The Other Side of Ciao

There's a trojan on your computer

In preparation for a few posts about my writing process as it relates to my original work and projects like Dark Eras, I wanted to talk (eep!) a little bit more about me. To be perfectly honest with you, this is the part I hate. I don’t like talking about me half the time, because I feel there’s a certain level of complexity that human beings have, that cannot come across via the internet in writing. Too, I’m fairly private as well, because I tend to deal with my own b.s. and then move on as best I can. Today I’m going to try, because this will relate to a future post about my work and my research process that I’ve honed over several years when writing about other cultures.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a cross-cultural household, and that I’ve never really felt that I fit in to “a” specific culture. When I went to London a few years ago now, one of my friends noticed how I really was of two worlds, the old and the new. Though I’m not a hundred percent Italian, the culture (regionally, this would be northern Italy) dominated my formative years. If you are not already aware, like many countries there’s no such thing as Italy being “one” culture and there’s often a lot of assumptions made about Italian-Americans thanks to shows like Jersey Shore or The Godfather movies. Often, when people haven’t run into Italians before, whatever the popular media has shown them is what they assume and it’s not always good.

I remember being of two minds on the subject of my heritage. Proud and angry. Proud, because while other families forgot how their great-great grandparents came to this country, the idea of “where we came from” was more immediate and present. It made me appreciate being in America, and I fell in love with the idea of the melting pot to the point where I idealized it. Oh, I did. I wanted to know about everyone. (Still do.) I wanted to know about all the different cultures, all the beautiful people with the different ways they practiced their faith or what they had for dinner or what they wore or what books they read or what have you. As a child, I thought America was a place where everyone was welcome, and I was ready to meet everybody.

This is where the anger part comes in. I’ve always been pushed and pulled into this idea that there’s “the one true way” to live, to be, that whatever the dominate culture is happens to be the one that’s “right”, or that the culture you’re born with has to be the only one. (A belief that I fight with every breath I take.) What’s so “wrong” about not discovering popcorn until I was 12? What’s so “wrong” about not having blonde hair? (Yes, I do now. This is called “obfuscation” as I’ve been going grey since I was a teenager. Considering purple!) Or the right nose? Or body shape? Or… For me, I also had an added layer of angst as a teen. I am a very passionate person, and even something as simple the display of emotion can generate comments and rumors. I also talk with my hands as well, and being expressive can cause raised eyebrows, too. And it did. Even beyond personal expression, there’s also issues I had with personal space. I remember how I was helping a friend home who was utterly wasted, and I had my arm around her to keep her upright, and kids driving by shouted gay slurs at us simply because we were touching.

I’m skipping a lot here, including the bullying, but hopefully the gist of what I’m trying to say is coming across. For a lot of people, even though my skin tone was white, and we were blue collar/middle class, I was still “different” and different isn’t always good, nor is it celebrated. That? That crushed me at first. As a teenager, because of my experiences, I went from believing in the melting pot, to convincing myself I had to fit in. I had to wear the latest fashion or dumb myself down or change my hair or do all the things that weren’t necessarily me because this was the way to get people to back off and stop ridiculing me or accept me. In other words, I felt forced to pretend I was unquestionably just like everybody else who was considered to be part of the majority culture, and it never quite seemed to work. I wanted to be invisible, because that seemed easier than the alternative.

No, the story of where I came from cannot possibly be condensed into a simple post, nor are the reasons for the way I was treated in my formative years straightforward. They’re not. To me, though, none of that matters and I am certainly not trying to get into any kind of contest about whose pain is greater. That’s not the point here. None of my terrible past experiences matter anymore. Why? Because while I still struggle with living between worlds sometimes, I am hyper-focused on turning those experiences into something positive, and then channeling that into my work. I’ve said this before, but music saved my life and writing gave me a reason to live it. Without the arts, I’m not sure where I’d be today.

