Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On being different – Part I: What a distinction difference makes

As a writer, I find myself often asking myself about human nature. It’s the driving force behind every character driven story, and even the plot driven ones, not just because I’m writing about people in motion, but because I’m developing characters that readers need to sympathize with. People sympathize with the similar, but go too similar and the sense of self repels. This seems to be the stake in all relationships between people.

I am different. I grew up “different.” But not different in the fashion that a made-for-TV Disney movie might attempt to portray. I am not Dumbo with my giant ears helping me fly; I am not the kid who had bazillions of navigational data points poured into my brain by an ET; I am just myself, same as millions of others, no strange maverick when placed against the billions of humanity. Yet in my smaller community I am the black swan.

The concept of growing up different or being different is so broad that I am going to have to break it up into parts.

Being different is not about finding a distinction from the mainstream—it’s about being different from your local community. Why? Because anyone sufficiently different from everyone else simply stops being a social human and in those terms anyone can argue that nobody is different: everybody is the same. We all have the same underlying mechanisms driving our motives and needs, but this seems to be a hollow entreaty, especially when it’s an individual arguing this. We are all different and we’re all similar. It is only due to the basic similarities that tie us together that we can even give context to our differences.

As writers we draw upon our experiences to weave believable narratives from nothing. First we must produce a foundation from what makes everyone similar—those social motives and mores I just spoke about—then we have to tweak them slightly to move away from them. The character in question also cannot be so alien from the readers that they cannot relate. This is the problem of aliens.

The problem of aliens could be distilled into a single idea: that readers want to sympathize with characters coping with situations that they themselves can put themselves in. The crux of a great deal of Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction is about things that haven’t happened to anyone, and some of them want to prevent a world quite alien from our own, either alternate in reality or deeply futuristic. Aliens in these stories often become prominent; but they’re not that alien, especially if they’re the character telling the story. Narrator aliens happen to be very human (similar enough) where as non-narrators can be wildly alien; but instead they get lensed through an anthropomorphic camera.

Good example of this is M.C.A. Hogarth’s Spots the Space Marine. The aliens in this context are a type of sentient praying mantis. They’re definitely alien, but they use English to communicate, they’re capable of distinct social reasoning, and their behavior is portrayed to us through human characters. By forcing aliens in SciFi stories to interact with humans close enough to the reader it allows them to sympathize with the aliens through the narrator. This can also be true for actual humans who would otherwise alienate the reader by being crazy—there is nothing more alienating than complete breaks from social reality like schizophrenia.

Another case of careful difference in characters happens to be when portraying deep afflicting traumas. How a person reacts to PTSD, to a rape, assault, having a friend commit suicide—all horrible and sad traumas that must be coped with, but most people don’t experience most of these things directly, even many of our readers. Those that do, of course, have a context that they can draw from but it will different fundamentally from that of the writer (and probably every other reader.) So the writer first builds a world familiar to everyone. The mundane similarities that tie us all together: the desire for company, the need for comfort, the things that go bump in our heads when we feel insecure… And then they introduce the exotic portions of the trauma to show how all the above have been changed or struck by that trauma. And finally how the character copes.

We all cope with stresses day to day. Small ones. Big ones. They differ greatly in type and amplitude; but when writing fiction they all take on the same sort of axis, one that either leads towards resolution or one that doesn’t. People read stories to escape their mundane stresses, so they add our exotic stresses instead. We reflect their coping mechanisms, their defenses, even sometimes their hopes and fears in our literary brush strokes.

My differences make my writing distinctive.

You should let them do the same for yours.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Tempe Town Lake Monster gone for good?

As we all know by now: there is none. No monster.

For some time since the creation—flooding, filling, fish-stocking, et al.—of the Town Lake there’s been wild and delirious rumors of various critters thriving beneath the opalescent waves. Some of them described like the otter (or beaver) which frolicked there for a while in the early 2000s, although they described a creature almost ten times larger than any ordinary otter. Sleek and splashing through the waves, tossing fish, harassing boats. Then there’s the Loch Ness Monster sightings from the lake’s shores that coincided with nights after curfew and sometimes full moons. Loops of a large, reptilian creature that would surface momentarily like a submarine and peer around. Finally, I’ve read tales about a suspiciously tentacled creature, the giant lake squid or octopus that crawled in the depths during the day, attacking fishers’ bobbers, or thumping the bottoms of boats.

Now, with the lake drained, sadly we can see that none of these creatures has made their appearance.

We could speculate further.

Perhaps the lake monster is the reason why the dam burst. The official story a carefully designed cover up talking about sunlight and heat affecting the rubber until it gave way. No, this has been an escape.

The monster—by whatever phylogeny it might possess—must have grown weary of devouring the stocks of fish and decided to flee downriver. Perhaps it also has a mode of locomotion that permits it to stride overland without too much difficulty. This could certainly explain how it arrived at the lake originally. Either that or it might have come down from Hoover dam when the lake originally filled, sneaking in under the watchful eyes of the civil engineers who flooded the riverbed to create the lake.

