Captain Marvel: The rules of engagement

Happy one week anniversary of one of my favorite recent superhero movies. Let’s talk about Captain Marvel.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again that I’m not a reader of the Marvel comics. I’m not much of a comic book reader in general. So my introduction to all Marvel superheroes is generally the one I get with the movie. I’m not averse to that – I think that, consistency aside – some of these movies have been absolutely excellent from a storytelling perspective, and that’s what I talk about when I do reviews of them. This movie was one of those movies.

Spoilers, goes without saying.

Continue reading “Captain Marvel: The rules of engagement”

Anime Corner: Sexual violence in Dororo and Banana Fish

So I’ve been watching a lot of anime lately, due to having more than doubled my streaming services. I’m actually thinking about making a shoujo corner a regular feature of the blog just because I love shoujo so much. But I also occasionally watch stories outside of that genre.

Anime watching, for me, contains a lot of conflict. I fully understand that anime exists in a cultural context that is Not Mine, and in fact that’s a lot of why I find some of these stories so moving. Japanese humor is nearly the only humor for me – with the exception of Brooklyn 99, I rarely find American stories funny. Japanese tragedy is delicious and overblown and I love every second of it. I recognize that I come into each interaction with anime, despite having watched it from a very young age, from a place that is outside. I may get most of the jokes, but I’m always going to be carrying around my own context as a rather-odd-but-nonetheless-American duck.

Still, a lot of anime’s take on sexual violence is really stifling to me. This occurs both within and outside of shoujo, but I find it especially pervasive in anime which might be classified under the action subgenre. Yet, as you might imagine, I love this kind of anime, too. As Roxanne Gay stated about her love for rap music in her eponymous essay collection, I, too, am a bad feminist.

Enter Dororo and Banana Fish, two anime with lots of action, tragedy and tension, both of which feature a mostly male cast. So far I have absolutely loved these two shows. But both neither of them deal with sexual violence particularly well. Trigger warnings for sex, sexual assault, and violence. Spoilers for both. I do not own these IPs, or the images used herein to discuss them, but you can find them on Amazon Prime.

Let’s start with Dororo, mostly because I started watching it first.

Dororo is a story set in a fantastical feudal Japan, wherein the main character runs around fighting demons with his sword arms. It is pretty far away from Banana Fish, a story set in modern day New York City where the main character is a gangster with a gun. Yet both Hyakkimaru and Ash are marked by betrayals and are fighting against monsters much bigger than them at great personal cost. In Hyakkimaru’s case, his father traded all of his body parts to demons for power. In his quest to regain the parts of his body, Hyakkimaru grows connected to those around him. We largely see Hyakkimaru’s conflicts through the eyes of his companion Dororo – and it’s Dororo with whom we commiserate the most.

Hyakkimaru meets a woman around episode five who, so far, is the woman with the most weight to the plot. She is caring for several wounded war orphans, mysteriously vanishing every night and returning in the morning with food and needed goods. It is very obvious from the first moment that she is shown on screen, washing herself in the river, that Mio is engaging in sex work with the neighboring militaries in exchange for food. However, the other characters seem mostly oblivious to this fact – until Dororo follows Mio, and we witness her subjugating herself to those men in a scene I found very disturbing. At first I couldn’t place myself on what, exactly, disquieted me so much about this scene. It took watching Banana Fish to clarify it for me.

I mentioned that Ash, the lead in Banana Fish, is a character who is marked by betrayal. Specifically, Ash was kidnapped and made into a sex slave at a very young age. It is obvious that these sex acts are not a source of pleasure for him. They are something he has had to do to survive, just as Mio has. But as viewers, though we are clear that Ash has had these experiences – continues to have these experiences, even, throughout the narrative of the story – we don’t see the assault directly until the final arc of the anime. This is simply a thing that has happened to Ash. It is part of who he is, but it doesn’t rule him. Ash kills or outlives everyone who took from him in this way, though in the final arc we see that he cannot fully escape his past and his legacy of violence except in death.

One of the questions that comes up for me so strongly in these two narratives is the nature of consent and the part that the storytellers and viewers play in it when these kinds of stories are shown on screen. I’m sure that many more erudite folks have opined on this, but it seems to me there are two layers worth analyzing with these stories. The first is the consent of the character. The second, the consent of the audience.

