Where are the Muses

So, sort of ironically here, I was lacking inspiration on my blog post for this week and saw the The Daily Post’s word of the day. Writers, and other artists, like to talk about the mythical muses quite a bit. Anymore, we tend to use the word as a manifestation of our creative side. Oftentimes, when we can’t manage to find the right words or the motivation to create, we blame the muse for not showing up or for not talking. We impress upon others and ourselves that working on our project would be so much simpler if inspiration would just talk to us!

Unfortunately, the best way to find the muses is to stop waiting for them to show up. There’s a couple of ways to go with that idea. First, you could toss out the need to be inspired all together, but let’s face a fact. It feels great when you have a muse perched on your shoulder. Inspiration makes your mind fly with ideas and for a brief, happy time, your creative work feels completely golden. Those moments in the zone are the moments creatives truly enjoy. The world and its worries are left behind for the glorious joy of making something.

So consider a different mental approach if you’re having trouble finding the muses. The best way to find anything is to lure it out into the open. If muses love creativity, then start up your project and do some work. Draw a line, write a sentence, find a prompt, whatever you need to just begin. Don’t worry about the muse showing up or whether or not inspiration will strike you. The practice of creating will bring them out. You’ll have tiny whispers that blossom into full blown muse-irific tangents if you simply keep working.

That’s not easy advice, especially when you’re struggling. And it’s something you hear a lot–“Just write every day and it’ll happen!” how many of us have read that over and over? Thing is, sometimes that’s all you can do. Butt in the seat, words on the page, pencil marks on the paper, chords on the instrument–somedays that’s all you’re going to have. Keep at it though. My own ability to knit stories together is growing, and I’ve watched friends go from struggling to write a few hundred words to writing a couple thousand in the same amount of time. Practice has made all the difference. Sometimes those muses still elude us, but showing up and getting to work makes it much more likely we’ll find them. Don’t worry. Lay out the bait of some creative thoughts and those muses won’t be able to resist showing up.

Feel free to comment or share your own thoughts about muses!

A US Magic School History

Oftentimes, when I go to criticize something, I do so because I was really hoping that the product would be better. Why did GoT have to have more rape than the books? Why can’t a woman-loving-woman survive this season? When I get truly disgruntled, I begin thinking of ways to fix the problems. Last time, I ranted about J.K. Rowling’s Ilvermoarnuy (okay, I still haven’t learned how to type that). And since I have such issues with it, my imagination is determined to spin up a ‘what could have been’ for a US-centric wizarding school system that brings its history into play. (US-centric because they didn’t really teach Canadian or Mexican histories in my schools and this subject alone is so massive that I worry about tackling it in one post).

Okay, ahem—

Let’s start with, there were no magic schools before Europeans came over because they weren’t needed. Native tribes taught magic to their children in the fashion their culture dictated and that worked for them. Oh, and since I’m changing stuff up, we’re going to implement this rule–Magic does not need a fucking wand. A wand is a tool to strengthen your magic. Native tribes had (and have) their own instruments to assist their magic users.

Colonization begins. Seeking a place safe from the scrutiny and persecution of their homeland, a group of young British wizards settled deep in the Massachusetts forests around 1637. As time goes on, young magical students who need them managed to stumble their way into town and in 1654, the town establishes the first magic school in the colonies. (This town’s name, btw, shall be Arkham. Yes, Lovecraft’s Arkham. He came across it one day, stayed a while, saw a bunch of weird shit, and a wizard incorrectly modified his memory–unable to get it all. It left Lovecraft a little messed up).

The Massachusetts school grows as the nation does, sending letters to students who live all throughout British American colonies. Problems in the wizarding community arose when the slave trade brought so many people to America that there was a substantial amount of magical children born to owned parents. Abolitionist and equal rights wizards argued that the children deserved to be taught at the Massachusetts school, but slave-owning wizards and their supporters argue that those children shouldn’t be taught at all. In 1817, the southern wizards establish a school in Georgia (in the woods somewhere between Atlanta and Athens). They claim it’s because the northern school is overcrowded and just too far away to send their children. Only a fool considers that the only reasons and tensions in the wizarding community mirror growing tensions in the US Congress.

