Tag Archives: sci-fi/fantasy

Kwanzaa, Day 6: Kuumba (Creativity)

Myth 150Habari gani, brothers and sisters?

Today is the last day of 2017, and to say it’s been an interesting year is a small understatement. But we’ve made it! We’re about to enter 2018, a year full of new possibilities and problems that will require us to be united, self-aware, diligent, cooperative, and purposeful to solve. The issues we face next year will be a lot of the same old stuff — but cloaked in different wrappers that might be hard to see through. I’m confident, though, that we’ll not only survive the next year, but thrive. We are strong, adaptable people. A big reason for this is my favorite principle of the Nguzo Saba — Kuumba, or Creativity.

Africa is a land rich in stories. From the folk tales handed down verbally through generations of families, to the poems, songs, novels and other stories presented through the kaleidoscope of the diaspora experience, we’ve contributed much to humanity’s creative expression. So many things that have become the bedrock of the American pop art culture find their roots within us, from jazz to dance to rock and roll to historical fiction to genre fiction to science. Our ingenuity and ability to thrive despite great difficulty and limitations is one of our best traits, and I’m excited to honor the work our ancestors put in to make creativity such a huge part of our cultural heritage.

As a writer, I come from a long line of African-Americans who have done amazing work providing a vital perspective on our cultural experience. James Baldwin seamlessly blended his thoughts on being a black man in America through both novels and essays, not only discussing issues of race, but of the complexities of being gay and bisexual; Langston Hughes was one of the foremost names in the Harlem Renaissance, along with Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen and Wallace Thurman; Ralph Ellison spoke about how both external and internal cultural pressure can render a person invisible in Invisible Man; Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney opened the doors of science fiction and fantasy, and Tananarive Due, N.K. Jemisin, Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, Daniel Jose Older and Terrence Wiggins all keep up the work of carving out a space for black people there. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ava DuVernay, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Christopher Priest, Dwayne McDuffie, Evan Narcisse, and so, SO MANY others have all contributed outstanding work to the creative American canon. The list really is too long to name properly.

And that’s just talking about writing. The Black American contribution to popular music is even longer, going back to the old spirituals of the slavery-era South and coming through today with the dominance of rap and hip-hop on the charts today. We’ve made great art, sculptures, jewelry, dances, claimed new media and technology as forms of self-expression with Vine, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms; we’ve put creative energy into protest as well, thinking of new ways to engage with the problems plaguing the black community. Black Twitter, which is one of my absolute favorite things ever, is a giant messy digital town square where we boost calls for help or action; talk about music, movies, TV and books; highlight issues of representation in media and entertainment; and clap back on folks messing with us and ours in hilarious ways.

Our vast cultural heritage of creativity is one of our best features. We can capture the complicated, difficult feeling of our experience in powerfully moving works through whatever medium we choose. We inspire hope and change through song and story; we make sure our collective struggle is remembered through the essays and personal writing of those who’ve lived through it. In our hearts, there is wit and passion and the unwavering strength of our birthright. As long as we tap into that, there’s always a way out of the thicket.

We’ve taken such great strides with entertainment over the past couple of years, and 2018 is looking to be even more amazing. Moonlight, a film about an inner-city black man struggling with his sexual orientation, won the Best Picture Oscar this year with a black director, screenwriter, and actors — it was based on a semi-autobiographical story from a gay black man. On TV, black men won Best Leading Actor Emmys in the Drama, Comedy AND Limited Series/Movie categories while Blackish, Queen Sugar, and Empire made sure a wide variety of black characters were seen on screen. Black people killed it in comics this year while the industry at large took a number of questionable choices through their summer events — but it didn’t stop Ta-Nehisi Coates, David Walker, Christopher Priest, Roxane Gay, and others from turning in amazing work. In 2018, Black Panther is set to hit the big time in the MCU while Miles Morales is headlining his own animated movie.