Both Mio and Ash die, but Mio’s death is notable because it happens at the hands of her assaulters. Her attempt to use sex to win her way free of starvation is not rewarded by the narrative, despite Dororo’s attempts to say that she triumphed in death. She is murdered by the very men who used her. But more importantly, we are forced to witness, as an audience, Mio’s stripping of dignity in the scene where naive Dororo witnesses her passively being penetrated by a group of samurai. We become complicit in this depiction. Any act of violence leaves scars, but we are made to see Mio’s. She is a footnote in Dororo‘s larger story, a motivation for the main character, a tragic backstory displayed.

In contrast, Ash is the main character. His violation is alluded to and witnessed by other characters, but never shown on screen. Though he loses often to the people who perpetuated his assaults, he never ceases fighting. He is depicted as a power – as more than a power. He is something to be feared by those who have hurt him. The fear of him is what drives them to continue to attempt to hurt him, and their desire of him is what makes them make mistakes. Yet, Ash, too, dies at the end of Banana Fish, which raises the question: are survivors of sexual violence not allowed to have futures?

The exception to this (very tentative) rule is Jessica Randy. Banana Fish can hardly be held up as an example of decent representation for women, given that there are may two or three developed women that are given speaking lines. However, it’s important to point out that the woman who does experience sexual violence in later episodes of this anime, Jessica Randy, receives more dignity and resolution in her small plot than either Ash or Mio. She is shown after the assault, but the act of it is never depicted on screen. And she achieves a happy ever after with her husband despite everything.

There is a lot more to unpack here, and I still recommend both of these anime for a watch. They are both tight, fast pace, and interesting stories. That said, I do question their treatment the very real trauma of sexual assault and the grey areas of consent that come when a character is forced to parlay undesirable uses of their body for survival. While it’s important to recognize narratives of sexual violence, some of these can be more harmful than others. The audience should not be required to participate in the act in order to continue forward in the story. I hope that we can continue to see more approaches to dealing with the realities of sexual assault that maintain respect for the characters in question and for audience members, in anime as well as in other forms of visual media.


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MystiCon Recap: Shakespeare Edition

Hey folks! MystiCon last weekend was a blast, but it’s got me pretty wiped out this week. I’ve been scrambling to keep up with all my obligations, which is nothing new. Happily, I had some free time this morning to knock out this blogpost for you this week!

I had a great time at MystiCon this year, largely because some friends joined me and I got to do a lot more of the weird social stuff. I still did lots of writer things, too, though, including being on four panels! My favorite panel, surprisingly, was our discussion of Shakespeare and the Supernatural late Saturday night. We had some great conversation, which I will attempt to describe here.

My exposure to Shakespeare has largely been as a watcher and reader, and I’ve had relatively little wish to analyse Shakespeare’s work. I wouldn’t say I’m the most widely read either – I have seen The Tempest, an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (multiple times), Julius Caesar, and Romeo and Juliet. I’ve acted in A Comedy of Errors, and seen and read a good portion of Hamlet. One time I visited Stratford-upon-Avon. So that’s my whole Shakespeare career, pretty much. Everything after that is cliffnotes. Yet I was blessed to be part of a group that had apparently read a LOT of Shakespeare critique and analysis. They had the cultural context for the life of the poet I lacked. It made for some great discussion!

One of the things that we came away with during this panel was the Shakespeare’s time was very different than our own. Superstition was pretty rampant – the King at the time had a treatise on the supernatural and witches that he had made up, and witchcraft was a crime punishable by death and tried in the courts. So it makes sense that witches were generally bad people in Shakespeare’s works. If nothing else, he would have been run out of the country otherwise. The exception to this, possibly, is Prospero – who is, for all intents and purposes, a witch. We didn’t go into this too much, except that it’s fair to say that Prospero is a bit of an anti-hero in the Tempest. Your sympathies are somewhat with him, but mostly they are meant to be with Miranda, the young innocent, and her Ferdinand. I think this is why so many adaptations of the Tempest focus on her story, and not Prospero’s, but I digress.

Spirits and faeries, on the other hand, are the fun characters. They are forces of nature more than people, and so they aren’t subject to the same rules of morality as the human characters on the stage. Like nature, they often throw the humans around them into chaos, and can be either benign of malignant. Think of Oberon changing his wife’s lover into a donkey, or Puck being…Puck.

