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Art/Artist

I have a degree in cultural media studies. What that means is my university didn’t have a screenwriting degree track, so I had to do “cultural studies” and then focus on screenwriting since that’s what I really wanted to do. But what that also means is that I learned fascinating ways to look at media, “read” it, dissect it, discuss it. These are things I love to do. Not to argue for or against any point of view, mind, but simply to talk about a book or movie or television show from this or that angle. All points of view, if they can be supported by solid example, are valid.

Except not everyone believes that last bit.

Death of the Author

This phrase is used specifically in literary theory, but it can be applied to any media. It’s the idea that, once a text leaves the creator’s control and goes out into the world to be read, the author’s intentions are… I won’t say worthless, but they are not the only valid lens through which to read said text. I subscribe to this belief. As an author, if someone reads a book of mine and says, “This is really about xyz, and here’s why I think that!” and can back it up with concrete reasoning, I’m all for it. Maybe I as the author consciously embedded that theme or maybe not, but I’m always glad to hear that someone took the time to think about something I wrote. Therefore, whenever I hear an author or filmmaker get angry about an interpretation of their work, it puts me off a bit. If the perception is unflattering—if, for example, someone is saying a work is racist or homophobic—I can, to a degree, understand a creator getting his or her back up about such a claim. Particularly in today’s culture of things being construed as either all good or all bad and there being nothing in between. That’s problematic. Cultural studies is about being open to many points of view, but at the same time we don’t “cancel” something based on one viewpoint. To simply discard a work because there is something about it that could be understood as “bad” is… Well, it’s the creation of an ideological echo chamber. It’s the same as saying, “I will not look at anything that I don’t agree with. AND I don’t think anyone else should be allowed to look at it either.” This perspective close-minded and militant, and no one learns anything from it.

That said, there are times when some media should not be given the benefit of that doubt. When a text is overtly harmful to one or more groups of people—that is, it incites hate against that group—that’s just plain hate speech and does not deserve tolerance. Cancel that shit.

The difficulty sometimes comes in knowing whether something really is hate speech. That’s when, if an author or creator is still living, people often turn to them for clarification.

Separating the Art from the Artist

In a world with so much more access to creators thanks to Twitter and other social media, we know more than ever before about the those who write and make our favorite books and movies. That’s not always a good thing.

On the whole, I agree with the argument that a work of art should speak for itself. This goes along with the idea of the death of the author; if a creator wanted to get a point across, he or she must wait to see if they did a good enough job. If many people read a book and come away with the idea (or feeling) the author intended, the author wrote well. If most of the readers miss the point, the author needs to do better next time. In short, a work should not require the author’s input after the fact to make itself clear. It should, in the absence of the author, be the voice of whatever the author wants to say.

But, like with text messages and email, sometimes tone is misconstrued. Authors need to be prepared for that possibility, too.

YET. Now that readers and audiences are used to hearing directly from authors and other celebrities via social media, it becomes increasingly impossible to separate the art from the artist. One might consciously parse a text and not take into account anything about the creator. But a reader or viewer cannot stop knowing what they know. If I read a book, and I know that the author is homophobic, even if I try to take the text on its own merit, I cannot help knowing about the homophobia underlying its construction. I may try to enjoy the book, but chances are I’m not going to be able to.

Which is why so many people, once they learn something about an author (e.g., J. K. Rowling) or filmmaker (e.g., Woody Allen) can no longer bring themselves to read or watch their works. They can no longer enjoy them because in the backs of their minds, they know something about these creators that colors their consumption of that media. It’s like someone has poured poison all over what would otherwise have been a tasty meal. Never mind conscientious objectors not wanting to support and/or give money to certain points of view or lifestyles (for creators still alive and making a profit off their works).

In short, ignorance is bliss when it comes to consuming media.

At the same time, we all want to be educated about the media we consume.

Is there a solution?

Honestly, I don’t know. Because this is such a personal issue—because each person has his or her own levels of tolerance for things like this—there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Some may decide to stay away from Twitter and other social media, as though reading info from or about favorite creators is the same as reading spoilers. These people really do just want to enjoy the work separate from the creator(s). Other people may hear things about a book, movie, author, filmmaker and decide to do his or her own sleuthing to decide how deep the rot goes. They must answer this question for themselves: Can the tree be saved? And some may have very strict personal standards that does not allow them to engage with media and/or creators that have problematic interpretations or stances. This is their right and their decision. They may choose to spread the word about what they know, but they must leave it to others to likewise decide for themselves whether or not to continue reading or watching works from questionable sources.

