Upcoming Projects…

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve last posted on this blog. Sorry about that readers. I just really haven’t had all that much to say when it comes to blogging, almost like my words seem to have had dried up. But I’ve also been working on a Fantasy short story for a Solstice Swap over at Absolute Write, and it has been giving me a bit of a hard time. My giftee isn’t a fan of Horror, and so I’m stretching my skills and trying my hand at some slightly lighter Fantasy. I’ve given the story a contemporary setting, that if I’m not careful could make the story Horror and the opposite of what my giftee wants. I’m finding it challenging, and down right frustrating. In the end though, it will be worth it to gift someone with a gift they enjoy.

Anyway…. moving on from my ramblings of the most frustrating short story ever conceived. I wanted to talk about the projects I have lined up for after this one is done. First is a couple of shorts, one a Contemporary/Lit piece about a brother getting his hair braided by his sister and the other a Horror/possible Dark Fantasy short. I’m not entirely sure which of the two will get written first, both are calling me like you wouldn’t believe and making writing my Fantasy short a pain. Not that it needs it, apparently I don’t do well with short stories if they’re Fantasy. I know, I know I said I wouldn’t complain about that anymore. I’m shutting up about it now.

Second is a novella inspired by a poem by Kenneth Rexroth, titled Confusion of the Senses. It’s a dark poem, one that reminds me of the work of Edgar Allen Poe and invokes the same atmosphere found in old-fashioned Gothic literature. In other words, the sort of poem which is right up my alley. There’s a thread in the Literary/Mainstream/Contemporary sub-forum over on AW, and one of the moderators posts a daily update from Writers Almanac in the thread. Last week around this was one of the daily poems, and it immediately started sparking ideas. Of a dark but also soft and potentially sensual F/F centered story. A Horror Romance, Gothic Horror, or a romance based Dark Fantasy featuring vampires. Why vampires? Because if you’ve read the blog before you know I love vampires, and find supernatural creatures like vamps really interesting. Which is why I’m sure the next bit will be surprising to some.

I’ve decided my first novel won’t be Horror, Gothic Horror or otherwise. Nor will it be any other form of speculative fiction surprisingly enough for both me and you, though I’ve had much more time to get used to the idea. Nope, it will be a Contemporary novel following a pair of LGBT Black twins for a few months to a year. I’m still working on back story shorts and you have heard about this plan a little bit before now that I remember it. It was when I was talking about my Contemp short if I’m remembering correctly. Don’t take my word for it though, sift through the blog yourself to find previous mention of it.

Way I see it is this, real life is interesting and not boring as some of my fellow genre writers and readers think. There’s always lots going on. People change jobs, move back to and away from places, make new friends and reconnect with old ones, experience family drama with an upper case D, and fall in and out of love. So I wanted to take a chunk of time in the lives of these two characters and chronicle it in a way that is hopefully interesting. If you can make a “mundane” story no matter the genre interesting, then you have real skill in my book. And that is something I want to prove to myself, that I’ve got that skill. I mean, I recently wrote a really good flash short in first person present tense, one of the harder tense and POV combinations to pull off. I did it though, and pulled the story off pretty well.  If I can do that, then I should be able to do anything as far as writing is concerned.

Till next time dear readers! Don’t get eaten or abducted.

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Setting is important

Setting is one of those things that tend to be ignored. When we get an idea, the setting may be included automatically. I’m guilty of this too. When I write down an idea from my Idea Notebook, the setting is either ingrained in the idea itself or just comes to me as I write without thought. I don’t consider it a bad thing, going with my subconscious works for me as a writer. Setting, tense, POV, and genre tend be subconscious things for me. That’s how I ended up with most of my finished work being Horror, with a contemporary setting. That’s what tends to come out, though I do have a Gothic Horror set in a historical setting, and a Science Fiction story (That really should probably be expanded from a flash fiction piece to a novelette/novella.) set on a distant moon acting as a secondary world type setting.

Try to imagine your favorite books without their setting or with a different ones than they have now. Or imagine your own work with a different setting and you’ll see how important it is. Some stories feel near impossible to separate from their setting. Lord of The Rings wouldn’t be what it is without Middle Earth. And for all her bad behavior, Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire wouldn’t be what it is its setting.

