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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thought Experiment

If you put some play-doh in a jar, and then some ants along with it, the ants would shape the play-doh into their world. It would become their world.

And over time, the ants would evolve, they'd become intelligent. And eventually they'd wonder where the play-doh came from. What it is, what made it, what was here before the play-doh, if anything.

Ants don't have any idea that there are humans around. They don't know why some of them suddenly are crushed or burnt. Why their homes get destroyed. The same way they don't know why rain comes down or why some ground is hard and some is soft. Humans move too fast for them at their level. They're on a scale too grand to recognize. Another plane of existence.

So they'd continue coming up with theories for why the play-doh is there, and never any evidence why.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Unisex Toilets

I was thinking about North Carolina's bathroom bill (see Wikipedia entry) and the total backlash against it, what with touring music acts and writers cancelling their trips, decreasing their own revenue to take a stand. Even states are turning their backs, like a metaphysical Klingon dishonoring ceremony.

You can't make a bathroom for everyone. First women needed a separate one, then for blacks (which was repealed, but they're still around), then the disabled. In the future, I think we'll go "fuck it" and all bathrooms will be unisex, like in Ally McBeal. (Once we've evolved past neanderthal issues like harassment and perversion).

And in the future, some kid will ask his/her father "Dad, why are there always two bathrooms right next to each other even though they're the exact same?" And the father will explain. And the kid will say, "That's weird."

Wednesday, October 05, 2016


I know why I'm having trouble getting motivated to write. When a story idea exists in your head, it is perfect. It's maybe a bit nebulous. Maybe it's not a 100% from beginning to ending story. But it exists in a perfect state. It has no flaws. The characters are exactly who you imagine. The imagery is exactly how you expect it. No clumsy wording muddling things up.

That creature you imagine? He's perfect. He does everything you expect him to. He acts like you want. His pleas have the right tone. Your leading girl looks the way you want. The action is tight and quick, photographed and animated exactly as you want. The dialogue is perfect, because it's said in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, in the right light. Even the smells are perfect. You are there.

But the moment you try to put it on paper, it ceases to be perfect. Because you can't put your thoughts down on paper in a 1:1 ratio. It must happen sequentially. You have to read the dialogue, then the description, then the action. It has to be broken down into the opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, purpose. One after the other. It can't strike you at the same time. It has to add up to a picture in the reader's mind. And that picture is never the same as what you intended. Whether or not it's the understanding of a character's motivations, or the pace at which events occur, or even just understanding what's going on. It's like reading a technical manual for your thoughts.

But as long as it exists in that abstract state, it can't be communicated to anyone. It can't be shared. So in order to spread it among any community, it must be translated into a concrete form. Either words or pictures or song -- something the human body can sense. Writing's the easiest way, but involves the longest transition from mind to paper, then eyes to mind. And the state of the information is never the same. Stephen King said "writing is telepathy" - the sharing of your thoughts to another's brain.

And that's the key word - "sharing". In order for sharing to occur, there has to be reciprocation. Like love. I give to you these words, this story, this idea. An epic journey that demonstrates some experiences, some life lessons, that otherwise you wouldn't be able to experience in any way, shape, or form. As John Green said, you are imprisoned in your body. And stories give you the chance to escape that prison.

But lately, I haven't been getting the reciprocation. No acceptances, no agent requests, no reviews, no feedback. Part of that's my fault -- uploading old stories to unpopular sites. Part of it's... I don't know. It's a hard industry to get people to notice you. I know it takes a long time to A) gain the skill after failure after failure after disheartening failure B) figure out what's acceptable. There's no formula. Otherwise, everyone would be doing it. There are so many hoops -- critiques, reviews, articles, query letters. Just a bunch of garbage that takes away from producing. If you're self-publishing, covers, royalties, editors, ISBNs, promotion, contests. Just anything to make someone see your hand raising among the millions of others.

