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Bibliophiles and other locutions August 13, 2015

Posted by thejinx in life.
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As a book seller, I have spoken with many people who have told me about the sizes of their book collections. Little surprises me now, and personally, I can easily understand how books can take over a closet, a room, a basement, or even a storage locker. Books are delightful and memorable and avid readers can amass them quickly, particularly those who have been collecting a lot longer than I have.

Of course, I am partial to collections. There’s something immensely satisfying about the sight of perfectly even row of books arranged on a bookshelf. Or a cabinet of DVDs and Blu-Rays. Or a shadow box of figurines. Or–I am probably dating myself here–a rack of CDs. (Although admittedly, ours is in the basement and I almost never take any out, having ripped them all years ago.)

Shortly after moving in to our current home, I took an afternoon and went through our books. I arranged the books on our two kinds of bookshelves by format, genre, and then author, got rid of all the books I no longer wanted, and managed to fit what remained almost perfectly on our bookshelves. I really only keep them all strictly for love of the collection itself; much as I might have adored the books on those shelves, I simply don’t have the time to go back and reread them all, and most have only been read once. I just like having all those books I enjoyed lined up there, and even if I wanted to get rid of more, I would never be able to decide upon which ones to part with. And perhaps there is some paranoia that maybe someday I will want to read a particular one again and will be disappointed that it’s no longer there. These are the same reasons that I don’t like to re-sell the video games I have played and enjoyed, and probably will never play again. But I digress.

For a while after rearranging the shelves, I didn’t really buy any new books. I never have bought many books, as the cost and the sheer number of books that potentially interested me, never mind not knowing where to start with many epic fantasy/scifi series, made it too difficult to decide. I have also read enough mediocre or downright bad books that I have become very selective about my books, and usually want to read at least some of a book or at least an author’s work before investing in something. I also went through a period of reading mainly free ebooks I received through promotions or utilized what turned out to be a pretty impressive library within walking distance of home. On top of all this, at the time that I re-sorted my book collection, I simply didn’t have much time or energy to read, being busy with an infant.

Eventually, I began buying books again. Very slowly, as I am still quite selective about my books, and most of the books I have bought have still not been read yet. I still frequent my library and download a lot of ebooks, and between the two, I have little need to buy books. I still generally shy away from list price, unless it is the latest instalment in a series I am actively following. Generally, those books I have bought are clearance rack finds at my local chain bookstore or books from author friends that have particularly piqued my interest. Even the number of books I have bought over the past few years has gone up and down, as I pass along books I have read and am no longer interested in keeping.

But gradually, my collection has increased. And now, after picking up a couple new books at Gen Con, I am finding myself facing the problem that so many book lovers deal with at one point or another: not enough shelf space.

Changes January 23, 2015

Posted by thejinx in art, enduring chaos.
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I finished a new drawing last night, my first in over six months:

Sketch22420045It is a simple picture, in many respects, but this drawing is very important to me. Not because of the content, but because of the way it made me feel.

Because I enjoyed working on it. I enjoyed every step of the process – building up the sketch, designing the outfit, finding reference images for things like the hairstyle and anatomy, even learning to work around the limitations of the app I used, as I drew this from start to finish on my tablet. Intimidation reared its head and made it hard to get started at times, but I never had to force myself to work on it or felt discouraged that something wasn’t working and wanted to give up.

I don’t know why or how this changed, but this is a big deal for me, and it led to an even bigger revelation:

I feel good about my art.

I don’t care that it isn’t as good as the artists I follow. I don’t care that there are a lot of things I can’t or at least don’t know how to draw. I don’t care that after so many years I am still learning how to draw faces. I looked through my online gallery last night, both the drawings that kind of make me want to delete almost my entire gallery and the ones I still like, and it just made me want to draw more. For the first time in at least ten years, flaws aren’t the only thing I see, and I’m revelling in the act of creating, itself.

Now if only I had more time to draw.

What am I? January 20, 2015

Posted by thejinx in writing.
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I’ve written before about the many hobbies I dabble in, or have done before and would still like to do again (reading, drawing, sculpture, jewelry making, learning guitar, etc.). It was enough to inspire a fleeting wish that I could say, “this month I’m going to do nothing but read.” And yes, I have little doubt that I could focus on a different task for each month of this year.

Many of these hobbies have fallen by the wayside in the past few months, if not already in the past few years. Aside from accessories for my daughter’s Halloween costume, I haven’t touched my jewelry-making supplies in months. Likewise for the last console RPG I was playing, despite that I was almost at the end and spent at least half of 2014 working on it. Obviously, 2-dimensional art is still only a very occasional dabble, despite how important that remains to me. I know things will change when my daughter starts going to school next fall, but I am not raising my expectations too high about the difference that will make with my available time.

As for reading, while I would dearly love to get through the books on my to-read list and then some, not to mention the couple dozen samples and complete books I have downloaded on Kindle, my life is hardly without words. I read blog posts and webcomics on a daily basis, and I have been editing novel submissions. It’s not the same, of course, but it’s enough.

However, there is one hobby that stands out among all of these. One that holds more sway over me than any other, one that I just can’t go too long without doing, one that I miss if I try. One that defines me.

Writing.

Even after all these years, I’m still learning how important writing is to me. I’ve written here before about it, about how I feel unsure of my skill in just about every endeavour I have attempted but not with writing, about how my opinion changed from thinking about myself as an artist first and a writer second, and more.

But I still forget. I go without for a little while, maybe I spend some time focusing on a project in another medium, and I let writing slip to the back burner. At least, until my mind reminds me that I have to create, and if I don’t get back to work on the story I have been writing, I will spend my showers, mealtimes, or other quiet moments having imaginary arguments between fictional characters over the pros and cons of a completely made-up interstellar political system.

… I will neither confirm nor deny that this is the exact thing which inspired this post. The fact remains that I have to write. I can’t not write. Even if my family and my business take up most of my free time, even if I feel too burned out to want to do anything but veg when I do have time to do it, even if I’m struggling with a scene or am enamoured with some other form of expression or life just gets too busy, I have to find time to fit writing in somewhere.

Because I am a writer.

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

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, writing.
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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

Posted by thejinx in writing.
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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

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, writing.
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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.

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