Martha, Martha, Martha!

Sleepy Cat... So cute...

I’m stuck in the kitchen with a witch’s apron this fine morning and I’m whipping up a batch of whoopie pies-turned-spiders. Sadly, this means I don’t have a ton of time to devote to a blog post, but I do hope that my confection making will inspire you to cook up Halloween-related goodies of your own. If you can’t find a great recipe, I encourage you to visit the holiday section of MarthaStewart.com. I’ve been quite pleased with the variety and the classiness of her favorite Halloween recipes there.

What makes a good Halloween recipe? Well, besides the name. . . If it has the look and feel of something Halloween-related, like candy corn, monster toes, bleeding hearts and the like and it tastes good? I’m down with it. Though I should point out I have certain dietary requirements that certain pieces of food my sensitive palate does not approve of. :p

For another recipe-related alternative, check out Taste of Home and their Halloween recipes. I’ve made quite a few concoctions from their catalog and not one has been a disappointment.

Back to the salt mines. . . Er. . . Kitchens for me! Another party awaits!

    Mood: Sweet with a side of bitter, if not sour. Maybe cinnamon?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: It disappeared!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I bent and twisted. No, really. I did.
    In My Ears: Zero Signal by Fear Factory from the Mortal Kombat soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Origins
    Movie Last Viewed: The Raven
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press

Look Into This Light! (Oh, Wait!)

Jack the Pumpkin King

Yesterday’s screed took a bit longer than I had expected to, so today I’m making encouraging you to watch this fantastic Halloween Light Show 2012. If you want to see something like this all year round, please donate to the “Monica Wants A Mansion” fund otherwise known as the “buy and review the author’s books” initiative.

If you did not chuckle at that last line, consider how many poor, unlucky gnomes had to suffer for its telling. No one ever cares about the gnomes. Just lawn decorations, that’s all they are.

    Mood: Chipper. I spliced a comma. ON PURPOSE.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Twiki says: beeedebeedebeede
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I laugh in the face of muscular twitching. Muwahahahaha!
    In My Ears: The loudest computer fan you’ve ever heard.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Origins
    Movie Last Viewed: The Raven
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press

Ah, “Satanic” Halloween.

Halloween 2011 Pumpkins by Yours Truly

Every year, I hear someone accuse my favorite holiday of being “satanic.” And, well. . . Halloween is no more satanic than a piece of candy corn or a glass of milk. To me, the holiday’s history is crucial to the understanding of culture and how these beliefs develop. Our world, cultures, beliefs, and nuances will shift and shift again. One day, Halloween may very well be the night of the proverbial devil — but it is not right now.

Possibly, the reason why Halloween gets its notorious reputation is because some of the activities conducted may not be preferable to those who don’t like the darker elements. Even I don’t like everything the holiday has to offer; I’m not a fan of gore pr0n in the slightest. My darkness tends to be in the shadows, more Victorian, and undoubtedly shrouded in fantastical mystery as opposed to buckets and buckets of blood. This is what fuels my writing moreso than a modern-day horror story. I also cannot bring myself to write stories specifically about violence against groups like women, sexualized or not, children, religious groups, etc. etc. etc. Writing violence for the sake of writing violence is simply writing violence. For me, there’s no story there because it’s not about light overcoming dark, or dark swallowing up more darkness, or dark swallowing light, it’s simply unsettling atmosphere.

Certainly, All Hallow’s Eve gets a bad rap because of gory-and-disturbing images coupled with a misunderstanding of what modern-day Wicca is, but it’s also the red-headed stepchild of holidays because, ironically enough, of its pagan origins. (I say “ironically” because many of the major holidays have pre-Christianity roots dating back to ancient times (Easter/Eostre, Christmas/Mithras Day, etc.) The reason why these feast days are celebrated are often buried beneath the trappings of the holiday — bonfires, brooms, trick-or-treating, potato-pumpkin carving, etc. And, as a storyteller, I’m always about the “why’s” and “what if’s.” So, the wrappings of a particular day obscure the meaning of Halloween, much like some claim the true spirit of Christmas is lost to commercialism.

Halloween marked the end of the harvest and a day to remember the dead. While many know about the Celts, they weren’t the only culture that celebrated a holiday with that purpose in mind. (Almost every culture has some custom, either tied to a specific day or not, that was developed for almost the same purpose at some point during the year. To some extent, that’s what Memorial Day has turned into — a day to honor the dead. And don’t forget about All Saint’s Day!) The day survived in the United States largely due to the mashing of beliefs as Irish immigrants flocked to here, but it also flourished out of commercialism. The image of the witch riding a broom? Popularized by advertising and Hollywood. Black cat? Well, that’s a good example of how advertising tapped into a fear of cats as a witch’s familiar, its “causing” the Black Plague, and the feline’s unique biology that developed to mimic a hungry child. Indeed, businesses often capture and re-purpose older superstitions to fuel new ones. Want to understand a culture? Look not only to its churches or schools or plays or libraries — take a peek at what’s being sold and how.