In 1819, another school is founded outside New Orleans with the sole purpose of training young black wizards. The founders of this school chose a secluded spot in Louisiana’s swamps and to this day, the school has a reputation of having the best protective wards. No one has ever stumbled across this school on accident and the students have always felt safe here. Two years after the Civil War ended, this school announced itself at a meeting of the Americas High Council and demanded the same rights and privileges as the other schools. Only ignorant textbooks will claim that the school began in 1867 (though that misinformation was spread in the wizarding community for a long time).

As pioneers expanded westward, the wizarding communities followed. Several villages were founded on the principles of ‘utopia,’ but most of these failed. One that worked was not too far from St. Louis. Since the crowding of the east coast and the hunt for opportunities drove so many westward, these wizards realized that both the Massachusetts and Georgia schools were too far away and too likely to be overcrowded quickly. They began a new school in 1854.

With continued population growth and the migration westward, even the St. Louis and New Orleans school quickly became overcrowded. In 1871, a new school was founded outside San Fransisco. For the first time, the school’s students were not predominantly one color or another. Not even one culture dominated this school, creating a mixture of Chinese, Irish, Black, Southern, and Northern cultures. (Causing the seniors of 1899 to declare the Year of Celebration, having at least one day a week where they skipped class to celebrate one of the many holidays.)

And yet still there were students who needs weren’t being met. With the dramatic changes to the Native tribes’ populations, there was a fear that their way of magic would be lost entirely. At the same time, many Hispanic wizards believed that the other schools weren’t providing their children with the education they wanted. Two prominent wizards met at one of the Americas High Council meetings and after an all-night discussion, came to the conclusion that they could help each other out. They co-founded a school in northern New Mexico in 1896.

–so that’s one idea for the founding of six major magic schools (meaning that they have more than 100 students per year taught) of the US. (I did see a post on tumblr that suggested four or five schools, but it only went into locations (the only specific one they mentioned was New Orleans I think) so that was one of the seeds for this history as well (and sorry I can’t remember where I saw it)). There ought to be several smaller schools as well, due to philosophical differences if nothing else. Maybe sometime in the future, I’ll go into how the 20th century changed the wizarding schools and what they ought to look like today.

The Anti-Ilvermoarnyey Rant

Okay, so I can’t help it. Everyone’s all excited about the new Pottermore reveals and honestly, each one has been pissing me off more and more. Chatter would have you believe that Potter-universe is a deep, wonderfully magical place, but there are giant holes and gaps that increase each time that Rowling posts a new bit.

All of my problems with the recent additions have to deal with J.K. Rowling’s blatant ignorance of American cultural history and present (something pointed out since the first posting). Sure, she wrote up a new magic school and you can get sorted into one of Ilvormony’s (is that misspelled? Not sure. Don’t care) houses! It ought to be cool as an American to have a piece of Potter-verse on our doorstep instead of being completely ignored (I mean, did the US, Canada, or Mexico get even one mention? What about the rest of the world?). Unfortunately, the new houses are stolen from indigenous tribes’ religions! As that second link points out, the ‘history’ that Rowling was setting up for North American wizarding world’s relations to indigenous tribes was bad enough in the first place, but this reinforcement is terrible.

Perhaps as bad as the Ilvermoney’s (Did I get it that time?) houses is the ‘histories.’ First, there’s no distinction made between Canada, US, and Mexico. We’re all lumped together as ‘North America.’ Time frames where incredible amounts of change happened are lumped together and glossed over that the lack of details makes the fiction meaningless. Harry Potter’s wizarding world has always been removed from the ‘Muggle’ or ‘No-Maj’ world (which, okay, what the hell? How does ‘No magic’ become ‘No-Maj’ and why is North America using a different name anyway? A multitude of languages has always been spoken on this continent, but if we’re predominately English, French, and Spanish speakers, why aren’t we using Muggle or another language’s word? No one would reinvent the wheel. If Muggle’s the Brit word since forever, then our word should be at least related to it.) Ahem, anyway, magic history and muggle history often seem divided, which honestly makes the wizards seem rather stupid. Why doesn’t Mr. Weasley know how to work the damn Tube station? People manage initial contact with the concept without having a teenager describe it to them. But particularly in the case of US history, divorcing the magic and muggle worlds is a huge slap in the face. Consider, for a second, coming from Virginia in the Civil War and getting a letter telling you to go north to learn how to deal with this weird crap you’ve been doing. Or being a slave-child or coming from a reservation and going to school that tells you ‘Never share your power with your (filthy) Muggle parents!’ Those examples are from over a hundred years ago, sure, but recent considerations aren’t much better. Conflicts were numerous (and ongoing) when America began desegregation, didn’t this affect the magic school as well? Everyone just, got along?