One of the stories I’m working on right now is a novel about a pair of Black LGBT twins, and the setting as well as general genre of this story is contemporary. I realize completely that I could have and still could choose to set the story in a Scifi, Fantasy, or a historic setting if I want to. But for me, setting the story in a contemporary setting allows me to explore things in the way want to. There’s issue of race, faith, and sexuality that I want to explore through the context of now.

So, how do you pick a setting if you’re consciously doing this? I can’t tell you about how to go about your own process, but hopefully some of these tips will help. They’re things I learned by looking at my own stories and thinking about why the settings themselves work so well for the stories.

1.) Think about why the setting will work. What advantages will it have for the story?

2.) Try to imagine the story in a different setting. Maybe that one fits the best and maybe your historical story really should be a Scifi. Don’t be afraid of doing that if it is what the story needs.

On a parting note, I know I’m behind on the Danny Parsons picture inspired story. I hope to get it up sometime soon. So until next time… don’t get eaten or abducted!

 

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Writing About Human Relationships

Welcome to another Rag Tag inspired post. Yes, I am a bit obsessed. Why exactly do you ask? :D

I will admit that Rag Tag had some continuity flaws. I’m still trying to figure out how one of the minor characters could have been in primary school with Rag and Tag, but be married to his wife for 15 years, and it’s just not possible. The character, who is named Wing Tat, would have to have been a few years older than his brother Xin, Rag, and Tag. But despite that big continuity mistake, what writer and director Adaora Nwandu excels at is writing human relationships. It permeates every part of the film, from the little snippet at the beginning when the characters are 12, to Rag’s bond with his daughter, to both men’s relationship with each other and their friends. She even manages to do this for her minor characters as well.

Wing Tat’s wife doesn’t like Nigerians or the Chinese, but Wing is half-Chinese and she fell in love with him anyway. Which when you think of it, is very realistic. People don’t need to like an entire group to fall in love with someone from that group or even be friends with them, we humans are complex creatures. Which is of course what this post is about, the complexity of human relationships and what effect that has on our stories as writers of any sort. Take a Contemporary/Lit short story that I recently wrote, it was a little character driven piece of about 1200 words. It was enjoyable to write, and it may turn up on my blog sometime in the next month or submitted to a Lit mag. I haven’t really figured out what I’m going to do with it quite yet, the piece doesn’t even have a name at this time.

The focus of the story was on a religious Black lesbian, who’s mom calls and invited the MC and her lover over after months of not speaking. Before she came out, the character and her mother were close. One of the things my character does is bring hair supplies with her as a peace-offering, because it is something the two have always used to strengthen their bond. It was their thing, much like when I want to feel close to my grandmother I watch her favorite movie or talk books, serial killers etc. with my mom. Had that not been their thing, I would have needed to find something else. The fact both her mother and the character are religious factors into their relationship as well, and is a big thing in their estrangement. Sara’s mom doesn’t quite get how her daughter can be a God-fearing woman and a lesbian, and by the end she still doesn’t quite get it. It is in fact how Sara’s lover gets her mom’s respect, though not her approval. Olivia is just as religious as both Sara and her mother, and shares a favorite Bible verse.

If I was another writer, I would have made story end with her mom accepting them. Give the story a happy ending so to speak. But it doesn’t end that way, it ends on hopefully hopeful note. The mom literally tells Sara that she is glad her lover is a God-fearing woman, and that she isn’t turning her back on how she was raised despite being a lesbian right after admiting that she doesn’t like the fact her daughter is in a relationship with a woman. It’s the mom’s concession. An “I don’t like it, but I can get use to it” type of thing. A few more hopeful words are exchanged and then the story ends as they’re heading into the dinning room for diner.