I don’t think there’s ever been a better time for black creativity. The Internet has given us an amazing platform to connect and amplify each other’s work, and so many formerly isolated pockets are learning to come back into the community with unique experiences and perspectives. Personally, learning about Afrofuturism has been a revelation and my own personal vehicle for coming back to my roots. Telling solarpunk, urban fantasy, and anthro-animal stories is a powerful way for me to make sense of my history, identity, and feelings about where we are as a culture, as a country, as human beings. I’m looking forward to using my voice and refining my craft next year, fully living the principle of Kuumba.

There are few places where black excellence is more evident than in our creative endeavors. If possible, I invite you to think about all of your favorite stories, movies, TV, songs, art, poetry and non-fiction; think about the people of color who have had a hand in them. If you’re curious about what person-of-color-centered creative work to dive into, let me know a medium and/or genre, and give me a few examples of your own personal favorites. I’d be more than glad to recommend something to you.

Happy New Year, all of you. See you in 2018!


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Notes From the Field: Sasquan 2015

Fandom 150The 73rd annual Worldcon was held this weekend in Spokane, WA at Sasquan 2015 and I showed up with a small posse of furry writers — Kyell Gold and my husband Ryan. It was an intense weekend; I met so many great writers and community members out there, made a few new friends, bought over a dozen books and attended panels that felt like revelations about the state of the sci-fi/fantasy fandom and my place in it. I’m still absorbing everything I’ve taken in through the convention — there are so many ideas I still have to take the time to understand properly and incorporate into my personal experience — but I wanted to talk about it here as soon as I could.

So, Worldcon works like this: it’s actually a bit of a roving convention, where different cities/conventions put in bids and those attending vote on the site that will get to host in two years. Spokane was chosen as the site for Worldcon in 2013; Kansas City (MidAmeriCon) was chosen in 2014 to host next year; and Helsinki, Finland won its bid to host in 2017 this year. I love this process, because it insures that Worldcon attendees are exposed to different flavors of fandom from year to year. Sasquan really went out of its way to highlight local fans and authors, and held panels on local myth and legends. Kansas City will do the same next year, I’m sure — and the guests of honor for Worldcon 75 feature active writers and artists based in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe.

This was my first Worldcon, and one of my first conventions in the broader sci-fi/fantasy space. The attendees were friendly, chatty, smart and open. I was pretty forthcoming about my fur, and most people didn’t seem to mind — a lot of folks personally knew furries and were totally cool about it. I know that furries have been roundly rejected by the SFF fandom before, but maybe it’s time for reconciliation; as long as we know how to take the temperature of the group we’re in and don’t shove folks into the deep end of the pool right away, I think most folks in the community are perfectly willing to accept our corner of it.

I got to meet so many wonderful people — established writers, up-and-comers, fans of all stripes and backgrounds. I wanted to give shout-outs to the folks who blew my mind especially, and who I’m really excited about reading more from now that the convention is over.

Ajani Brown is a professor at San Diego State University who gave a panel on Afro-Futurism in music and comics; his discussion on the basics and history of the movement just blew me away, and gave me a ton of places to look into so I can learn more about it. Mark Oshiro was the moderator of a “Visible Diversity in SF” panel and rocked my socks off — he talked about personal experiences with racism and homophobia, and offered insightful questions that kept the conversation productive and focused. Arthur Chu is a Jeopardy! champion that has used that experience to become a witty and wonderful voice in the fandom; he was also on the Diversity in SF panel. Cheryce Clayton is a Native American ghostwriter who has only recently started speaking about her work and experiences, and I’m so excited to see what else she comes out with.

Of course, one of the biggest highlights of the con was getting to hang out with Annie Bellet. Her short story “Goodnight Stars” was nominated for a Hugo, but she withdrew because her nomination had been corrupted by the Sad Puppies slate. She took a principled stand about the awards being about the work above all, and though her first experience with the Hugos was unquestionably sad, i have no doubt that she’ll be back in the mix. She’s just too good.

