway.

In light of my recent difficulties with writing, I've spent the last couple of days digging through my Other Stuff file, and looking to see what I found. Might help if I told you what that was, now that I think of it.

On my desk top, I have two folders for my writing. Current Projects and Other Stuff. Current Projects is the stuff I really want to be working on. Other Stuff is what I end up doing instead. It rarely makes any sense, and is often just stuff I write to play around with ideas, concepts, and styles.

It's also a perfect example of why I'm never going to be a mainstream author. Some of what's in there is just plain weird. Enough so, I thought I'd share some of these ideas with you guys, in case you ever got the idea that zombie slaying lesbian strippers was as out there as I could get.

Also, I just noticed my cat has double chins. That's probably not a good thing.

That aside...

First up, one of my stranger ideas was a novel with the working title of Monster Party. It's a fantasy piece, about a team of adventurers, who also happen to be monsters. A Troll, a Goblin, a Nymph, a Minotaur and a few others, trying to do general good deeds, and be taken seriously be the civilized races. The fun of the story was in the characters themselves. The Troll wizard was highly intelligent, but had trouble standing up for himself, while the Minotaur Bard suffered from a crippling case of shyness.

Far from that, was The Twelve. Now this, it really takes some explaining.

The story is about twelve people from all walks of life, from all over the world, who wake up in a long abandoned city with no memory of who they are. In each case, when they awakened, they saw a word that filled them with dread, mostly because it was clear they each wrote the word the saw.

Any attempt to leave the city was instant death. That wasn't the worst thing, though. Their initial impression that the city was abandoned proved inaccurate, as there were other people present. Dressed in medieval plague outfits, the ones with the long crow like mask. Aggressive and violent, the Crow People were unable to enter certain parts of the city, as were the Others, doppelgangers of the twelve characters, who were twisted and wrong, evil.

The mystery of the words, the Crow People, and The Others was planned to be solved over the course of the story, but the real fun was that I limited myself on chapter length. Each chapter could be no more than eight pages long, and had to advance the story in a meaningful way. It was one hell of a challenge.

I got about ten or so chapters done before I set it aside for a while to focus on more pressing stories, but it's surprisingly good, what there is of it. Better than my usual.

Another one that caught my eye was Azure Dawn, a sci-fi bit about an alien battleship crash landing on modern day Earth, and all the social, religious, and political implications that it brought with it. The majority of the story is told from the perspective of the ship's crew, as they attempt to adjust to their confinement to what they view as a backwater, underdeveloped world.

The concept for the story structure was to do a series of short, 150 page novels in a serialized format. As the crew of the Azure Dawn grappled with being trapped on a planet on the far side of the galaxy from their home, explored our world, good and bad, and gradually, discovered something even more terrible and threatening, something that would divide the human race, and alter the fate of our world forever.

In digging through my Other Stuff, I remembered that one of the things I enjoy most about writing is playing with the format of it. Doing things differently, just to see what works with each story. Because that's something that I believe in strongly, that each story deserves a format that is its own. I don't agree with the school of thought that says there is a 'right' format, or a 'wrong' one. Much less that there's only one right way to write a story.

Of course, there's basic sentence structure, and formatting that I always obey. That's just common decency. But style, that I love to play with. It's my favorite part of writing. It's what I do best.

Sometimes, I need to be reminded of that.

I'm feeling better today, about everything, because I remembered it.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Brain Drain

Well, it's now February, and I haven't updated this blog in months. That's far from the only thing I've not been doing, either. I've not been writing as much as usual either, and what I have been writing, I'm not happy with.

I'm not the greatest writer in the world. I doubt I'm even half as good as I wish I was. Even now, I'm struggling to put my thoughts into words, and it's just a blog post.

Still, I feel as if my heart isn't in what I'm doing. That my work is suffering for it, and I'm not where I want to be as a writer. I'm not even sure that makes sense, but when I look at what I'm doing with my work, it feels underdone, rushed, and incomplete. As if that special something is missing.

