Community: Why Y’All Should Watch It Right This Second

Jun 26, 2010 8:09 pm
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Man, I’m stealing blog topics lately like… um… is there any kind of animal out there that regularly steals blog topics? No? Okay. That’s probably what makes that simile fall kind of flat.

Anyway, this blog post was inspired by a) Jodi Meadows’s excellent post on the things Stargate SG-1 taught her about writing and b) the unrelated realization that, yes, I love TV shows as more than just distraction from writing. I know a lot of people harp on how you shouldn’t watch TV if you can read/write instead, it’s just a waste of time, etc. etc. but I really think that, in addition to the sheer entertainment value and closing-off-your-brain factor you sometimes need as a writer, it’s a great way to study storytelling. It won’t teach you to write prose, but it can teach you plenty about other things, and studying how and why TV shows do what they do can be an excellent way to learn.

Which is a kind of long intro to me saying that, holy crap, I love the TV series Community and if you haven’t seen it yet, you ought to do so. Right this second. Or at the very least when the DVD-set comes out. It’s a very smart comedy which far exceeded my expectations based on its rather standard premise: community college! band of misfits! shenanigans ensue! It’s probably my favourite comedy series in a long time, on par perhaps only with Better Off Ted.

(Which you should also watch.)

Warning: as I discuss what I think Community does right, I’ll use comparisons from certain shows who try to do similar things but don’t pull it off, in my opinion. By ‘certain shows’, I mean Glee. I’ll try to be fair, but my unparalleled loathing of Glee1 may colour my analysis. Fair warning!

1. Know Thy Tropes
Whether you want to avoid them, subvert them, or ridicule them all to hell – know them. Your audience will, too, and they’ll appreciate being taken by surprise or seeing a clever spin on something they recognize.

This means reading/watching in your genre, and spending a lot of time on TV Tropes. If you don’t know the site, prepare to waste an ungodly amount of hours there.

(Note to self: next time you link to TV Tropes, do it at the end of a post, or you’ll lose readers.)

2. Go There – But Know Where You’re Going
This applies to anything ~controversial~ or otherwise shocking: go there. Don’t back down, don’t play it safe. It’s okay to be outrageous.

But please, know what you’re doing. Don’t just do random shit for the sake of being edgy and then wonder why people are annoyed or offended when you fuck up.

Community is a silly comedy and they regularly tackle issues of racism or sexism in the least PC way possible, and they succeed2. Glee is a silly comedy that regularly tackles issues of sexism or racism in the least PC way possible, and they fail on multiple levels, because they’re doing it for kicks without understanding what they’re doing. Sometimes this results in laughs. But usually, when it comes to the issues they address, they do more to alienate the groups they’re trying to support than anything else. I think that’s a shame. With that kind of cast and talent, they could do so much better.

3. A Little Goes A Long Way
Community is a comedy show and it KNOWS this, but it can still tackle solid drama. In one episode – minor spoilers to follow - the students have a Halloween party. One of them, Abed, dresses in a Batman costume and plays the role awesomely, raspy Christian Bale voice et al. Jeff, the lead of the show, is embarrassed by his friends’ immaturity and tries to avoid the party, but keeps getting dragged in. At one point, he snaps:

Jeff: Britta, I don’t care about your high school soap opera. Abed, you’re not Batman.
Abed: I know I’m not Batman. You could try not being a dick.

Paraphrased, since I can’t seem to find the quote online. When I watched this, I went, ouch. When I rewatched the episode with a friend, he gasped.

It’s so simple, so direct, and it works so damn well for both characters. There’s no need to harp on the point whatsoever.

4. Make Up Your Mind
For the most part, Community doesn’t try to be something it’s not, and I love it for that. It’s the same reason I love shows like Chuck: they don’t take themselves too seriously. This doesn’t mean that Community can’t do drama on occasion. Just watch the episode Introduction to Film.

But it does mean that it knows its genre and doesn’t bounce between different styles. Only very few shows (Buffy!) can pull that off without giving the viewer a mental whiplash.

Now, certain shows have a big problem with this. They try to be satirical high school comedies and then interject it with moments of tearful Very Special Episode-style drama, played completely straight. Even people who have liked Glee since the beginning have expressed issues with this, and the more pronounced it gets, the more people are getting annoyed by how the show can’t seem to figure out what it wants to be.

