Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 7)

Some Context

Today, I am writing about history. Or, specifically, as the Wikipedia page would have it, “Racially motivated violence against African Americans,” a list that does not yet have listed paged for Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, or Jordan Davis.

TrayvonMartinHooded renisha-mcbride1 o-JORDAN-DAVIS-facebook

 

After the Jordan Davis story broke, I went digging for some context. Context for this violence that apparently is not talked about, or not enough, or not in a way that keeps it from happening. I found so many pieces, and I am not sure how they all fit together. What they make.

 

 

 

 

 

In 1946, after a solid 50 years of racially-motivated lynching, a Floridian named Tom Crews was the first man actually convicted of lynching a black man. He was fined $1,000 and spent a year in prison.

In 2014, a white man shot at a car full of black teenagers who would not turn their rap music down. He was convicted on three counts of attempted murder for the three teenagers he shot at. The jury was unable to come to a verdict about the teen he killed, Jordan Davis. A mistrial was declared.

I read a newspaper opinion column from the Southwestern Christian Advocate in 1912. The columnist was railing against lynch mobs, calling them a perversion and a mockery of the American justice system. No replacement for a trial in a courtroom. A travesty.

In 2013, George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin on the grounds of self defense, using Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law. A trial in a courtroom.

Emmett_TillIn 1955, a 14-year-old black boy in Chicago named Emmett Till was beaten, shot, and thrown into a river with a cotton gin fan tied to his neck. Why? He wolf-whistled at a white woman. There was a trial of a defendant, who was acquitted.

In 1964–the year of increased Apartheid in South Africa, the year of Kitty Genovese’s murder, the year the Beatles first toured the US, the year that Doctor Who first aired–1964 was also the year that three civil rights workers, two white men and a black man, were killed by a lynch mob in Mississippi. They were part of a movement called “Freedom Summer” that was a program to register more black voters.

Some of the literacy tests given to voters before registering them in the 1960s had ambiguous and difficult questions that could easily be declared wrong regardless of the answer given.

One of the Freedom Summer murderers, Edgar Ray Killen, was re-tried in 2005, and at the age of 80, given 60 years in prison. Seven men of the original mob got convictions in 1967; none of them served more than six years in prison.

2005 also brought the first official apology by the Senate for not passing federal anti-lynching laws at a time when they could have saved lives. “The U.S. Senate last night approved a resolution apologizing for its failure to enact federal anti-lynching legislation decades ago, marking the first time the body has apologized for the nation’s treatment of African Americans,” the Washinton Post reports. 2005, the first time the Senate apologized for anti-black legislation. 2005, the year I stood in Colorado Springs counter-protesting the Westboro Baptist Church who were protesting a GSA forming at the local high school. 2005, the year of continued numb overseas war, the year of Green Day’s album American Idiot and 50 Cent’s album The Massacre, the year of the Doctor Who reboot. 2005, the year of the Senate’s first apology about lynching, Resolution 39, which passed with 80 out of 100 senators co-sponsoring.

There has never been an actual federal anti-lynching law. Apparently state legislation and other laws about how one may or may not kill are supposed to cover it.

I know that all this news must have come across my internet browser in 2005–I was a junior in college–I remember hearing the bit about Edgar Ray Killen’s re-trial. But somehow none of it sank in; I didn’t have the context. I cannot wrap my brain or my heart around the enormity of the past history of racial violence in our country. People want to cast it far, far back, like it happened not only to someone else but to some other country far away. Resolution 39 “expresses the deepest sympathies and most solemn regrets of the Senate to the descendants of victims of lynching, the ancestors of whom were deprived of life, human dignity and the constitutional protections accorded all citizens of the United States.” Descendants, they say, and ancestors. As if it were a long time ago.

My father was twelve during the Freedom Summer lynchings, my mother fifteen. My aunt was eleven when Emmett Till was murdered. During my grandfather’s lifetime, 477 black people were lynched, and 43 white people. During my grandfather’s lifetime, over a hundred anti-lynching bills were introduced on the federal level. None were accepted. This was apologized about in 2005.

I want to know why there have been so many racially motivated shootings in the past five years. I want to know why it is considered remotely controversial to declare them racially motivated. I want to know why Travyon Martin, Renisha McBride, and Jordan Davis are not listed on the Wikipedia page “Racially Motivated Violence Against African-Americans.”

I’ve been thinking about white bystanders a lot lately. I want to know what the white people who were writing anti-lynching editorials for papers like The Montgomery Advertiser in the 1920s did with the rest of their time. I want to know what the white people who might have read opinion columns in 1912 thought about lynching, and if The Southwestern Christian Advocate was on their radar. I want to know what it was like for the friends of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were the three men killed in the Freedom Summer murders. I’m curious about their white friends in particular. What did they do with that experience? How did seeing friends get killed affect their commitment to, or aversion to, civil rights?

Emmett Till’s mother insisted on him being buried in an open casket so that the world could see the brutality that had been enacted upon her son.

What got me most about the Zimmerman acquittal was not the media coverage nor even the white people who thought justice had been served; what really got me was my black friends on Facebook, fearing for their sons’ lives.

Between the 1860s and the 1960s, according to the Tuskagee institute, about 4,745 folk were lynched: 1,299 white and 3,446 black. Most of the white people were lynched as a punishment for cattle rustling or some other crime. (This is what we mean when we say “Wild West.”) Most of the black people were lynched for looking at white women, or being black, or…

…for carrying iced tea and Skittles
…for wearing a hoodie
…for seeking help after a car accident
…for not turning the music down

the list goes on. None of it makes any sense. And I don’t think I can fix racism by writing about it. But I wanted to look at this history, to see how the new patterns repeat the old. I wanted to have some context.

New Things from 2013

These are five things inconsequential and five serious things that I did in 2013 that I had NEVER EVER done before:

This is Java Sparrow. I know that because of my rad birding app.

