Sunday, May 31, 2009

Character Love

I don't really want to get into the habit of discussing my process on this blog. Or really anything about my projects in any kind of detail. Part of this is paranoia, and part of it is just that I've never really been able to talk about things that have not yet been written without feeling like I was losing some part of that creative spark that drives me.

But, I can't really help myself from saying this much:

I am absolutely head over heels in love with my characters. Every blasted one of them. It doesn't matter if they're my protagonist, or my antagonist. If they're my primary or my secondary, or my tertiary. I love them. I love especially my menfolk. I love slipping into their heads and looking at the world through their eyes. I love following them as they come to revelations about themselves-- little or big. I love my characters, and every step that brings them closer to life.

I love my characters, and it's that love that drives me to write.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I'm going to pretend I'm not embarrassed.

I'm a sucker for comic books.

I love the art. I love the story telling. I love the combination of art and story telling. I love that they use art to tell a story just as much as they use dialogue and narration. And I love bulked up superheroes, flawed and perfect. I love that we've taken the richness of classical myth, and recreated it for our modern world in a way that people who would never otherwise pick up a book on the topic can find meaning. The reinvention of myth and even the reinvention of what it means to be a hero. I love it all.

Lately, I've been taken in by the relaunch of Marvel's Thor title. It started innocently enough. I've always been fascinated by mythology (Pantheons, and the cultures that worshipped them were always my favorite part of history classes). I took a class on Norse Mythology in college, in fact. My husband comes from (among other things) a Scandinavian background. It's impossible to ignore the influence of the Scandinavian people, and their heritage when you live in North Dakota for any extended period of time-- but I'm pretty sure my love for Norse Myths, and Thor in particular, came before I fell into that Midwestern (and I say it lovingly) black hole.

The Thor title in its previous incarnation (588 issues? really?) never attracted my attention, though. For one thing, it wasn't until my teens that I cultivated any real independent taste for comic books that wasn't influenced by my older brother, and for another, it's a little bit hard to jump into those titles when they're on issue 500 and counting, and you have no idea what the heck is going on (in my opinion, this is the number one problem with the big titles, today. Superman, Spiderman, X-men, Avengers-- you almost have to know the entire history, as well as read every other title in the universe to have a context for the story in the issue you picked up off the rack, but that's another post altogether). I was, however, totally blown away by Ultimate Thor-- that is, Thor as he appeared within the Ultimates 1 & 2 titles (3 was a catastrophe that I've been trying to repress). The idea of turning Thor into a hippy conservationist using his powers to try to save the planet, ecologically, while boozing it up with his fellow activists was so alarmingly different, so incredibly unique a take, that I couldn't resist. Who can say no to a thundergod smoting a whaling ship with a bolt of lightning? Not only that, but this incarnation of Thor didn't feel at all compelled to speak awkwardly in the third person with outdated language! I was hooked!

So naturally, in my casual stroll through the graphic novels section of the bookstore (way, way, way too much manga, far too few traditional comic books), when I happened across volume one of this new title in trade paperback form back in August, I had to pick it up. Why not, I thought? I had a long train ride ahead of me to go visit my sister, and some reading material was in order. But once I read the first couple of pages, that was it. Marvel had me. Again. Just when I had given up on them because of that horrible Ultimates 3 fiasco. Here was a Thor I could respect! And (more importantly) a story that treated him as more than a musclebound oaf.

Yes, I'm perfectly aware that Norse Mythology itself paints Thor as something much less than the brightest crayon in the box, but let's face it-- the Norse Myths don't really give any of their gods a lot of depth. These are one dimensional characters. Whether that's because we don't have all the stories, or because the people who worshipped these gods didn't need anything more than that, I don't know. Maybe the other aspects of these dieties were so well known they didn't need to be included in the stories. Either way, creative writers shouldn't feel caged by these defining attributes. Taking apart and putting back together mythology in new ways is exactly what Marvel and DC peddle. And they do it, for the most part, incredibly well. Liberties should be taken, especially if the character is meant to stand alone, as the protagonist in a story, rather than a member of the supporting cast.

So, I read on. And finishing volume one, began anticipating volume two. And I waited. and I waited. One issue a month, 6 issues to a respectable sized trade edition, taking into account the fact that no comic book company is capable of delivering issues on time, especially not Marvel, and 10 months later, Volume Two was in my hands.

Now, here is where I get a little bit critical. And this is the whole reason I wanted to write this post and put it up here. Not because I want to advertise to the whole world my love for comic books (it really doesn't do a lot for my professional image, I'm sure), but because this second volume of Thor is the perfect example of a story that could learn a lesson from the writerly adage drilled into me from the first time I sat down in a creative writing class, and I'm sure you've heard it:

Show, don't tell.