It pains me to say this, but here goes: In its first season finale, Community did the exact same thing. It went from a trope-subverting ensemble cast to a one-man-show that played entirely by the rules, annoying love triangle included, and it irritated a lot of its die-hard fans in the process.

(See? I can be fair and criticize the shows I love!) 

1 Believe me, I gave Glee a fair shot: I started the show fully expecting to love it, and gave it a full season to redeem itself when it didn’t quite catch on. It just ended up annoying me more and more. Sorry, Glee fans. (I still love the singing-and-dancing.)

2 It doesn’t succeed all the time. I’ve been rather annoyed with its treatment of Britta and Shirley. Still, it does a lot better than 95% of shows out there, so I think the point is valid.


Link Spam & Music

Jun 11, 2010 11:24 pm
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Well, it’s apparently LGBTQ Pride Month.

I… haven’t got much to say! Except that I’d really like my books published, please, so I can flood the market with more rampantly queer characters. Rock on.

With that out of the way, I figured I’d toss in a few relevant links–

By Malinda Lo, a series on LGBTQ Stereotypes in YA Fiction:
1: Major LGBTQ Stereotypes
2: Gender
3: Words to watch out for
4: Secondary characters and gay jokes
5: Resources

By Neo_Prodigy: Queer Tropes and The Privilege of Visibility.

And, of course, a few words by the splendiferous K.V. Taylor.

I’ll leave you with another song from the Hands of Cally Wu soundtrack; it’s another one by the Guano Apes, this time a track called Scapegoat.

This book had me pondering the following issues:
* How many times you can stab a person in the eye in one book without it getting old?
* What are the various ways of destroying someone’s brain?
* What’s the approximate suicide rate in small US towns?
* Are you still allowed to drive with a broken hand?
* Three dead people in three consecutive scenes: too much?

I think it’s safe to say I’m quite eager to put this book behind me and get back to flying doormats, cute gay werewolves, and totally ridiculous Germanic gods.

Or, you know, something else. I’m thinking I might overhaul Stranger, the 2009 NaNo project I wrote 19k-ish words on, into a proper YA. High school and all. Hmm…


Rooting for the Underdog

May 27, 2010 3:52 pm
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Yesterday’s post by Tessa Gratton got me thinking.

There’s a trend in television, film, and literature that’s not particularly new, but very prevalent: the story of the underdog. The unpopular kid, the nerd, the outsider, the rise from zero-to-hero. We all love an underdog, and there’s nothing wrong with these kinds of stories, obviously – but at this point this trope is so ingrained that it’s occasionally weird to have to remind yourself that it used to be different. That the jocks and cheerleaders were the heroes at some point, and the nerds were the picked-on victims, the outsiders were the scheming villains.

Now I’m all for tipping the scales, but the intense backlash against those kinds of stories has really just reversed the roles. Now the jocks and cheerleaders are the traditional antagonists. They’re the ones turned into stereotypes. The underdog has turned into such a winner that they’ve become the mainstream; the mainstream has become the underdog. It seems like the only times we get to see sympathetic jocks or cheerleaders are when they’re the odd one out, when they have to fight against the rest of their group – thus becoming the underdog themselves.

What I’m just sick of is that the underdog is always right. I can cheer for a character discovering a talent and fighting their way to the championships; I don’t always feel comfortable cheering for them winning by virtue of them being the underdog, no matter what odds they fought to get to this point. All those other competitors, the ones who have won previous championships, the ones with the long-standing histories in the field, with the personal trainers, the snooty faces?

I bet they worked their asses off to get there, too.

We just don’t get to see it. We don’t cheer for them because we don’t know them. Ninety percent of the time, the writer will make them unsympathetic because that’ll make it easier to cheer for the underdog. It’s an easy way out. But hey – this is a competition. I don’t care how nice your protagonist is. I don’t care how unrealistically, over-the-top evil their competitors are. The best participant ought to win. I’ll cheer for your character to reach that spot so they can prove themselves. After that… they’re on their own.

What it comes down to, really, is that you shouldn’t have to put other people down to make your character likable and to have readers root for them. The backlash is understandable after so many stories in which the characters we relate to get put down, but is it fair? The popular kids have stories, too. They’re characters, too. 