The kind of interplay I showed above is the same exact thing seen in Rag Tag. Rag and Tag’s relationship with each other and the people around them are nuanced, with ups and downs like yours or mine are. They have moments of triumph and of struggle, experience both acceptance and homophobia. Nwandu shows this best during the first scene where they kiss, while they’re visiting Nigeria. The culture in Tag’s family village allows them to hug or hold hands, things that in the US, UK, Caribbean etc. are either things kids do with their friends or people do with their partners. Had they been caught kissing however, there would have been trouble. But you can see that they care for each other not only in the kiss, but in the way they talk to each other.

We see other things too throughout the course of the film. Tag’s mother may not be thrilled that her son is in love with another man, but she accepts him and still loves him. One of her lines towards the end of the movie when Tag’s father confronts him about spending the night out with Rag is, ” Whether I agree or not, he is still my son.” Through out the story this creates tension between Tag’s parents. His mom accepting it, and his father being unable to. Wing Tat’s wife likes Rag as a person, but is slightly homophobic and won’t allow her son to go play soccer with them after seeing the two men almost kiss in public. Xin, their friend, and Tag’s ex Olivia just want the two men to be happy.  Xin even gives Rag a pep talk about not giving up on Tag when Rag plans to move away again because Tag seems unable to commit to him.  Rag is estranged from his mother but still mourns when she dies of cancer during the course of the movie. Rag gets so drunk it’s not even funny when Tag flirts with some women while they’re out clubbing etc.

As both a reader and a writer, I think this is one of the greatest skills a writer can posses. Even people writing in genres that are more oriented towards being plot driven, like Thrillers, need to be able to present nuanced interactions between people though the Main Character may not change much over the course of the story. Whether we are writing about humans or anthropomorphic aliens/animals on the surface, I believe what we are truly writing about is humans. And human dynamics factor into every sort of story there are.

Until next time! Don’t get eaten or abducted.

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Rag Tag

 rag-tag-danny-parsons-dvd-cover-art

I’ve been a bit obsessed with this movie the past few days, my last post even mentioned that I planned to review it for you. And no, I haven’t forgot the challenge I talked about at the end of that post either. That will come near the end of my review of this heartfelt movie.

Rag Tag is a 2006 film written and directed by Adaora Nwandu, and starring Danny Parsons as Raymond (Rag) and Adedamola Adelaja as Tagbo (Tag). Rag and Tag are childhood friends who met when they were eight and separated on the cusp of their teens when someone calls Social Services on Rag’s absent mom. Rag is sent to live with his grandmother in Birmingham (England). And in a really adorable moment before we cut to a ten year time skip, we see Tag who is religious give Rag his gold necklace which features the virgin Mary. It’s truly adorable to watch when he makes Rag promise that he will stay with his grandmother until he is old enough to return.

Ten years later Rag moves back to London and looks Tag up, where their friendship continues. The two young men feel more than friendship for each other however, and have lots of little romantic moments in the first half of the movie that are extremely cute. We see little clues even in the beginning that they’re in love with each other. The happy shock on Tag’s face when Rag shows up at his house, the park bench that has Rag Tag 4eva carved into it from when they were kids, an exchange where they nearly kiss, and the fact Tag is more affectionate with Rag than with other people.

Tag however has a girlfriend, which causes an argument between the two men when Rag finds out. Because of his growing and resurfacing feelings for his childhood friend, Tag asks his girlfriend for a break so they can figure out what is best for each of them. This is where most of the slow going romance happens interspersed by things like life. We even see Rag getting drunk because he was jealous of Tag flirting with some women. In his drunken state Rag agrees to go on a trip to Nigeria as the guest of Tag’s friend Olisa.

While in Nigeria they have more moments of subtle romance, and enjoy a measure of freedom that would have people assuming they were together if they were in London. In Tag’s family village friends can be very affectionate, holding hands and hugging. But as African and Black culture in general is homophobic in some regards, things like sex or kissing while staying in Tag’s friend’s home is a no go. The bond between the two doesn’t escape the notice of Tag’s uncle Jide, who is himself gay and decided to stay in the village because he didn’t want to leave his lover instead of going to study in England with his twin brother. The two do however share another tender moment, and the first kiss of the movie, advancing the romance plot of things.

