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To Boldly Go July 28, 2014

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As a mother of a now 3-year-old daughter, I tend to watch a lot of movies aimed at young girls. And my daughter fits the trope perfectly – her favourite things are princesses, faeries, and My Little Pony. She more or less came into these interests on her own; I didn’t really let her watch movies or TV shows until this year, and when I let her sit in front of the TV, she has pretty strong opinions about what she wants to see. Yes, we might have been the ones to originally introduce her to these things and allow her to continue watching them, but I try to offer her a well-rounded selection to choose from. And I’ll admit it, I just don’t want to let her watch something I can’t stand.

Oh, sure, there are exceptions – she likes some gender-neutral things like Winnie the Pooh, she has seen and enjoyed Thomas the Tank Engine, she does have a particular interest in Disney’s Planes, and she loves watching me play Mario Kart – but primarily, she likes the girly things. In fact, when it comes to Mario Kart, she insists upon me playing a princess as driver.

I don’t think Disney princesses are bad role models. Nor do I want to try to mold her into liking the things I prefer; I would rather she decide on her own what she likes. (Yes, this means I do not believe that putting Star Wars or Firefly costumes on kids far too young to be watching those is “parenting done right.”) But after watching so many of these movies and shows targeted to young girls, I find myself yearning for some variety. Why can’t we have a simplistic, kid-friendly story with a happy ending that takes place in present day, or the future?

So the bug bit me. I want to write one. I want to write a middle grade or younger story about a space princess. Or something like that. I want the main character to be female, because there’s not enough of that out there and I want it to be someone my daughter can relate to, and I want her to be independent and the hero, but not at the expense of her femininity. I want little girls like my daughter to read/hear this story and think that girls can do anything.

But beyond that, I didn’t know where to start. I got stuck trying to think of the theme or message of the story. I don’t want it to be about the girl learning that she can do anything, because then the conflict would center around the assertion that she can’t, which is not the message I want to send. But then, what should the theme be? I tried looking to my daughter for inspiration, but – fortunately for her and unfortunately for the sake of a story – I just don’t see any problems in her that might help to be resolved through another medium. Maybe I’m just overthinking things, but as someone who tends toward dark endings, complicated conflicts, and villains that are more grey than black, a story like this is quite a leap.

Then, my daughter gave me an idea in another way. I was listening to music and she asked me what song was playing, as she tends to do. It was an arrangement of a track from the Metroid video games. I immediately saw this as an opportunity. I showed her one of my Metroid game cases and told her about Samus Aran, fearless and strong warrior for justice in space – and female.

And I was overthinking things, because that’s all I need for this story: a space heroine. I’ll just go to a new galaxy and let the girl save the day. The rest is just details.

It’s still going to be quite a challenge for me to write, especially if I want a story I can read to my daughter. But just as I believe there’s too much stagnancy in speculative fiction for adults, I think too many kids’ stories are the same, and the best way I can combat that is to write something new.

Do you ever want to destroy the world? June 17, 2014

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I love superhero movies. I love the excitement, the escapism, the larger-than-life-ness, the sheer drama of them. And I really love superhero movies in which rather than trying to bring a fictional world to life, they make it seem like it really happens in our world. To an extent, of course; I wouldn’t be a fan of superhero stories if I couldn’t suspend a little disbelief.

Another thing I like about superhero movies is that the stakes are always very high. Of course; that’s what makes it a superhero story. In a story like that, one can cause incalculable, irreparable, and frankly pretty improbable damage to civilization or the world itself. That’s what makes it so dramatic, especially if it happens in the very world we live in.

The stakes are always high in fiction. The conflict might not be – will the boy get the girl? – but the risk defines the story – she’s all he ever wanted throughout his high school years, even when she went out with that bullying jock. It’s not dramatic unless it has a big impact. But the scale of that impact varies enormously. Millions of lives could rest on the actions of the protagonists, or just the main character’s feelings.

