Monday, February 6, 2023

My Favourite Horror Romance

I'm not a huge fan of romance novels (well, perhaps that's unfair because I've never read a single one) but I am a huge fan of love. No other emotion can bring me to tears quicker, which is why I'm thankful that at least they're happy tears. Since Valentine's Day is approaching, I thought I'd use this month to discuss my favourite horror romance.

It's not Buffy and Angel, or Buffy and Spike. Or Sookie and Bill, or Sookie and Eric. Or Elena and Stefan.... or Elena and Damon.... wait a minute, it's almost like there's a pattern here. I'm sure these romances have their merits, but none in my opinion, measure up to the epic love story depicted in Bram Stoker's Dracula (which is, ironically, not much like Bram Stoker's novel at all). Yes, I'm talking about the one from 1992, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring the legend that is Gary Oldman.

I normally grumble endlessly about movie adaptations of books I hold dear, and I'm a huge Dracula fan. However, I think that great decisions were made by screenwriter James V. Hart when he adapted the novel for the screen. While one of the best aspects of the book (for me) is that Dracula is just a monster stalking prey, I'm glad that he was humanised for the movie and given a back story. This is unusual for me because I normally hate it when someone takes a perfectly good book monster and twists them into a person, but it really works in this instance.

We've had so many Dracula movies over the years, most of which depict him as the soulless monster he is, as penned by Stoker, but what Coppola and co did was to transform and transcend the source material - that whole movie to me is a beautiful, breathing piece of art. Who needs ANOTHER film version of a story we've seen a thousand times already?

It retains the horror of the book because we still fear for the characters. They are just as terrified and distraught in the movie as they are in the book. Mina's role is elevated in the movie because being inexplicably in love with Dracula without knowing why adds layers to her character. Dracula is still a violent, terrifying monster and his new depth in this movie serves to emphasis that fact, rather than detract from it.

He loves Mina more than anything in the world - it's a deep love for which he risked his life, only to end up pledging his allegiance to darkness out of enraged grief. A love so deep that he turns himself into a monster over it. It spans oceans of time, it is unrelenting. And yet, he still stalks and terrorises Mina's friends. He still kills them. He's in a city with thousands of other food options, and yet he still consumes those dearest to her.

He seeks to isolate her, to alienate everyone around her besides himself, to sever her from her world and draw her into his. She begs to be a vampire with him, but he witholds, claiming he loves her too much to damn her. But eventually he does try.

To be clear - I'm not romanticising this love story. I don't adore this movie and this couple because I think their love is good and pure, and I did not want to see them together at the end. He is ageless, powerful beyond the scope of regular power, lethal and clever, and selfish. He demonstrates over and over how he can take from Mina until she has no choice but to try to separate from everyone else in order to protect them. She loves him and this clouds everything she once was. He loves her but instead of doing what's right, he manipulates and coerces and love bombs. He is an absolute pillar of the worst kind of romantic partner, the epitome of abuse.

And THAT is why I enjoy watching this unfold. It's because Coppola and co presented us with a "love" story that appears to be perhaps the greatest, deepest, and most sincere romance of all time, but it's actually a horrifying depiction of one of the most potentially-lethal abusive relationships in film history. I spend the whole run-time of this movie rubbing my hands together with glee at the prospect of this piece of shit's demise. I love that Harker and the gang never give up trying to save Mina and pull her back to normality, to break the spell cast over her. I love that despite being her husband, Harker STILL recognises that Mina is the victim in this twisted fairytale, manipulated beyond recognition, and needs help.

They never blame her, they just follow her to the end of the Earth in a bid to take down that murderous, toothy twat. In many ways, this movie and its message that the abuser will eventually reach his well-deserved end, is ahead of its time. I don't know if this is the message Coppola was trying to send, but that's how I interpret it.

I don't take nihilistic, voyeuristic pleasure in watching someone's mind get utterly twisted, their heart smashed to smithereens. I love this relationship only because Dracula is a horror movie. It's horror, folks. And this relationship is horror incarnate. It's one of the first movie romances I can remember watching in which the dickhead is quite literally presented as the blood-sucking monster that he is. I love it because he doesn't get her in the end, because we get to see her freed of him. I love it because the people who ACTUALLY love her do everything in their power to help her. I love it because it's as good a social commentary on toxic relationships as I've ever seen, but displayed with breathtaking sets and a score that mesmerises - everything about this movie folds you into the romance in a way that distracts you from the fact this it is not really, in the slightest, romantic. We start thinking like Mina, we cry at the end. We want her to bin off Jonathan and swan off into the darkness with her "real" love, because Dracula has convinced us too of his sincere, unyielding love for her. I love this because as filmmaking goes, I appreciate the audacity it takes to convince the whole audience that this is the love that dreams are made of. But it isn't. I can't think of any movie that so skillfully encourages you to empathise with the victim by actually rooting for this hideous "relationship" just like she does, despite it being the most lethal relationship imaginable. That's how manipulation works, you see. You don't even realise you're in the land of irrational thinking.