Perhaps I've bitten off more than I can chew right now. Between work, home, and writing, I feel like balls are getting dropped and I 'm tired. I wanted to put out four books this year, but already I've had to cancel to Divine Agents 2, and Dean Rannick 2 is nowhere near ready. Neither of them has that feel that the first ones had, and that is me, not putting my best into them.

Maybe I really did reach too far, over estimate my own skill, and take on too much. Maybe I need to scale back and take on a little less. I'm not really sure at the moment. I just know I'm tired, and I won't put out something I'm not proud of.

For the moment, I'm not planning any new releases this year. I'm still working on the next Bunnypocalypse book, and November is far enough away that maybe I can get my head straight and put out a book that measures up to what I think I can do. Bunny is always easier to work with than anything else, so we'll see how things go.

I do want to apologize. I made promises I can't keep, and while I'm not famous enough, or noted enough for those to mean much, they do to me. I always try to keep my word, and I can't. It bothers me more than I can say.

I'm tired, though. My brain isn't firing like it normally does, and getting words down feels like so much effort. Too much effort.

Maybe I'm chasing something I'll never even catch with this endeavor. Two years in and I'm still trying to just get a grip of some kind.

I see people saying that the only way is to promote relentlessly. Sign up for auto tweets and spam Twitter 24 hours a day. Constantly post links to reviews and Amazon everywhere. Honestly, that just feels rude to me. I've never been a pushy person, and if that is what it takes, then I'm never going to make it anyway. I can't bring myself to forfeit my sense of  courtesy for others in exchange for a single sale.

I don't know. I'm just too tired right now to figure it all out. The trick to doing this and doing it in a way that doesn't feel like trading my self away for slight fame or passing success. Maybe there isn't one.

Maybe all I need is to get out from under the pressure of self imposed deadlines, and enjoy writing again. I haven't lately. It feels like work. Unsatisfying work at that. Writing should never feel that way. It should always be a joy. The first thing I want to do when I wake up in the morning, and the thing I do until I fall asleep at my desk. The way it always was until lately.

For now, I'm taking everything off the table. No promises of what will happen tomorrow. My brain is too tired, and my heart isn't in it.

I'm still trying. I've not given up. I just need a little time to recalibrate, and remember why I love what I do.

You know, that's the kick in the butt, right there. I can only do what I love, and love doing it, when I'm not trying.

What a messed up brain I have.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dissecting Bunny: Some Final Thoughts

Over the last few weeks, I've spent a lot of time explaining who Bunny is, and why I write her the way I do, as well as exploring the various themes of the series. It is my hope that people who have read, or may yet read, the books will gain a greater understanding of what it is I am trying to do.

I'm not trying to change the world. Bunny is the lead character, but I don't think of myself, or her, as feminist role models, or LGBT heroes. Bunny is a person, deeply flawed, broken, and struggling to find her sense of self.

She's an angry person, as I am, and many people in this world are. That isn't how it has to be, though, and we can all learn to leave that anger behind, become better people, and maybe find some peace in our lives.

I am making a statement, about a lot of things. Things that will either be understood, or won't. Bunny will be called strong, or I will be called a weak writer. That appears to be the only two options, though I'm hoping for that third, mystical view, of just being seen as realistic and believable.

I'm not trying to fool myself into believing that I've done something unique. I don't know for certain there is anything unique left to do in the world of fiction. Nor am I so silly as to think I am somehow the Next Big Thing. There are much better writers out there than me, and Bunny, for all that she is, is still a zombie tale.

For all that I've said over the last few weeks, there's one thing left to say still. One small thing, that I still feel I need to say. It is something I've said before, something I've lived before, and something that I've managed to, for the most part, overcome. It is the essence of Bunnypocalypse.

Hardship makes people hard. Painful choices callous the soul. The more we force people into a corner, the more angry they become. The less they care. The easier it is to do things they never would have considered before. The more inhuman they grow.

We live in a world that is growing cynical, hard, and cold. More and more, the very idea of helping others is being overtaken by the credo of “I've got mine”. The idea of calling others things like takers and mooches has become acceptable, even politically safe. The viewpoint that there are those who are less than us, and don't deserve respect, or help, because we don't want to give it, has gained popularity.