Needless to say: our Tempe Town Lake Monster has vanished with the waters. Leaving behind only the strange legacy of its memory.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tempe Town Lake drainage and the culture of nothing

So, there’s been a little bit of discussion about the Tempe Town Lake dam breakage over at Mill Avenue Vexations. And it’s certainly something that affects Mill Ave, both community and culture. Especially those expensive condominiums that sold billed as “water front property” due to the construction of the fake lake. I still recall the days that the fake lake got added, filled in, and became the glistening stretch is now—er, or was until a few days ago.

The project struck a lot of us who live at street level as a poor grab at celebrity for a town that already has a grassroots fame for being a historic venue, and a recently gained fame for being a music and artistic venue next to a college. At least that’s the outcome of the 90s bohemian “revival” effect. Which seemed to do the economy a lot of good, brought in a lot of people—like me—and made the place a lot more livable. I can’t speak much for the culture of the place before the 90s (because that’s before I arrived) but stories seemed to reflect that it was pretty dull.

A proper history of will reflect that before the 90s the artistic revolution did not represent Mill Ave; but those that try to use this to say that an artistic history for Mill Ave is improper are deliberately ignoring the impact that having one had. Especially in the fact of the 2000s being an era where every interested party in Mill Ave went out of their way to stomp and kill off that culture…while claiming it as a foundation. The Tempe Town Lake certainly handles a legacy of this sort of behavior and with their latest snafu they haven’t gained a lot of credibility.

The Lake failed to deliver what it suggested it would. Except perhaps cheap celebrity. The condos and business buildings there cost way to much, people don’t visit Mill Ave to visit the lake. People certainly won’t, and for the most part cannot, move into the condos due to their egregious pricing, and the failure of the dam only tends to illuminate this misfortune.

Now as for the mystique of the lake. I think I’ll talk about that in a separate post. I have some ideas to play with.

Anyone have an experience with the Tempe Town Lake they’d like to share?

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I started the application process for Social Security Disability today.

For everyone who doesn’t know me that well. I have cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure, and I have had it for a while now. It limits the things I can do. Fortunately, I’m a writer, which involves sitting around a lot—and it would be nice also to have a lot more energy to do writing. My job situation has dissolved, and thus I’ve been looking for a new one that can accommodate my needs. As these are few and far between… It seems only responsible that I see if I can get on disability.

While most of my Mary Sue characters happen to also be sick, my best-written characters have amazing strengths. My illness has affected my writing in that I tend to design characters who have strengths to overcome their weaknesses. Vex Harrow may be seemingly crippled by the voices that she hears, but she’s an extremely powerful mage; her obstacles arise directly from the application of her power. Elaine Mercer happens to be somewhat socially inept even if she is brilliant with computers and technology; but she has her friend Frog, who is a social butterfly, to help work her through that.

I’ve never professionally written a character with my disability yet. Possibly because it hits too close to home. Also, when it comes to the audience, it can be a bit of a cheap shot. It creates a false sense of initial intimacy and involves an entire set of coping mechanisms that make the reader feel sorry for the character rather than actually sympathizing with them. Certainly, if I wanted to raise heart failure awareness, I might work out a character with my particularly romantic “rarified constitution,” but I prefer my superheroes somehow “super.”

I need not go into how my kryptonite happens to be walking more than a quarter mile or trying to lift anything heavier than a jug of milk.

Just like Vex I have a talent that arises from my disability—my patience and gentle teasing out of thought from the pliant nature of reality—and like Elaine, I have many, many wonderful and good hearted friends who help me when I’m unable to do things for myself.

I might get on disability, in which case there’ll be a lot more writing for everyone to enjoy; or I might not and instead find a new job, in which case there’ll be fewer projects but they’ll have a better budget.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Release: Mill Avenue Vexations Volume 14: Ghosts of the Past

Announcing the release of Mill Avenue Vexations Volume 14: Ghosts of the Past.

It's been a while before I was able to get this one online. I went to my friend, Luis Boisvert, who designed the very first covers for Mill Avenue Vexations. There isn't going to be a physical production of this booklet for the time being until I have enough funds to publish one; but right now we do have the web version and you can read it.

In this volume the strange changes taking effect have been given palpable form. We get introduced to Vex Harrow's mother, and we get to visit the 'A' on A Mountain. The world and reality may be coming apart at the seams but it's a good time for a hero to step up.

With work on Black Hat Magick Dread Vote complete we will be seeing further work on Mill Avenue Vexations until it’s completion sometime next year. There are probably only two or three volumes left to complete this arc and afterwards I’ll be compiling it together into a full novel. It might even be fore sale as a hard copy. A representation of almost five years of constant work.

It’s been a beautiful drive, with lots of amazing artwork, wonderful artists, interesting people, and a rich, vibrant culture to follow from the year 2005 until 2010. We’ve seen 14 volumes, half as many tribute booklets, two humorous short stories, a short story published in a magazine, and so much more from this project.

It’s been an amazing cultural success.

Anyone who wants to, come find me on IM, tweet me (twitter @kytsune), or call me—we can celebrate the release of Volume 14!

Link via (Mill Avenue Vexations).

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Why is Veronica Mars so awesome?