Not too long after they return to London, Rag’s mother dies. Due to machinations by Tag’s father, Rag’s ex-girlfriend and daughter turn up at the funeral. Which upsets Tag, and is the catalyst for him to return to his girlfriend for sex. Rag walks in on them and is upset and disgusted that Tag would do that when they were trying to work out what’s going on between them. There’s a heated discussion between the two men, and when Tag goes to follow Rag his ex-girlfriend tells him he’s a prick who doesn’t deserve either one of them. Which at that moment in the movie I’m personally inclined to agree.

Tag spends the rest of the afternoon looking for Rag, who opens the door to Tag’s bedroom where he is reading up for an interview with a law firm the next day. The pair apologize to each other and the scene cuts to Tag’s parents talking. This is where we first get the sense of who reported Rag’s situation at home to authorities. Tag does well in his interview but accidentally ends up cursing out one of the partners of the law firm who is dressed in plain clothes when the man mistakes Rag for a thug.

Rag who has run out of money and not been able to find a job says goodbye to Tag after the incident, and returns his necklace. Not thinking clearly, Tag agrees to deal with a shady business deal for his friend Olisa. Meanwhile, Rag returns home to find out he got the job, but decides to move back to Birmingham anyway because he was in London for Tag. During a call with Rag’s daughter, Tag rings the doorbell and we find out that Tag couldn’t go through with the deal but will likely be arrested for intent anyway. The pair have sex, in a very well done and raw scene. And Rag gets out of bed in the morning to retrieve the documents implicating Tag in things.

He gets them of course, and we cut to Tag sneaking into his parents home. His father upset because the letter from the law firm he had the interview for the day before arrived, and because he doesn’t like how close Rag and Tag are. In a turn of happiness, Tag has gotten the job. But when confronted with the fact he plans to move in with Rag, his father starts spouting Leviticus and Genesis at him. Which he replys to in a well thought out counter argument citing Isiah ch.1, some of Leviticus, and Ezekiel 16:49-50. It is right after this when his father trys to stop him from leaving that Rag climbs in the open window and it is revealed that Tag’s dad was the one to call Social Services all those years ago because he wasn’t comfortable with how close the two boys were.

Tag’s parents leave the room, and the two share a hug and a kiss. Which turns into a declaration of love on Rag’s part and Tag chanting, “Rag loves Tag” while he tickles them. When Tag’s hypervigilant dad enters the room and tells them he won’t have that in his house the two start to leave amid protests of Tag’s father, who tries to guilt trip Rag by asking if he wants Tag to give up his beliefs, hopes, and ambition for him. Which Tag stops short by declaring that Rag is his ambition, because everything he is and has now goes back to him. Tag says what must be one of my favorite lines in the movie, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Do you really want me to walk away from mine?”

The pair leave the house and a nervous Tag asks to properly meet Rag’s daughter, then the two men share a kiss.

I must say, even though this movie had a tiny budget of only £30,000 and there are some slight continuity errors in the back story of minor characters, as well as some ever so slightly visible seams. I really did love this movie. The relationship between the two men was genuine, and really showed the love they have for each other. The movie is about their love, but more importantly about them being ordinary guys with ordinary lives. They’re not effeminate in the least, they’re both typical Black men. The relationship between them despite some constant but minor homophobia is treated like a given, which I really enjoy. Tag being religious and Rag saying things that proves religion is important to him too are big bonuses to me. It’s little things like that which ring true and infuse the entire movie. Nwandu really gets the little things like that right, and it adds up to the big picture being amazing. A gay love story for people who normally may not be a fan of them, especially the cliché ones that Black people are often subjected to.

If you have Netflix, can find it online, or get hold of the DVD I suggest watching it. It isn’t perfect, but it is heartwarmingly genuine.

Which leads me to that challenge I promised you….

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The picture above is of actor Danny Parsons, who plays the Jamaican character Rag in the movie. My challenge to you is to write a 1,000 word story featuring a character who has similar features to him as the main character. Try to avoid food descriptions, while still making it obvious the character is Black. Deadline for the challenge is two weeks, link your story in the comments.

I hope you enjoyed the review and have fun with the challenge. Don’t get eaten or abducted!

