A Child’s Dreams of Xena

When I was little, I wanted to be Xena. Yes, Xena from the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess.

What can I say? I liked the show and I liked Xena and her trusty companion, Gabrielle. They were both awesome, kick-ass women with goals and emotional lives of their own and they always had each other. The subtext surrounding their relationship and whether it was romantic or fell into what is now called the Heterosexual Life-Partners trope vital to my understanding of myself as I came to realize my attraction to other girls/women. The show also had strong Characters of Color from time to time, which was again, awesome for me to see as a young Black child. Especially when those characters also happened to be female.

Don’t get me wrong. The show wasn’t perfect, there was certainly some issue in the show like in any bit of media. And I would dare anyone to find a book, movie or TV show that does everything right or right all the time. We’re imperfect and so are our creation.

But I should probably get to our topic because Xena is not the whole of our topic for today. What I really wanted to talk about was what Xena gave me as a kid, though often in an incomplete way. Representation. You see, it is my firm belief representation matters. Not only for people in marginalized groups like LGBT+ people, religious minorities, POC, and women. But also for the majority as a way of exposing people to the fact we’re just like them, that our lives, hopes, and dreams are no different from everyone else.

You see, it is my firm belief representation matters. Not only for people in marginalized groups like LGBT+ people, religious minorities, POC, and women. But also for the majority as a way of exposing people to the fact we’re just like them, that our lives, hopes, and dreams are no different from everyone else. Once someone sees that you’re the same, denying that you’re also human and deserve the same rights and ability to reach your goals that they have becomes more difficult. Plus it is just more realistic all around to depict the world as the diverse place that it is.

However, there is another thing to consider when it comes to representation in the media. Especially genre media like Horror and other forms of Speculative Fiction, Romance, Thriller/Mystery/Suspense, and Historical Fiction. That of the intersectionality of a character. Some people seem to think that having a character like Xena or the strong POC characters on Xena: Warrior Princess is sufficient representation. And for some people it really is.

But people, readers, generally aren’t only one thing. They’re not just Black, LGBT, Jewish etc. but possibly all of those things or some other combination. That is where I feel representation comes in in this day and age. We’ve done a lot to normalize people that fall into one potential category for marginalization in society but, in my opinion, there’s still a lack of adequate representation when it comes to characters who stand at the crossroads between two or more possible points of discrimination.

And that is important because it helps people both inside and outside of marginalized communities see others who may be the same in one way but different in another as people equal to themselves. Which changes public opinions, whether quickly or slowly, and can influence all areas of people’s lives.

Some tips for including intersectional representation…

  • Don’t be afraid to take a character that is marginalized in one way, say being LGBT, and making them also Muslim, Jewish, Black etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to do your research/extra research! Research is fun and helps make the story more believable to readers.
  • Do be aware of the boundaries of a group you may not be part of. Straight, Gay, Black or White writing about societal groups to which you don’t belong tends to mean you aren’t working with all the variable. Being aware of what those variable are means a potentially better story and the ability to choose not to cross a particular boundary out of lack of sufficient knowledge to do it justice, or possibly out of respect.
  • Do treat your characters the same as if you had chosen to write them as only Black, Jewish, LGBT etc. They’re still your character and their story is still their story. Some things about the story will change, but the way they’re treated in the narrative and by the writer shouldn’t.

My next post will hopefully be the anticipated post on vampires as Byronic heroes/heroines. So, keep an eye out for that.

Carmilla: A Book Review

David Henry Friston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
David Henry Friston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla, first published as a serial in The Dark Blue (1871-1872) twenty-six years before Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), isn’t a long read. It can be read in only a couple of hours. But what this story lacks in length it makes up for in lush, dense Victorian prose and a captivating story.

The story centers around the protagonist Laura and her interactions with a female vampire the novella is named for called Carmilla, a rarity for the time (before female vampires were so common).  And features the same interesting, if sometimes convoluted storyline that is so common with Victorian fiction.