This is, of course, simply my take on this topic.

tl;dr 1. There are many different ways to interpret media and no one “right” way. Even if the creator says there is only one way, that creator cannot stop people from coming up with alternate views. 2. A piece of art (book, movie, etc.) should stand on its own and not require additional, outside input from the creator to explain it. Otherwise, it’s not a very good piece of art. 3. Once a reader or viewer knows something about a creator, that piece of information cannot be unknown and will necessarily color the consumer’s understanding and enjoyment of the media. 4. It’s up to each reader or viewer to decide what they will and will not tolerate from a creator. Those who have opted to “disinherit” a creator should not bully others into doing the same. 5. UNLESS that creator is using his or her power and/or privilege to engage in flat-out hate speech that harms a person or group of persons already at risk. In which case, that should not be tolerated.

A final note that there is a difference between being bullied for one’s opinion and being pushed back on when you’re actively harming others. Anecdotally, someone I know was surprised when her gay friends disowned her after she voted for He Who Shall Not Be Named. “What happened agreeing to disagree?” she asked. I told her that she had not simply “disagreed” with her gay friends—she had taken actual action against them. There is a difference. And it matters.

Fan Fiction

I was making up stories about my favorite book, television, and film characters long before I ever thought about writing them down. Writers have a tendency to fall in love with characters and stories, and many hone their skills by practicing on others’ characters before playing with their own.

There is a somewhat mean-spirited saying in the writing world about “playing in someone else’s sandbox.” Not all creators feel this way; some are flattered that other writers want to play along. (I, for one, am delighted when I see fanfic or fan art of my work.) But there has long been a stigma regarding fan fiction that I think is finally fading. This idea that fanfic authors have no original ideas, or are somehow incapable of being “real” writers (whatever counts as “real”… which is another topic altogether).

I didn’t know fan fiction was a thing until I was in college. I mean, I wrote stories based on my favorite show, etc., but I had no idea there was an entire community of people who did this. Keep in mind that the Internet wasn’t a whole big thing yet at the time, so my revelation came in the guise of a class regarding fan psychology, in which we read Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers. That text blew my mind. Not long after, I found fanzines and began submitting my work.

Not all of it, of course. The first piece of fanfic I can recall writing—like, literally writing down—was something called “Mac’s Night Out.” It was MacGyver and Murdoc getting drunk, I think? I probably still have a copy of it somewhere, but it never got published in a zine.

Also never published was my series The Bay Chronicles. That series is an utter disaster that only exists in a handful of printed copies since the disks that contained it can no longer be accessed (nor does anyone still use Microsoft Works). I will say that I’m retyping this series [on unlinked pages], if only to have it in electronic form. But I promise you, it’s not worth reading. It makes almost no sense at all, is a total mishmash of… Gah, everything I liked at the time plus some original stuff I was working on… It’s dreadful in a million ways, and even as I retype it, which of course requires me to re-read it, I see what a child I was at the time I wrote it and hate myself a bit.

That aside, I did have a moderately good run as a fanfic author back when zines were still a thing. I used to be invited to cons as a guest fanfic author, which was always flattering, and then also very funny because organizers would be so surprised at how young I was when I turned up. Sometimes I was too young to go into the “adult” rooms at the cons!

I’ve slowly been reposting those old zine stories on Archive of Our Own (AO3) under the name zmethos. (Short for “Zeistmeister Methos,” a nickname from my college days, which is, again, another story.) My best and longest work, though, came in the post-zine era: the Sherlock series known as A Game of Hearts, which consists of seven stories based on BBC’s Sherlock. They were all written after the first series and before the second, so reading them now is like reading an alternative timeline for the show. My other favorite fic that I’ve written is the Highlander story “Setting Love Free.”

I used to want to hide my fanfic. I used to think that, if I wanted to be taken seriously as an author or screenwriter, I couldn’t be associated with that stuff. But as I’ve mentioned, times seem to be changing. More and more people acknowledge fanfic writing as a valid way of starting out. I think I have more fans of my fics than I do of my original work anyway. I hope that won’t always be true, but it makes me happy to know people like something I’ve written, even if it’s fan fiction.