This is Java Sparrow. I know that because of my birding app.

Inconsequential:

  1. Downloaded a birding app (BirdsEye Hawaii). Which is actually really rad. You can keep your life list on your phone. Hard-core birders ftw. (A birder is someone who watches and identifies birds. A “birdwatcher” is someone who leers at women and may well be British and over 40.) Explaining birders to non-birders is like explaining Doctor Who fandom to non-Whovians, for the record. Vaguely awkward, and you have to explain why you care and why it’s multi-generational a lot. My grandmother was a big-time birder and got me interested in birding when I was a kid. I am not hard-core by any means, but still. Birding apps. The way of the future.
  2. Went to Scarecrow video. Dunno why I hadn’t been there before, sheesh.
  3. Related: Saw The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf. Notable for many reasons including Sybil Danning repeatedly exposing her breasts, werewolf orgies, and the fact that “your sister is a werewolf” is spoken verbatim like twice in the first ten minutes.
  4. Knitted a TARDIS hat. It was my first experience with color work. Fun! The bottom came out a bit wibbly-wobbly but otherwise it looks nice.
  5. Went to New York. Twice in a year; once for MoCCA Fest and once for cray pre-graduation times.

 

Honorable mention: Semi-consequential because it’s why this blog post is so short:

  1. Went to Hawaii. Which is where I am right now. I saw a mongoose. And a gecko. And crabs. And fishies. And birds. My favorite bird, for the record, is the Java Sparrow, pictured above. I like their little faces.

 

Serious:

  1. Quit my job because I wanted to stop doing it, as opposed to moving or finishing a term of service.
  2. Became the Associate Editor of Minor Arcana Press.
  3. Finished my MFA.
  4. Bought a house.
  5. Got married.

 

I am officially adult. If they gave you an Official Adult Card, I would be carrying it. In the meantime, I make up my own damn definition of adulthood.

Mawwage. And wuv, sweet wuv.

It’s time for a personal post, which is a rare beast on this blog, but sometimes Major Life Events happen and they’re important. So.

Anne and Mike in Kerry Park; holding hands, just married. Anne wears a polka-dot coat and a scarf; Mike wears a peacoat.

So cold. So happy. So married!

This past Friday, my beloved partner Mike and I were married. It was a cold day in Seattle, about 30 degrees and sunny. We were married at Kerry Park, in a little circle of eleven people: us, our immediate families, two friends, and a third friend functioning as an officiant.

We stood in a circle, called in the directions pagan-style, and told the Story of Mike and Anne:

Mike and Anne met seven years ago at a poetry reading at the Richard Hugo House. Mike’s art was on display. Anne thought it was great, found out he was there, and told him so. “Thanks,” he said, “I made it!” They went on to correspond through email and then go on a few dates. You know that awkward “getting to know you” phase? Mike and Anne never really had that. They were always on the same wavelength. In the windstorm of 2006, Mike got stuck at Anne’s house for three days, which was, in Anne’s words, “brilliant.” They decided that they were officially a couple. They talked on the phone nearly every day and only saw each other on the weekends for the next three years. Mike listened to Anne cry nearly every Friday night after a long, hard week of service in AmeriCorps for two years—after that he not only still wanted to hang around Anne, but he decided to do a year of AmeriCorps service himself. After his term of service ended, the two of them moved in together in Ballard. Both worked hard and supported each other through getting and quitting jobs, career changes, and artistic practice. They are each other’s cheerleaders and fans when it comes to art. They’ve already passed many of the milestones of traditional wedding vows: sickness, including Anne’s sinus surgery; health, including backpacking and CrossFit; richer, including buying a house together, and poorer, including living on AmeriCorps stipends. And now Mike and Anne have chosen to solemnize their relationship.

And then we exchanged vows. Our four overarching themes were love, support, companionship, and adventure. We both referenced sci-fi things (“I will feed you. And tell you that you are a nice cat. A pretty cat.”) and we both mentioned flatulence. We both made each other cry with joy, and I had a really lovely vision of what it would be like to keep these qualities in us as we become, as he said, “impossibly old” together.

We did a ring-warming, meaning we passed our wedding rings around the circle and everyone got to say a serious or silly blessing for us. I got given gentle, loving shit about how my first date with Mike I was fairly recently out of a relationship and wasn’t sure I wanted to be dating anybody so I totally convinced myself that it wasn’t a date. (It was a date.) I remember feeling that anxiety, the feeling of “I shouldn’t be in a relationship right now; I should be Independently Finding Myself.” Thing is, I can be with Mike and also find myself. Neither of us has to do any weird self-sublimation in order to fit in with each other. We’ve always been really good at keeping space for each other to be who we are and figure out what we’re on about. And that is one of the many, many things I appreciate about Mike. And so, in the ring warming, our families and friends had really wonderful words for us, and we exchanged rings. Of course, we didn’t use the traditional phrase, and instead went with “It’s dangerous to go alone: Take this.”

And then, thrilled and freezing, we took some snapshots in the last bits of sun.

###

So now let me back up a bit to two unromantic things:

1. Social Media

2. Engagement

Mike and I said nothing in public spaces like Facebook or Twitter, not a damn word*, until after the fact. Our Facebook status went straight from “in a relationship with” to “married.” Several friends with whom we spent time in person knew about our upcoming nuptials**, but many many did not, including people we hold dear, not just the casual Facebook-likers. And I think quite a few people were surprised when we posted the announcement online. I am sorry for any feathers I ruffled for not announcing things sooner.