And there's so damn much to remember: first acts and third act twists and hero's journey and want vs. need and implausibility and present tense and first person perspective and viewpoint and tone shift and making sure you don't offend women and overwriting and character soup and killing darlings and world-building and character relationships and too much detail and not enough detail and character arcs that match the story and complementary protagonist/antagonists and zippy beginnings and if you try to make everything fit, you're going to go insane. It's like figuring out time paradoxes.

This might be one of my longest dry spells since I decided I wanted to be a capital-A author. When baseball players get in a slump, they get fired. What do writers get? Insanity?

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

These Are The Thoughts In My Head Right Now

There are two voices in my mind right now.

One voice says "you should be writing! You're good at it. People like your writing. You like writing. You like creating worlds and relationships. It's like playing with dolls. It's a lot of effort and takes a long time, but it's worth it."

The other voice just wants to consume. It's the one that tells me to spend my lunch watching YouTube videos instead of writing. See, I'm at a new job and it's not so easy to watch while I code anymore. Kinda looked down upon. In fact, unless you have special permissions, you can't even get to YouTube. I got them through a small fluke -- but I don't want other people to clue in that I have it.

But it's supposed to be an "agile" environment. So we all have laptops and stark workstations so we can mosey over to others. There are enclaves and cubbies and small pods for 2-3 person impromptu meetings to take place. I use these to my advantage, finding an out of the way place, and watching my "watch later" list. Everything's open so it's hard to find a place with privacy. But I've been doing this on my lunch period since I finished "Princess Crossover".

Occasionally, I'll dabble in some old works. I made my Apple Orchard Fairy Tale ready for publishing. But that's mostly because I was sick of dealing with it. It was 5500 words and most magazines want 5,000 and under. It had already gone through three revisions. And I had no motivation to expend the effort to get it down any further. It was already trimmed to, in my opinion, as minimal as I could get and still keep it cohesive. So I said, "fuck it, just put it up."

That's what this voice says. "Fuck it, it's easier to watch videos. It's easier to consume than produce. I get immediate pleasure out of YouTube and Reddit and Dorkly and DeviantArt. Why expend the effort? Not like I get anything back for it."

And there it is. I feel like I'm working and not getting shit back for my work. I've been uploading past works to some new FF sites I found. And my catalog is a bit bigger than I thought, so while I'm doing that, I'm delaying the release of "Princess Crossover". Which means after writing 200,000 words, I've got to wait even longer while I post all 62 chapters of Gatecrash.

And I don't know if it's because these sites have low visibility or my subject matter isn't terribly popular (Blood and classic Mega Man and SNES Legend of Zelda. We're talking straight outta nineties.) but I am not getting the views I wanted. I mean we're talking zero. No one's even browsing the "just published" page out of curiosity.

But the other voice says "Look at all these stories you want to write. And a lot of them are good ideas. But you'll never get to them unless you finish the things that you've already started."

I think if I want to continue writing, I have to start refocusing on writing for myself. Not for publishers or audience or critiquers, trying to please everyone. I have to think about whether the feedback I'm getting from places like Critters and others is helping me anymore, or if it's holding me back.

John Green had a blog recently where he was having trouble with his follow-up to The Fault in Our Stars. He had multiple multi-thousand page attempts that he threw away, because it just wasn't working. Then he started writing something for himself, something just for fun, no pressure, and then it started to come together. Maybe I need to do that. I've been concentrating so hard on creating something commercial, I've been forgetting to write something I'm really interested in.

Most importantly I need to get my butt in the seat and get off the Internet. But again, I question why should I spend my lunch hour struggling to get down a thousand words when there's so many funny cat videos out there.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Prince Hans

Origin: Frozen (2013)

Motivation: Most antagonists are driven by hurt feelings or misunderstandings. Hans is a true sociopath. Yes, Prince Charming is the bad guy. And it's just what I wanted to see. Hans falls under the sin of avarice -- he's too far down the line of succession to ever inherit his own throne, so he's looking to marry into one. He even explains this in song (before he takes off his hollow mask of concern). What I'm wondering is -- most marriages were arranged (in this time period) for the purposes of gaining land, title, or alliances. Happens all the time in Game of Thrones. Why did he have to lie about it? And was this the only kingdom Hans could find?