I got to meet Tananarive Due as well! She’s an amazing writer and so full of warmth and enthusiasm. She screened a short film called “Danger Word” at the convention, and talked at length about the vibrancy of short film in the SF/F space, the difficulties of putting something like this together, and the concept of “black horror” — thrilling tales that are rooted strongly in African-American culture, fears and concerns. There’s nothing really like that out there, but I’d love to imagine what it looks like or even take a crack at developing a story there. Another one for the pile, I suppose.

Jen Foehner Wells was another great friend to make! She’s been killing it on the self-publishing front, and listening to her talk about her craft and business was illuminating. She’s so smart, and focused, and intensely friendly! It’s really easy to love here and I can’t wait to read her book.

And finally, meeting Monica Villasenor was probably the best thing to happen all convention. She’s SO passionate, and our experiences and goals sync up so well. She was so amazing to talk to, and she has so many great ideas, and she’s so dedicated and hard-working. I’m just in love with her. I cannot WAIT to get to work on the goals we’ve set for ourselves through next Worldcon, and I am so looking forward to having a drink to celebrate our success in Kansas City next year.

There are so many great writers and fans out there, who are so passionate about what they love and so encouraging to others so they can pursue what they love. Coming out of Worldcon, I feel fully invested in the sci-fi/fantasy fandom, fully comfortable with my background in the furry fandom, and so excited to incorporate new and exciting ideas into my life and work.

There is so much more to read and learn, so much more to write and discuss, so much more to do. It’s just a matter of focusing the rocket fuel I’ve gathered over the weekend and making my calculations for the best trajectory. I have designs on where I want to be by Worldcon 2016, and a lot of work to do in order to get there.

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Posted by on August 24, 2015 in Better Living Through Stories, Reading, Writing


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Book Review: The End is Nigh

Reading 150The End is Nigh (The Apocalypse Triptych, Book 1)
Edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey

My love of all things apocalyptic doesn’t know many bounds; chances are, if there’s the whiff of the end of days surrounding a project, I’ll at least have to give it a look. This has lead me astray in a few cases, especially once we got more and more apocalyptic projects off the ground (I’m looking at you, Revolution), but generally there’s always something worthwhile in apocalyptic work. Either we’re looking at the breakdown of society, revealing our relationship with it through that deconstruction; or we’re uncovering something surprising about us as people as traits emerge free from the binding of societal expectation. Really great apocalyptic fiction strips down complications to get to something fundamental, essential; they tell us what lies underneath all of us when you clear away everything that puts us into the positions we’re in.

When I heard about the Apocalypse Triptych, I was really excited. Not only do we get a great set of stories about a host of different apocalyptic scenarios, but we get a bunch of authors taking the scenario three each phase of the end: the tipping point where a problem spirals out of control; the point where civilization loses its fight against this threat; and what happens afterward, when the dust has settled and the survivors look out over an unrecognizable world. The triptych collection contains a collection of triptych stories, which I certainly haven’t seen done before.

The End is Nigh is the first collection in the series, focusing on the discovery of the threat to civilization. The threats range from the relatively common, like the impending asteroid in Jake Kerr’s “Wedding Day” or the disease apocalypse of “Removal Order” by Tananarive Due, to the truly weird — like the mass suicide depicted in “BRING HER TO ME” by Ben H. Winters or the slow but steady removal of our atmosphere in “Houses Without Air” by Megan Arkenberg. But whatever the cause of our demise, each of the 22 stories brings something new to the end. None of the stories ever feel like a retread of something we’ve seen before, even when dealing with well-worn tropes in the apocalyptic sub-genre.