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Why “Dark Skin” Doesn’t Work As A Code For Black…

I’ve been watching this really great movie on what is basically constant repeat the last few days. Black, LGBT, British, and indie. What’s not to like about a movie like that? Nothing, that’s what. It’s a great film and it amazes me the director/writer only had a £30,000 budget to work with. ( Review pending!) But it did bring up something when I was watching it, something I want to share with you.

Ok, so both the characters are Black Brits. One is a dark-skinned Nigerian and the other is a light-skinned, green-eyed Jamaican. The Jamaican guy wasn’t much darker than myself, and I’m light-skinned. This got me thinking about how Black people in particular tend to get labeled as dark-skinned in novels or described in food terms a lot. That has never really made sense to me as even mixed/biracial people run a whole range of browns, and then you have people who are full Black and can run anywhere from white passing to an almost blue-black shade of ebony. Just saying someone is dark seems like an insult to that level of diversity.

A picture of the blogger. Please leave it exactly where you found it.

A picture of the blogger. Please leave it exactly where you found it.

Lupita Nyong'o, an actress famous for her role in 12 Years A Slave.

Lupita Nyong’o, an actress famous for her role in 12 Years A Slave.

Look at those two pictures for a moment and see if you can understand what I’m getting at. Take all the time you need to compare me to Lupita. Clearly she is much, much darker than I am. And she isn’t even the darkest someone who is Black whether African or part of the diaspora can be, though she is quite dark. I personally find her skin breath takingly pretty, equally pretty to my own or the skin of someone lighter than me who is also Black. There is one thing about us that is the same, and that is that writers tend to default to dark-skinned as a description for people who look like both of us. What variation you get tends to be food based, though I’m personally fond of earth based terms for color myself when describing Black people. But in general there seems to be a lack of real skill in describing such variation within the Black community, especially when you then add green or blue eyes into the mix like can sometimes happen.

It’s quite possible I’m thinking too much into this, but I feel like it does a disservice to both of us that we would both be simply described as dark. Anyway, it’s late and I’m sure you don’t want to hear me rambling about this anymore. There’ll be a second post where I challenge myself and you to use a picture of a character from the movie I’m planning to review sometime soon. Watch out for that and my review of Rag Tag!

Don’t get eaten or abducted dear readers.

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Genre vs. Niche

I was looking through my old posts on the blog and noticed it’s been months since I’ve seriously talked about genre, or in my case, what I like to call my niche. You see, I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t have a genre per se. What I have is a niche. Most of my ideas have some measure of darkness to them, no matter the genre.

I’m sure you’re thinking, but what happens if I ever decide to query an agent with a novel? Well, just because I know I have a niche doesn’t mean I don’t know where in the world of Dark Fiction ™ most of my ideas fall. For me, if it isn’t my Lit Paranormal which lands me an agent, then it will likely be something Horror related. I’ve always liked Horror, whether it is serial killers or vampires. Vampires especially are something I enjoy, hence the vampire as an MC in my Lit Paranormal and in the Gothic Horror novella I wrote this past July.

Surely you are different, and maybe you are. Actually there’s no maybe about it, each writer is different. You could very well have a niche that also happens to be a genre.

How?  I would argue that genre and niche aren’t different in any practicle way. It is all in how you think of it. Someone who writes only Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, YA, Historical etc., they have a niche just like I do. The difference between me and them, or even me and you, is how specific their niche is. Which leads me to how you figure out whether your niche is genre based or more general:

Do your ideas fall mainly into one or two genres, or do they fall into a certain theme? (IE. LGBT, Dark Fiction, love stories etc.)

What do you read the most of? We most often start in the genre we enjoy the most as readers and then branch out. If your love of a certain genre shines through in your writing ideas, I would say you have your genre/niche.

Say you don’t have a specific genre you read, do the books have a similar tone or theme? Theme and tone can be almost like genres in and of themselves. Vampires turn up repeatedly? Serial killers? Time travel? I would say you found the theme you enjoy the most and have your niche right there. In fact, I would say you have a broader niche if all of those are common themes.