I’ve never been very comfortable working on a grand scale. I suppose writing fantasy is a bit of a cop-out that way, since I am only affecting imaginary worlds. But even inside my own worlds, I generally prefer to avoid working with those in the most power – kings, lords, etc. The stakes are still high, often world-changing, but the characters who directly resolve the main conflict are generally people who have little or no other influence over the world.

I’m equally (or perhaps doubly) uncomfortable with impacting the real world. That’s why my novel Halcyon, which takes place on Earth, still occurs in an invented city. I don’t feel like I know enough about real places to set stories there, not even places I’ve lived for years. Perhaps if I was writing some kind of novelization of my own life, I might be able to, but the characters in my stories don’t live my life and therefore don’t necessarily or usually live or go to the same places.

This is the part where research should come in, but the fact is no amount of research will make me feel comfortable with writing things that happen on Earth. And trying to write stories that take place on Earth and involve people of power? Hold the phone.

But I read books that take place on Earth and I love how real they feel. They can change so much about the world, even change the course of history, but because it’s the place where we live it feels more believable. I’d like to try it sometime, but it’s going to take some working up to it.

In the meantime, I’ll stick with my magic and dragons and just watch superhero movies.

Enduring Chaos: Trailer June 9, 2014

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The much anticipated trailer for my latest novel, Enduring Chaos, is live:

If you like it, please favourite, share, subscribe to the channel, and please spread the word! Huge thanks to the amazing cast of people who helped make this film a reality.

June update June 2, 2014

Posted by thejinx in conventions, enduring chaos.
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Summer is filling up fast and I am looking forward to getting out to many events this season with my books. Before I get to that, though, I’d like to share a gorgeous portrait of Damian, the star of Enduring Chaos, drawn by the very talented Chris Babarik:

damian-babarik

Huge thanks to Chris for such a lovely drawing.

And now, my schedule for the next few months (so far):

Hope to see you at one of these events this summer/fall.

Also, I’ll let you guys in on a secret – the trailer for Enduring Chaos that so many of you so generously contributed to help make a reality? It’s finally going to be released within the week. Stay tuned.

Looking on the bright side May 27, 2014

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I tend to dwell on negative feedback. I know it is unhealthy, and I certainly don’t like it, but for some reason, I can’t set it aside easily. Maybe it is just me, or maybe it is part of the human condition. I am sure a lot can be said on this topic.

But that isn’t the point of this post. Sometimes, it’s nice just to focus on the positive.

I do get positive feedback on my writing, a bit more than negative, and occasionally, I get a comment that completely validates my efforts. I have been working on a short story for an anthology to be released at Gen Con this year – gamer folks, I hope to see you there! – and I sent it out to a few beta readers a week and a half ago.

One of the readers gave me excellent feedback, complimentary as well as critical. Among the comments was a basic description of each character in the story by the reader, as ascertained from the characters’ dialogue and actions in the text (exclusively, since I particularly tried to avoid “telling” in this piece). And it was bang on. Every description perfectly described the characters as I had developed them for this short, which tells me that I portrayed them exactly as I should have.

It might be a small thing and not a glowing review of the story, but for a writer, sometimes knowing that I put it on paper the way I envisioned it in my head means a lot more.

Music Monday: Vocal remixes April 21, 2014

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Opinions vary widely in the VGM (video game music) community on the place of vocal remixes – that is, arrangements of originally instrumental tracks with fan-written and -performed lyrics. Although they are becoming more common, there are still some who refuse to listen to vocal remixes.

It took me a while to warm to the idea of vocal remixes, especially since I heard a few in the early days that were not to my taste. But eventually, I came to judge them on the same merits as any other arrangement – on the quality and originality of the song, rather than the style or instruments used.

This week, I’m going to feature a handful of the (now many) vocal remixes I have amassed in my collection over the years.

Darangen – To Hold You Again

While there are songs with more interesting lyrics or smoother vocals out there, “To Hold You Again” is featured first because it was one of the first vocal remixes I enjoyed enough to save, back in 2004, and helped start me on the road to accepting them. This sweet rock rendition of a track from the Super Nintendo game Lufia and the Fortress of Doom is a classic story about the singer having ruined a relationship he later realizes was a mistake.