The reasons why we went about it this way were twofold: One, we just bought a freakin’ house together and knew that in order to afford a wedding, in terms of time, energy, and money, it would have to be the smallest, chillest wedding possible. That’s not to say we won’t have a large friendparty or extended family potluck later, just to say that in order for us to make a wedding happen now, we had to have an incredibly restrictive guest list. Two, people get weird about marriage and weddings. Lots of assumptions, always well-meaning, about what a wedding is and how it will go. I wanted to have some privacy about it until it was a properly public thing. Because there’s a LOT of traditional stuff that we ignored entirely, and I didn’t want to have to explain it until after it was done.

For one thing, we sort of skipped the “engagement” phase of the turn. Mike and I were not “engaged,” unless you count our seven-year relationship prior to marriage. Engagement can be a wonderful and romantic thing, I know, but for us it was wrong***. It felt like an ultimatum that was bound to be one-sided, regardless of who actually asked whom.

The institution of weddings brings up a lot of thoughts about gender and misogyny for me. There’s epic double standards at play. If a woman asks a man to marry him, that’s fine these days, but I don’t see the drawn-out stories of romantic down-on-one-knee-with-a-ring engagements in hetero couples unless it’s the man asking the woman. Please show me examples of the other way ’round, if you’ve got ’em. Also, there’s the strong cultural aversion in hetero pairings to the man taking the woman’s name, but even my own mother, who kept her maiden name, actually asked me if I was planning on changing my name. I mean, look at my name. It is badass. I’d never change it, even if his last name was something like Lazerpony. And as a kid of parents with two different last names, I can assure you that maybe not having the same last name as your kid is not complicated or problematic. It’s fine.

Anyway, me being who I am, I looked up traditions and history and etymology and all kinds of stuff surrounding the institution of weddings and marriage. Women used to wear their nice Sunday clothes to be married in; it was only after Queen Victoria got married in white AND there were illustrations in widely-circulated magazines to prove it that everyone decided they needed to get married in white. It was only after WWII when people had excess money that this whole single-use dress thing got popular. And now the industry is full of price markups, crash diets, and Bridezillas. Weddings have been made monstrous, and I had no desire to participate in any of that.

So how did Mike and I come to be married, if we didn’t get engaged? Well, we talked about it. Not very romantic, but at some point over the summer we decided to buy a house and get married, in whichever order ended up being more convenient. And thus it was so. Now we have leveled up and become real adults, apparently. Huzzah!

Thoughts about weddings/marriage? I’m wicked curious. Put ’em in the comments.

###

*Aside from an accidentally public reply to a group event that Mike then deleted, but not before a well-meaning friend posted a screenshot of it on my wall with a “why did I not know this? when did you get engaged?” message.

**which is an absurdly dirty word in my mind. I think its proper usage should be something along the lines of “he fingered her trembling nuptials.” Okay, now I want to write terrible erotica that uses words that sound vaguely dirty but actually do not mean anything naughty.

***That being said, for many it is incredibly right. I have seen some heart-meltingly adorable engagements, like the couple who had Patrick Stewart say “engage” after he handed her the ring, or my buddies who got engaged by him slipping a special card in her Magic:The Gathering booster pack.

The Power of Interruption

(Or, Anne watches Firefly really strategically.)

A writing mentor of mine, Seattle writer of fiction and drama Jack Remick, wrote an article  (which you can and should read on his blog) about the power of an intruder in a scene. Watch TV, he suggested, and track the interruptions. Look for a scene between two people that’s interrupted by a third, either because a third person walks in, a phone rings, or some other interruption by people. There will be one of three reactions to the intruder:

1. They’ll be accepted by the group: Hail fellow, well met!

2. They’ll be repelled by the group: Friend or foe? What is your quest?

3. They’ll be expelled by the group: Get outta here! And the horse you rode in on!

 

I decided to try it out with Firefly, Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western. Specifically, I watched Episode Three: Bushwhacked.

If you’re not familiar with the show, you can take a crash course in characters here, but honestly, this summary doesn’t require you to know about the ongoing plot or characters.

“Bushwhacked”

normal_Firefly03_simoninara

Simon and Inara are watching the rest of the crew play a game in the cargo hold below. They talking about River, what happened to her, how she’s doing.

Interruption:  The ship’s proximity alarm, which prompts the game crew to interrupt Simon and Inara’s conversation.  Kaylee invites Simon to join them (accepts him).

Inciting incident of episode: They discover an abandoned “ghost ship.”

Expository group conversation.  Mal is being swayed by Jayne and Book—Jayne wants to leave and/or loot, Book wants to look for survivors. Decision is made to check out the ship.

normal_Firefly03_simonjayne
Jayne and Simon argue over whether Simon should go with the away team. Simon talks about his fear of space suits. No interruption, Jayne’s just a snarky asshole and leaves. Nevertheless, it’s a de facto repelling of Simon from the away team.

Mal and Zoe are looking at the spaceship. Some things are a little sketchy, suspense-building. No interruption, just:

Smash cut to River freaking out. She is comforted by Simon.  Interruption: Jayne, who tells Simon he’s needed on the other ship (“Hey, grab your med kid; let’s hoof it”) and he better suit up. Simon accepts Jayne, and that interaction breaks off the conversation and prompts Simon to put on a spacesuit and go to the other ship.

normal_Firefly03_maljayneSimon interrupts the operation in progress. Mal repels Simon (“Hi. Um, what are you doing here and what’s with the suit?”), then accepts him into the group. (“As long as you’re here, might as well lend a hand.”)

Various bits of plot-moving group dialogue between crew members; River goes to the ship.

Simon and Kaylee are talking in the ship. Kaylee realizes it’s not a mechanical failure that offed the ship. Builds suspense. No interruption.

Jayne in kitchen establishing shot. Builds suspense further.

Mal and Zoe bust open a locked compartment (cargo hold). They find valuable goods. Zoe is troubled that the settlers didn’t take it with them. Interruption: River, standing in the doorway, looking up at the corpses of the settlers. River: repelled/expelled. (“Get her outa here.”)