But perhaps the best part of the story is the relationship between Laura and Carmilla, the friendship that grows between them into something very near what modern readers would think of as a romance. Watching Laura be both drawn to Carmilla and her overtures and repelled by them is fascinating, especially since she is the only character who seems to notice anything odd about Carmilla for much of the novella.

However, I would say that the ending of the story and sudden knowledge of what Carmilla is feels a bit rushed. And I am not thrilled with the fact that Laura is saved by the men in the story, her father, a friend of her father’s whose niece was killed by Carmilla, and a vampire hunter. Or the fact it falls into the trap of what was considered unnaturalness at the time needing to punished, which contradicts the understanding way Le Fanu had, up to that point, treated the relationship between Carmilla and Laura.

It is as if he was forced by societal expectations to end the story in that manner. Despite this, though, I do love the story and count it among my favorites. Carmilla isn’t  a female vampire in Gothic Fiction, Clarimonde in Gautier’s 1836 short story La Morte Amoureuse seems to have that honor when it comes to Gothic Fiction. But it is one I would highly recommend everyone read at least once if they have the chance.

You’ll most likely have to read the story on Kindle or some other type of e-reader, however, if you want to read the story on its own. Outside of academic editions, the novella is notoriously hard to find when not bundled with other works by Le Fanu. Great if you want to read more of his work, not so great if you don’t.

I recommend this critical edition version:
Carmilla: A Critical Edition

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The Writer & The Bullet Journal

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. All that means is I may receive a small commission if you click on a link in the recommended products section at the bottom of this post and purchase/subscribe to one of them. I’ll only ever post links to things I’ve used and enjoyed myself. Thank you for supporting my dorky little corner of the internet!

I’ve been using a Bullet Journal® in some capacity or another for a few months, and I’ve found it very helpful for organization and getting things done. I firmly believe that a writer needs goals and should use the organizational method that helps them achieve their goals. So it seems fitting that I should share the way using a Bullet Journal can help a writer reach their writing goals as mentioned in my post on setting goals. 

What is a Bullet Journal?

The main Bullet Journal® website, linked both here and above goes into more depth, but at its heart, a Bullet Journal is a method of organization. 

 It’s an analog method, meaning paper and pen much like a traditional printed planner, created by Ryder Carroll over the course of a number of years to help him organize his life. A place to keep to-do lists, goals, projects, wish lists, sketches, research and any number of other things a person may need it to do.

How can it help writers?

 I don’t think anyone reading this post needs serious convincing on how the points from the previous section can be useful for writers of all sorts, but it never hurts to put things in context. The way I see it, a Bullet Journal® gives writers a place to…

  • Keep track of submission deadlines or project deadlines they’ve set for themselves.
  •  Keep goals and plans on how they’re going to reach those goals.
  • Keep a step by step breakdown of a project like a novel.
  • Store character bios/profiles.
  • Store research and worldbuilding.  
  • Keep to-do lists, monthly, daily, or/and weekly that will help a writer reach their goals.
  • Keep story ideas, both general and for a specific project/goal.

I’ve focused on the specifics with regards to writing, but a Bullet Journal can also organize a person’s entire life if they want. My own —more on that later— currently organizes my entire life, because being a writer is part of my life and not the sum total of it, and things like a family member’s birthday may affect how much work I can get done on a given day. 

The different methods of Bullet Journaling…

Like Bullet Journalists, there are a number of common methods of Bullet Journaling. Binders, traditional notebooks, and a Traveller’s Notebook.

Most people start out with a traditional notebook of some sort, whether hardcover, soft cover or spiral bound, in whichever size they feel most comfortable. And many continue to use that, for lack of a better word, style for their Bullet Journal. 

The majority of hacks you’ll come across were originally designed for bound notebooks and then adapted to others.

Others use binders, which need no explanation, or they use a Traveller’s Notebook (hereafter known as a TN). A TN is a leather, faux leather or fabric cover, and sometimes laminated paper cover that encloses a number of notebooks within it. Normally the books are soft covered, but people also use hardcover notebooks in their TN.  