Shortly after leaving home for college, I realized I wanted the dream back, because I didn’t feel that what I’d been told or shown was true. I desperately hoped for the melting pot, the rainbow, and the beautiful people–all of them–back in my head. To that end, and I remember this very clearly, I refused to sit down and be quiet and accept the way things were. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. And, being young and stupid, oh I’m sure I made my fair share of mistakes trying to figure out the answers to my questions, too.

Over time, I’ve come to understand that there’s a lot of people in pain simply because they are considered to be “different.” While their pain is theirs to deal with, the best I can do is listen and either keep listening or, when appropriate, say: “I will try to understand.” The best I can do, is be there for them because I know what it means to be in a position where no one is there for you. To me, this has nothing to do with being liberal of conservative; I care about what I can do to be a decent human being. Being a good person, I feel, should not be politicized, because that dehumanizes us and reduces us into another pile of stereotypes.

Despite how the media sometimes simplifies it, culture is not a linear, flat shape that encompasses the entire U.S. It ebbs and flows and grows and changes all the damn time, depending upon where you live and who you’re with and where you come from and where you’re going. There’s a lot of things that happen in the popular culture due to propaganda or half-truths being shared, misunderstandings, global events, inventions, popular movies/TV, turns of the season, political leaders, basic internet connectivity, money, etc. Taking all of these things into consideration, the American culture fascinates me, because it’s the most complex, organic structure I have ever encountered, just like how most people fascinate me.

To me, especially now, America is still the melting pot, a mixture of beautiful people who’ll inspire me to write better characters and design more visceral settings. A potpourri of all kinds of people who (thankfully) aren’t just like me. I feel this is cause for celebration despite this country’s horrific past, despite the ways we seek to isolate, separate, and condemn one another now because of the fear of the unknown, because the world is changing. The question that I often ask is: what unites us? This often leads to more questions. What does it mean to be human? What do we all share? What’s the positive side to being unique? How can we come together and have great discussions despite being different people? How can we work together and respect our differences instead of condemn them? These questions, to me, are infinitely more interesting because the answers bring me hope and joy.

Next time, I’ll talk about how these experiences have led me to address writing about other cultures from a position of mutual respect. That post will have a stronger writing focus than this one did, and I’m hoping that my stance on this topic will make more sense now that you have a general idea where my head is at.

Comments are open on this post as well. I’m more than a little neurotic about opening up, so please be kind.

    Mood: Did I do this right?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I counted four.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: There was walking!
    In My Ears: White noise.
    Game Last Played: Sonic: All Stars Racing
    Book Last Read: Commedia della Morte by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo
    Movie Last Viewed: Painted Skin: the Resurrection
    Latest Artistic Project: Beading!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Gothic Icons and Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim
    What I’m Working On: Read my latest project update.


Angel’s Fred and Post-Traumatic Stress

Spike and Giles... Together at Last

I’m in the middle of a re-watch for Whedon’s Angel, and I’m now on the last season where our plucky crew has taken the bait and are manning Wolfram and Hart. There’s a lot of great nuggets to draw inspiration from both as a writer and a fan of Whedon’s work, in particular the fact that this series, despite being on the air from 1999 to 2004, is still relevant and innovative for 2015. (And the show’s been off the air for more than a decade, so in my mind it’s safe to discuss it without fear of spoilers.)

While Fred (Winifred Burkle’s) character arc ends terribly and tragically, there is something remarkable about her introduction. Her evolution as a character deals with overcoming her traumatic and terrible situation after being sucked into a hell dimension. Py’lea introduced a tough topic, human slavery, which was something that the writers could address because their owners were demons. Breaking down Fred’s story is interesting, because she’s an escaped slave who finds coping mechanisms to deal with what she’s experienced, to survive.