River looks up at corpses hung on the ceiling.

River spots where the crew went: hung up by Reavers. *shudder*

Mal and Jayne talking on radio; Mal giving instructions. Interruption: the survivor, who attacks Jayne. Mal and the other crew come to Jayne’s aid and find the survivor. Survivor: repelled, then sort of accepted(?), as Mal punches him out and they take him to sick bay.

Simon and Mal are caring for the survivor. Mal suspects the guy’s a danger. (“Dope him. Just do it.”) Group conversation about the survivor.  (“That ship was hit by Reavers.”) Sort of another conversational triangle between Mal/Jayne/Book: Book says that the slaughter was done by men, Jayne thinks it can’t be Reavers because Reavers don’t leave survivors.

 

 

normal_Firefly03_simon

“I’ve dealt with bodies; they don’t worry me.”

 

Simon and Book volunteer to go to the ship; this time Jayne, rather than Simon, is afraid to go. (“I ain’t goin’ over there with those bodies, no ruttin’ way. Not if Reavers messed with ‘em.”) Nice symmetry!

Group expository convo re: the booby trap attached to the ship.

Various action sequences of folks doing their tasks, cutting back and forth between Kaylee disarming the trap, the survivor going nutso (and River totally distance-grokking that), and Jayne/Simon/Book getting the cargo. Everyone returns at the same time. It seems like everything’s wrapped up, but…

 

 

An alarm goes off, mirroring the one in the beginning of the episode. (This is the midpoint of the episode.) This time, it’s an alliance ship. So, whole crew is interrupted by Alliance, who repel them.

Alliance commander and officer are interrupted by another officer who reports that there’s a Firefly class ship with two fugitives.

Commander and his officer turn to hear a third person tell them about the fugitives.

Mal prepares the crew for the Alliance to board the ship. Simon and Mal argue; Simon thinks Mal is going to turn him and River over to the alliance. They are interrupted by Book: “Don’t be a fool, son. Do as the man says.”

normal_Firefly03_bookinterrupts

Alliance Commander is grilling Mal about the fugitives. They are interrupted by an officer with news of the crazed survivor (presumably, he whispers to the Commander).

River looks out at the stars.Cut to a bunch of interviews with Commander and various crew members, which intercuts with and ramps up into soldiers searching Serenity for River and Simon, who are in spacesuits, hiding outside. All of these actions show character-building: how River stares delighted into the stars; how Simon turns away.

Mal and Commander in final interview. Arguing over what to do with the ship, talking about Mal’s Independents connection. No giving ground either way. Commander tries to accuse Mal of attacking the ghost ship. Mal realizes that the survivor is Reaver-izing.

Cut to the survivor going nuts, hurting the doctors.

 

normal_Firefly03_malinterviewBack to the interview.  Mal and Commander talk about Reavers, Mal trying to convince him that he needs to be worried about the survivor. Commander calls in a guard to “Escort Sergeant Reynolds to the brig.”

River and Simon are back in the ship. River is nervous; Simon is assured.

Mal being taken away. Interruption: call for guards/lockdown because of Reaver.

River and Simon, cont. Interruption: Reaver guy, who’s messing around in the kitchen. Even though they don’t cross paths, in effect, River freaks out ‘cause she senses the Reaver.

 

 

Mal and Alliance Commander on Serenity. Lots of intercutting between these two group as the alliance folk search out the Reaver and Simon/River trying to sense danger and hide. On the cusp of the two groups finding each other, BIG interruption by the Reaver, whom Mal firmly expels, i.e. strangles with his handcuffs, saving the Commander’s life.

Yep. Mal just pulled a crazed guy with self-inflicted face wounds off him and snapped his neck. Like y'do.

Yep. Mal just pulled a crazed guy with self-inflicted face wounds off him and snapped his neck. Like y’do.

Cut to denouement (“You saved his gorram life and he still takes the cargo”), which lasts less than 30 seconds.

normal_Firefly03_denoemont

 

It’s not every single scene, but I can definitely see how the intruder is at play in these scenes. It seems to me that a lot of the intercutting in this episode helped ramp up the tension as well. A few times in the episode (once when they’re disarming the trap, one when they’re searching the ghost ship, and once when the Alliance is searching the ship with Mal and River/Simon are there) a bunch of stuff is all happening at the same time and we need intercutting both for clarity and for suspense building.

***

What did you think? How does an intruder in the scene work? Have you used that trick in your NaNo? (If not, try having the awkwardest possible person intrude in on a scene where two characters are sort of spinning their wheels at each other and the plot doesn’t seem to be moving.)

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

 

 

PS: Screen caps from www.whedon.grande-caps.net. Thanks!

Dramatic Structure in Five Minutes or Less

So I’m a submissions editor for a small journal, viz. the person what reads all the dramatic works and fiction and is one of several people who votes yay or nay about pieces getting shortlisted. It’s been a really interesting experience–for one, I have some empathy for the faceless submissions editors to whom I send my stuff ever so frequently. There’s a lot to read! Seriously! And a lot of it does not particularly grab me. In terms of the dramatic works, here’s why: Maybe one out of twenty, so far, has had actual dramatic structure.

Don’t get me wrong, not every piece of dramatic writing needs dramatic structure. But take away dramatic structure and unless you have some serious performance art action going on, you’ve written a conversation between two people about something interesting. But that alone does not a drama make.

I mean, this could have been Hamlet Swoons With a Skull for Four Hours: The Play if not for dramatic structure.

I mean, this could have been Hamlet Swoons With a Skull for Four Hours: The Play if not for dramatic structure.

What makes dramatic structure?