I try to be aware of these kinds of knee-jerk biases in my fiction. Just because this person is really attractive doesn’t necessarily mean they’re vain or shallow. It also doesn’t mean they’re just as attractive on the inside. Just because this person is popular doesn’t mean they pick on the unpopular kids; just because this character is a math geek doesn’t mean they don’t have social skills, and doesn’t mean they automatically resent anyone higher on the high school food chain than they are.

This ties in with the backlash against stereotypes. Personally, I’m sick of gay stereotypes. Just like I’m sick of autistic stereotypes, and cheerleader stereotypes, racial stereotypes, and all of those. Write a three-dimensional character, please: make them be defined than more than just their one trait and whatever you associate with that.

But please don’t let this weariness of stereotypes turn you against the people or characters who do happen to fit the stereotype. The problem is not that gay characters are so often flamboyant and effeminate; the problem is that there are very little other types of gay characters to balance those out. So yes, complain about seeing yet another gay stereotype on TV; complain about them prancing around in their fashionable clothes and talking about interior designing and waving their hands; complain that they don’t get to have any romantic storylines – but blame the writers for making those decisions. You’re all wonderfully open, forward-thinking people so this might sound ridiculous, but all-too-often I’ve seen these complaints not directed at the writers but at the characters. At actual people who do have those traits or interests. I see people proclaim, “I’m not going to make my character one of those queers! He’ll be masculine! Yeah!” as thought there’s something inherently wrong with gay characters or people appearing as anything other than 100% straight.

Now I have no problem with subverting stereotypes. Show some diversity, by all means! Just don’t put down the characters we do get because of who they are - put down the fact that they’re two-dimensional, badly written badly, and that it’s often the only representation we get. Because that’s the problem with stereotypes.

Similarly, we all know that attractive, abled, white, cisgendered, straight twenty-somethings are wildly over-represented in fiction, and most of us are completely on board with changing that. Does that mean we should rail against all the people who do fit into that group? Because that seems a little unfair.* Go ahead and roll your eyes at seeing yet another underweight twenty-something woman on the cover of a magazine… but don’t bitch about her being a ‘stick’, ‘not a real woman’ or jokingly tell her to ‘eat a sandwich’. Because that’s pretty darn offensive, too.

Basically: don’t change yourself to fit the mainstream, whatever that may be at the time. Fight your way to the top and claim your identity, your individuality. Be proud of yourself for who and what you are.

But don’t feel like you need to put other people down to get there.

* By this, I mean picking on the individuals. I am not remotely saying it’s wrong to acknowledge white/abled etc. privilege or the issues of over/under-representation, nor am I complaining about ‘reverse racism’. Just wanted to make that clear.


Autism Awareness Month, Redux & Professionalism

Apr 20, 2010 6:55 pm
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As an aspiring publishing professional, I try to, you know, be professional. This involves using phrases like ‘you know’ on my blog, because nothing spells out professionalism like that.

Anyhow, it means I try to avoid too many posts about the Big Issues. Religion, politics, social justice stuff, all those good things that get people fired up. It’s problematic sometimes, because it gets me fired up, too. I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought, “Yes! This is a relevant topic and I actually have something semi-interesting to contribute! … I’ll just go and have lunch instead.”

I’ll admit may have slipped once. Or twice. Like when I wrote about Autism Speaks. And feminism. And queerness. So apparently I’m not too great on keeping these things from the blog, but I do try.

No one said anything about guest posts, though. So if you’re interested in my thoughts on autism, cures, identity, and stuff like that, go take a look at my post over at the PageTurnersBlog today, “Identity Doesn’t Need To Be Fixed”.

I was quite pleased to be asked to guest blog, as one of my pet peeves about Awareness Months and the likes is how rarely the people they’re about get to say anything. Without going out of my way, I’ve found a handful of Autism Awareness Month blog posts in my regular blog reading, and within the publishing sphere, not a one of them was by a person who had autism themselves.

Coincidentally, a post about this very phenomenon went online yesterday at the Feminists With Disabilities blog. It’s a good read–check it out.

I would, however, like to pose a question to all of you.

In your opinion, how much is too much? Do you get annoyed when an author you follow talks about the Big Issues? Does it make any difference whether it’s in the context of writing? If they’re aspiring or professional? How much do you tackle or avoid these issues in your own blog?