Don’t get hung up on settling into a genre right now, that’s what I’m trying to say in all this rambling. Your reading taste can tell you where to focus things when your starting out, where to start so to speak. And when you have more shorts or novels finished, whichever genre/theme is most likely to end with the story being completed will help you further. You don’t need to know it right this second and having a consistent niche is just as valid as having a consistent genre.

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Goals For 2015!

Yes, it is the obligatory New Year post a week and a half into the year. I’m starting to feel like I will be lucky to not be late to my own funeral in a few decades. Last year was interesting to say the very least about it, as I was just starting to get serious about my writing. It didn’t go all that well, lets just say that.

I didn’t finish any novels, something I just hate. If it wasn’t physically impossible I would kick myself, hard. But I did finish one novella and a very dismal four short stories. One of which was a flash fiction piece in the Horror genre, about cannibalistic serial killer spending time with her lover and their toddler daughter. It was cute, if you can believe it. I think it was at least. Out the ridiculously unproductive amount of writing I did last year, it has to hands down be my favorite. The family moment just warms my black little heart. (Virtual cookies if anyone can guess which movie I’ve paraphrased that quote from!)

Creepily heartwarming moments in a Horror short aside, there wasn’t a lot of real progress going on in any department. I’ve got no novels to show for my work, because I still keep making excuses and not finishing things. I could have spent more time writing more shorts and novellas, but there’s very little there. All and all, a sucky writing year with original stuff. My fanfiction didn’t fare much better, I’ve got over a dozen fanfic short stories written, and a couple short multi-chapter ones written and posted. None of my larger stuff is finished, including one story being posted as I write it, that has been sitting unfinished for months on end. So, still sucky there as well.

And that, that leads us to my goal for the year. Well, more like goals plural really. I also read way too much fanfic for my comfort, much as I love the stuff. So, let’s move onto my goals.

1) Finish a damn novel.

I don’t know which of the ones I already started it will be, or if it will be one I already started. But I will finish a novel come hell or high water. Most likely candidate is a hopefully Literary Paranormal novel which has captured my interest for the last couple months off and on, even though it is still entirely in the Research & Outline part of things. I think it may be the one I finish.

2) Finish 3 novellas.

I really enjoyed writing that Gothic Horror novella in July. Novellas are quicker to write than novels comparatively, being generally a third the length of most novels. Doesn’t mean they require less effort, or even research. But it does mean I should be able to complete at least the first draft of three this year.

I’m not really sure what genre they any of them will be, except that I want to write another poem inspired one, one that is either historical or historically set, and a Gothic. Could be all three end up in the same novella, could be all three ideas go into separate things. Either way, they’ll get done. I know I can finish them, since I already did it once before and I’m not allowing myself to back down on this.

3) Finish 12 short stories.

This is another simple goal to me. I would only have to write one short or even flash fiction story a month to reach it. It’s easy, simple. I know I can do it as long as I set my mind to it.

4) Read at least 30 novels, anthologies, or original novellas this year.

Last year saw me reading a lot of fanfiction. Now I love the stuff, but I feel I need to read less of it if I’m focusing on my original work more. Giving it up never will happen. It makes me too happy to even consider it, and I’ve read it for over a decade. But I’m reading for knowledge as much as pleasure now, and some of the time I spend reading fanfic could be spent reading published original stuff by other writers.

I will probably start by reading some of my favorites, and then branching out. Sounds strange to anyone who isn’t a writer, but I want to analyze why my favorites are my favorites. Anne Rice is sort of… well, the less said of her diva behavior towards fans the better. But she really has a way with descriptions that makes me happy to just wallow in the words on the page. What I want to know is why and what about them is so enjoyable. I’m a geek at heart. Star Trek loving, book loving, geek.

You’ll probably have noticed how I don’t have any goals set for my fanfiction, and that’s for one reason. Reason being that my only goal is to finish two novella length fanfics. Just two, a very low pressure thing. Didn’t seem like it warranted  much by way of numbering.

Anyway, I’ll see you next time. I’m going to go binge on my favorite childhood TV shows on Netflix, and spend my Saturday vegging out. Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, here I come!

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