 

1. A character that wants something (external or internal) AND will do stuff to try and get it.

If I, the submissions editor, cannot tell what the hell your characters are on about, then that’s a problem. It’s hard, though, surprisingly hard, to write dynamic characters who come in wanting something. We like, as a culture, to write reactive characters: let’s throw monster-of-the-week at our hero and see how he reacts! Let’s put our heroine in perilous situations and see what she does! Those can be relatively fun stories. But the characters are flat, because they aren’t internally motivated by squat. (Sorry kids who hate the “plot” parts of X-Files, but Mulder’s obsession with finding out what happened to his sister is really important to his believability as a character.)

In the further annals of What Not To Do, look at Bella Swan (at least the movie version) and her lack of effort do a damn thing to get what she wants. Having a character who wants something is great, but they have to actually try to get it somehow, even if it’s by passive-aggressive post-it notes.

2. A Major Dramatic Question

This usually goes something like: “Will [character] get [what they want]?”
Will Hamlet regain the throne? Will Sweeny Todd be discovered as a murderer? Will Mama Younger get a house with a backyard (which is totes symbolic of her dreams to help her family get ahead in the world)?

That’s an analytical tool I’ll use after reading a piece of drama. If I can’t identify a major dramatic question, I most often will pass on the piece, even if it was a really interesting philosophical discussion between two people on a stage.

3. A sense of time, a ticking clock

Seriously–especially for a short play, it’s important that time matters, that there is a sense of urgency.

There are lots of films with wonderful senses of impending doom via a ticking clock. Some are literally filled with clocks and a time limit: Labyrinth, High Noon, and any movie ever where someone diffuses a bomb or has to foil a plot, for example. Many films have a sense of time as a thing that matters, though, which lends a great sense of urgency to the plot. Bliss Cavander has to figure out if she’s going to the pageant or the roller derby bout on November 12th in Whip It. Will Smith has to seriously do something or aliens are gonna take over the earth in Independence Day. There’s a sense of “if these characters do nothing, terrible consequences will happen!”

 

If all of this seems very relevant to fiction as well, that’s because it is. *cough*

 

And now I have to run away to do work as well as somehow manifest 3,000 words for NaNoWriMo. Now there’s a sense of urgency. Damn damn damn.

NaNoWriMo and the Fraggle Rock Method of Characterization

nanowrimoNovember is one of my favorite times of year. In Seattle, the sky becomes steely gray, the rains return in earnest, and the darkness sets in properly. One must make the choice of being gripped by an overwhelming feeling of despair, or else channeling all that dark energy into creativity. I actually don’t mind the darkness as much as I used to because of all the creative juices one can stew in during the winter. And NaNoWriMo, that’s National Novel Writing Month to the uninitiated, is a lovely way to really get back in the groove. NaNo is a speed drafting challenge: 50,000 in a month. No worries about quality, all worries about quantity. It’s a good, healthy way to kick your internal editor in the teeth and rack up some serious word count.

I’ve done and “won” NaNo twice in 2009 and 2010. I completed Shitty Rough Drafts (or Junk Drafts, if you prefer) of two novels out of a trilogy. Then I got distracted by grad school and didn’t NaNo for a couple of years. This year, I’m doing a novel that’s unrelated to the two I did before. It’s a YA novel with a lot of blatant Hero’s Journey plotting and character design for all my supporting characters that’s super archetypal. By “archetypal” what I really mean is that I used the Fraggle Rock Method of Character Design.

FragglefiveFraggle Rock has some of the best character design of an ensemble-cast kids’ show ever. Can you remember every Fraggle pictured above? If you watched the show at all, or were like me and had a single VHS of just the songs that you watched over and over, I’ll bet you do. By contrast, can you name every Transformer? Every original 80s My Little Pony? Every Thundercat? Maybe you can, and have put my 80s knowledge to shame. But the Fraggles in particular stick in my head. Here’s my theory as to why:

You’ve got five basic Fraggle main characters: Gobo, Wembly, Red, Mokie, and Boober.

Gobo is the Everyman, in some ways the most generic of the Fraggles in terms of personality traits, but also the Fraggle that it’s easiest to identify with, since he doesn’t have a ton going on aside from a bit of curiosity and adventurous spirit. He’s the Hero: You, the viewer, can pretty easily imagine yourself in his place doing the adventurous things.

On the other hand, child-me was a lot more like Red Fraggle, or at least that’s how I thought of myself. Red is one of the four “side-characters” in the Fraggleverse. All four side-characters correspond to a great number of Things What Come In Fours: Elements, Humours, Suits of the Minor Arcana, etc.You could easily pick a Myers-Briggs type for each Fraggle.

 

Red is fiery, Choleric, literally a red-orange color, and corresponds to the suit of Wands. For those of you who’ve done any sort of direction-based leadership styles, Red embodies “North.” She’s outgoing, enjoys dancing and doing and “leading”, i.e. taking over and dictating how she thinks things should be going.

Mokie, the other female Fraggle, is more or less Red’s opposite. She’s calm, quiet, thoughtful, and often sees the big picture. She’s watery, Phlegmatic, corresponds to the suit of Swords (I know, usually Swords go with air, but go with me here), and literally a soothing purple color. She’s sort of mystic and motherly. In terms of directional leadership styles, she’s totally “East.”

Wembly Fraggle just likes getting along with everyone and is super, super nice. He’s yellow, which makes me think air, but then again his Sanguine temperament has him corresponding neatly with the suit of Cups and the “South” directional leadership style. He’s the people-pleaser and the supportive friend.

Boober Fraggle, who has fab taste in hats, is cranky, superstitious, and wary of more or less everything. Boober is green/gray, corresponds with Earth and the suit of Coins, has a Melancholic temperament, and is a “West.” He’s the type of character I wish more kids’ shows had these days: a bit of a sad sack, but a well-loved sad sack who was still part of the team. See also: Oscar the Grouch.

 

How does this apply to my novel?