What I was very interested in, is what happened to her when she returned to L.A. She didn’t magically “get better” and rush into her parent’s arms, the writers enhanced her character by allowing her to show a range of emotions, some of which were caused by post-traumatic stress. To me, this is brilliant writing because her character arc doesn’t keep progressing linearly until she’s totally moved on and one hundred percent better. She has bouts where she tries something new to get past the hurt, but then regresses before dealing with that specific issues. Each problem is different from the last, and she doesn’t necessarily move forward for each action. For example, she tries to go to Caritas, and the place is attacked. But, instead of cowering in a corner, she eventually stands up and grabs a crossbow. She has a sense of survival and that echoes through the way she deals with her trauma.

Her need to survive is something that is part of her nature, and that’s what pulls her through all of her bad experiences. Not because she’s physically stronger, but because she’s strong-willed and this is who she is. Her desire for self-preservation is what distinguishes her and sets her apart from the way other victims are often portrayed in television and other forms of media. When bad things happen to real people? We don’t give up and stand aside for someone else to save us, and Fred’s character reflects that truth.

Despite being enslaved, Fred escapes and finds a way to survive though she’s stuck in a demon world. Despite finding out the truth that she’d been betrayed by a mentor, she doesn’t freeze up with fear and let her professor victimize her again. She wants to do something about it, and that desire to channel her anger by turning the tables on him, a natural reaction, is the source of an argument between her and then-boyfriend Gunn, who wound up removing her free will to protect her from the consequences of her terrible choice. There are other, subtle clues written into her character as well in the way that Fred’s represented by Amy Acker, too, that brings deeper aspects forth. Like how jumpy she is, the way she walks and hunches her shoulders, her outbursts and clenched fists. It’s brilliant all around, and there’s even a slight shift in her character after Angel’s spell to remove all memories of Connor, too.

I’m hoping that by sharing these types of examples with you, you’ll be inspired to take a closer look at some of your favorite characters for inspiration either to appreciate them or learn from them. Lastly, if you’re not familiar with it, here’s how the NIMH defines post-traumatic disorder.

    Mood: I’d like winter to be over now. Thanks!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I’m so over-caffeinated I need to cut it out today completely.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: A walk. Remarkably. In the cold.
    In My Ears: Coffee is percolating, but I’m resisting it!
    Game Last Played: Ni-No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch
    Book Last Read: The History of Magic by Eliphas Levi
    Movie Last Viewed: Sabotage
    Latest Artistic Project: Ch-ch-ch-ch-chainmaille!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Things Don’t Go Smooth
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.


Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Motivation

Land of Symphony Avatar

I suppose I could spend the next twenty minutes (or however long it takes to write this) to tell you about my 2012, but since many of my new releases (with the exception of Redwing’s Gambit) debuted later this year — instead I’m going to look ahead and show you an incentive program I’ve designed for myself in 2013. (WHICH IS GOING TO ROCK!)

I’m of the mind that how a writer treats their career is the same as how they’d view a brick-and-mortar day job. I hail from many positions/verticals mainly because I’ve absorbed as much as I possibly can to go into business for myself. At the same time, I’m a pragmatist who always looks at risks versus rewards, which have been reinforced over the years in my day job positions, but I’m not the type to do anything half-ass. I mentioned this earlier, but I don’t write for validation. Here’s the thing. Validation, pet projects, favors, etc. these are all intrinsic motivators. You write a story for a friend because it’s their birthday. You opt to submit a story to a fledgling outlet because you like the editor. You work on a project because you love the theme. That’s great, but those are secondary motivators for me.

Extrinsic motivators, in my mind, are the external or physical reasons why you write. You get paid. You see your books in Barnes and Noble. You have kids to feed. A husband to support. Etc. It’s the end result of your efforts, which can still be a reason why you write, but it’s not the emotional mojo jojo that is influencing your decision — it’s what you get out of it in a tangible, measurable way. (And that last phrase, what “you” get out of it, is a broad spectrum, indeed.)