Oh, yeah, and despite the population of an entire continent, we only have one wizarding school? Where does that begin to make sense? My imagination has been running away with me on what America’s wizarding history ought to look like, and I can come up with six schools and one university just for the US. I will admit too much ignorance in Mexican and Canadian histories to write up schools for them as well.

I just find it completely ironic that Rowling’s twitter has been exploding with Brexit texts this week, even ones calling out racism, and she (and whoever’s beta-ing this shit) has completely participated in cultural erasure. As an anthropologist, I’m angry at the disregard for myth structures. As a writer, I’m angry at the lazy world-building. As a reasonable human being, I’m freaking pissed at the mistreatment of non-white culture. Stay as excited as you want to about the new products being unveiled this year, but this has firmly placed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in my “Do Not Watch” list.

Houdini & Doyle

All right, so Houdini & Doyle has started playing in the USA on Fox. I first heard about the show back at 221B Con at the beginning of April. The show premiered over in the UK first and is re-airing over here. I don’t mind the delay, really. The original broadcast was back in March, which would have been lousy timing since like all of television was coming back for their final halves. I probably would have over looked this drama and never realized the fun I missed out on.

Because that’s the first thing I noticed about the show, it’s fun. In an era of too many detective shows and too many supernatural elements, finding an enjoyable take on the genre can be a challenge. But Houdini & Doyle does its best to escape from repetitive dullness of the case-of-the-week formula with engaging, complex characters. The main cast captivates, but so do the side characters. This last week we got more details about the police chief and what’s likely to be a recurring plot with Houdini’s mother.

Of course, the really intriguing ones are Houdini, Doyle, and Constable Adelaide Stratton. The show focuses on these three characters and their evolving relationship as Houdini and Doyle assist the police investigations into crimes where the ‘supernatural’ may occur. Doyle is attempting to prove the supernatural each time and Houdini is trying to disprove it. In a lot of ways, it’s like putting Richard Castle and Adrian Monk head to head while giving Detective Juliet O’Hara (Psych) the lead on the case. In the show, Doyle and Houdini share an adversarial friendship so that even when they disagree (which is about every time one of them opens their mouth about the case) they still display a healthy amount of respect. After gushing at their first meeting, Stratton shows them the same respect, often being the one who will engage with both the supernatural or mundane explanations. The other two might be the initial draw, but without Stratton in the mix, this could easily become another too-quirky buddy-cop dramedy (like Battle Creek or The Good Guys).

One of the things that keeps the trio interesting is also the limits and abilities of each character. You could make a character sheet easily out of what we’ve seen so far. Houdini, naturally, knows how to lockpick, pickpocket, escape bonds, and a host of other tricks involved with his time on stage. Doyle has medical knowledge and research skills. Stratton has her police knowledge and access to those records. They wind up complimenting each other beyond personality and even into their abilities, creating a much more cohesive investigation team.

The show takes place in the early 20th century, a notably sexist time frame, and instead of ignoring this, the show has made opened commentary on it. We as an audience know when Doyle and Houdini are sent to Stratton that it’s because no one is taking her or them seriously. Stratton even directly addresses this point. And she even points out when they whack her with a paradox when interviewing a particular witness, “So if I fail, it’s because I’m a bad investigator, but if I succeed it’s because I’m a woman?” Doyle and Houdini like to puff themselves up on occasion as being defenders of women, but they’re quickly called out on their microagressions as well. At the same time, this element of the storytelling isn’t overdone. It’s there and acknowledged, but not to the almost teeth-grinding way Agent Carter addressed the same topics.