DrumUltimA, Jillian Aversa, XPRTNovice, zircon – Generations

Nine years ago, well-known remixer and professional singer/songwriter Jillian Aversa made her first solo VGM rearrangement “Prayer,” a version of the Forest Temple theme from The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. I still adore that version of that song with its minimal instrumentation more reminiscent of the original haunting theme, but recently, she released “Generations,” an updated version of the track with new vocals. This updated new age version is more melodic, with rolling vocals along the same theme of discovery as her latest original album, Atlantis Awakening. Jillian has done a number of other lovely vocal remixes worth checking out as well.

Featured on playlist: Fantasy, perfect to listen to while writing.

Poolside – Shine Tonight

Modern pop music is not a particular favourite genre of mine, so a song like this, a rendition of “Fragments of Memories” from Final Fantasy VIII done in a modern pop style with an almost hip-hop-esque beat and slightly distorted lyrics, wouldn’t usually strike my fancy. But I find this song catchy with nice variation and the dual vocals complement each other well, and it became a quick favourite.

Harmony – Dragon Song

“Dragon Song” gave “Prophesy” from Secret of Mana a different feel using acoustic guitar instead of flute for the opening riff, but it maintains the dark, haunting mood of the original with a song about escape on the wings of a dragon. This song is a little less vocal than the others, but it is a featured element of the song, and the smooth performance adds to the atmosphere. Despite the changes made from the original, this song still invokes the feeling of flight like the original.

Block Party – Tetris Plays You!

I close out this week’s post with a little bit of levity courtesy of Block Party, a collaboration made up of several long-standing remixers in the VGM community, including Jillian Aversa and her husband, Andrew “zircon” Aversa. Whether it’s something you want to add to a regular music rotation or just want a quick laugh, take a listen to this vocal rendition of a theme from Tetris, featuring lyrics which personify each of the different shapes in the classic game into themed characters such as the nerdy ‘Z’ block and the French diva ‘L’. Maybe I’m just speaking from the perspective of someone who doesn’t really understand the work that goes into making music, but it amuses me to no end that this group put together such a solid and full-depth performance of an entirely comedic song based on a 30-year-old video game.

That’s it for this week! As before, if there is any song, album, or artist you would like me to be aware of, please comment and let me know. See you next time!

Character genesis: Domino April 17, 2014

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Where does a character come from?

For me, often the main character determines the story, and so comes before anything else. Beyond that, a character usually arises out of the role I need them to play in a story. I can’t find a place for them otherwise, and alas, that means that I’ve generally been unable to recycle characters from other story attempts. From there, I develop the character’s backstory, personality, and goals, and everything after that point is determined by the character as they come to life.

But that isn’t always the case.

There is an archetype of character – specifically, of protagonist – in genre fiction that I have seen done many times: the Mistake. This character is a repentant sinner; they did something in their past that they sorely regret, often killing or hurting someone close to them, and the main point of their character arc is to come to terms with the crime they committed. Up until the character does come to terms with it, they have various methods of coping with the shame they feel from that action, whether it’s drinking themselves to sleep every night, constantly punishing themselves symbolically, or general angstiness (or sometimes/often all three).

The one thing these characters all have in common is the Mistake: they are always somehow tricked or coerced into doing the shameful action.

Of course, it’s easy to build a character that way, or to want to build a character that way. People don’t want to believe a good guy is capable of intentionally doing something evil, and it’s awfully hard to sympathize with one who did. Whereas if the character had to do the evil deed to protect something/someone(s) else or believed they were doing the right thing, it becomes easier for a reader to understand their plight and want them to move on.

But it’s been done. A lot. I think there were four or five examples of this in a single video game I played.

So it got me thinking, what if the repentant sinner actually did something downright vile?

This was the thought process behind Domino, a character in Enduring Chaos.