I can only think of a handful of author/agent/editor blogs I follow that are open about them–Jim C. Hines’s blog is the first to come to mind–but I know there are plenty out there who don’t attempt to keep their opinions and professional life separated. Do you think it helps or hurts them? Does it make them more open to attacks, or does it help them build up an online presence because of the discussion it generates? Does the tone matter–snarky ranting vs. level-headed discussion? Is it important to use whatever platform you have to discuss the things you believe in, or is your professional blog just not the place?

Er, okay, that’s eight questions. Apparently, I’m even nosier than I thought!


Awareness-y Things

Apr 02, 2010 8:50 pm
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It’s World Autism Awareness Day.


I have something to say about this, but I’ve got a guest post scheduled elsewhere that deals with some of my thoughts on the subject. I’ll link to that when it’s up, so for now, I’ll stick to the following:

If you want to be supportive of people with autism and express that on your blog today – or ever – please, please, please do not invoke the name of Autism Speaks. This charity is vile, disrespectful, actively hurtful and in no way speaks for people with autism like its name implies. You can find out more on Google, but suffice to say: go with a different source if you want to quote statistics, link to a different page if you want to explain something, and recommend a different charity if that’s your thing. Here’s a page to start you off with.

And also, read blog posts by actual autistic people on the subject, and all that jazz. Awareness is a good thing and I’m pleased to see so many people posting on this matter, but the best perspective is an inside perspective. Please don’t shut out the very people we’re/you’re trying to help.

In similarly Awareness-y news: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I don’t feel like it’s my place to go into further detail, so I’d just like to suggest donating to your local rape crisis center and keeping an eye on The Hathor Legacy, an awesome feminist blog that consistently offers solid content and interesting links. They’ll no doubt have some good posts up over the course of the month.


Back to your regularly scheduled non-aware blogging tomorrow.


Flaws and Feminism

Mar 11, 2010 10:26 pm
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Jim Hines’s post on Strong Female Characters™, as well as the article that spurred on that post, got me thinking today. (Hey, I was at work for a change. Did you expect me to actually do work?) I don’t think I have any particularly fascinating insights, but this is one thing that did come to mind: flaws either make or break female characters, whereas they merely inform male characters.

Male characters have flaws that are an aspect of their character. These may outshadow or be outshadowed by more positive aspects, but in the end, they’re likely to be well-rounded characters.

When it comes to female characters, the flaws are more likely to play into stereotypes, be they positive or negative. But the real difference, to me, is that they tend to define the character. If a woman is greedy, she’ll be portrayed as either a horrid shrew or as an otherwise lovable character who just has a bit of a quirk. (And, often, this will be their only quirk.)  She can’t just be flawed, like an actual, real-life person. It either needs to dehumanise/villainise her, or make her somehow more appealing to the male character and/or audience. Female characters are defined by how she’ll be perceived, rather than the logical evolution of her as a character.

In practice, in fictional relationships, it will come down to this:
* The male character will be loved by the female character despite his flaws. She may criticise these flaws (because, you know, women with standards are so unreasonable), but they will rarely stop her from forming a relationship with/sleeping with the male lead. He’s just that irresistible.
* The female character will be loved by the male character, partially because of her flaws. If she’s neurotic, it makes her cute and quirky. If she’s arrogant, she’s that much more of a catch. If she’s violent, it makes her hotter. The male lead will rarely criticise her flaws, because – and this is what it comes down to – they’re rarely perceived as flaws. Just character quirks that do not actually detract from her overall attractiveness. However, even though he doesn’t criticise her flaws, they’ll often fade or disappear entirely the more established the relationship becomes.

So that’s what I’d like to see changed: I’d like to see female characters dump male characters – or even reject them from the get-go – because, hey, some men are just Not Relationship Material, no matter their hotness. I’d like to see male characters agree that they’re flawed and make an effort to change it, instead of just being accepted no matter what. Vice versa, I’d like to see male characters criticise female characters without being condescending, but accepting – and more importantly, acknowledging – her flaws whether or not she changes. I want to see male characters drawn to female characters not because of cutesy flaws-which-are-therefore-not-flaws, but because of impressive strengths, which, preferably, do not involve her cup size.