On the other side of that, however, is a world that is growing ever more hard. People forced to make decisions some of you will never be able to understand, much less face. Those decisions will harden these people even further, creating a vicious cycle that will only in end in more suffering for everyone.

Certainly, there are those who take advantage and game the system. There always will be, on both sides of that line we create. Those at the top are every inch as guilty of doing so as those at the bottom, they just get to look better doing it, so we don't mind as much. They are pretty, and wear nice clothes, drive fancy cars, so we let them slide.

The decisions they make, to be hard, to be callous, to not care, are just as devastating as the ones made by parents desperate to feed their children. There is no lesser evil here. Cruelty breeds only cruelty, despair breeds only despair, and hate breeds only hate.

That person doesn't vote the way I think they should, so they are bad. That person doesn't pray the way I think they should, so they are bad. That person does love who I think they should, so they are bad. That person doesn't spend their money the way I think they should, so they are bad. That person doesn't have the skin color I think they should, so they are bad.

This is the world we create. One of darkness, born of our own hearts, passed down to our children, who make it only that much darker, because we teach them how. With each generation, it gets that much easier to say these things, and to believe them.

Hardship makes people hard. Filling the world with hardship makes the world hard. Dismissing the value of others lives because they aren't exactly like us creates nothing but anger, resentment, bitterness, and rage.

I said last year around this time that Bunny was an example of this, and she remains so. The result of years of cruelty, hardship, pain, sorrow, and anger, she has become a raw nerve, lacking in empathy or kindness. The only way she can show her own humanity is through actions that are almost cruel in and of themselves.

Because that's the world we are making now. That's the world we are living in, and raising children to believe is acceptable, and even normal. One where kindness is not kicking people who are already down, but not offering a hand to help them up, either. One where we simply walk past, no longer able to care, because we've killed that part of ourselves.

That world is fine for fiction, but to live in it? Is that what we really want? Is this who we really are?

If it is, then the zombie apocalypse may as well happen for real, because we're not living in a world that is any better really. Not if kindness, compassion, mercy, empathy, and decency are no longer virtues. If that isn't who we want to be, the ideals we want to uphold for this and future generations, then bring on the hungry dead, because we've already died as a species.

Bunny's story takes her down that road, but it will bring her back, as well. We need to come back, too, while we still can. Before being humane is considered revolutionary.

Bunnypocalypse: Dead Man's Hand will be available in five days. See you then.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dissecting Bunny: The Culture War We Don't Talk About

Welcome back. Today, in our final installment of Dissecting Bunny, we're going to tackle a subject that I feel needs to be talked about. I know that there will be a lot of people who will feel differently, who may accuse me of things, or make claims about this, and about me. I know that I'm stepping into a midst of controversy here, but I'm going to do it anyway, because I need to.

Feel free to leave if you don't want to hear what I have to say. I won't hold it against you.

I talked about Bunny as a gay character, a woman, and an angry person. But the picture still isn't complete, because there is one event in her life that I need to discuss more fully, and set a few things straight with people on.

During Dead Reckoning, it is revealed that Bunny was raped by a fellow officer named John Dyson. It happened at the station, in the showers, and no one interfered on her behalf.

This is not a trope I am using, though I know many will call it that. The reason I tackled the subject of Bunny's anger, and her monster, before this was so I could make it clear that this was not made her an Angry Woman. She was that long before this happened.

It made it worse, yes, but it is not the cause.

I'm aware that rape is a subject that is often used to quickly explain why a woman is angry, or strong in fiction. I think that's a cheap way of dealing with the subject, especially given the tendency of media to sanitize it, as my editor phrased it. It gets used as a background justification, or a very special episode, but it is rarely ever really dealt with directly.

Let's be honest. This is more than a physical assault. It is one that directly affects the mental, and emotional core as well. It isn't something we talk about for a minute to explain someones behavior, so we can get on with the story. It isn't something we fix in 30 to 45 minutes.

It's something that leaves scars on the psyche, ones that never fully heal.

I do not like the way rape is used in fiction. Television and film are the worst offenders, but written fiction is often guilty of it as well. Touch on it briefly as if it explains everything then never brought up again. It's an insult.