Now, I am not saying he just went out and attacked innocent people unprovoked – he had his own, albeit twisted, reasons for what he did, and the people involved were certainly not saints. But Domino has blood on his hands. A lot of blood. And it is all on him. No one tried to force or trick him into doing it; the idea and the blame are entirely his. What he did was inexcusable, and no amount of good he could ever do will make up for that black stain on his soul and reputation.

So what is his coping mechanism with the sins of his past? I wanted to avoid angst for several reasons: it’s been overdone, it either ignites annoyance on the part of the reader or sympathy – which demeans the heinousness of his crimes – and more importantly in this particular case, with his set of semi-normal morals it would be impossible for him to live with that level of guilt.

Instead, I took a different route – detachment. He feels nothing, never shows emotion, and rarely speaks or even comes in contact with other people. He exists rather than lives, wandering through the wilds and hunting and gathering his own food, trading pelts or found food and materials for any supplies he needs, completely apart from other people and even his own past and self.

Does he regret what he did? Of course he does. As I said, he still holds a semi-normal set of morals. But with his view on the world, it has no impact on him, neither the regret nor the morals themselves. They are part of a canvas he sees from the outside.

Does that mean he hasn’t faced the shame he holds, somewhere in the part of his mind he has closed off? Yes, it does. But it doesn’t matter to him.

Will he eventually move beyond that detachment? … Well, you’ll have to read Enduring Chaos to find out.

But that was the genesis of Domino.

Music Monday: Time Circuits April 14, 2014

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Testing the waters with a regular feature in which I highlight/share some music I really enjoy. Mostly, this will involve indie re-arrangements of video game music, because that’s how I roll and because it’s generally pretty easy to link to free, legal downloads for it. I’ll admit my music theory is weak, so I might not be able to describe the songs I feature in technical terms, but I love what I love, and if one person gets to enjoy a new song out of it, I will consider it a success.

For my inaugural post, I’m going to feature one of my all-time favourite songs: “Time Circuits”/”Corridors of Time” from the SNES classic Chrono Trigger. Clearly, I’m not the only one to enjoy this track so much, as it has been done over and over again. The bonus to it being so popular is inevitably that means there are several very well-done arrangements out there. This week I’m featuring a selection of my favourite renditions of this well-loved theme.

mv – Time Chill

“Time Chill” is at least ten years old now, but it remains a favourite. As the title might suggest, mv turned the tune into a somewhat jazzy rendition. What I love about this version is that despite taking a slightly different approach to the source, it feels like this is exactly what the original track was meant to sound like.

Ashane – Zealous Entropy

In this version, Ashane took the original ~90 second melody and turned it into a 10:29 rock ballad, starting off gentle and building as it goes. The questionably voiced lines from the part of the game when the source music plays might not be to everyone’s taste, but to me, those have become as much a part of the music as the guitars, bass, and drums.

Featured on playlist: Road trip, because nothing makes the time and miles go by quicker than listening to 3-4 songs and finding an hour has passed.

Captain Literal – Passage to Zeal

This ambient rendition goes all the way back to 2002; I found an updated version from a few years later while searching for the download link, but I prefer this original posting to RPGamer. It’s long, smooth, and mellow, and I still recall the first time I played it on the radio show I was part of around that time, when I was a bit uncertain about playing video game remixes, and this one was warmly received by crew and listeners alike.

Joren de Bruin, Tweex – Corrupter of Time

I originally discovered this song on a different website where it was titled “Corroder of Time,” a pun on the original title that still amuses me. Unlike other rock arrangements of the tune, this one turns the source material into a heavier song, despite keeping at least close to the original beat, truly turning the track into a hard rock remix.

Bonus final track comes courtesy of the Japanese band MintJam. They recorded an amazing version of “Corridors of Time” which I can unfortunately only link to on YouTube, as it was commercially released and therefore not available as a free download. I adore their rendition for the instruments and the depth they gave the original song, including an engaging drum beat and smooth vocals.

I hope you enjoyed this brief foray into my music collection. If you have any suggestions for other tracks, artists, or albums for me to check out, please feel free to comment. I always love discovering new music. See you again next week with a new feature!