It’s okay to say, “Yeah, sometimes she’s really annoying, but she’s an amazing woman and I love her for her amazing analytical thinking skills/the way she put her life on the line for me/how she never backs down from a challenge.” It’s okay to say, “Sorry, you’re a violent lunatic/boring as hell, I’m staying single for now.”

(And for the record, obviously I’m not saying this should be the case all the time. That would just tip the problem the other way. It needs to be balanced out – and it’s already starting to happen! See: Star Trek and the fabulous way the Kirk/Uhura not-a-relationship is treated.) 

Where’s the fun in giving your characters flaws if other characters won’t acknowledge them and react in a realistic fashion?

It’s entirely possible I’m missing something obvious here. Disagreement is welcome *g*


Niet Normaal

Jan 30, 2010 9:23 pm
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Today, I visited the Niet Normaal exposition with some writing buds of mine. The name translates to Not Normal, and asks questions about diversity, about what’s normal and what isn’t, and to what lengths some people go to be normal.

Sounded like my cup of tea, what can I say.

With a generally pro-diversity message – which was challenged even before the exposition opened to the public – I was pretty curious to see what they all came up with. Some of it was on the odd-but-interesting-I-suppose side…

A huge art installation made up of various signs and cut-out flames; the signs have slogans such as BECAUSE I'M NOT WORTH IT, PSYCHIATRIC WARD, FESTIVAL OF CREEPS, and LA DI DA FEED THE POOR LA DI DA CHANGE THE WORLD.A huge art installation made up of various materials such as wooden bird cages, makeshift ladders, fake gold paper, wooden branches, and defaced posters.

Some of it was cute and subtle…

A television against a wall shows a snowy tree. Underneath the television, 'the humble snowflake' is written in handwriting. Next to the television stand, on the floor, stands a jar with a layer of water. On the wall over the jar, clumsy blue handwriting says, 'The Remains of me as a beautiful (already melted) snowflake'.A photo of a wooden floor; white letters say, On December 12, 53% of Dutch people felt normal.  The legs of a woman dressed in all-black are also visible.

Some of it highly relevant to my interests…

Items that look like packages of flower/plant seeds stand upright on a long-stretched patch of grass. The one closest to us is called 'Biodiversität' - German for 'Biodiversity'. The image on the package shows part of a tattooed male's torso, with the word SORCERER scratched into his back. Behind the man, seemingly dead bodies hang from a tree, suspended by their hair or nooses.A slick-looking advertising poster for a 'Conception Condom' shows two women on a white background. The woman on the left is holding a baby in her arms, the other holds her hand on her belly. The text asks, 'What if you could guarantee your child's genetic health?' with a picture of a purple condom. Underneath the poster is a touchscreen with further information on the condom, though the photo is too blurry to read the text.

And some of it very straight-forward, but no less effective for it. (Sorry for the awful quality of this; it was at a very weird angle, with a spotlight shining right at me.)

(Note: a description of this video is available on the YouTube page.)

So, all in all, a laudable message… which the tour guides seem to have missed entirely.

I was studying two side-by-side photos of people’s faces shortly after plastic surgery, still bandaged and heavily swollen and discoloured. Next to me, a tour guide showed around a small group of women. Of the photos, she said, “Look at how young these people are – yet they felt pressured into taking such drastic measures. Of course, it’s different if you’re actually, like, disfigured, like if you have a really weird nose or something…”



Fantasy, Identity, and Talent

Jan 03, 2010 11:25 pm
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Taking a short break from line editing (page 235 of 356!) to jot down a couple of thoughts I had, spurred on by reading N.K. Jemisin’s fabulous post at Orbit, Power and Privilege in Fantasy.

One thing struck me in particular: her point about special protagonists in fantasy often being special due to their heritage, rather than skill. This is particularly relevant to me right now since I’m neck-deep in edits on Always Read the Fae Print, which, as some of you will know, features an utterly non-magical character as the lead. Her parents, and much of her extended family, have powers of various sorts. She doesn’t. At all. And it’s not easy on her.

For one, it means that her quest to save her dad depends on madd improvisation skillz and a really ugly bracelet, not any particular gift of hers. It doesn’t make it easy.

For another, it means she has a number of serious issues relating to the world she grew up in and her own identity.