Lastly and most forbiddingly, we have the ghosts. A witch is bad news, but a ghost spells certain doom for the main character. They are the embodiment of fate, and all fates end in the cutting of the cord. We had a long debate on if ghosts were more or less “real” to people in Shakespearian England. I personally think that, despite our modern ideas that ghosts are just psychological echoes of our own trauma, ghosts are still a real thing, but I felt like other people in the room were a little less superstitious than me. They felt that views had changed pretty drastically on ghosts since Shakespeare’s time, and they were probably right. One thing we agreed on was that within the play Shakespeare’s ghosts were their own elements – they existed independently of the characters’ psyches, despite their impacts there.

I hope everyone goes out and reads some Shakespeare after this! It’s so much fun to get to dive back into the words of a person who was so prolific in their time.

Until next year, MystiCon!


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MystiCon!

Early post because this weekend is MystiCon! I’ll do a recap post next week, but in the interim please stop in and say hi if you’ll be there. I’d love to meet you!

You can use MystiCon’s handy scheduler to find out more about where I’ll be. I’ll mostly be around during Saturday’s sessions, but I will have one panel that I’m moderating on Sunday. It should be a great time!

Saturday I will also be doing a signing in the hall at 4:00pm, so if you have a book you need signed or just want to chat about my work, this is the time.

I hope you all have a great MystiCon!


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Multi-tasking, finishing, other

Hey folks, MystiCon is next week and I’m pretty caught up with preparing for that and my other projects, so no analysis posts in February. But I’ve been watching a lot of anime and probably you’re going to get a lot of anime recommendations and reviews in March, so hold onto your hats.

I think a lot of writers are multi-taskers, and I’ve been reading a lot lately about the importance of NOT doing that. Which is a little frustrating given that the deck is stacked against me.

For Christmas, I bought myself a book called The 30-Day Productivity Manual, which is, as you might guess, a book about how to become more efficient in your use of time. The premise is not that you should put more time into the thing to get it done, but that you should accept that you only have so much time in the day and develop routines and coping mechanisms to streamline your workflow. I got this book because I was feeling absolutely overwhelmed, mostly at the dayjob. This is because while I tell everyone I’m a mapmaker, and that’s true, I also do a lot more complex stuff, including a lot of writing of very long documents.

Sound familiar? (Really, let’s just assume everything that holds true for my dayjob is also true for my writing career. Except the meetings. So far no meetings as a novelist. YMMV.)

Unfortunately for me, writing something that’s very long and based on research, while quick once you’ve done all the research, is very hard to do between all the other smaller tasks I have. It’s also really hard to focus on the broader vision for such a large and bulky project when there are all these smaller projects vying for your attention. Managing my workflow in an effective way is essential. But it’s allowed me to reflect some on my writing processes as well.

It’s really easy to never finish something. For example, I give The Zombie Book, a project I drafted seven years ago.

(Sorry, I had to check the math there.)

Anyway, seven years ago I first sat down and wrote The Zombie Book. At the time it was a rip-roaring adventure and, I was sure, the best thing I had ever written. (Does this sound familiar?) Anyway, I pitched it to a few folks, they asked for partials and fulls, it was summarily rejected. Then I had grad school finals and finding a job to worry about, then I started writing DoM….suffice to say it was summarily trunked. But I always had it in the back of my head that it was a good, fun book and that I wanted to revise it and bring it back to my submissions folder.

Cue my 2019 New Year’s Resolution. I’ve been chipping away at this revision since December and… folks, I’m pretty sure that at the sentence level this is the… actual worst thing I’ve ever written. Oops. This doesn’t mean that it won’t become the best thing I’ve ever written. But it’s going to take a lot of work.

Meanwhile, it’s been a lot more fun to draft two new projects. Oh, and I’ve also been trying to polish up some of the short stories I wrote last year and submit them to magazines…. Plus I get to keep up with this blog, and the Patreon that theoretically pays me for doing the blog, events, and my social media….

Add to that the fact that I manage anywhere from 14-20 separate projects a year for my dayjob (which translates to actually working on four or five a week usually, because I’m human) and we can see that my brain is going literally everywhere at once. Plus, I really like to do a good job on things. I don’t want to let it leave my table unless it’s at least halfway decent.