I don’t know, but one of the bad perks of unemployment: I can spend all night on a Netflix video marathon.

Just finished both season one and season two of Veronica Mars and I really love the show. Of course, we’re talking about me here: I grew up on Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and other teenage detectives.

Veronica Mars reminds me of those books, but updated for the 21st century.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Monday after…the 4th

So, I’m discovering that most doctor’s offices are closed (this because I want to get an appointment at a specific few) and my guess is that I should have listened to my editor. She’d warned me they might be closed today.

Of course, I should have guessed. It is the day after the 4th of July.

I haven’t slept—which is actually rather odd.

We’ll see how this affects my writing today!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

US Vice President promotes lie about US piracy law

Vice President Joe Biden introduced the Joint Strategic Plan to combat intellectual property theft today. In his speech Biden declared war on ‘pirate’ websites, both foreign and domestic, arguing that piracy is theft and a potential threat to national security. Read the article at

Upon the nomination of US President Obama to office my friends told me that Joe Biden, his chosen VP, happened to maintain a penchant for gaffes—but this isn’t exactly what I thought they meant.

To top it off the Vice President reiterated the words commonly uttered by pro-copyright lobbyists such as the RIAA and MPAA. “Piracy is theft, clean and simple, it’s smash and grab,” Biden said, comparing unauthorized downloading to robbing a jewelry store. Although semantically incorrect, since ‘theft’ implies that something is taken away and not copied, the message is clear.

I am not sure what the Vice President is smoking, but it’s obvious that the MAFIAA have spiked his weed with the propaganda of stupid. There is nothing clean or simple about copyright being theft except for in a diseased left-brain sort of stretching-facts-to-fit fashion. It’s especially not comparable to burglary. Nothing gets smashed (no windows, no doors, no barrier that needs repair later) and in a sort of way nothing gets grabbed (no product taken needing to be replaced, no store owner waiting on insurance to make up the loss.) No. Something gets copied. The only working metaphor comparing copyright to a smash-and-grab at a jewelry store is that one morning a jeweler wakes up to discover all of their alarms, windows, and cases intact—no jewelry missing, nor disturbed—but the store across the street is now selling the exact same product.

“No, officer they didn’t take anything they copied it exactly and are high tailing it out of here to sell it across the border! Arrest them!”

In fact, the US Supreme Court does not agree with the MAFIAA or Vice President Biden in this account. In their 1980 decision in Dowling vs. United States the Supreme Court opined that “copyright infringement is not theft.” Both of these terms have distinct definitions in our legal system and they don’t overlap—playing dishonest games with language to pretend that they do makes for some stunningly disingenuous acts by our leaders.

Is copyright infringement illegal? Yes. Is theft illegal? Yes. Is copyright infringement: theft? …vandalism? …racketeering? …assault? Shall I continue to compare illegal acts that don’t legally overlap seeking a deceitful metaphor? This is the basis of this propaganda spread by the MAFIAA and their PR cronies and we, the public, shouldn’t be falling for it.

Tell us that copyright infringement is a problem; then show us why it’s a problem. Stop bleating at us with loaded language, propaganda, and non-sequiturs trying to connect these acts to laws that don’t relate to them. If you cannot argue copyright infringement poses a threat to us, without being dishonest about its place in our digital culture, then perhaps it’s because you don’t have the case you pretend you do.

Does Biden know better? Probably. The copyright and IP law lobbies of the RIAA and MPAA to create an IP mafia with public opinion continue apace, but it’s not fooling everyone.

Grow up, Mr. Vice President.

Link, via

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A letter to A. A. Milne

Hails Mr. Alan Alexander Milne,

I would really love to be on a first name basis with you. Alexander. Alan. It would be a fitting honor for someone that I literally grew up on. I’ve loved the 100 Acre Wood since I was a foot tall and lived in my own imaginary woods between the brick alleys of my neighborhood.

Did you know that I was almost named after Christopher Robin? (Although the name would still be odd today, I would proudly wear it.) While the stories certainly resounded more around the inhabitants of the 100 Acre Wood than Christopher himself, he did represent the numinous event that produced their need—and not without a minor “Tut, tut it looks like rain!” and that little red umbrella.

Perhaps I should get myself one.

You’re one of my literary heroes to this day. Enlightening me with moral stories that didn’t make grand patronizing gestures to me as if I didn’t understand the world; that actually presented dilemmas that I found frustrating, and giving me a reason to like the disliked neighbor—Rabbit.

(To be fair, aside from Christopher, my favorite has always been Eyore—perhaps I’d been goth way back then as well. Give me an Eyore patch and perhaps a backpack and I’ll be happy as a lark under a branch in a rainstorm.)

Who are we as writers if not the replay of our favorite moments from our own lives and those of our literary progenitors and you have many progeny today, Mr. Milne. I may not write children’s books that I so lavishly grew up on, but you are never far from my thoughts even as I yank ghosts and goblins from the collective unconscious of the human race and parade them through gaslit streets.

Don’t wait up for me.

I’m already a fan.

Sincerely yours,

Kyt Dotson

Via my blog on