Yes. I said it was an insult.

A while back, I was reading over some message boards talking about how Hollywood really needs to get it in gear and make a movie about a female superhero. I concur, though I've talked in the past about how unlikely that is to happen, and why.

As I was reading the message board, I came across a particular comment that made me pretty angry. The poster was saying that he hoped they didn't try to make rape part of a super-heroines background, because that was lame. Before you jump to his defense, he did go on to say how talking about rape was worn out, and we really just needed to drop it. That's the part that actually pissed me off.

If anything, we aren't talking about it enough. Which helps the rape culture we have thrive.

I got in touch with my editor, both angry and concerned. She reassured me that no, she didn't think I had overstepped with Bunny, but still, it left me thinking. Not just about Bunny, but about my own reaction to what this one person said.

Bunny was raped. It did not make her an angry woman. She was already that. It was the catalyst for her fall, however, due to the way she reacted to it. Specifically, by going to Dyson's house with the intent to kill him.

Yes, that's right. Bunny took a gun, went to his house, and was planning on shooting him. When she saw his smug expression, she set the gun aside and beat him within an inch of his life with her bare hands instead. Afterward, she became the aggressor and he the victim. She lost her job, was publicly crucified, and fell into a deep depression and alcoholism. There was no work for someone so publicly disgraced, and she ended up becoming a stripper just to pay her bills. She was already on the outs with her family, but her secret relationship with another woman was made public as well, and she was formally disowned.

I dare anyone to tell me that isn't realistic. If you think it isn't, you need to wake up and smell the reality. More than that, you may be part of the problem.

Granted, this series of events raises a number of questions. Why didn't she report Dyson? Why didn't she go to Internal Affairs? Why didn't she go to the hospital? Why didn't she tell her girlfriend, who was an assistant district attorney? Why did she go there, gun in hand, seeking revenge?

There are a lot of reason, but first among them is that denial I spoke of before. Bunny rejected what happened. The anger that had been building inside her for most of her life took charge and she did not think rationally. I feel asking someone, anyone, to think rationally after that is asking for the impossible.

She was also a cop, and while she was moved by rage, she was also acting in a way she felt was consistent with her beliefs, that the role of law enforcement is to protect society from evil. Dyson was evil, and in her rage, she saw him as a threat to be dealt with. So, she did.

Why didn't she kill him them? Why not use the gun? Really, it was his smug smile, his belief that she wanted more. Dyson was the sort of man who believes all women secretly want it. Bunny wanted to beat that out of him. The only reason she didn't kill him was because that would have been revenge, not justice.

It was only once he was lying there, half dead, that she realized what she had done. The mistake she had made in not handling it differently. It was too late by then, of course, but really, it was too late by the time he walked into the shower.

Because we, as a society, have accepted that it's always the woman's fault.

Great pains are gone to in order to paint the woman as being to blame. It was the way she dressed. It was the way she walked. It was her attitude. It wasn't his fault. She enticed him. He is the victim.

Let me be clear. He is never the victim. Because there is this thing called self control. Just because some guy doesn't use it, doesn't make him innocent. I don't care if a woman was buck naked doing cartwheels down the street. He had a choice. He chose to do something horrible.

So, part of Bunny's motivation for going after Dyson is because she knew that. She knew she was going to be dragged through the mud in an effort to paint him as the victim. She beat him down, because she knew it was likely the only chance she was going to get to hurt him back.

That doesn't make it the right course of action, but it's part of why. Coupled with being blinded by rage, instinct, and a desire to protect others, she did something she shouldn’t have done.

Now, this is the part where I have to stop and point out that, no, ladies, I am not saying do nothing. If a man attempts to sexually assault you, kill him before he can. Don't wait till after. Do it right then. Bunny's mistake was in waiting.

I would rather see a woman deal with taking a life in self defense, something you can come to terms with, than live with the scars of being raped, something you never fully heal from.

From there, it was easy for Dyson to cast himself as the victim. The media, always eager to drag the heroes they build up, down, did so with Bunny. She lost everything.

This is because we live in a society that quietly condones rape. Don't even try to argue that, either. We do.