Most of our identity, we’re born into. Our ethnicity, our sexuality, our gender, and often, our physical/mental ability. All of these are unique in their own way; most people are raised among others of their own ethnicity. (Note: I say ‘most’, because there are obvious complications here in terms of mixed-race families and adoption.) With sexuality and ability, it becomes more complicated, as that’s something you’re born into, but you’re not necessarily raised among people who share that identity.

Often, magic abilities fall into one of those categories: either it’s inherited, or it’s something they’re simply born with – even if the character doesn’t discover their abilities until a later age.

Rarely, they acquire it later. Similar to, say, acquired disabilities, a character may be bitten by a werewolf or vampire, or be cursed/blessed with abilities, or simply work hard and hone a particular skill.

I find all these differences fascinating. I drew a lot from my own experiences in the hopes of making my protagonist’s feelings regarding these issues realistic. Why, as a child, she wanted nothing more than to be like her parents. Why she later rejected that aspect of her life to live as what she is: human. Why she recoiled every time her mother wanted to help her with a spell. As a human, she has clear disadvantages to various magical family members – but human is what she is, and no matter her struggles, she accepts that and, eventually, is proud of it. It’s just as much a part of her as being American is, or Venezuelan, or German, or female, or straight, and nobody would expect her to change – or want to change – those things, even if they have drawbacks.

Her family just doesn’t always get that. (Which sounds awfully familiar to a lot of those other identities.)

How we identify is such a huge part of our lives that I’d love to see fantasy taking advantage of these similarities more often.

A related issue that likely doesn’t deserve its own post:

What I can’t help but wonder is where the line is drawn. When does something go from “learned skill” to “magical ability”? To use one example, in Always Read the Fae Print is a character, Merel, who works her ass off to become a witch, and succeeds because she simply has the talent. Others who worked just as hard and did the exact same things wouldn’t necessarily succeed. Is that inborn magical ability? Or is that hard work? Which of those would make her character ‘special’? What about Lillian, who has no magical abilities, but spent her lifetime learning as much as humanly possible about magic, and thrives in that world despite her eventual distaste for it?

Is it about drive, not ability? What about those of us who have the drive, but not necessarily ability? And vice versa? Or if you have both but something else holds you back? If someone is a fabulously skilled artist without putting any effort into their work, are they more or less of an artist than someone who works at it day in, day out, and produces work of a similar quality? When do we admire the person’s efforts and struggles and drive and when is the end result relevant?

Olympic athletes spend their lifetimes becoming the best at what they do, but if hard work alone gets you to the top, they wouldn’t be as special. No doubt hard work makes up 90% of it, but there must be talent involved, otherwise every random schmuck of the streets could be the next Michelangelo or Joe DiMaggio or Michael Jackson. Does talent make it unfair to other people who work just as hard? Why are magical abilities any different from our own random talents? If magical ability enables someone to, say, participate in the Olympics, would that be unethical? Why would that be different than some wildly talented – but not magical – athlete participating?

There’s so much overlap here and added complications and differences that this post could be another ten pages long, I’m sure, but in the end, I don’t have any particularly fascinating insight to offer. I just think these are intriguing issues that can be explored endlessly, especially in fantasy fiction, and I needed to get them out of my mind and on paper somewhere. Or on the screen, as it is.

On that note, if any of you have any recommendations for (speculative) books that deal with the above issues, do let me know.


I Will Never Ever Get Tired Of The Phrase “Angry Unicorns”

Oct 29, 2009 10:10 am
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The Actually Quite Mellow Plugging
Some quick linkage before I dive into the art-heavy, writing-lite post:
* K.V. Taylor is hosting a contest at her blog – only one more day to enter! Talk about your favourite atrocious-yet-lovable character and win cool stuff, such as:
* A copy of Grants Pass, a truly nifty post-apocalyptic anthology from Morrigan Books with a concept to die for.

The Angry Unicorns
I thought that with all the focus on writing WIPs in the form of WIP Wednesdays, I thought I’d do a one-time-only WIP Thursday and show my art process in the form of a bunch of WIP shots.