Anyway, this is a lot of what I’ve been meditating on as I contemplate my life going forward and maintaining a healthy work-life balance with what is essentially two jobs that both require the ability to juggle multiple tasks. And it’s something to think about for both readers and writers that are interested in the writer’s process and why we can’t get that next book out when you want it. There’s just a lot going on, and finding enough focused time to knock out a single project sometimes seems impossible. As my productivity manual informs me, though, finding that time is up to me.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you writing isn’t hard work, friends.


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A brief bit of personal and a story announcement

Oh man, friends, this year has gone so fast already. We’re in February!

February! Where I just….sold my first short story? Already achieving my NYE goal? Somehow?

So yeah, I have a story called “At Love’s Heart” coming out in Luna Station Quarterly on March 1st. It will be available for free online for a week at their website, then will be available in ebook and print zine format. I am very excited. And I’ve already submitted two more stories to other markets, because I think it would be fun to get a bunch of rejections anyway this year.

Other than that, most of my writing time has been spent working on a new project, editing an old manuscript, and polishing short stories for submission. So I’ve got a lot of irons in the metaphorical fire. I’ve been using Tools for Writers by Christie Yant to track my progress towards each of my goals, which is a Google Sheet . So far this year I’ve written 12,000 words! It’s kind of amazing to watch those words build in the spreadsheet.

On the personal side of things, I’ve been happy to see the days get longer. Imbolc was spent getting a massage and soaking in a jacuzzi, in a true observance of this renewal-focused holiday. I’ve also recently subscribed to Hulu, which is apparently where all the anime is. It’s been lovely. There’s a lot of pressure coming down on me from my dayjob right now, but I’m trying really hard to make the time for the things that make me human.

Anyway, so far I can’t complain too much about 2019.


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Staying informed about the writing community

I am not a perfect author, and I have a lot to learn and a lot of benchmarks I haven’t met. That said, one of the things I have become fairly good at over the past few years is self-education and staying informed about resources for writers. Part of this, I’ll confess, is because I spend a lot of time on writing Twitter, which is the place to be if you want to learn about the writing community and new opportunities arising therein. Part of this is just because I have spent six years of my life trying to learn about what it takes to be a successful author and a good writer (not the same thing) which is a lot of years. Something is probably going to rub off in all that time.

With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some Twitter accounts, websites, and generally informative paraphernalia for the writing-inclined. These links are mostly targeted towards fantasy and science fiction writers.

Websites

If you want to be a writer of science fiction and fantasy, your first stop should probably be at Science Fiction Writers of America. It maybe should be a continual stop, actually. Bookmark this website is what I’m saying.

SFWA provides various resources for writers, both members and non-members. Membership is only possible once you’ve achieved certain benchmarks in your career, but SFWA understands that a lot of prospective writers won’t even get there without a roadmap. They maintain a Resources page that offers a high level overview of some of the information available on their site, and they also have a really great thing going on over at Writer Beware, which provides some information about predatory businesses and practices seeking to target writers.

Another great source of warnings for writers is the Absolute Write Water Cooler. Take comments on these forums with a grain of salt and do further research, but this is a good place to look for hints that all is not as it should be with a particular agent or publishing house.

But how do you even get to the point where you are worried about whether your agent is on the up and up? You have to query, of course. For one of the best resources on querying and tips and tricks, try QueryShark. Though no longer providing new posts, the QueryShark archives provide valuable critiques of hundreds of queries. Reading examples of good and bad queries is a great way to level up your agent search.

To find agents and editors, you can look several ways. Twitter is an option, and grabbing a Writer’s Market from the store is another. However, if you are looking for a single website that has a lot of information about what agents and editors are looking for, you may want to visit Manuscript Wishlist (MSWL). Please remember to verify the information with a secondary search of the agent or editor or by checking out their website directly.

Helpful Authors

I’ve mentioned I spend a lot of time on Twitter, but it’s not only to build my platform. It’s also to learn. There are some great, helpful accounts on Twitter, specifically other authors who are offering a lot of advice for free.