I have a main character with four supernatural supporting characters who have that same archetypal split: One of each temperament, one of each element, one of each leadership style, etc. My novel is about a girl who finds that she is able to access and even change the “storyverse,” i.e. a parallel dimension that’s filled with incarnations of fictional characters. It’s ridiculous and fun. Thus far, my four characters who serve as her advisors/team are:

  • Vassalisa (from Russian fairy tales; the girl who met Baba Yaga and lived)
  • Shahrazade (teller of 1,001 Arabian Nights tales)
  • An incarnation of the Armless Maiden named Claire (based on West African folklore, although that story spans cultures like no other)
  • Fhanta-Ghiro the Beautiful (from Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales)

 

You’ll hear a little more about them as the month progresses. But right now I gotta go get my word count up to par. For those of you NaNoing out there, happy writing!

Geek Girl Con 2013

Seattle has a lot of cons, many of them very quality and wildly popular. ECCC is becoming a contender for major US comic con alongside NYCC and SDCC. PAX sold out in nine minutes and packed the entire convention center. But this past weekend was the Seattle con that has my heart the most: Geek Girl Con. I have heard (male) friends describe the best part of going to PAX is “being with my people.” And for reals, GeekGirlCon is my people, even more so than any other con.

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Pretty sure the guy on the left won the costume contest. On the right is cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch.

How do I describe GeekGirlCon? Do I talk about the gender distribution: maybe 75% women, 25% men? Do I talk about how much more visible queer geeks, geeks of color, and geeks with disability were than at other cons? Do I talk about the high quality of cosplay, the seriously good panels, or the interesting bits that other cons don’t have, like the DIY Science section or the networking section? I dunno, maybe cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch said it best:

 

I just hope everyone else had as good a time as I did. This con was a game changer for me, and I mean that sincerely. #geekgirlcon

— ★ Chaka ★ (@princessology) October 20, 2013

 

There’s just nothing else like it! Here’s a quick rundown of Interesting Things from the con:

The first panel I went to was about female characters in videogames. The panel was well-chosen: two game designers, Shoshanna Kessock and Kimberly Voll, and two gamers/critics, Anita Sarkeesian and Elsa Sjunneson-Henry. They talked about how to make good female characters. (Protip: Agency. Making choices that affect things in a meaningful manner.) They talked about the difference between choose-your-own-gender games and games where there is a female that you must play. They talked about the silly double-standards revolving around emotions: women have too many, men have none or maybe one. Douchey game developers have argued that women have too many, and even that anger (the only male emotion obvs) is just easier to animate than more complex emotional states. Shoshanna Kessock said she’d actually heard an argument against female “must-play” characters that goes like this: “Why would men be able to feel through the avatar of a woman?” I think if we could determine why many men wouldn’t be able to feel through the avatar of a woman, or if those men could figure it out for themselves, then we’d actually be on our way to a more just society. Not just in games and geek culture, but in general. To me, avatars and empathy is an example of the positive power of games.
Later in the day, I went to a panel entitled “Rule 63 Cosplay,” about genderbent cosplay. The presenters were my buddy from childhood (no kidding) and cosplayer extraordinaire, Torrey Stenmark, and turbo-experienced cosplayer Jonnalyhn Wolfcat Prill. They highlighted the difference between crossplay and gender-swapped cosplay. Crossplay is where one dresses as an differently-gendered character attempting to look like that character’s gender.

Jareth, the Goblin King (Torrey Stenmark)

On the other hand, genderswapping is where one dresses as a version of a character that is as if that character had been written a different gender.

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Steph Rodgers, Captain America. (Torrey Stenmark)

The radsauce Kelly Sue DeConnick gave a fantastic spotlight presentation where she talked about her upcoming title, Pretty Deadly, and a host of other topics. Kelly Sue is so smart, down-to-earth, and genuine in her presentation. I am consistently impressed by her as a writer and a human being. She talked a lot about Captain Marvel as well. She had a simple, humble moment of apologizing for screwing up by not putting in a black servicewoman into the Banshee Squadron. It’s an idea she’d gotten and discarded because it seemed unrealistic to her at the time. “I have these women with guns that they somehow know how to use fighting aliens in the South Pacific,” she said. She was saddened to later realize that she’d found a black servicewoman somehow *less* realistic. “I screwed up,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’ll do better next time.” God damn, I wish more creators and cultural curators could/would do that when they screw up. What a world that would be.

When Trade Secrets! reviewed Captain Marvel, incidentally, one thing we weren’t so hot on was the time travel aspect to the story–the pacing felt a little weird to us. I now know the heart-wrenching reason why she did a time travel story right off the bat: she really wanted to get to the banshee squadron and some of Carol’s relationship with Helen Cobb, but was also convinced that the story would be cancelled after six issues. So she got what she wanted to write about most done up front. I, for one, am glad that Captain Marvel didn’t get canceled after six issues. I heard several women talking about how they started reading comics because of the title–wow. We need this. Representation matters.

Lastly, let me give you a beautiful gift that Kelly Sue DeConnick gave the audience: The Sexy Lamp Test.

Deluxe Lit Leg Lamp mediumThis is a good test of whether or not your (female) characters have agency. It goes like this: “If you have a female character and you could replace her with a sexy lamp and the plot still works, then FUCK YOU.” *Cough* I mean, then re-examine her, give her a real purpose and like maybe a character arc or something, give her some agency, and let her choices matter.

 

So, GeekGirlCon! There are important conversations about women and race and disability and all kinds of neat things! There’s a lot of rad cosplay! There is actual science! There is a non-creepy vibe! (And yes, you can totally come if you’re a dude. Aside from it being FUN, it’d be a good exercise in what-is-it-like-to-be-female-at-most-other-cons.) It is a magical place. See y’all next year.

 

Revision Workshop Three: Product

If you’ll recall from my last couple of posts, I have a short piece I’m working on revising. I got feedback from my class last week, and this week I’m posting the revised piece.