Character Strengths: Deception. One hundred percent. Hey, he fooled me. I was busy analyzing the Duke of Weselton when I was in the theater. Hans only reveals his true nature when Anna is teetering between life and death. And Hans nudges the scales towards death (in a totally ineffectual James Bond-villain way, but more on that later). It's the convincing flaws that pull you over. He's clumsy. He can fake true love like an actor. Sheep's clothing in a winter shawl.

What I wonder is, even if he is a psycho, could he be a good king? We never really see a demonstration of his abuse of power (although I'm almost certain that would come later, much like Scar). He demonstrates competent leadership. And although his concern for the people was false, he did provide for them (a blanket on every bed and hot glogg in every cup). But then he's like The Stepfather - a guy doing good things with bad means.

Evilness: It's rare a Disney movie provides someone genuinely terrifying, at least for an adult. It's okay if it goes over the kid's head. But imagine being a father and this guy comes in wanting to date your daughter. This is a real concern of women with wealth -- marrying a man who turns out to be a gold digger. His acts of heroism are only to convince those around him. He saves Elsa from the Duke boys, only to condemn her later when he can look more heroic. He's playing the long game.

The sad part is how many women/girls remain loyal to him DESPITE all this. There are countless Hans/Elsa fan fiction and fan art. My daughter's best friend has a Hans doll but no others because she likes him. Fans have started a petition that in the Frozen sequel, Hans should be redeemed. That's just the power these men have over women. Even when they plainly show their true colors, they're still loved. Eww.

Tools: Prince Hans has no henchmen. No big guns. No navy backing him. No allies. He works on his own, with only his words and actions to aid him. Personally, I think this makes him scarier. Imagine what he could do with some tangible strength behind him. Unlike a lot of villains, he knows how to pick his targets. I bet he wasn't even going to say "sandwiches".

Complement to the Hero: Before his big reveal, he's just as adorkable as Princess Anna. Even though you know she's going to learn not to fall in love so quickly, you don't think Hans is going to a bad guy. He's like the fiancee in every romantic comedy that the main character breaks up with to be with the other. That's how all these Disney movies work, right? They're both young, maybe a little naive, royalty, quick and impulsive. But that's Hans's strength. He's a chameleon. He changes to whatever he needs to be. That's the mark of a sociopath.

Fatal Flaw: Oh, Hans. Haven't you learned anything from the mistakes of others? First you reveal your whole plan, then you lock the hero in a room without actually killing them. You just couldn't resist showing off how smart you are. It's a common downfall of his kind. It's how they caught the BTK killer. But no, all you had to do was stay in the room and make sure she froze to death. That's all you had to do. Would have taken ten minutes.

But to be fair, even I didn't know about the lock-picking capabilities of snowman noses.

Method of Defeat/Death: The blizzard gets worse after Elsa escapes jail. Hans finds her on the frozen fjord and tells her that Anna died from her Sub-Zero ice blast. Elsa collapses on the ice, and when her back is turned, Hans pulls out his sword (where did that come from?) But Anna's not quite dead yet. She must choose between saving her own life or saving Elsa's. She chooses her sister, and as John Woo time starts, Anna steps in front of Hans's swinging sword. In that instant, she freezes solid. So solid, Hans's sword shatters and the blast knocks him out. When he regains consciousness, everything's thawed and both sisters are alive. In a crowning moment of awesome, Anna punches him in the face. A diplomat takes him back to the Southern Isles, where he'll presumably get the business from his brothers.

Bonus Defeat: In Frozen Fever, Hans is shoveling manure when a giant snowball, created by Elsa sneezing into the royal Birthday Bugle Horn, sails about two hundred miles over the ocean and crashes into him. I believe his bones should be crushed instantly from impact at that velocity but, you know, it's a cartoon.