First of all, Chuck Wendig has made a name for himself for his off-color writing advice. He’s got several books out if that’s more your speed, but you can find a lot of that information in the archives of Terribleminds, his personal website and blog. His advice is mostly geared towards the craft of writing itself.

On Twitter itself, one of my favorite authors to follow is Delilah S. Dawson. She does periodic posts geared towards new and upcoming writers about the traditional publishing process. They provide helpful insight into her process and the way she has managed to get where she is.

Author Kameron Hurley tweets a lot about various parts of her writing career, but especially about work-life balance or the lack thereof. She also talks a lot about money. This is a really important bit of advice for writers that often gets overlooked. The Authors Guild recently published this survey of income for authors and writers at all levels, which shows that it can be really hard to make it as a writer even once you get published. Hurley is very open about her monetary issues and what she makes off of her writing, and it’s helped me to have realistic expectations and strategies for my longterm career.

Self-Publishing

There are several resources out there for self-published authors, and that deserves a whole other post. But one place you can start is the 20Booksto50k Group on Facebook. Be sure the read the FAQs before you ask any questions!

I hope these resources have been helpful for you. If there’s something you think is missing, chime in in the comments!


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Upcoming events!

I wanted to go ahead and let everyone know what events I will be at this year so far.

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference (tentative), January 25-26

I don’t have any panels lined up, and this will largely be a networking conference for me. If you’re interested in the craft and business of writing and want to meet other writers in the area, this is a good conference to attend!

MystiCon, February 22-24

MystiCon is a fan convention, and I’ve already got my schedule for the year. Feel free to come by and check out any of my panels, or come buy a book! I’ll also have free stuff to give away.

  • Balancing the Geek Life with Mundane Adulting,Saturday, 11 am
  • Signing Table, Saturday, 4 pm
  • Let’s Take Flight, Saturday, 9pm
  • Ghosts, Witches, Wizards, Magic: Shakespeare and the Supernatural, Saturday, 10 pm
  • Beyond Western Europe – Other World Cultures for Fantasy (M), Sunday, 2pm

Roanoke Author Invasion, April 6th

This is the annual signing and book sale. I haven’t figured out exactly what all I will be bringing to this event yet, but I should have more information before April!

Hope to see you there!


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It’s movie time!

Guys, I’m starting to get excited about movies in 2019. I haven’t felt excited for any movie releases for months, keep in mind. Then I saw this:

How did I not know?

If there were two people in this world more worthy of taking up the mantle of MIB, I cannot think of them. The movie is coming out in June, and I think it’s going on my most anticipated films of the year list already. I’m hoping it has everything I like about Thor: Ragnarok

Also a thing I’m looking forward to? You probably don’t have to guess. This trailer dropped a few weeks ago and…. I’m cautiously hopeful?

Like admittedly I’m only hopeful because the narrative weight seems to be being placed on Iron Man and the Cap/Black Widow duo (my favorite Avengers movie is actually Captain America: Winter Soldier, followed by Ragnarok, followed by all the Iron Man movies because I can’t pick one? But Natasha and Steve play so well, I love them.) I’m a little nervous about what they’re going to do with Thor because honestly I feel like he ranked as the Most Shafted Character in terms of overall development in Infinity War. Also have I mentioned that if that’s really how they killed Loki I’m never going to forgive anyone?

I am slightly less excited about Captain Marvel mostly because I am just…Marveled out. The continued introduction of new heroes is exhausting. I need them to chill. That said, I will definitely be in the theater for a woman-led superhero movie. I do not like the actress’ voice, though, and I hope that it will grow on me.

Other movies I am probably going to keep an eye on, though I haven’t decided if I will see them yet, include the Terminator Reboot, Charlie’s Angels, Zombieland 2, Aladdin, and Dark Phoenix.

The New Mutants is the last movie on my tentative list. I’ve not been seeing most of the recent X-Men titles in theaters, mostly because I’m just not that excited about them. But this seems like an example of taking a franchise idea and doing an original spinoff with it, so I will see how future trailers go, despite the rumors about delays. It looks a lot more horror focused, which is not my usual cup of tea for movies, but the premise seems really interesting. Plus a couple of the actors are ones I like.

Are there any movies you’re looking forward to? Let me know in the comments! If you want to read my previous movie reviews and analysis, you can do that at the Movies tag.


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