The main thing I changed was the Dorian Grey reference. I freewrote about it, but it seemed to take a bit of a left turn, so I removed it entirely. Also, I decided that in order to better explain the speaker’s relationship to winter, I could add bits in about the landscape she lives in. So, no huge changes, just some tightening:

 

The Long, Slow Death of Zombie Fruit

 

I filled the one-quart Mason jar with barely ripe halves of plums on an August afternoon. Covered them with simple syrup. Sealed the jar. Put it on a shelf. Imagined winter, eating it in the depths of late November when I was desperate to remember the summer sun. The gray of Pacific Northwest winter will kill you faster than a blizzard. I thought the plums might help combat endless steely drizzle.

I think I never felt my desperation was adequate enough to unseal a jar—as if the pop of the lid would signal defeat: White flag! I’ve been brought low by you, winter. This eternal squash soup is not enough to see me through. But I never surrendered, and the plums stayed in their jar, sealed, on the pantry shelf.

Five years and eleven roommates later, the jar stayed in its place, in the cupboard next to the jar of pickled beets someone once gave me, taking up space. The syrup slowly turning from bright red to a darker stain, like old blood. The half-plums taking on the cast of organs pickled in formaldehyde—the appendix in a jar proudly brought to elementary school.

The plums were no longer food, not fruit any more, but a symbol of never quite being desperate enough. Inedible except when huddled in a bomb shelter or a bunker during the zombie apocalypse. “Desperate enough” became this increasingly hyperbolic creature. It began by occasionally envisioning having a day with just a few more shouts or tears than today, popping the jar to spoon sweet plums over ice cream. The stakes increased: maybe a power outage, maybe the plums would be shared with neighbors at some kind of desperation potluck. Eventually, I would have elaborate, visceral fantasies of being unable to go to work due to massive earthquakes or flooding, and then hunkering in my yard, cooking old dried beans on my camp stove, and finally eating the plums.

Looking at how the skin of the plums is beginning to peel back from the softening flesh, I can only think of how utterly without hope I would need to be in order to put a piece of that decaying, spongy flesh in my mouth and bite down. If I swallowed, what would I become?

I have to kill the zombie fruit. I, mad doctor who made them, who took natural things and preserved them with artifice and boiling water, am the only one who can do it. I will pop that lid at long last. I will pour the syrup down the drain. I will put their dead flesh in the compost. I will wash the jar. And I will fill it with something else, something better. Fill it with what’s been done already, perhaps, rather than hope for the future that may never come to pass. I know what sustains me through the winter now, and it is not the promise of desperation. It is practice. I can live off of squash soup and writing. It will be enough to see me through to spring.

For the record, I actually did at least deal with the zombie plums. They weren’t too nasty, just old. I composted them. This is what I did with the jar instead:

IMG_0280Every time I do something like blog or draft or revise or make weird collage postcards, I put a little slip of paper that says what and when. I expect it will be full by spring.

Top Five Villains Disney Couldn’t Deal With

Okay, kids. Here there are, the fabulously wicked five:

 

5. The father from “Donkeyskin”

The heroine from "Donkeyskin," since I couldn't find a good pic of the father. art by stuntkid

The heroine from “Donkeyskin,” since I couldn’t find a good pic of the father. art by stuntkid

Who he is:

There is a recurring character type in Grimm’s and a number of other fairy tale canons: the incestuous father. He’s usually a king who has one daughter and whose wife has died. He comes to the bizarro-world-logical conclusion that he must remarry someone as beautiful as his dead wife. Of course, no one in the kingdom is so beautiful, except his teenage daughter, because genetics. He tries to marry his daughter, who actually-logically freaks right out and runs away. She often goes and hides somewhere in the skin or fur of an animal. I’m sure the Jungians and/or Freudians will tell you why.

About the tale(s):

The incestuous father theme shows up in Charles Perrault’s “Donkeyskin” (which Robin McKinley retold in her fantastic YA novel Deerskin), the Grimm’s “All Fur” (winner in the 1889 Fairy Tale That Sounds Like A Porno Competition), and the Italian tale, “Wooden Maria.” More directly, in Scotland the tale is called “The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter”; in India, it’s called “The Princess Whose Father Wanted to Marry Her.” Like I say, it’s a theme.

Why Disney wouldn’t want him:

Somehow, even though kids deal with abuse and incest, it’s such a taboo in our society that We Dare Not Speak Its Name. Also, cute songs about running away from your incestuous father would be a little weird. Disney dads are always the good guys; in the latter-day Disney films dads are usually the ones their daughters are trying to protect. There are never truly evil biological parents in Disney.

 

4. The stepmother from “The Juniper Tree”

juniper-treeWho she is:

Widow. Remarried. Child murderess who cooked her dead stepson. Met with horrible end. Standard Grimm fare.

About the tale:

A widower, who has a son, remarries a widow with a daughter of her own. His new wife becomes insanely angry about/jealous of the son, and so beheads him with the heavy lid of an apple chest, like you do. Then she hides the body by cooking it. Her daughter finds the bones and buries them under the juniper tree in the yard. Meanwhile, a little adorable bird is flying around town singing “My mother she killed me, my father he ate me, my sister Marlene, she made sure to see my cones were all gathered together, bound nicely in silk, as neat as can be, and laid beneath the juniper tree. Tweet, tweet! What a lovely bird I am!” (Zipes translation) Apparently, no one in the village is weirded out, nor investigates the alleged crimes. Instead, they give the bird gifts: a pair of shoes for Marlene, a gold chain for Dad, and a millstone for Stepma. In the end, Stepma is crushed to death and the son mysteriously regenerates. The final line, which I find to be the most chilling part of the tale, is: “They went into the house, sat down at the table, and ate.” COME ON, Grimms. After a cannibalism tale, happy family dinner?