What these methods share is the ability to compartmentalize things. Giving the user or, in this case, writer the ability to separate them into sections such as daily, personal collections, and both general writing collections and specific project based collections.

What I use…

As I mentioned earlier and promised to talk more about later, I recently went from using multiple notebooks, a size large hardcover graph Moleskine and a number of composition notebooks, to just using my personal Moleskine for everything. Some people are able to have things separated out like that or work with confidential information and need to keep separate books. But while I enjoyed the concept, I found that keeping everything in front of me works better. 

But while I enjoyed the concept, I found that keeping everything in front of me works better. The only problem for me with this method is that I do desire some measure of separation while keeping everything in front of me and I don’t relish the idea of transferring all the personal and professional collections that are still relevant when this notebook is done. So I’ve decided to move into a couple of TNs once this notebook is done, and give myself the simultaneous ability to keep things together and separate. One for this blog, one for personal and general work, and one for ongoing projects like the novellas I mentioned in my goal setting post, short story drafts, and future novels once my current one is done. 

I’ll admit that I already wonder whether a binder system may be best for my ongoing project, but most of my blog related stuff is already in a cardstock mock up of a TN and working perfectly fine. So I don’t anticipate any issues with the TN setup when it comes to my projects.

I hope everyone enjoyed this post! It was meant to be up one Friday, but that simply didn’t happen. Tomorrow I’ll be writing about representation of marginalized groups in various forms of media via a post that is in part about Xena: Warrior Princess after a review of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella, Carmilla.

Recommended Products

Pens: Zebra Z-Grip Flight and Pilot G2.

Notebooks: Moleskine Classic notebooks (PocketLarge, Extra Large) and standard composition books.

Goals & The Writer

It seems fitting that the second post on this blog and my first post of the year should be, in the grand traditions of evaluating what we want to accomplish during the coming year during New Years, is about setting goals. Something I come to think every writer should make the time to do at the end of one year and early in the next, and something I’m doing this year myself.

What are goals anyway?

People tend to make resolutions this time of the year. I’m going to join the gym and get in shape, I’m going to eat healthy, I’m going to write that novel I’ve always wanted to write etc. And all those things are fine. But, and this is something that finally dawned on me one day after years of not meeting my resolutions, they’re not the same thing. Resolutions are often treated as intangible, someday I’m going to do what I set out to.

Goals are tangible. Not pipe dreams of writing and getting a novel trade published in a year. It’s not that going all in is a bad thing, it’s awesome to shoot for the stars. But they should be things that are both challenging and achievable such as writing that writing that novel, whether it be the draft for one person or 1st draft to query letter ready in a year for another. Reaching too high, particularly in an unrealistic way— the trade publishing world moves kind of slow compared to other industries— just means we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

Recognising and picking goals…

I think it goes without saying, despite my blunt tone, that the goals we set ourselves for the year should be things that we would be proud to achieve and genuinely want to accomplish.

The easiest way I can think to do this is to sit down and write a list of things we want to do writingwise this year, no matter how much of a pipe dream as long as it makes us proud. Once you have the list, ask yourself the following questions about all the items on it:

Is it realistic but challenging? 

Can I break it down into small, manageable chunks?

Am I willing to put in the time to and effort?

Anything that isn’t realistic should be struck off the list, allowing us to let go of the item. To in a sense tell ourselves that it is completely OK we can’t do whatever that item is at this point in time. After all, there’s no use beating ourselves up about the things we can’t do instead of doing the things we can.

Look at what remains. Is there anything that you aren’t willing to devote time to this year or can’t be broken down into manageable chunks? Cross those off the list as well.

By now you should have a, hopefully, much smaller and easier to handle list. The best part, IMO, as a lover of lists. Because now you have total freedom. Freedom to use all the things on the list that you’re left with as goals, or to pick one, two, however many of the items that remain which you genuinely feel you can accomplish, would be proud to accomplish and are willing to work towards.

Reaching your goals…

It feels a bit ironic to me that I’m talking about reaching goals, as I’m bad at it. But maybe we can get better at reaching our goals together. Who knows.