After months of on-and-off work – mostly off, to my shame – I finally finished a commission for Pam Noles. Check it out:

Why The Unicorns Are Angry
Back in May, there was a not-so-minor kerfuffle dubbed MammothFail ’09, which resulted in a well-intentioned white SF author implying that, before the advent of the Internet, there were no non-white SF/F fans. This ties in to a more common belief that they don’t exist, period. Tired of being constantly rendered invisible, someone on LiveJournal started the wild unicorn check-in, asking people who identify as a PoC/non-white fan of colour to make themselves known.

(As a minor aside: this post was in May. People are still commenting.)

Pam Noles mentioned on it in her blog, suggesting people take that phrase and run with it. The word was spread over a couple of other blogs, I was intrigued by the concept and interested in helping out, and doodled up the sketch to the right.

Pam came across it, dug it, and shot me an e-mail commissioning me to finish it. The rest is history (and described below).

How The Angry Unicorns Came To Be
First, I focused on refining the orcs. I enlarged the file and sketched over it on a new layer, adding details and fixing the poses where necessary. The orc on the left (our left) needed the most work – I drew the original sketch without putting an awful lot of thought into it, and now it was time to wonder exactly how someone would ride a horse an angry unicorn. The leg worked all right; the arm and head did not. The right orc was equally stiff-looking in the first picture – what I fixed was the leg (which was drawn up awkwardly initially) and the arm (which needed more foreshortening as well as a prominent hand).

At this point, I only used reference for the orcs’ hands, as well as their designs, which were tossed together haphazardly based on Lord of the Rings merchandise and screenshots.

Next, I worked on roughly sketching out the unicorns – more detailed in the front, then fading into the background. I also started outlining on a new layer.

(In case you’re interested – the background colour is there because the standard white background is very annoying to work on. Staring at that brightness and contrast for so long can really hurt your eyes.)

I kept on outlining, and added another unicorn in the middle. The outlines of the front-and-centre unicorns are thicker than those of the others to give the illusion of closeness. Here’s what it looked like without the sketch:

(Note: none of these insets are actual size. I worked on a 10,000×10,000 pixel canvas for this piece. That’s 85x85cm, about 33.5×33.5″.)

This was in August. Pam posted a slightly different version on her blog, which included a lighter background so the lines would be easier to see, and the sketch versions of some unicorns I hadn’t outlined yet.

At this point, there’s a pretty large gap in WIP versions. I finished outlining and started flatting – in other words, colouring on a layer positioned underneath. Because the line-art was all on different layers, this was a pretty tough job, made even tougher by the fact I had no freakin’ idea how to colour it.

Unicorns are traditionally white, which also worked with the picture as I originally conceived it, which has them fading into a big ol’ mass of white in the background, with only minimal outlines. Of course, due to the story behind this picture, it would make an awful lot of sense if the unicorns were anything but white – as they are in other wild-unicorn-herd-inspired art. I shot an e-mail to Pam asking her preference, she said she had none, and so I went ahead with how I’d originally envisioned it.

Unicorns problem solved.

This left the orcs – and at this point it became abundantly clear how little experience colouring I had. The orcs, who wear traditionally dark, grey/brown colours, were incredibly prominent in front of an all-white background of unicorns. (Going with the alternative of brown unicorns wouldn’t have worked, either – that’d just have reversed the problem and made the orcs much harder to pick out.) On top of that, all those desaturated shades made the picture look awfully plain.

I played with the colours, saturating and desaturating them, darkening and lightening, upping and lowering the contrast… it took a while before I found a compromise I was happy with. Neither of the above problems are solved, but they’re minimised.

Without any details filled in, this was the picture at that point -

(This time, the inset is actual size.)

The background is obscenely bright because that made it easier to spot when I missed colouring a few pixels. As an aside, to help with that same contract and to make clear which layers some of the mane/tail colours shared, they were originally bright shades of green, red and one other other absurdly bright colour I don’t remember. It had a certain charm, I must say.

For part deux of this rapidly growing post, in which I actually fool myself into thinking I finished this thing early, check back tomorrow.


The Outer Alliance

Aug 31, 2009 11:15 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I try not to post about these things too much, since the focus of this blog is on my writing and art, not about my personal and political views. Sometimes, though, the latter informs the former and one finds oneself with sudden blog material.

As it happens, I try to be very aware of minority issues in both Real Life™ and pop culture, such as homophobia, sexism, racism, ablism… all that not-so-good stuff. This is a recent interest – I only started going out of my way to look into these issues in the past year or so, and in that year, I learned enough to want to whack my old self around the head a couple of times for being so incredibly obtuse.