Take “Wedding Day” for example. Kerr centers the tale around a couple who want nothing more than to get married before the asteroid hits, even though it might mean one person might have to give up her ticket to have a fighting chance in a shelter. The already-engrossing story edges towards the political, as the couple in question are lesbians who are caught in a sort of legal twilight that never had time to get sorted. It’s heartbreaking to see these two stuck where they are, all forward momentum stopped by society crumbling around them. Had they been married, one ticket would have saved both of them or some other arrangement could have been made. As it stands, the nature of their relationship makes things exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

In the bio-apocalypse of “Removal Order,” Due’s protagonist is a young black girl who’s trying to take care of her cancer-stricken grandmother as the medical system falters under the strain of an epidemic ravaging the neighborhood. So often we see these apocalypses through the eyes of people in positions of power who are either able to fight the inevitable or connected enough to escape it. Due’s tale reminds us of all the people who are screaming and dying in the background, those who don’t necessarily have a chance. It’s fascinating to see the familiar landscape of medical disintegration through those eyes.

The diversity of the protagonists aren’t all outright political; in “Spores” by Seanan MacGuire, the same-sex relationship is treated as normal, almost incidental, and the focus is instead on our hero’s struggle to deal with her obsessive-compulsive disorder during the first bloom of a killer that will quickly spiral out of control. Ken Liu’s “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” features an Asian family struggling to deal with the death of their father, and “Heaven is a Place on Planet X” by Desirina Boskovich sees the end through the eyes of a woman in a place of power over others, but still helpless in the face of what’s coming.

Even zombies get an intriguing twist. In “Agent Unknown” by David Wellington, a member of the CDC tracks down the spread of an illness that seems to make its victims hyper-violent, mindless killers. The answer to the riddle is effectively chilling, and sets the table for the inevitability of the fall of mankind. Almost every story here is a winner, particularly if you’re read a lot of apocalyptic fiction; either the cause of the end is scene through eyes that make it new again, or the mechanism for the destruction is so strange you have to wonder how they were even thought of.

The result is a collection of stories that are consistently surprising, engaging and tense. Some of them are clearly setting up for a continuation of the story in later volumes, so they don’t so much end as stop — “The Fifth Day of Deer Camp” in particular feels like an incomplete story, while “BRING HER TO ME” ends in a place that makes you impatient to continue the tale. “Break! Break! Break!” by Charlie Jane Anders is strange and full of energy, but by the time the story ends you’re left wondering if it even counts as pre-apocalyptic at all. These are all definitely worth reading, but it’s clear the structure has suffered in the attempt to break up the tale into three distinct parts.

Even still, the creativity on display in The End is Nigh is well worth the price of admission; I’m really looking forward to seeing how these stories continue and discussing the best, most frightening scenarios with people. If you’re looking for a mix of end-of-the-world stories that are challenging, involving and decidedly left-of-center, then this is the collection for you.

Interested in buying The End is Nigh? Go to the homepage for John Joseph Adams to get it in trade paperback or a variety of e-book formats!

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Posted by on October 1, 2014 in Novels, Reading, Reviews


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What I Learned from the 2014 Clarion Write-A-Thon

Writing 150As I’m sure most of you know by now I participated in the Clarion Write-a-Thon this year with the aim of writing 50,000 words between June 22nd and August 2nd of this year. I’m pleased to announce that I hit my goal (with about 100 words to spare) and raised $600 for the Clarion Workshop, thanks to your help! I really appreciate the generosity of everyone who donated and the support of my friends to keep me motivated and writing. I feel tremendous about being able to hit my word count, and contributing to Clarion in my own way.

I managed to finish three short stories through the Write-A-Thon; I wrote “chapters” to two other short stories and made it pretty deeply into one more. The three finished stories have been put into a drawer where they will next see the light of day only when I’m ready to face the ugly lump of clay I vomited up onto paper. It’ll be exciting, actually — a little time capsule I’ve sent to some future self of the things that interested me months ago. I’m sure I’ll scarcely recognize the writing as mine, for better or for worse.

The “chapters” of the other two stories are up and around the Internet in various haunts, and I plan on collecting and editing those too, once I have enough. It’s a bit more collaborative in nature than straight single-teller fiction, but I doubt there’ll be too many people following my thread. The sixth story that I was writing will be finished and sent off to the person who commissioned it; once that’s been approved and edited, that will end up in other places as well.