So what works for me? Extrinsic motivators. I just built a bookshelf to house the published books I am proud to have worked on. These were projects I’m thrilled to be a part of and I’m excited about the finished product. The end result, for a few years anyway, was my modus operandi — but it was not a system that was built to last.

If you’ve read my blog, you know I’ve struggled with the idea of writing for myself on spec and eventually overcame it. You probably understand why. Well, this is the reason — there’s no extrinsic reward. Not right away, anyway. It’s all intrinsic for me, even if I have a polished manuscript to sell, until one day it isn’t. There it is. A published story. I’ve earned money (an important thing) on my words. Another book is sitting on my shelf. If I’m going to treat writing like a career, I have to earn a living, and I can’t do that by writing something that never sees the light of day. Them’s the brakes. No pressure, right?

I realized that if I need an extrinsic reward for my work, then I’m hurting myself by relying on the same type of reward all the time. By focusing on the same old, same old, I’m not marking my progress by what type of writing I’m doing but, rather, by what I publish or get paid for.

That’s dangerous crazy talk for me; this will make sense shortly. First, what a writer has done in their career, the end result, is how a lot of other people judge the value of that author. Oh, you’re not a “real” writer until… [book deal, movie deal, award, famous editor, type of publisher, etc. etc. etc.] This, to the working writer, is damaging because there are a number of factors beyond our control and, more importantly, don’t matter on a day-to-day basis. To write, I have to focus on what I’m doing now — not what has already happened or what’s going to occur. Also, in my mind? If I’m using the same common benchmarks that everyone else is, then I’m not enjoying the journey or the process, and I’m hurting myself by “measuring up” to somebody else. I’m ignoring what happens between “birth” (e.g. the nascent idea of a story) and “death” (e.g. when it’s published or when I get paid) of the story — but I’m the one who has to do the work.

What makes me unique, is my perspective, vision, and voice; every writer has to have some way to protect themselves (e.g. those intangible assets I just mentioned) and I’m no different. As my career grows, I need to rely on some form of extrinsic motivation to counteract the internal processes of creation, something that means a great deal to me. At first, I didn’t see this simple concept, but after a year of trial and error, I now understand why.

Eventually, I figured out that I lose motivation by inches when projects don’t succeed; my mood is horrendous if bad news piles up all at once. Why? Because if the extrinsic reward is either greatly delayed or nonexistent, then those motivators I’m counting on disappear fast. Books get canceled. The project leaders go bonkers. There’s a difference in creative opinion. I’m not writing-for-hire, I’m working for myself. I’m penning a long-term project that won’t see the light of day for a few years. Etc. Etc. Etc. To the public at large, a writer doesn’t seem to be “doing” anything if they can’t see the end result of their work. But this, simply, is not true.

Without anything to motivate myself in a tangible, measurable way, the act of creation withers and fades. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, there isn’t an “end” in the publishing cycle. It’s just how it is. There is no “standard” cycle for book publishing because everyone writes at different speeds, deadlines aren’t the same, and no two writers are exactly alike. Not everybody’s a novelist. Not everybody can write multiple novels. Not everybody will be a best-seller, either.

Now, there are other extrinsic motivators that relate to the writing process. Tracking submissions, word counts, daily goals, etc. All of these count as measurable mini-goals that lend itself to the finished project or end goal (e.g. self-sustaining writer). What I needed to figure out, however, is what kind of extrinsic reward for personal career milestones will motivate me; these milestones are my benchmarks that tell me I’ve accomplished something. More importantly, they occur regardless of what I’m working on — whether that’s on spec or not.

In my case, my extrinsic motivator is a charm bracelet. Yep, I sucked it up and bought a sterling silver Pandora-style bracelet. Then, I rewarded myself for all of 2012 with one bead. This is my starting point. As 2013 progresses, I’ll reward myself after each milestone by adding a single bead to the bracelet. I’ve already picked a theme. The sea. (Primarily because I like skulls as a theme in jewelry and pirates were a creative way to go. Hoping to find a Cthulhu-one!) It may sound incredibly silly, but this bracelet is my extrinsic motivator; not only is it something I can wear now, it’s a piece I can add on to and have a memory to go with each component. And, it’s a constant reminder of the promise I made to myself. Every time I look at this bracelet, I know what I pledge to do this year.