With so many nuances, ranging from religious beliefs to mundane aspects of our daily lives, you’re probably seeing the reason why I’m drawn to digging for the origins of holidays like this. As an author and reader, I see a lot of stories here that resonate throughout the year. Often, something simple that begins with one intended purpose later means its opposite. Devil masks, for example, were often worn to scare away the devil (and still are, for some holidays like Setsubun), not worship them. Though, some people definitely believe that. That one example fascinates me. How? Why? When?

I’m lucky in that I’m a storyteller so I can explore these questions and more in my sordid tales. That’s what Halloween, in all its myriad forms, has given me. I can’t think of a holiday more mercurial and more hotly contested than this one. Well, maybe Earth Day, but that’s another blog post for a future point in time.

    Mood: Spooky
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Bubbles. Dear stars and stripes. BUBBLES!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: My muscles are revolting.
    In My Ears: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Origins
    Movie Last Viewed: The Raven
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press

Yes, Women Can Be Scared Of Cthulhu, Too.

Writing Lovecraftian-styled fiction for the sake of your entertainment (not to be confused with my sanity), both in style and theme, has occurred in threes for me this year. The first story, titled “The Dig,” will be published in an upcoming issue of the Lovecraft eZine. I just sent in a final revision for the second story, titled “The Button,” which will be published as part of the Kickstarter “We Are Dust” anthology. The third story, for this Kickstarter anthology by Chaosium Publishing, is loosely titled “The Women Who Called Down The Train.” The latter is in the nascent stages of storytelling, if only because I have a particular niggly bit that needs to make sense for the continuity of the tale, and because that’s a story that’ll need a beta reader or two prior to sending.

The first story I wrote with a gender neutral character in mind. It’s first person, yes, but I don’t make it a point to call out the protagonist as male or female. The second, which I just finished, was also penned in first person splashed with a few doses of second here or there for mad, mad fun. That story, however, has a decidedly female protagonist and was written in an even more “purist” Lovecraftian style than the first. I haven’t decided quite how the third will be presented, though if I construct the story like I would a Lego City, then it may be experimentally structured. Again, I haven’t gotten to that point. Right now, I’m just having a blast with the concept.

Does it matter to me whether Lovecraft himself was a feminist? No. What I am concerned about, is how I interpret his work, both as an author and as a reader, and that his work has had a profound impact on the horror genre. (In point of fact, finding out very famous authors are less than desirable people is a little like meeting a celebrity you admire greatly, only to find out that person likes to kick puppies and relies on their PR people to buff up their “nice guy” image.) Of course, the author as a person is often inexorably linked to author’s intent, but it always (has to) come back to the Work for me.

I absolutely feel that author’s intent matters to get a deeper understanding of any story, provided the author stands up and says something about it, which many don’t. (More, I suppose, do now with the need to blog about one’s pile o’ words.) However, while author’s intent matters to some degree, it’s often open to interpretation once the story is published for human consumption. The reader will take whatever they want from a tale and run with it, much like an author will put their spin on a particular story and claim it for their very own. (The author having no control over that whatsoever.) This is why bad reviews of books everyone else agrees are “good” happen. A story, regardless of when it was written or who it was for, is always judged by the reader.

But I digress. If it wasn’t clear before, I am not a misogynist myself. Not merely because I don’t lack the equipment to be one, mind you, but because I do happen to like, love, trust, and treat myself and other women well, the same way I would a man, generally speaking. Even if I did have equipment related to the male persuasion, I know myself well enough to understand my fundamental beliefs, some of which were earned rather painfully through experience, and they would not change. To me, it’s more than a little illogical (nigh, stoopit) to paint an entire portion of the human race as awful, terrible, human beings without actually getting to know them. (Key phrase here: “getting to know them.” And YES, that means face-to-face and not only online, too!) Would an entire barrel of apples be ruined by the one? Well, old wives have asked this question before and surely know the answer better than I do.

To sum up so far, we have Lovecraft potentially misogynist as an author, fairly misogynistic stories based on my own interpretation as a reader, I am not a misogynist, and finally, I’ve aped his style to pen a story clearly classified as “Lovecraftian” that plays around with the idea of misogyny.