I’ve learned quite a bit about my writing process over the summer — it’s hard to write 50,000 words in six weeks and not learn a thing or two about the way you write. The experience has given me the confidence to move forward, while letting me know at the same time that there’s so much more work to be done before I feel like I’m in the same league with the other folks in my writing group, or the people I’ve been fortunate enough to rub elbows with recently. And that’s fine — I like knowing where I’m at, and looking forward to getting better. If nothing else, the Write-a-Thon has shown me that I’m willing to put in the work to do so.

Here are a few of the other things I’ve learned:

I need to read a WHOLE. LOT. MORE. Seriously, there are so many great stories out there being told by an astonishingly vast galaxy of writers with a dizzying breadth of experiences, interests and perspectives. At the same time, there are so many classic stories that I haven’t been exposed to waiting for me to pick up. This is not just true for the sci-fi/fantasy genre — there are a number of black writers I need to visit and revisit, and furry fiction has an interesting history to be mined. A lot of these stories and perspectives will speak to me personally, and a lot more will challenge me from a perspective that I will never quite meet. But it’s all engaging, and exciting, and in order to become a better writer (and a more complete person) I seriously need to get started on all this wonderful stuff that I’ve been neglecting.

I write truly shity first drafts. But that’s OK! I think that being among the writers I talk with has given me weird expectations about my own fiction and process. Ryan is especially lucky in that his first drafts are pretty close to what he submits as a final draft — he has a great way with language, a wonderful wit and sense of humor that translates well to the page. I watch him write, and I think that it should be that easy for me, too — when I sit down, I should be writing near to my finished draft, with only a few minor tweaks here and there.

But that’s just not me. I write long and dirty, with lots of asides and muddled ideas that only bubble up to the surface once I’ve taken a step back and seen it from the long view. Writing first drafts are like digging holes in the weeds, hoping that you’re getting the good, strange stuff you’re striving for. I tend to work extremely close in, paying attention to small details, with not that much regard for how they flow together. Editing, for me, is going to be the process of elimination; clearing away the weeds to cultivate the landscape I know is there. That’s going to be scary, but exciting, and it’ll teach me to look at my writing in a whole new way. I’ll need to be critical, but encouraging. That’s not something I’ve been able to do with my own work, traditionally.

Pre-writing preparation makes telling the story so much easier. For the very long story that I’m still in the process of writing, I went through the trouble of breaking down scenes, themes and characters in Scrivener, and it really helped me to clarify what I wanted to do with it and exactly how to do it. I’ve been getting into the idea of project management lately, and the art there is to take this huge thing and break it down into chunks that allow you to put your nose to the grindstone confident in the knowledge that these small details fit a larger vision in a specific way. I know that a lot of people will just sit down and wing it with their stories, and work magic right off the top of their head. That’s great; I wish I could do that, but I’m not that kind of writer. I need to have a map of where I’m going, if only to take a bit of the anxiety out of the journey.

It feels really good being down in the trenches with fellow writers. I had the extraordinary good luck of visiting Ryan while he was at Clarion this year, talking to his fellow students and the teachers that were there that week. They’re all AWESOME people, holy cats! I also had really great discussions with Kyell Gold and the folks at Sofawolf Press about the business of writing, and the more I learn the more I want in on all parts of it — not just being an author, but being an editor, a curator, a signal-booster, a member of the community. There’s a lot of weirdness and quirks and issues that need to be addressed, but now more than ever I’m convinced that sci-fi/fantasy writers are My People and I’d absolutely love to be among their number forever and ever, amen.

So there we go: I now know that I’m someone who needs a bit of structure in their writing to feel confident about what they’re doing; that my first draft is likely going to suck anyway, and I’ll need to revise heavily in my second draft; and that I’m ready to embrace the SFF community and all of its fiction.