Being an artist and a mother April 7, 2014

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New parents live in the moment. The demands of such a tiny, fragile, and utterly dependent life form are so immediate and encompassing that there just isn’t an opportunity to think about the future. That’s why those early sleepless nights seem insurmountable – because it feels like there will never be anything other than that moment. That might be part of the reason post-partum depression hits so hard, along with inadequate sleep. I know it played a large part in my baby blues.

Of course, there is something to be said about the inspiration derived from the transformation of this helpless, squalling, troll-like armful into a sapient, problem-solving miniature human, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

This post is about time.

When I was pregnant, I tried to get as much done as I could, since I was pretty much giving up the idea of getting anything done until my daughter was going to school. I have always been far from even attempting to be supermom, but she only gets one chance to grow up and I wanted to do as best I could to help raise her to be a smart, disciplined, and loved little girl.

Consequently, I didn’t get much done. Sure, I managed some tasks – I completed and published Halcyon and, more recently, Enduring Chaos, and opened up Brain Lag for outside submissions – but plenty others fell by the wayside. Those five images I posted over the last month encompassed the entirety of completed (drawn) artwork I’ve put out since I gave birth to my daughter. Prior to the quilt square I decorated over a year ago now, I had done no art more advanced than a sketch since before she was born. Things like updating this blog and posting photographs of subjects not including my daughter dropped to occasional dabbles or ground to a halt. I chose to use what little free time I had to focus my efforts on writing and publishing, and I believe that was a wise choice.

2.75 years later, my daughter is well-behaved, getting much better at entertaining herself, and communicating her needs and wants (a very welcome development).

Does this mean I have more time to focus on my own things? No. Sure, I have naptime, and after she goes to bed I rarely have to do anything else with her. But then, that’s been the case for almost two years. And when she’s awake, despite that she can play by herself pretty well, I tend to get frustrated if I’m interrupted in a task/hobby I’m doing for myself, which is unfair to her. So I still have very limited time to do my own things.

But it’s not about how much time I have, is it? It’s about how I use the time I have. Budgeting time – that’s the key. And it’s not something I’ve been doing very well of late.

The problem is one that’s afflicted me for years: I dabble too much. I just enjoy playing around in too many different media and forms of entertainment, such as:

  • Art
    trapped damian-frozen
  • Photography
    dessert mew
  • Writing
    tumblr_static_writing450
  • Jewelry making
  • Learning guitar
    acoustic-guitar
  • Video games
    Arc-Rise-Fantasia_Wii_US_ESRB

And that’s just the hobbies I’ve dabbled with in the past month. That doesn’t include the ones I am still interested in playing with but haven’t tried in years, including various other media of 2D and 3D art, and those other things like “spend time with the family” and “six month old kitten.” This is why I refuse to attempt things like knitting or sewing: because I’m afraid I’ll enjoy it and it will be one more hobby clawing for my attention.

So how does one budget very limited free time among so many interests?

Well… the same way everybody else does, I suppose.

I’m not any worse off than anyone else with a day job or a child, and let’s face it, I’m a lot better off than many, given that I have only one child to handle and a well-behaved one at that. I guess the real issue is that I’ve never had to budget my time for my own pursuits before. I could just do whatever I felt like when the fancy struck me, evenings were longer and weekends meant something. I have much bigger obligations now than I used to, with a daughter to care for and a business to build.

But if I still want to do all these things that interest me, including those things I haven’t attempted in years like sumi-e paintings and sculpture, then I need to figure out a way to make it work.

How?

Well, only time will tell.

New art – Damian/Frozen March 21, 2014

Posted by thejinx in art, enduring chaos.
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damian-frozen

Joke picture. This is Damian, star of my latest novel Enduring Chaos, which was released last fall. She is a young woman with a strange and unique power which she cannot control, exacerbated when she is upset, and for which she is shunned by others. Hence, a little wardrobe change for kicks. Costume design courtesy Disney.

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