I don't like that. I don't agree with that. I will fight that.

Bunny was raped. This is not a character build. It's not a trope. It's a real thing that millions of women experience every year. They don't get to go through the sugar coated version that Hollywood and popular fiction present, either. It isn't 'dealt with' in a Very Special Episode. It is a complete and total failure of society to teach men NOT to do it. It is something that has lasting effects. It destroys lives.

Yet, it gets called lame.

There are women in my life that I am close to. That I love, and care for deeply. I don't want to name them, as I don't have the right to tell their story, but the number of them that have raped makes me sick. I have been there with them as they try to put themselves back together. I know what it does to them, and it is not something that you can call lame.

We don't want to talk about it, though, because it's something that makes us uncomfortable. So we just act like it doesn't happen. We ignore it. We let it happen. So we don't have to feel uneasy. So we don't have to face the truth.

Well, fuck that.

There's the truth. Bunny is the truth. That's what it does to people. Right there. Look at it. See it. Be uncomfortable, but God damn it, SEE it! DO something about it! Stop acting like it's lame to even bring it up!

This isn't a God damn trope!

You know, if every body else is going to just turn a fucking blind eye, then I'll do it. I'll talk about it. I'll show it for what it really it is. Because somebody has to, damn it. Somebody HAS to.

Am I uncomfortable with it? Hell, yes. Am I going to let that stop me? Not on your life.

Writers are suppose to explore humanity through fiction. It's part of what we do. We look at the world and talk about it through metaphor and storytelling. We explore themes. It's OUR responsibility to bring this to the table and make people talk about it.

I will, too. I'll throw this down right in the middle of the damn table and I'll make people see it. Bunny will make people see it. She'll leave them no damn choice but to see it. Make them acknowledge what they don't want to look at.

Bunny has no problem with making people uncomfortable, and neither do I.

She was raped. It does not define her. It is not the reason she exists in the story. She isn't waiting for the right man to make it all better. She doesn't need a Very Special Episode to make it all go away.

She survived. She kept going. It was hard. It hurt. She felt betrayed by the very system of justice she had sworn to uphold, and a world that considered her a second class citizen. By the media that used her for ratings until they used her up. By a culture that considered her damaged goods and left her nothing but taking off her clothes for their amusement.

Because that's the real world. That's what we do now. If it makes you feel icky, then you need to feel that way.

But she survived it. She kept going, even when she didn't want to. Even when she wanted to give up and lay down and die, she kept going. Alone, she kept moving.

She shouldn't have had to. No one should have to. No one should have to endure this violation of their very sense of self.

So, go ahead. Tell me how I used a shortcut to explain Bunny being a Bad Woman. Tell me how I am playing a trope. Stand there and say I am a bad writer for not making the world a sunshine fucking place where bad shit doesn't happen to people. Go ahead and keep on ignoring the ugly reality because it makes you feel bad.

Be a fucking coward. Throw around your pitiful excuses to not change the world. That's all you are doing. I won't be a part of it.

I'm going to talk about this. Bunny is going to talk about this. The only choice you have to make now is if you want to talk about it too, or keep acting like it's lame.

Rape culture exists. It's real, pervasive, and it isn't going away. Not until we talk about it. Not until we deal with it. Not until we all stand up and say no more.

Now, who's with me?

I don't expect it to be many. I expect to be dragged through the mud, as Bunny was, for daring to bring up the subject that everyone wishes we'd just stop talking about. I'm ready for that, if it means even a handful of people listen.

There are a lot of reasons Bunny handled Dyson the way she did. They are things she isn't ready to face, about herself. The answers to those questions go back to her fear of being swallowed whole by her monster. She will face them, though, just as we all have to face the truth we ignore about the culture of rape around us. Sooner or later, life has a way of leaving us no choice but to face it.

Don't wait till then. Face it now. Stand up now. Say something now. Stop acting like this is something that can be swept under the rug. That's lame.

Bunnypocalypse: Dead Man's Hand will be out next week. I hope to see you there, joining Bunny and I as we talk about things no one wants to, deal with things that are hard, and take the journey towards a better world.