P.S. This one was mine. “The Bane” was actually my undergraduate screenwriting thesis, which I wrote based on the fic that had already been published in Texas Extra: Special Langlinais Edition. The comments on the Fanlore page came from my old author Web site. The story version is up at AO3 now.

The Shape and Color of Your Piece

Today my 11-year-old daughter came to me upset because her older brother was being mean to her. “Do you ever think he might just be a bad person?” she asked.

It would be a lie to say I hadn’t wondered that about myself and all my children at different times in life. But I explained to my daughter that her brother is at an age where protecting his ego was the primary psychological directive. That often means cutting other people down to make himself feel better.

“Am I mean like that?” she asked.

I told her that, yes, she is sometimes mean. I’ve heard her be sharp-tongued. “I don’t mean to be,” she said.

“In that moment, I think you do mean to be,” I told her. I said it was like a scorpion stinging—it does it to protect itself, and it definitely intends to sting, but then, so long as the threat abates, it goes on with its life as though nothing has really happened. It doesn’t stay mean. It’s only mean when it’s angry or scared.

I went on to say that humans are pack animals that organize themselves in social hierarchies, and she and her brother are at a time in life where they’re figuring out where they fit in. “As children, you’re held in the societal bubble of your parents, but at adolescence you emerge to find your own place. Or, to put it another way, you’re a puzzle piece. And you’re figuring out what color and shape you are so that you can then find where you fit.”

In particular, my daughter is an equestrienne with a great love of musical theatre, and she struggles to find others who have the same interests and hobbies. We talked about how these years (the middle school years) are the most difficult because peers may try to force you into a place where you don’t fit. Or sometimes we’re desperate to fit in a certain place that isn’t right for us. Often we discover that the friends we had when we were younger no longer fit together with us, and that can be tough, too.

“We’re all still part of the same big picture,” I told my daughter. “Part of the same community, the same big world. Finding where we fit, though, can be hard, and it’s something you may have to do many times in your life. Every time you start at a new school, a new job, move to a new town… The nice thing is, eventually you know your size, shape, and color. You won’t have to try and figure out who you are, only where you fit.”

In the meantime, though, she’s still finding her edges. That’s part of adolescence—discovering your true self and having the courage to stay true to that self when others attempt to reshape you to suit their needs. Or when you feel like maybe you want to change your shape or color to fit elsewhere. Remember that any time you trim your puzzle piece, it makes you smaller, so that if and when you find your true place, you may no longer fit as perfectly as you would have otherwise. Be yourself. Take up space. Don’t apologize for being who you are. All easier said than done, but worth remembering.

Books: Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

It might be best (it usually is) to start at the beginning. Lies Sleeping is the seventh in the Peter Grant/Rivers of London series of books. I previously reviewed a number of the earlier books on my spooklights site, but I’ll give a small recap here, too.

Peter Grant is a police constable in modern-day London. But he has an unusual job: dealing with magical and supernatural crimes and criminals. The first book in the series is, depending on where you live, Midnight Riot or Rivers of London (same book, different titles). It’s a great book, and the second one, Moon Over Soho, is also very good. Somewhere in the middle of this series, at least thus far, it got a bit mushy and muddled. But I think that may be my perception based on having to wait a year between each new entry. If I went and re-read them now, I wonder whether I’d find them as much of a slog or as mildly confusing? I don’t really intend to do that, so it will be a question that remains unanswered.

Still and all, Lies Sleeping struck me as a return to form. By which I mean, I was engaged and able to follow everything with no problems. Given that I’d somehow missed that there were two more entries in the series (Lies Sleeping and False Value) and was therefore actually farther behind that ever, I would reason that this book was written more comprehensively than the last couple? But again, I don’t know that for sure. I did find it more fun and less work overall. Maybe that was due to my frame of mind, though. There are so many variables to consider in whether someone likes a book, movie, or other piece of art…

In this particular tale, Grant and his cohorts are on the trail of Martin Chorley, aka The Faceless Man. This has been the big villain for a while now, but finally they seem to be narrowing in on him and getting a sense of what he’s trying to accomplish. Motives are revealed, as it were. And it’s an interesting setup, with a bit of an abrupt conclusion, but that’s been par for the course in these books. I still enjoyed it.