Now I have an entirely too-large stack of books to pore through, so I’ll need to do that next. For now, I’d like to hear from you — what sort of writer do you see yourself as? Are you careful with your words right up front, or do you get it all out in a frenzy and pare it down later? I’m curious.


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Hey Furries, Meet Sci-Fi/Fantasy!

Fandom 150Further Confusion 2014 is in the record books now, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you it was a hell of a convention. There were nearly 3,600 attendees this year, and it felt like there was an unending parade of things to do, people to see and places to be. I had a tremendously fun time hanging out with new friends and old, getting to know quite a few people better, catching up with folks that I had fallen out of touch with, and learning more about the creative process. I really couldn’t have asked for a better con.

I was on a few panels over the course of the convention, and pimped out this blog at the end of most of them. So, if you’re new to the Writing Desk — welcome! I really appreciate you taking the time to check out my cozy little corner of the Internet. I’ll be talking about writing, storytelling, spirituality and personal development, movies and fiction here. Feel free to drop a comment if you see something you like and/or disagree with!

One of the panels I was on over the weekend was “Furry vs. the Mainstream,” which talked about what the fandom has to offer the broader sci-fi/fantasy community, how we got to be a bit estranged from it in the first place, and why the time is right to make a push for our place at the table. The fandom at its best is a wonderfully inclusive community with a broad range of voices, experiences and viewpoints. We’re just the type of fresh blood the SF/F community needs if it’s going to adapt to the times and thrive.

That being said, I do think it’s important we gain a better understanding of the people who make up the SF/F community and what they think. One way we can do that is by taking a look at the things that are popular in the genre right now. Who are winning the awards? Who regularly pops up as a guest of honor at conventions large and small? What sort of themes and settings are people talking about? What are the similarities and differences between the ideas that are being played with by the SF/F community and the furry community?

We should think about this so that we understand the situation we’re stepping into. That way, we can put our best foot forward as a group and work to repair years of bad publicity, stereotypes and assumptions. We should be prepared to answer pointed questions and talk about uncomfortable subjects. We should think of ourselves as diplomats from a misunderstood and exciting country. We should be proud to be who we are, and come from where we do. But we must also understand the objections other people might have, and be patient while we work them out. It may not be easy all the time, but it IS worth doing.

I promised some of the attendees of the panel that I would recommend a few short stories and websites so they could take a look at the broader community. Feel free to recommend your own resources in the comments!

io9 — This is the sci-fi/fantasy geek arm of the Gawker sites, and while your mileage may vary with the coverage and community there I’ve found it to be surprisingly smart and engaging. People can be snarky, but overall the editors of the site do a great job of signal-boosting both corporate and fan-made creations. Best of all, they regularly pay attention to the written word, sharing and broadcasting exciting novels and short stories from the genre.

Apex Magazine — A periodical featuring short stories and essays covering science-fiction, fantasy and horror. Great, wonderfully lyrical stories and essays that broach interesting topics I’ve never thought about abound here. Two authors with roots in the fandom have even been featured here — Tim Susman’s “Erzulie Dantor” was featured in the November 2012 issue and “Jackalope Wives” from Ursula Vernon was published in the January 2014 issue.

Tor Blog — A long-standing genre imprint that has published all manner of major names, Tor has a fantastic online community and blog that features posts from thoughtful writers and publishes short stories and novel excerpts that have been curated by the editors. It’s so easy to get lost here, and the variety is astonishing. You’re bound to find something you like, even if you have to do a little digging.

“It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby — Most people remember The Twilight Zone episode that came afterward, but the original short story from Jerome Bixby is a perfect little gem of strangeness and horror. Straightforward prose is peppered with evocative, descriptive language that heightens the mood wonderfully. One of my absolute favorites.

“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu — This is the first work of any length to sweep the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. It’s a wonderful modern-fantasy story that comes from the distinct experience of a Chinese-American person. “Mono no Aware” is also a great short story, marking Ken Liu as a powerful voice in the genre.