I am, in part, writing this post because sometimes we are so wrapped up in the facts that we forget that books require a relationship between the writer (In this case, someone who lived decades ago.) and the reader. I am not telling you what to think or how to interpret Lovecraft because that would be extraordinarily presumptuous of me. People can have similar relationships with stories, sure, but not everyone likes the same thing, understands the same nuances, or feels the same emotional response to a story. It’s uniquely personal.

Here’s the first question I posit in this sanity-stealing exchange, though I’m sure you have many, as this post is rife with opinions tossed about the same way I use garlic. Um. . . I use a lot of garlic.

Is it possible to write in a style reminiscent of Lovecraft using protagonists Lovecraft himself would never consider and still be classified as “Lovecraftian”?

Yes.

Why?

Because women are afraid of Cthulhu, too. It does humanity a great disservice to avoid exploring the Arte of Story from other characters’s viewpoints be they fat/thin, young/old, able/not, male/female/transgendered/asexual, gay/straight/bi, [insert culture of your choice here], Dungeons and Dragons/Pathfinder, coffee/tea, etc. etc. etc. Do you honestly think that the male gender is the only sex capable of acting as lead characters in Lovecraft’s worlds? Of losing their minds? Of experiencing the deepest levels of fear? Ah, but here popular interpretation tells us so. (Never mind what he was like in real life; I am concerned with the stories themselves for the purposes of this post, mind you.) For Lovecraft’s main characters were decidedly male and, when women did appear? They were “the bad guys.” (Though, there was The Thing on the Doorstep.)

Wait, are you saying that modern-day writers can tell a Lovecraftian story with a female protagonist?

Yes, yes I am. Many other authors have already, and there are more to come I’m sure. I’ve written one so far, and I plan to write more of them if fancy and money strikes me. As a satirical piece, I also wrote a story where a ritual goes wrong and Nyarlathotep winds up in the body of a bunny rabbit, only to be defeated by a small girl who called him “Queenie.” :p

But, BUT! *head asplodes*

Easy there. Yes, I am saying that if a celebrated story or author purports values or themes I don’t personally agree with, I don’t feel obligated to love those stories/authors or regurgitate the same style they were originally created in, too. That, my friends, is the beauty of choice both in reading and writing. However, if someone is deemed valuable in some fashion or another, I would be an idiot if I didn’t read their work. Why wouldn’t I? Their stories are no threat to my craft. In order for me to write, I have to read deep and broad, much like I have to have a cup of coffee when I wake up or I’ll likely slaughter all my characters by noon.

You’re not a true Lovecraft fan!

OBVIOUSLY, I find other elements in Lovecraftian fiction that are quite brilliant! I interpret those nuggets depending upon whatever my story requires and, as I’ve come to discover, my frame of mind.

Feminism (in the context of promoting equality of men and women, which is just silly that we’re still fighting for this in an era where I can communicate instantaneously with someone in China and we’ve landed on Mars) has been on my mind due to recent political stupidity. I’m not sorry for ranting about this, either, for I’m a little tired of arguments legislating my parts when it’s never about the male bits. It’s always about the female’s as if babies just spontaneously pop into being of their own accord. Oh, now that’s a frightening thought. I surely hope our education in the sciences hasn’t been that lacking.

Mind you, and I want to be extraordinarily clear as I possibly can be — I didn’t write the story to prove a political point or alienate red or blue. I am not eighteen anymore. I do not write things solely for myself and when I do those go into my Morgue. (Mostly, bits of bad poetry which are a lot of fun to play around with, and I sometimes share them here.) Inspiration is very different from, well. . .writing an urban fantasy book like The Fountainhead for example. That’s not something you’ll find me doing, to be sure.

Where were we. Ah, yes. So, to conclude this screed, books are not one-sided. Because of that, a writer will always take something from the work and interpret it as their own, either consciously or unconsciously, in service of the story. A reader, on the other hand, will also get something unique from that tale which was why the story was written in the first place.

Lovecraft is only one example of an author who has a reputation for not painting a portion of humanity in an excellent light; I take that as an opportunity to infuse diversity into a primarily Anglo-saxon-fish-man-leaning body of literature. (Note: the last generality was used for the purposes of sarcasm and I, in no way shape or form, claim to be an expert on all things Lovecraft nor am I casting the Curse of Well, Actually! I ask you respect said same.)

It is my job, as storyteller, to write the best story possible and reveal to you the truth of life, the universe, and everything as I see it — even if it’s on a subconscious level. It is your job, as a reader, to decide whether or not that happened.

Hopefully, we will meet one day, and you can tell me all about it.