There are a lot of characters to keep up with in this series, which may turn some readers off. A lot of rules of magic that are sometimes vague, though explanations for the vagaries of magical practice are written into the text (“hang a lampshade” as they say). Peter Grant’s snark and humor are what keep me coming back; he’s the everyman trying to keep up with what’s happing around him, and I think readers identify with that. Still, I’ve never found his relationship with Bev very compelling, and that’s escalated in this book and is set up to be brought forward in future books. It’s not annoying enough (yet) to stop me from reading them. But the more characters are added, and the way everyone seems to be smarter and better than Peter—pretty soon that’s going to become tiring and annoying rather than funny, and I don’t know whether I’ll be as interested in these books at that point. You can have an imperfect protagonist, but he needs to learn and get better at a rate that keeps the reader invested in him. Peter seems a little behind this curve. He’s the worst student in this “class” of people learning magic, so to speak, and it’s increasingly difficult to cheer him on and believe he’ll ever make the grade.

Peter’s “governor” Nightingale is very adept and interesting, on the other hand, and that worries me because we all know the mentor figure has to die eventually. I might not be able to stand that.

TL;DR: I liked the first two or three books in this series, felt a few in the middle were undercooked, but found this one enjoyable again. Taking a modest break to read some manga before queuing up False Value.

Movies: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

If you’ve seen Blades of Glory and you liked it, this is probably the movie for you.

Honestly, I expected something more like Documentary Now! or This is Spinal Tap, but this does not have the mockumentary style in that it doesn’t pretend to be following things as they unfold, nor does it interview characters, etc. It is, in fact, a fairly rote and mostly tame movie. There are over-the-top moments, but not as many as one would think. There are some truly funny moments, but… not as many as one would think.

This is the story of Lars and Sigrit, who grew up together in Iceland and formed a musical duo they call Fire Saga. It has been Lars’ dream to win the Eurovision Song Contest, and when, due to a fluke, they are submitted as Iceland’s entry… things go about as expected. Each have their heads turned by singers from other countries, they fight, things fall apart, disasters occur. And yet, it all comes across as very mild. The would-be villains are not all that terrible, and no problem seems insurmountable, nor do the issues remain unresolved for very long. The result is a lack of any real tension or conflict.

Pierce Brosnan does a nice turn as Lars’ disapproving father, and Dan Stevens likewise is fun as the Russian singer, but it’s not enough to keep things from being mostly bland. This is a “cute” movie. It has a pretty good soundtrack thanks to past Eurovision entrants coming on as cameos. But this is not a gut-splitting comedy. It’s a movie that wanted to be both sweet and funny and landed in the middle of the road.

That’s not to say it’s not worth watching. I can recommend it with the caveat that if you’re hoping for LOL you’re more likely to get chuckles.

Good vs Good Enough

Sometimes I worry I’m not a good enough writer to achieve the things I want to achieve. I know I’m a good writer, and a competent one, but I’ve come to understand that good is still miles away from good enough.

It’s true in anything that a person can be bad at it, okay at it, competent, good at it… And then we usually skip (in our mental scale of ability) to great or amazing. He’s a “pretty good” musician, we might say, but she’s a “great” singer. But somewhere between good and great is good enough. Because good can only get you so far, but good enough gets you much farther. Good might win you a few fans and followers, but good enough can get you a record deal.

We all strive for great, of course. Those of us who create for a living—we all want to do it not just well but wonderfully well. That’s a tall order. And it’s not a bad thing to have standards and goals. But we also have to learn to be okay with good enough. Because good enough means we can still reach those goals, even if we have more work and learning to do.

So here I am. I’m really only aiming for good enough right now because I barely have the energy. And I’m so, so afraid I’m not good enough and that nothing I can do will make me good enough. That I’m a lost cause. That I’ll never be more than good, or even competent, as a writer.

This is the reality: sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you won’t make it. I don’t say this to discourage anyone! But we do live in a society that likes to tell the story of how someone persists and eventually makes it. We don’t like to hear that hard work sometimes doesn’t pay off.

So do we give up then? That’s an individual choice. There is the sunk cost fallacy of, after having put in so much time and energy, one feels they simply cannot stop. But there’s also the nagging idea of never knowing when you might break through. That’s what keeps people playing the lottery after all. To continue is an ongoing gamble. Each person must decide for him- or herself how much of their time and energy they’re willing to wager. And the answer to that question can change by the day!

These past few days I have struggled. I’ve felt pretty down about myself and my work. This has happened before—once for an entire year in which I did not write anything but one short story… that thankfully got published because I think it might have ruined me as a writer if no one had wanted it.