Final Rating: Five stars

Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
Aunt Sarah (Lady and the Tramp)
Yzma (The Emperor's New Groove)
Percival C. McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
Ichabod Crane (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad)
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)
Pinocchio's Villains (Pinocchio)
Sykes (Oliver and Company)
Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bill and Bob and the Billboard of Shame

So where I live in the sub-sub-suburbs, there are often political billboards in the farm fields. (Mostly speaking out against abortion, like the "I had fingerprints at two months" kinda stuff.*) But there's one right where I leave my neighborhood in the morning. They started about a year ago, maybe two. It's always some political message in the form of a letter, and signed "Sincerely, Bill and Bob". The message is always some trite phrase like "Dear Mr. President, LEAD, don't follow" and "Dear Congress, Political correctness is NOT correct"**.

But this most recent one broke my camel's back. And keep in mind I've got to stare at this every day of my life, every time I go to work. It says "Dear Mr. Kaepernick, What country provides more opportunities for all than the USA? Sincerely, Bill + Bob".

First, "which country" would be the better word, because there are a limited number of defined countries to choose from.

Second, what does your question have to do with Colin Kaepernick's actions? He's protesting the treatment of black people by the U.S. government and its sub-entities. Specifically referring to the "Black Lives Matter" movement, which aims to eliminate violence and racial inequality against Black people, especially in the justice system. What do opportunities have to do with this? Are you from 1850? We're kind of past the gold rush and Industrial Revolution at this point.

Third, only a straight white male would do this. Plus, if you can afford to post your message on multiple billboards, you have money. So check your privilege (I've always wanted to say that). That's the privilege that thinks your opinion is so important you gotta plaster it in a small town's face for three months.

Fourth, I refer to you the Facebook post of this veteran that went viral shortly thereafter. Short version is that freedom of speech is why we fight. All other amendments are based on it. It doesn't defend you against "icky speech". It doesn't defend you against the consequences of that speech. It doesn't stop a private organization from censoring your speech, just the government. Nonetheless, America is one of the few countries that stipulates it as a fundamental rule. Even advanced countries don't have that. England can pass a law to prevent certain books from being published, any work, any time.

Fifth and final, Bill and Bob are cowards.

You are hiding behind anonymous names. There is no way to track you back to a web page or an email. There is no way to hold you accountable for your remarks. There is no way to find out more about your message. There is no way to ask follow-up questions or request more in-depth explanations. If I do a web search for "Bill and Bob" I get a bunch of stories about Bill Cosby, Bill Murray, or Bob Saget. The ad doesn't even show up on an image search. There is no way to find out who Bill and Bob are. At least when Anita Sarkeesian prevents comments on her videos she's got a valid reason for it. You don't. (See previous statement about "straight white male").

But instead you paint it like so much graffiti, then dash off. And I gotta stare at your meaningless rhetoric five times a week while waiting for the light to change. This denial, this negativity, these messages about what's wrong with America, what not to do instead of what TO do, just make me hate conservatives more. It gives me pleasure that their unpopularity means they have to use anonymous billboards with vague bombast. The left doesn't have to resort to this. Their messages stand on their own. They're rational, they're moral, they're accountable.

You know who has courage? Colin Kaepernick. In front his fifty-three teammates, coaches, 68,500 fans, and millions of people watching on TV, he was the only one to sit down when everyone else stood up. He knew it would create controversy. He knew it might result in losing his job. He knew it might lose him fans (either of the team or himself), lose endorsement deals, or reduction in status as a role model. But he still did it, because he believed so strongly. I think he's maybe a little confused on federal vs. state abilities to deal with local police transgressions, but nonetheless, what he did took courage. He did it in public, under his own name, defended his actions, and accepted the consequences thereof.

So what are you going to do, Bill and Bob?

*No one mentions the gills and tail that a fetus develops. Strange they leave that out.

**I gotta talk about this one. Political correctness isn't about what's factual or true. It's about respect. If they renamed the Redskins to the "Washington Honkies" or "Washington Gringos", would you allow that?