Now, one could argue that being a comic book, reliant on art for part of its story telling, they're always SHOWING, and not telling, but I totally disagree, especially in this case. The story is good! Don't get me wrong, but after I read it I sat back and sighed. The execution is flawed. As a writer, and a reader, I wanted so much more. And not in the "yes! I want to keep reading!" way, but in the "Wow, why didn't they SHOW me that, instead of just telling me?" way. This book was full of missed opportunities for great moments! Everything was there for the moments to happen-- but then at the last minute, it seemed like the writer decided to take the easy way out. Instead of showing me the gods floundering about awkwardly in this new situation they've found themselves in, I have the characters just telling me. Over and Over again. Instead of letting me deduce the manipulations and mayhem Loki is engaging in, it's all spelled out for me. The reveals are too obvious, and the manipulations less than subtle. They could have done SO MUCH MORE with this story arc, with these issues, but they didn't.

Now, I'm not unsucked in. I'm absolutely going to be waiting with anticipation for volume 3 (and four, and five, and...) but I'm definitely hoping that in the next set of issues I have a little bit less telling going on. Show me the stuff that's happening, and let me draw conclusions myself.

Maybe I'm a little bit too hard on it-- in their defense, when a person has to wait 2 months for the next issue, they probably don't really remember everything in detail from the last one, so maybe they have to be more obvious so that you can follow the arc. But at the same time, I feel like that's a weak excuse, because if you do your job right as a writer, the reader is going to remember! Especially if they're used to the system.

this is a really long post.
But I think that's okay, since I'm pretty sure I'm the only person reading at the moment.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Australian Priorities

Okay, okay. This article made me chuckle. From the title Wealth and brains last, but where's the love? and the introduction of the article, my first impulse was to say "well, good for them!" I was kind of starting to think that the whole of Australia might be on to something, because they started me off with:

"It's not often beauty, brains and wealth finish last, especially in the bedroom. But when it comes to finding a sexual partner in Australia, the top priority for most men and women is finding a partner who loves and cares for them."

Then I got to the bottom and realized the importance of that language use-- it's entirely self-centered. They aren't looking for Love, they're looking for someone who loves them.
To be fair, the question seemed to be focused just on a sexual partner, not on a mate. But still, interesting, if not really all that surprising. Sex in itself can be an incredibly selfish act, but it stands to reason that if the person you're having sex with cares about you, they're going to be a better lover. At least, that's the way I'm interpreting this. Which really makes the findings just as self-serving as everywhere else.

Sorry, Australia, you're just like the rest of us after all.

The results of this phone survey though, can really be extrapolated to the difference between men and women across the globe, and human relationships, as well as sexual relationships, and I'll give them to you here, just because I'm fascinated by the simplicity of it.

The article states:

1. Cares about you
2. Enjoys sex
3. Fun to be with

1: Enjoys sex
2: Fun to be with
3: Cares about you

Clearly having a more attentive sexual partner (read: someone who cares about you) is more important to women. Why doesn't that surprise me?

Man, am I glad I'm married.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Instinct, or Higher Brain Functions?

Research Suggests We Are Genetically Programmed To Care About Climate Change

We do a fabulous job of talking ourselves out of it, then.

I think the more interesting question is this:
What other behaviors, seemingly intellectual in pursuit, are secretly genetically programmed instinct in disguise?

The article makes sense. Even the claim (maybe it's a little bit of a reach to go from "future of the community," to "climate change.") makes sense. Why do I have no problem buying this?

It makes Evolutionary Sense.
You can't perpetuate a species if it has no safe place to live and breed.

If it is genetically programmed in us to care about our communities and the future of our world, here's the other question we need to ask ourselves:

Is the programming part of one of the 50-100 genes that are unique to the human race (see this post) or is it part of the 99.5% that we share with the rest of the animal kingdom? And if it ISN'T among those unique genes, if other animals share this same genetic programming, this genetic compulsion to care, what are the implications then? AND, if we're programmed to care about climate change, are we also programmed to care for other species?

That genetic compulsion must be buried deep, since a lot of the time we don't even care about each other.


This Story caught my attention a while back-- yes, I know I'm a little bit late, it was definitely months ago.

There's a lot of frontloading before you get to the part of the article that the title addresses, namely, a scientist having a snowball fight with a killer whale, and that claim is a little bit specious at best, but the facts are still interesting.

You see, the guy tossed a chunk of ice at our marine friend, and our marine friend made an attempt to toss it right back. Maybe the whale (not actually a whale, but I will continue to refer to it as such for simplicity) just thought he dropped something. Maybe the whale was just curious. Maybe the whale was annoyed that the guy threw something at it.

But the thing that's really fascinating to me, that ALWAYS captures my imagination in any context, was that it responded at all.

We take this for granted, I think. I mean, we have our dogs and our cats, and we communicate with them daily. "Get off the couch." "Go lay down." "Here, Kitty-Kitty." But these are animals that we've spent thousands of years domesticating. Thousands of years breeding into a creature which wants to interact with us. Think about that.

It took us thousands of years to domestic animals. To build a relationship that allows us to work together with them.

Now think about what happened with that scientist on an ice shelf, and that whale.
With an impulsive act, he engaged with an entirely different species. A species, it could be argued, that lives within an entirely different world.

Maybe all of this just means that I'm a little bit Romantic in my scientific notions. But man, every time we take a step toward understanding another species a little bit better, every time we find a way to communicate a little bit more effectively with another species, I dream big dreams.