“Life in the Anthropocene” by Paul Di Filippo — A broader sci-fi short story that features a furry supporting character, this was the story I had talked about during the panel. It tells of a vastly different Earth than the one we’re used to, where humanity has moved to mega-cities at the poles of the planet post-ecocide. I wasn’t able to find it free online, I’m afraid, but the Kindle copy is only a dollar.

WorldCon — These guys put together the biggest science-fiction convention in the world, moving it from site to site (the upcoming one in August 2014 will be based in London) and its membership votes for the Hugo Awards. Even if you can’t show up to the convention, membership will help you keep your finger on the pulse of the science-fiction community.

DragonCon — These are the big dogs on the fantasy side of the coin, they cover everything from literature to costuming and every type of game you can imagine. The convention will be held in Atlanta this year, at the end of August. Even if you can’t go, browsing the site will give you a number of ideas about who the moves and shakers of the fantasy/geek scene might be.

I’ll reiterate what I said at the convention — these are all just jumping on points, and it’s quite easy to follow trails to get yourself more invested in the sci-fi/fantasy community. Just grab on to what interests you and follow where it leads. Be patient with stories, discover things that you really get excited by and see what’s related. Talk about these with your friends, and apply those things to your own creative, furry-specific endeavors. Cross-pollination not only benefits the bigger community, but ourselves as well!

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Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Furries, Pop Culture, Reading, Writing


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Playing Around with My Race Card

Myth 150Would you believe it if I told you that I ended up writing another review for The Bridge on the River Kwai meant to go up today? Luckily, I caught it in time and managed to keep it from going live. In order to make sure I have something to put up today, though, I thought I’d think out loud for a little bit instead. Top 100 reviews will continue next week with Sunset Blvd, which is a whopper of a movie.

One of the things I’d like to do with my writing for this year is open it up beyond furry fiction. To be honest I haven’t really read much in the way of sci-fi/fantasy stuff for a while now, and I’m just getting back into it after an extended absence. Maybe it’s because of whose recommendations I follow, or maybe it’s because of the market, but the landscape seems to be drastically different from what I remember. Before, sci-fi/fantasy was always about going somewhere else and having adventures. There were different worlds, advanced societies, alien cultures — or fantastic realms that people fell into through various means. Now, there seems to be much more focus on bringing the fantastic home with us; modern fantasy whispers to us about the supernatural lurking in the corners of our homes, in the alleys of our cities, right under our noses. Even the other worlds that we occasionally visit remind us of where we live with just a bit of top-spin.

What makes this interesting to me is the fact that there’s an unprecedented opportunity to spin our modern fantasy into all kinds of different cultures, something that a few people are already doing. Ken Liu’s “Paper Menagerie” won the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards in 2012, introducing us modern fantasy fiction with a Chinese influence. With the push for more diversity in genre fiction, I’m hoping this is the beginning of a wonderful trend — using fantastic elements to introduce the peculiarities, perspectives and wounds of minority cultures to a broader audience. It’s an amazing opportunity to use stories to foster a better understanding between folks like myself and, well, the “established” genre community, let’s say.

This is a trend I definitely want to be a part of, especially using anthropomorphic fiction to explore themes of race and culture, where your origin is an inextricable part of who you are no matter how much you try to leave it behind. It’s also an old wound of mind that never quite closed properly — when I think about my mother and my family back in Baltimore my heart beats fast and my chest gets tight, and I can never bring myself to reach out to them. Writing stories about where I come from under the mirror of sci-fi/fantasy forces me to think about and contextualize my own experience, putting it into a perspective that helps me to deal with it and explains to a lot of other people what it’s like to be a gay black Buddhist who grew up in inner-city Baltimore.

A lot of my flash fiction on the blog will probably come back to these themes as I noodle around with my history and mine it for stories. What about my experience is universal? What about it is unique? What’s worth sharing, and what needs to be ironed out before I throw it out there?