This way, I have a tangible, measurable method of tracking whether or not I make good on that promise. This way, I have a series of small, extrinsic motivators that will happen regardless of what the end result might be.

And this way, I have a method of seeing the progress I’ve made. The more beads I add, the more satisfied I’ll be with my work.

    Mood: Inspired
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Manageable.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: There was cleaning to be done.
    In My Ears: Clubbed to Death (Kurayamino Variation) The Matrix soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Tetris
    Movie Last Viewed: Resident Evil: Apocalypse
    Latest Artistic Project: Holiday gifts
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

Listen, Then Get Off Your Bum

Fire She-Ra Avatar

Before I begin today’s passionate rant o’ fiery-ness, here’s what started this blog post. A comment I made on Facebook saying:

If I measured my success as a writer based on everyone else’s opinions of me, I’d give up right now. I don’t. I’m not writing for validation. I write because I love doing it and even though a professional career in storytelling is extraordinarily difficult — what *isn’t* challenging that’s worth fighting for? I write because I love it. And I’ll keep on writing, regardless of where I “end up.”



And, here’s a quote that meandered to me via Steven Long.

“I try to trust my instincts as much as possible. As a writer, all you do is have people tell you you’re wrong and you suck 24 hours a day, so if you don’t listen to yourself, you’re just going to end up in a mental institution.” — Amy Sherman-Palladino


Negativity is ridiculous in our world today and it can overpower you if you let it. I don’t want to be one of those people who wallows in the awful and is so affected by it I don’t act or write or do the things I want to do. Have I suffered from depression at times? Yes. Have I worked through it? Yes. Have I spread that negativity around myself on occasion? Yes. I’m human. I make mistakes. Then I put on my big girl panties, deal with the situation the best I know how, and get over it. I’m not consistent. I’m not perfect. I’m flawed and beautiful and myself in all its various forms. I am human — just like you.

Opinions about how valuable “you” are in any field, creative or not, are rampant. The bad ones can get to you, wear you down, make you feel like shit about the fact that everything you’ve done is for this moment — to be “X” — isn’t worth a pound of salt, but you cannot let that happen. You can’t. And I can’t either.

Nine times out of ten, when someone tears somebody else down, it’s a reflection on the ripper-upper and NOT you. It’s a power play. Low self-esteem on their part. Jealousy. A point of frustration. Sometimes, it’s not even about you. They had a bad day. They’re depressed. Somebody died. They’re ignorant about publishing. They have a specific belief about a writer’s career path that won’t be changed. Other times, when it sounds negative but it’s really not, it’s a little tough love that comes down the pipe. Do you want to give up? Are you really writing or playing Angry Birds Star Wars? What is your work worth to you?

Here’s the secret: whatever you do? It will never be good enough. As a writer, there are layers and layers of “validation” built into this community. Are you popular? Did you win a Hugo/Nebula/ENnie? Did you get a movie/book deal? Who are you published with? How many books do you have out? How successful is the TV/film series based off your books? Did Publisher’s Weekly give you rave reviews? There is always something wrong with you or your work — unless you’re so successful you’ve managed to move past that, but even then? The negative comments won’t stop just because you’ve “made it.” They just take on different forms.

There are positive comments in there, too. Some are said with total and complete honesty; others, to butter your ego or get something out of you. Like the negative comments, these can also overwhelm you if you let them because if you’re doing your “thing” for validation — you’ll stop whatever that is once you achieve that goal either consciously or subconsciously. You start buying your own bullshit. However, for the vast majority of the creative folks out there, positivity is hard won and hard earned, which is why it’s so easy to believe in that fake persona, that rockstar image you’ve built up for yourself. Pokes about why something’s bad are more common than why it’s good.