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

Disney’s perfectly fine with murderous step-parents from Snow White onwards. This tale even has the requisite adorable singing bird. However, the cannibalism kicks this tale right out of the running.  Apparently incestuous cannibalism is an issue Disney doesn’t want to touch. Who knew?

 

3. Bluebeard

Bluebeard, bein' a wall-eyed creeper. Art by Gustav Dore.

Bluebeard, bein’ a wall-eyed creeper. Art by Gustav Dore.

Who he is:

Just a guy with a blue beard who marries girls, plays mind games with them, and then kills them and stores their corpses in his murder closet. NBD.

About the tale:

A girl ends up marrying Bluebeard, usually with pressure from her family because he’s loaded. When she goes to his house, he is indeed loaded, and shows off all his wealth. Then he tells her he’s leaving on a trip and gives her the keys to the house. He tells her she can use any one except the little golden one on the end. She is, of course, tempted, and after checking out all his bling, uses the forbidden key. She finds, of course, a closet with the bodies of all his former wives. When Bluebeard comes home, he finds out that she used the key (usually through supernatural bloodstain or other marks) and tries to kill her. She begs to go “pray” upstairs (read: shout of the window for help from her family), and her brothers rush in and kill Bluebeard. And then she joins a nunnery and/or becomes a hermit. Okay, maybe not that last bit, but seriously. I wouldn’t take my family’s advice on marriage ever again after that. Other tales of this type include the English tale “Mr. Fox,” and the Grimm tale “Fitcher’s Bird,” and to an extent the Scottish ballad “Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight.”

Why Disney wouldn’t want him:

Disney’s all right with lying and/or evil potential love interests. Gaston is a buffoon who turns evil/murderous, Frolo sort of has a Catholic guilt yen for Esmerelda, and Kocoum seems ordinarily jealous of John Smith.  But all of these men are sort of normal people who have a bad time of it; none of them are outright evil and duplicitous from the start. (Well, maybe Frolo. But I like to imagine that he could have had a nice retirement illuminating manuscripts or something.) More than anything, though, the murder closet is the issue. It’s just a little too gorey for Disney.

 

2. Lilith

Art by John Collier.

Art by John Collier.

Who she is:

Lilith has two sides to her story. On the one hand, she’s a Jewish demoness whose main gig is temptation and corruption. On the other hand, Lilith is a powerful feminine figure and Adam’s first wife, who was made from clay instead of rib, and was thus equal to Adam. Adam couldn’t handle her, so she was banished and God tried again, this time with patriarchy! Lilith went out beyond Eden and had lots and lots of demon babies. In popular culture, Lilith has been used as an icon of feminism, as in Lilith’s Fair. Talk to an Orthodox Jew, on the other hand, and likely they will not see her in the same light.

About the tale(s):

In Jewish folklore, Lilith either shows up as a surprise naked lady in the basement to seduce otherwise reasonable Jewish husbands, or else she lingers behind mirrors waiting to jump out into vain folks’ lives and mess with them. A great resource for Lilith tales is the book Lilith’s Cave collected by Howard Schwartz.

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

I mean, realistically, it’s because a sexualized villainess with some fairly direct religious connotations. As a rule, Disney strays the hell away from anything religious. Noteable exceptions include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where we get a religious zealot villain, and Hercules, which if the Greek Gods were still in power, would have resulted in some lightning bolts up in heeere. But a seductress/demon/mother is just too much for Disney.

 

1. Baba Yaga

Art by _iphigen

Art by _iphigen

Who she is:

Baba Yaga is a withered old witch who lives in the woods of many Russian tales. She lives in a house on chicken legs lit by flaming skull torches. Oh yes. She’s totally metal. She has a cat, a dog, and a stove, in which she cooks the flesh of curious children. She especially enjoys enslaving and then eating little girls. She spends her days flying around the country in a mortar, using a pestle as a rudder.

About the tale(s):

Baba Yaga appears in a lot of different tales, but perhaps her most famous tale (at least on this side of the Atlantic) is “Vasilisa the Wise.” In this story, a little girl, Vasilisa, is in a Cinderella-esque situation of no natural parents and some jerkish stepsisters. They’re a little more direct than Cinderella’s stepsisters, though, in that they send her into to forest on a mission to get light from Baba Yaga. Luckily for Vasilisa, she has a little doll that her late mother gave her. She takes care of it, and in return it tells her all the strategic tips she needs to know about surviving a stay with Baba Yaga. Vasilisa is just the right amount of polite and industrious (completing impossible tasks with the help of her doll), and returns with one of the flaming skulls. If I were one of her sisters, I’d pretty much leave her alone forever, ‘cause anyone who can talk Baba Yaga out of a flaming skull is not to be messed with.

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

Other than the fact that she’s actually terrifying, I have no idea. I mean, perhaps the fact that she literally eats children might have to be toned down. But come on, eating children happens in a lot of fairy tales. Baba Yaga’s character design is so strong, I’m shocked that she hasn’t been animated more in the states. I think the closest we’ve seen comes from Japan, actually, in the form of Yubaba from Spirited Away. Come on, American animation. Let’s see a Baba Yaga cartoon with a metal soundtrack. Is that too much to ask?

***

So I went and quested for Baba Yaga animation. This cartoon comes the closest to my metal hopes and dreams, although it has none of the badass defeat-Baba-Yaga-by-her-own-rules business of the tale, and devolves into violence quickly…which *is* very American I suppose:

And this is just adorable:

 

A Picture in Lieu of a Proper Post

image

This photo of the skies on the New Mexico/ Texas state line is not only a metaphor for the shape of the psyche of the people of that land, it is also a metaphor for me not writing the other half of the blog post from last time before going out of town. So, here. This must be worth at least 1,000 words:

 

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