And what do you folks out there think? Is this an idea you’re curious about at least? Is this something you’d want to participate in a conversation about? What have you always wondered, but never had the opportunity to ask? More than anything, I see this as an opportunity to engage. And I welcome it.


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The AFI Top 100 Films: E.T. (#25)

Entertainment 150E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Starring Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore
Written by Melissa Mathison
Directed by Steven Spielberg

This movie was a surprise. When it was released it was an instant classic, and growing up in the 80s and early 90s it was impossible to miss all the spoofs and parodies that abounded afterwards. Over time, the cultural kruft starts to collect on your memory instead of the movie itself. I remember it being a little hokey, an example of Spielberg’s worst sentimental excesses that worked at the time but probably didn’t age too well.

I’m quite happy I was so wrong. E.T. is sentimental, sure, and it plays a few of its scenes with an inflated sense of how cute it’s being. But it’s also a really great movie about what it was like to be a child in the 80s, where it was becoming increasingly common for your parents to have checked out on your upbringing for a bit. What’s most impressive to me is how Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison present a broken home without any accusations; each of its characters, from Elliot’s mom (Wallace) to his sister (Barrymore) to his brother and his friends, are treated compassionately. You understand what it’s like to be each of them, and why they react the way they do.

Elliot is the middle child in a recently-broken home. His mother is working hard to keep the family afloat and mourning the death of her marriage. His older brother is being a bratty teenager, while his younger sister is…well, she’s his younger sister. Elliot himself doesn’t have many friends, and he tags along with his brother’s friends, taking mild abuse just to be a part of some sort of social order. He’s lonely, but there’s not much to be done about it. He is where he is, until he discovers the alien hiding in the tool shed of his backyard.

The friendship that’s forged is painstaking; Elliot and the alien (dubbed E.T.) have to overcome vast language and cultural barriers. But, through patience and persistence, it happens. All the while, E.T. is trying to find his way back to his home planet and he’s being tracked by government agents. Along the way, sister Gertie and brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) are let in on the secret, and the experience of befriending and helping this visitor brings them closer as a family.

It sounds hokey, and maybe it is; but it’s also surprisingly effective. The performances by the mostly young cast are so natural you completely forget that these are children acting in a movie. Even the modern-day wunderkinds on screen these days carry a bit of artifice with them; they’re just little adults playing a role. The establishing scenes in E.T. — of Elliot and Michael playing and fighting during a game of Dungeons and Dragons — are loud, chaotic, effortless. When I stop to think about it, it blows me away how quickly I identify with the world and these characters.

What’s interesting about the movie to me is how it takes Elliot and makes him such an unlikely hero; in so many ways he’s just a regular kid, but his ability to befriend (and even love) a creature as ugly and formless as this alien propels him to defy just about everyone he comes across to do what he believes is right. The stakes are small here, even though we’re dealing with history-making stuff; this is the story of first contact with another sentient species, framed as a children’s buddy movie, where the ultimate conflict is how far someone would go to save someone they care for.

E.T. takes this fantastic premise and rather quietly turns it into a very relatable story, infusing the movie with wonder and mundanity that works really well together. The score by John Williams captures the tone of every scene quite well, and Spielberg’s direction is warm and unobtrusive. Given the demands of making sure the puppetry and special effects work as well as they do here, it’s a small miracle that everything looks as smooth as it does. Spielberg works almost exclusively with the most finicky things you could in a movie, and pulls it off almost flawlessly.

He made his name on this, and for very good reason. This is a director’s movie, to be sure, but you can’t discount the great work here by Henry Thomas as Elliot or Drew Barrymore as Gertie. Thomas is unassuming but kind, curious, likable, and Barrymore is disarmingly cute without being cloying about it. If it’s been a while, I’d recommend seeing E.T. again; even though there are a few things that date it, it’s a welcome surprise to see just how well it holds up.

Rating: 9/10.

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Posted by on July 24, 2013 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews


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