What I worry about, is what’s good enough for my work, my legacy of stories and games. I don’t do this to be selfish. I do this to “protect the Work.” (That’s a quote from Christine Merrill, by the way.) I work based off of what I value because if I’m always worrying about what everyone else thinks, outside of the editor/publisher/agent production cycle — then I won’t write and I don’t push forward. (It’s also important to remember the human side of the equation. There is such a thing as focusing on the work so much you forget you deserve to be treated well, too. I’ve done this and lesson learned!) Otherwise, it’ll always be about that one jerk reviewer. That asshole writer. That crappy publisher. An unsupportive family. Some douchebag on the street. And if you stop writing because of them — wherever that negative voice hails from — then you let them rule your life.

This, my readers, this is where moments of true weakness comes from. When you allow someone else to get so far into your head you stop being true to that awesome person inside yourself. I believe we are awesome. I do. But I feel like so many people allow themselves to be beat down by life, you forget the loveliness inside of you, and you get so tired your “fire” just gets snuffed right out. Don’t light a match — burn a torch! A bonfire! Roast marshmallows ’cause you’re on fire! You want to know why the assholes seemingly win? Two reasons: because we focus on that and highlight them instead of the brighter side, and because awesome folks like you have given up!

I don’t write because I’m desperate for other people’s opinions. (Some are necessary are part and parcel to doing business. I’m talking about straight up validation, here.) Everything I care about is with respect to the work, but even then there are times when snarky, overly-critical comments are made simply because there’s a personality conflict. When something bad happens, I whine and eventually (hopefully sooner rather than later) I get over it and I keep going. This is not just about persistence, my readers, this is ALSO about being RESILIENT.

Resilience means the bubble around you is not a hard shield, but a flexible, bendy material. Sometimes, things will bounce right off you. Other times, it’ll sink in. Maybe YOU’RE having a bad day. Maybe you’re in pain, physically. Maybe you’re hungover. Maybe the past has stained you. Maybe you’re so focused on the words people are using instead of what they mean. Whatever the case, not everything will bounce off. That is NOT possible for anyone whose job is focused on words — because WORDS DO MATTER. The trick is recognizing those times and dealing with them appropriately, in your own way, so you keep on, keepin’ on.

NOW GO FORTH! GET OFF YOUR BUM. AND BE AWESOME!

    Mood: inspired
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: You’d be surprised…
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Gym, Gymanee.
    In My Ears: A dog, barking.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Awakenings
    Movie Last Viewed: The Hobbit
    Latest Artistic Project: Holiday gifts
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

Gushing Over Muse

I’m listening to Muse’s new album The 2nd Law, and I am thoroughly satisfied. This is a collection of songs where I hear the influence of bands/artists like Queen, Noisia, and Michael Jackson — and each tune is different in its own right.

I’m wildly appreciative of any artist who takes risks, which is part of the reason why I really dig Muse and would kill sacrifice my left arm give up caffeine love to see them live. (Incidentally, here’s a Muse 2013 tour schedule.)

Linked below is the music video for a song titled The 2nd Law: Unsustainable. Honestly, though, there is a wide array of music styles in this collection that go beyond the boundaries of rock opera, so if you’re mildly curious I’d check out each song as its own single.

My introduction to Muse was by way of the song Sing for Absolution. This is a very important song in my fiction for reasons which may (or may not) be disclosed at some point. :-p

Also? YAY, SCIENCE!

    Mood: Hazy with a chance of sunbeam positivity.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: *tap, tap* Is this thing on?
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Not enough.
    In My Ears: Panic Station by Muse
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Origins
    Movie Last Viewed: Spiderman the new one.
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “The Dig” The Lovecraft eZine Issue No. 19
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Monica Valentinelli >

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