[ Cue evil laughter. ]

    Mood: I laugh in the face of danger.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Calculating caffeine milligrams with respect to word count in 3…2…1…
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I did my pilots! Oh, wait. That’s pilates.
    In My Ears: Your screams. Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Game Last Played: Star Wars Legos
    Movie Last Viewed: The Raven
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press

Pesky Emotions. Storytelling and Heart’s Cockles.

Shiva Final Fantasy X Avatar

Okay, I admit it. I’m penning this instead of diving back into storytelling and game design. I’m a bad writer, I know. But? I write this post and away I go. In a way, I need to get this thought process down into a digestible form that provides some amount of solace, comfort, and I suppose, in a bizarre sort of a way — complacency.

Emotions have been on my mind. I finished editing a non-fiction book earlier this month and I felt like I had grown another head, cut it off, and then seared it with a hot poker so it wouldn’t grow back. After the book, then, I experience this broad range of emotions that run from ecstatic to relief to. . .sadness. Yep, I get teary-eyed because the book is out of my system and it’s in the wild.

But, obviously, the process doesn’t end there.

I talked a bit about this with one of my other (more creative than I, if you can believe that) friends, and she said that it sounded almost like I was going through a mini-depression. Okay, if that were true, that frightens me like you wouldn’t believe — but, was she right? Was it possible I was wallowing in post-creation sadness?

I’m not sure. What I think is true, though, is that creatives have to tend to their psyche and well-being, and take great care to ensure we are doing what’s best for ourselves in order to produce efficient and quality work. In this context, I mean “quality” within the boundaries of what we feel is good enough, pending where we’re at in the process. And by well-being? I also mean holistically. Diet, exercise, friends, family, relationships, creatively. . . All of it.

Writing requires a certain amount of emotional connectivity to characters and story; the more formulaic the tale is, the easier it is to see the “seams,” and the less emotionally-responsive I get. Stories can be wholly and technically correct in every way — but they can lack emotional connectivity. While not everyone will agree with what I just said, I feel tales that offer the reader the chance to get emotionally-involved with the characters are the ones that resonate the best. Sometimes, there’s other factors involved with that emotional vibration that have nothing to do with the story. Is the book popular? Do you love the author and know what to expect? Usually though, I do think it’s how we consume that story as part of the relationship between writer-and-reader. (Key word: relationship. I’m not writing for myself, you know!)

But what happens when the writer pens sad scenes or violent snippets or characters that are “off.” Do we become our characters? No, I don’t. I may try to understand them through my writing so they’re more believable, but that doesn’t mean I could ever blow up a building or harm someone myself. It’s very easy for me to move from real world to fiction/games and back again, save for a touch of emotion. I do, after all, write characters I can’t stand and then attack them vigorously. And as I’ve said many, many, many times before, I write in the dark because I want to highlight characters that are either overcoming that evil or that not everything can be tied up nice and neat with a little bow. I love stories about heroes. Real, unlikely, reluctant, brave, nervous, etc.

Sometimes, though, it’s the research part or the emotional let-down that sends me into a strange tizzy. And then I get a touch of the “I’m not really sure I want to write this, but I feel compelled to, and I’m afraid of it.” One story I’m writing is. . . It’s everything I hate about the current climate and treatment of women. That’s a “theme,” however. That’s just a small piece of the layers and layers for that one. It’s fun to write, a blast to structure, and there are ways I’m getting my writer-nerd on here. Still, experiencing that kind of emotion doesn’t just “happen” in a bubble.

Knowing what my response is to a work means that I can either run from those potentially-negative emotions or dive in with full abandon. (Guess which one I’ll have to do? Hrmmm?) But, it also means I had to find ways of dealing with those emotions outside of the writing to prevent a darker mood in real lifeTM. How do I do that? With the silly, of course! Why do you think I decompress with crazy-fun illustrations, comics, bright colors, extraordinarily silly accessories, and games like Star Wars Legos or LittleBigPlanet? They’re brainless (after a fashion), a lot of fun, and they whisk me away from the darkness.

Lessons I learned: avoid reading dramatic books where characters die when writing dramatic books where characters might die. Oh, and. . .there’s nothing wrong with being silly, reading something silly, or just having fun with a silly game/comic/book/song, etc.

Well, I guess I lied. I guess there is one way I’m like most characters (e.g. humans). If I’m sinking into a character’s dark mood, I need to recognize that’s what’s happening and put something wholly enjoyable and fun into my post-writing routine. After all, one cannot experience light without darkness — a fact that’s both reassuring and terrifying all at the same time.

And a-way I go.

    Mood: Can I cackle? Is that allowed? Or. . .not.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I see buzzing people.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I keep walking, but never seem to get anywhere.
    In My Ears: Strange Tales podcast
    Game Last Played: Star Wars Legos
    Movie Last Viewed: The Raven
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press
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