Currently, I have two projects. One is a massive rewrite from scratch. The other is a fun new little thing. They weirdly have a lot in common, though I won’t elaborate because I don’t want to ruin anything. I have sketchy outlines for a couple more books after these, too. So it’s likely I’ll continue to write. And hopefully one day one of these* will be considered good enough for an agent or publisher.

Now Available: The K-Pro

What can a fairy godmother do for a man who already seems to have everything?

Andra Martineau is a K-Pro—a living good-luck charm with the ability to make people’s dreams come true. But when led to help up-and-coming actor David Styles, Andra’s presence seems to be more curse than blessing. With the help of David’s incorrigible co-star, Andra begins to realize the true nature of her power… and David’s hidden identity as well. Will she be able to save David from himself?

This book is what I call a “paranormal romantic comedy.” Which is somewhat unusual, and that’s why I think I never did find an agent for it. But it’s a fun, light romp with a mythical twist, perfect for summer. I hope you’ll give it a read and leave a review when you’re done.

I originally published this one in 2013 as my first full-length self-published effort. I’ve learned a lot since then about having a good cover, etc. The K-Pro is now available in paperback and also on Kindle, and is free to read via Kindle Unlimited!

What Color Am I?

When I was little, I had white-blonde hair, blue eyes, and skin dark enough that the Latina women at the laundromat would berate my mother for trying to “pass me off as white.” They thought she was bleaching my hair—that, based on my skin tone, I was half Latina myself. My mother told them again and again that, no, I just came out that way.

It’s an issue that has surfaced semi-regularly throughout my life. My grandparents called me “Texican.” At the time I considered it an affectionate nickname, and I’m pretty sure that was how it was intended. However, in retrospect, it’s somewhat racist, too. And inaccurate. Because I’m not Latina. I’m Creole.

But that doesn’t stop people from assuming. My daughter’s third-grade teacher went through the entire school year thinking I was Latina. I get people who walk up to me and start speaking Spanish until they notice my blank stare. I mean, I grew up in Texas, so I know all the signage: salidas, basura, piso mojadotacos y mas… Anything else I may understand or recognize (besides si and gracias) I’ve extrapolated from having spoken French, the languages being similar.

My early French wasn’t even “real” French; it was the Cajun dialect of Southern Louisiana. Later, I took French in high school and college because I figured it would be easy. And it mostly was except for having to remember which suffixes to use for the various tenses. Thank God they all sound the same when you speak it.

My dad’s family came from France in the 1780s. They weren’t Acadian (Cajun) in that they didn’t go to Canada only to be relocated later; they sailed straight to New Orleans then ventured out and settled in the Vermillion Parish area. At some point those lily-white French ancestors (who were actually from English stock that had settled in Brittany) mixed and mingled with, well… stories differ. But the result down the line was that some of us have olive skin that turns toasty after even a few minutes in the sun. My dad has the dark hair, too, but the blue eyes. My hair got darker as I got older but never as dark as his.

Fictional character Peter Grant (from the Ben Aaronovitch series of books) once said something about his “winter plumage” and I identified so hard with that remark. From late spring through early fall, for as long as I can get regular sunlight, I’m a nice brown. It feels like the right, real me. But come winter I turn a sickly yellow. I hate it. I spend winter longing for my color.

That said, I know that I don’t actually understand what people of color go through on a regular basis. My features are Anglo enough that, aside from that occasional assumption about what language I speak, the only real hassle I receive is for my gender rather than my skin color. I have the luxury of embracing my heritage without fear. If I encounter police, I generally don’t worry. I’ve never had cause to think my color would prevent me from getting a job. Or that, when I go into a store, people might think I’m up to no good because my color gives them preconceived notions about my morals. Maybe I’ve just been really fortunate, since I know Latinx people do face a number of prejudices. If I looked fully Latina rather than mixed, maybe that would make a difference. I don’t know.

Since I can fill out a form and mark “Caucasian,” I guess that’s how I identify. And how people see me, at least most of the time. But there are times when I hesitate before checking that box. Am I really? I wonder. Well, I live as a Caucasian. Which means I live a privileged life. Something I’ve been thinking long and hard about lately.

“You’re lucky,” an old Latina woman told me once. “You can pass.” I don’t think I understood at the time just how lucky that makes me. I may never fully comprehend my fortune.