My MO usually comes down to staying quiet, observing and learning, but I’m making an exception in the case of the Outer Alliance, a group that was set up only two weeks ago in response to certain unpleasant events in SF/F fandom that really need no repetition here. The group’s mission statement is as follows:

As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.

In my own writing, that translates to don’t be a jerk, which is always solid advice.

So, today is Pride Day, which basically comes down to people talking about the Outer Alliance, posting the creed above, and sharing a snippet of their own fiction with queer elements or talking about how it features in their work. Although I feature queer characters in both my novels to date, it’s only explicitly stated once, and that’s with a side character. The sexualities of the main characters is hinted at, but not outright stated or explored, simply because it didn’t fit in those books.

Come November, I’ll likely be writing the sequel to Always Read the Fae Print, which will have a different narrator than the first book – one who’s gay and still coming to terms with it. For someone who identifies as queer herself but never actually struggled with it in any way (I just kind of shrugged one day and went, “All right then”), I’m definitely looking forward to exploring that aspect of his character more – as well as the rest of the character, as his role in the first book wasn’t as significant as I wanted it to be.

But I don’t really have much to say about that, nor do I have any snippets to share, ’cause well, the book isn’t written yet.

Instead, I’ll talk about how queer elements feature in my own work.

For those who don’t know, I come from a fandom background. I only wrote a couple of fanfiction stories, though: most of my writing took place in RPGs. Yes, I’m that much of a nerd. (Maybe some other day I’ll talk about how text-based RPing informed my character creation and fueled my major issues with description and pacing, but… that’ll be another day.) Nearly all of my fandom experience revolved around canon characters.

As it turned out, I am a complete stickler for canon. This means I researched my characters to an insane amount, psycho-analysed the heck out of them and got twitchy whenever people took too many liberties with their own characters for my tastes. (My issue, not theirs. At all.)

This also means that, unlike a lot of fandom, I was never much into slash. After all, ninety percent of slash fandom is based on characters who are shown to be heterosexual in the canon material. Changing that – especially when it came to characters who’d been around for decades and decades – never sat right with me. In similar ways, I stuck close to the character’s canon history when it was established, and rarely took much of an interest in pairings that didn’t occur in the canon material. (It happened on occasion. Similarly, sometimes characters established as straight turned out to be bi in my head. In neither case was it something I purposefully set out to do.)

As a result, I was sometimes one of the few writers in the groups I interacted with who had a completely straight cast of characters. That doesn’t mean I never wrote queer characters: when they were queer in canon, I wrote them as such. (I had a particularly lovely time with Ultimate Colossus, though I also wrote various interpretations of Karma, both characters from the X-Men comics. Yes, nerd, moving on…)

The point is, in my years in fandom, I got used to writing straight characters because that’s what canon provided me with. The same fandom experience offered such an overwhelming amount of queer characters to balance things out that I never felt too bad about it, either.

And then I entered the world of original fiction and merrily continued on the same path, initially without realising that this world isn’t quite as balanced in terms of sexual orientation as either the real world or the world of fanfiction. Not even a little bit. (Both original fiction and fanfiction are still completely out of balance when it comes to matters of sexual identification, though, which is an interesting topic all its own, as are fandom’s frequent issues with gender issues in a world supposedly idealised in that aspect… Okay, definitely getting off-topic here.)

It took me a couple of months to realise that for all my support of queer-positive goals, I wasn’t doing a heck of a lot to aid the cause, so to say. It took me a couple months more to realise just how very, very necessary it was that I do – that anyone who feels the same way and has the opportunity should.

That’s just one completely silly example of how even someone who identifies as queer and supports queer-positive goals can be utterly neglectful when it comes to combatting the same unequal representation they so loudly proclaim to despise.

These days, I understand better why people take liberties with canon material: it’s often flawed.

So now that I’m creating my own canon? I try not to be a jerk.

(As an unimportant sidenote: I use the word queer here because that’s what’s in the mission statement of the Outer Alliance. I more often use LGBT because that’s what I’m used to and because it’s a less loaded term, but I understand and appreciate the inclusiveness and flow of the term queer.)

(Yes, I will try to get back to regular blog updates soon. Promise.)