Maybe we will, maybe we won’t.

Either way, it’s time to take that list and turn it into a plan to help us reach our goal(s) for the year. Having goals without a plan often turns out just as badly as making a run of the mill resolution. It doesn’t have to be a paper plan, but I’ve found that having even a mental plan helps. And for me, planning on paper is even better than a mental plan because I can’t ignore it unless I deliberately delete the file or lose the paper/notebook my plan is in. Do whatever works for you, be it Gannt chart, the major tasks in list format, or something like a Bullet Journal.

It doesn’t have to be a paper plan, but I’ve found that having even a mental plan helps. And for me, planning on paper is even better than a mental plan because I can’t ignore it unless I deliberately delete the file or lose the paper/notebook my plan is in. Do whatever works for you, be it Gannt chart, the major tasks in list format, or something like a Bullet Journal.

Plan in hand, it’s time to follow through with the plan. Work towards the goal in some way every day or however many days a week you realistically have time for, and take the time to reevaluate and see how much you’re progressing. Seeing the progress will help to inspire you to keep going when the goal seems far away, gives you the chance to say “yes, I have made progress and I’m proud of the progress I’ve made so far.”

My goals for the year…

It doesn’t seem fair to me to have you sit here and read my blabbering all about goals without letting you know what my 2017 goals are.

This year I hope to…

  • Create a thriving blog.
  • Finish my current novel and get it query-ready.
  • Write and submit 12 short stories, with one of those stories hopefully being accepted somewhere.
  • Participate in a personal poetry writing challenge and submit 12 poems, with one or more of those poems, again, hopefully being accepted for publication.
  • Write two novellas.

It’s not a huge list at only five items long, but they’re all things I know that I can do if I chip away at them. Maybe I’ll even get to start another novel or the research for it!

Feel free to join me in my next post where I will be talking about how Bullet Journaling can be a great tool for writers.

The Beauty In Horror

I debated long and hard about what the first post of this blog should be. Did I want to blog about representation in the media and why it is important for marginalized groups such as LGBT people and People of Color? Do a book review of on one of my favorite stories, the Gothic novella from 1872 that was written by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Carmilla? Perhaps I wanted to dive right in and analyze Carmilla as Queer Fiction, or talk about Bullet Journaling?

All were good topics and ones that I will definitely be covering, but the thought occurred to me the other day while reading an Erotic Horror story during little breaks I took as I reread Carmilla for some upcoming review and analysis posts. Horror is among my favorite genres; one which holds, dare I say it, a beauty that many people don’t see.

It is a diverse genre in which the writer must expertly play on the reader’s emotions like a master pianist to get the desired brand of scared and/or disturbed that fits their specific story. Someone writing Romantic Horror or Erotic Horror may need to manipulate their readers so that cannibalism is sweet/sexy, using the very things that normally draw people to the erotic or romantic against them. A cannibal that falls in love while the reader watches on both repulsed and pulled into the story by romantic gestures that suddenly become disturbing because of the nature of the character; a relationship involving a vampire or a serial killer where the love interest knows and accepts the vampire/killer for who they are. Maybe a sweet but terrifying story about a frustrated demon mother, who much like a human may have trouble weaning their child off of breastfeeding or formula, is having trouble weaning her child off of her flesh and onto human flesh.

The possibilities are endless. All equally able to strike fear into a reader when done right, creating a pervading sense of dread and horror for the durations of the story.  I can describe a romantic if slightly childish scene where two people carve their initials into something but have the people be a pair of serial killers and have the something being a struggling victim. I can write a sex scene if that is my wish, have the characters be deeply in love, but have the characters quite literally consuming bits of each other. I can write a normal slasher story or a monster story if that is what my heart is set on writing

And it is that wide open galaxy of space for writers to play to their heart’s content as long as they do the job of disturbing, scaring, or horrifying their readers that makes this genre so uniquely, dementedly beautiful in my eyes as a reader and a writer.