We’re already in the middle of the season with only six more episodes to air. I’m already keeping my fingers crossed for a second season. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed intelligent dialogue and interesting characters and I’m hoping the rest of the show won’t disappoint.

“Fear” the Walking Dead

I’m not huge into zombie media. The classic monster type is at the top of ‘things that freak me out.’ Give me vampires or demons or any of horror’s other plethora of creatures, but please please please, not the zombies! Which is why The Walking Dead was such a surprise for me. I started watching it because so many people were talking about it and since I can never seem to get into sports, I need a conversation starter of some kind. So I downed the first episode and the second and then seasons. It’s not a perfect show, but there’s something I love about The Walking Dead that brings me back most weeks. So when AMC announced that they were doing a spin-off called Fear the Walking Dead, I–like so many other fans–was completely psyched. More stories in this world? And it’d fill those empty months between TWD episodes? Awesome!

Unfortunately, like so many other spin-offs and recent creations, Fear the Walking Dead isn’t living up to the hopes and dreams. I gave it the benefit of the doubt for a whole season. Zombies aren’t the reason I’m into these shows, so I didn’t care that we barely saw them during the first season (though one of my friend’s consistent complaints was that we weren’t seeing enough of the undead). The show built up and built up these characters, some I cared about, some I didn’t, but hey, they’d have to spend some time doing that, right? Unlike TWD, there’s no precedent for the Fear cast. No comics to fall back on and bring out loads of information, just brand new people for the writers to explore. The show fell a little flat, but that’s not uncommon, especially in such a short season of a brand new show.

But then, at the beginning of the second episode of season 2, Fear gave us the perfect analogy of what’s really wrong with their show. If you haven’t seen it (and don’t mind being spoiled), that episode starts with two children playing in the sand. They’re happy and content playing in the perfect day sunshine. Zombies lumber up the beach towards them. Oh no! The children are in danger! Except, hold on, the zombies are blocked off by a well constructed fence. The element of danger we as the audience feels completely dissipates. As the episode drags on, the main cast encounters this little family and we get more exposition about how the world is now. We get treated to the same argument we’ll be seeing the rest of the season it seems–Strand does not want anyone else on his boat and while the others grumble about it, they don’t seem quite willing to do anything (I say this not having seen the episode on 5/1).

So the problem is that we have a complete lack of tension. The characters manage to have all of these perfect save moments–when Strand and Nick were escaping from the facility and everyone happened to come together at the same door, one of them even having the needed key card! Ofelia has an infection and oh look, Nick managed to find the right drugs! The sources of conflict should be many with the world setting alone, but the families were protected first by the military and then by the boat they have now (and oh man, when it broke down, Travis managed to fix it in a day!) Instead of giving these characters experiences which they’ll draw on in the future, that will harden them into the necessary group of survivors that it takes to make it in this world, the group is little better than the Hilltop or Alexandria from TWD. They’ve got a slight ability in this world, but really, this seems much more like a group that would get torn down to about half before running into Rick’s group and eking out a life, maybe only one or two of them surviving until season 6. Of course they shouldn’t be perfect badasses from the get-go, but it seems like they’re being treated with kid gloves by the writers. We never worry about this core group because on the rare chance they encounter something, they dodge it almost perfectly.

The other should-be source of tension would be the interpersonal relationships of the main group. Strand has his secrets and keeps reminding everyone that the boat is his so his say is final, but the other characters only seem to have minor frustrations with this. Sure, Travis, Maddie, and Daniel have a couple of conversations, but I’m almost surprised that episode from 5/1 had previews saying that conflict was going to come to a head. Daniel spends a lot of time telling Ofelia that Maddie and her family are only going to look out for themselves, but he seems to be saber rattling. In fact, Maddie and the other members of her family only ever seem to try and bring more people into their survivors unit, so I don’t understand Daniel’s continued paranoia about them. They’re eight people and the yacht isn’t that large, why haven’t they gotten on each other’s nerves more? Alicia and Nick are getting along fine, Nick has wormed his way into ‘acceptable’ with everyone on board (except maybe Daniel who trusts only his daughter), Chris roams however he wants with no one caring. Strand isn’t quite Shane from TWD and Maddie isn’t quite Dale. It feels like the creators spent a lot of time making an ideal zombie survival group without giving them the personalities that would butt heads.

Basically, what we’ve got so far is just a great and long lesson in what a project looks like without that tension to keep a viewer on the edge of their seat. This is what happens when it’s too much exposition and not enough action. (They even managed to drive to Strand’s house without incident at the end of last season, come on!) At this point, my interest in the show has waned. Maybe I’ll pick it back up when the whole season’s available for a quick watch, you know, if I need some low-key background noise.

I’d like to stop dying.

People who talk to me on a regular basis would probably tell you that I get angry, a lot. That I get angry at media more often than anything. And that I’m ready to unleash my opinions on a trigger notice. I’ll go off about story-telling flaws–I’ve got long lists of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if?’ or ‘I would have done it this way if I was in charge.’ My other major aggravation is lack of representation. It’s been so cool this last year to see How to Get Away with Murder and Star Wars: Force Awakens and Mad MaxFury Road do well. The fact that women-led movies have dominated the box office the last couple of years is great. We’ve got more in a lot of ways.

And yet, somehow, a lot of the shows I watch decided that now was a great time to start killing off LGBT characters–specifically LGBT women. In the last week and a half alone, two different shows have killed same-sex inclined women. This trend isn’t anything new either. Autostraddle’s ever growing list goes back decades.

The trend is outright frustrating, especially in most cases the deaths aren’t necessary to continue the plot. Even more so because there are so few queer characters in the first place that killing them often means not seeing or finding another queer character for seasons–if the show gets to continue that long in the first place. The Walking Dead is now six seasons done with hundreds of characters, yet only five have ever been openly declared LGBT characters. Three of those have been women and two of those three are dead. The Vampire Diaries is in its seventh season and has had few queer characters to begin with, but they just decided to blow up Nora and Mary-Louise (the only f/f couple I can recall) in one move.

My largest source of anger comes from the fact that these characters are often killed for the sake of a main man’s plot. Supernatural producers defend their Charlie-killing (one of like only 5 LGBT identified characters in the show’s 200+ episode history) as ‘where the story took them.’ In this case, that was to get Dean to the point where he’d be willing to go kill a bunch of men. And it had to be death because, you know, torturing or kidnapping a character he saw like a little sister wouldn’t have been enough to set off the already everyone-kept-commenting-on-anger-levels Dean. Right. Never mind that Charlie had been out surviving on her own for practically a year, somehow she lost a fight when she literally should have climbed out the window. ‘For the story.’

Denise’s death on The Walking Dead isn’t any better. For one, she’s one where they decided to change comic book cannon. Instead of hooking up with Heath, she was with Tara. On top of that, Denise survived longer than her comic-counterpart. I’d assumed it’d be so we could have a lot longer with her–Carol’s still alive seasons after. But no, Denise uttered that she was scared about love and then bammo, less than a minute later she has an arrow through the eye. And what have the only effects been so far? Daryl getting pissed off and going out on a revenge spree (that was quickly cut off) and Rosita joining him on that. (You could attempt to argue that was why Maggie needed to go to Hilltop–without their doctor, she needed care. However, I will remind you that Denise was a novice doctor with limited resources while the Hilltop’s doctor was an obgyn with an ultrasound and Maggie’s pain has been abdominal. They would have needed to go to Hilltop anyway.)

On Arrow, Sarah Lance died because Malcolm wanted Oliver to deal with the League of Assassins for him. Oh, and the source of extra angst for most of that season was not telling her father because of his ‘weakened’ condition (a condition that seems to come and go as needed…) I don’t even know why Toshiko Sato of Torchwood had to die except those producers were getting rid of like everyone but Gwen and Jack (no, really, it’s inside of four episodes of the show that you lose 60% of the cast). But considering her death was part of Gray’s plan (worst plan and villain ever, btw) of revenge on Jack, that means that Tosh didn’t die as part of her own plot, but his.

Nora and Mary-Louise’s deaths on The Vampire Diaries were completely unexpected as well. I’m not even sure why the story went that way, and honestly it’s been hard understanding where this season’s story arc wanders in any given episode. I’d say they died for their own cause, except there’s a hitch with that. See, they blow this relic so that they don’t get separated. Sure. Makes sense, makes it about them. Only this moment is entirely framed around the fact that Stephan is laying on the ground, soul in the damn relic. And I don’t know why Raina threw her sword at Nora and Mary-Louise when she spent a chunk of the episode getting the sword back. Just doesn’t make any sense, unless it’s done entirely to prevent easy re-ensouling of Stephan, therefore, they died ’cause of a guy.

These have just been the characters I’m most familiar with in recent years. The frustration stems from the fact that 1. It’s so hard to find LGBTQA characters to begin with, 2. That they get to be fully realized characters in the first place and not just stereotypes, and 3. You get to spend just enough time with them that you can find something relatable. So it’s devastating that over and over, I get to have hope that these characters exist in these often violent worlds. I get to see that, hey yeah, there’s all kinds of people! That the world is wide and full of possibilities. And just when I get used to the idea, those characters are ripped away. With Nora and Mary-Louise, I was like ‘yes, awesome! we get to go through the ‘my lover is dying and I’ll do anything to save her’ plot/trope, only to have that turn into a ‘if we can’t be together we’ll die on our own terms’ inside of an episode–meanwhile Damen gets to fucking lament about Elena and/or Stephan for like the millionth time.

So I’m going to propose that for the next 5 years tv doesn’t kill another LGBT woman. Hell, at the current rate, I will take the next 5 weeks. I want the chance to feel included, not to sit there wondering how long until the clock runs out on the queer women this week. Come on, it’s not that hard to let characters live in these fictional worlds.

After all, the lead guys are all still there.

Editing, and why it’s not my enemy anymore

You hear writers grip a lot about the editing process, and for good reason. After you get done with a project, the last thing you want to think about is the changes you’ll have to make to it. Sometimes, we get that little voice that blocks us from writing in the first place because Oh God, we’re going to have to go over this again and fix it all! That’s why during NaNo writers remind each other to go bury that inner editor, abandon it for as long as possible just to get that draft out!

Unfortunately, that inner editor can’t stay gone. Eventually in the process, we need to let that critical voice ride shotgun. If it’s well trained, it helps us catch those errors and mistakes. Note, I point out well-trained. I’m not talking about the voice in the back of your head that tells you to give up writing in general. Sometimes we blame those thoughts on the inner editor, but really, that’s not coming from that voice. The give-up thoughts come from the doubter.

The first step to enjoying the editing process of writing means separating the doubter’s input from the inner editor’s critique. The doubter is the one that wants you to lose hope, to demolish your sense of self-worth, and to wreck your motivations. That voice can sound like a twin to the editor, but it’s not quite the same. See, the inner editor wants to help you find the best version of your draft. It points to flaws–grammar or story structure, but once separated from the doubter it’s just flaws without judgment. With its help, you can go from saying ‘draft’ to ‘manuscript.’

The second part is remembering why you’re sitting with a draft. Writing is hard work, but anyone who’s involved in this stage of the process is still at it because they want to be. Part of you wants to tell the best story possible and one of the big differences is caring enough to edit. We all wish magical, perfect first drafts would spring out of our head, but we know the reality is the sweat and marked up pages. Lots of marked up pages. We’re at these pages because we have stories that we want to share with others. Editing focuses prose into a better story, making it more enjoyable for the readers.

And lastly, finishing editing is one step closer to publishing–whether you go for self-publication or submitting to publishing houses. It’s really the last of the huge steps. After the draft is this solid, you hand it out to some betas, you finish that editing and wow, you’ve got a completed work. You’ll be done.

While it’s a lot of hard work, it’s part of the process. It helps dig out the wonderful story buried and put a noticeable polish on the words. Editing is something that has to be done in order to get the best story possible. Finding ways to enjoy this part of the process is going to make it a lot easier to do. And don’t we get more done when we find a way to have fun?