It is the kind of horror that chills me to the bone.

It is horror within horror within horror.

And also, it's got Keanu Reeves and his English accent, so there's that.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Animals in Literature

 Groundhog vs Gopher: 5 Key Differences - AZ Animals

Today is Groundhog Day, a unusual North American holiday where we make weather predictions based on the observations of a big rodent we tend to try and exterminate any other day of the year. As strange at it is, it's not the first time we have used animals to represent our beliefs, i.e. the Easter Bunny and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. Animals have always been an important part of human society, and that extends to our myths, superstitions, and even our religions Animals have been our food, our companions, our mode of transportation, and our livelihood. They've been our gods, heroes, sidekicks, and adversaries. Even if you don't eat meat or keep pets, it's undeniable that human culture would not survive without them. It only makes sense that we would personify them and insert them into our literature over the years.

Most of us were introduced to animals really young, whether we had pets or not. They are often personified in children's books and shows to keep their attention and teach them a few things at the same time. Even earlier than that, a lot of toddler age kids had animals teaching them through flashcards, puzzles, and other toys. Some of the earliest books I remember reading as a kid were about animals, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

It didn't stop at childhood either. Many books geared more toward young adults and teenagers, like the Warriors series or Harry Potter, featured animals as main characters. A lot of novels have human characters with animal-like characteristics or shape-shifting capabilities. The horror genre loves to use animals. From the undead cat, Church in Pet Sematary, to the cloned dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Fantasy likes to use them as sidekicks, mounts, and even wise teachers, like Baloo and Bageera in The Jungle Book.

We owe a lot of our best works to the animal kingdom. Whether we depict them realistically or turn them into talking magical creatures, if it weren't for animals, we wouldn't have some of the great books, paintings, games, movies, TV shows, and yes, holidays that we have today. So this Groundhog Day, say thanks to the little guy for his contribution to our culture...whether he sees his shadow or not.

Stay Weird.

Monday, January 30, 2023

I tried to get an AI to write my book. It didn't go well.

Sometimes, I feel like an AI. Taking inputs from the world around you and regurgitating what you think your audience wants to see and hear - that's, like, every day at my corporate day job. Especially since I work in marketing. I can't tell you the amount of buzzword-laden nonsense I've had to pump out.

So far from being afraid of being replaced by an AI, I say, let the machines have that crap. I don't wanna do it anyway.

Something else I don't really like doing is writing first drafts. Nothing scares me more than a blank page, and often, I wish I could just do the outlining / plotting part and then have someone - or something - else write the first draft for me. Then I'd rewrite it all in revisions, which, unlike a lot of writers, I actually like doing more than writing the first draft. It's like, give me something to work with, you know?

I've spent the past month or so trying to come up with a plot for the third and final book in my Flynn Nightsider dark fantasy series, and I've spent the bulk of it completely, utterly, thoroughly stuck. Turns out, it's hard to end a saga you started working on 11 years ago when you've changed your mind about the whole series' arc and purposely wrote yourself into a hole after Book 2 because it was the most interesting ending you could think of. 

While I was banging my head against the proverbial wall trying to figure out this damn book, I kept seeing article after article after article about how good ChatGPT, the AI text generator, is getting, and how it's going to replace us.

Okay, fine, I thought. I can't seem to get this book written anyway. Let's see what the machine can do.

I started by feeding it the most basic information about where I left off with Flynn: that he's a teenaged boy looking to take down an immortal wizard of sorts (since I didn't know if I could train the AI to learn all my little world-building details, I left it at that). Then I told it a few other details, told it that I needed a plot twist, and let it come up with a synopsis then write the first few paragraphs of the story in the style of a young adult novel.

Yeah, here's what I got:

I stand before the towering castle gates, my heart pounding with fear and determination. I know that inside lies Zoltar the Eternal, the immortal wizard who started the war and took my family from me. But I also know that I am the only one who can stop him and put an end to his evil plans. I've heard stories of his immense power and his ability to manipulate death and souls. I take a deep breath and steel myself for what's to come. I am ready to face Zoltar and bring an end to this war, no matter what the cost.

I push open the heavy castle doors and step inside. The grand hall is empty, but I can feel eyes on me, watching my every move. I call out "Zoltar! I've come to stop you and put an end to your evil plans!" My voice echoes through the hall, but there is no response. I start to walk deeper into the castle, my hand on the hilt of my sword, ready for any attack. Suddenly, a voice booms out "You are brave, young one, but you are also foolish." I turn to see Zoltar standing at the end of the hall, a smirk on his face. "You think you can defeat me? I have been alive for centuries and have defeated greater warriors than you." I take a deep breath and reply "Maybe so, but I have something you don't, a reason to fight. I will stop you, for my family and for the people of this land."


Yeah, halfway through laughing my head off, I told it to introduce a female character (a stand-in for Aurelia) just to see what would happen. Here we go...

I square my shoulders and prepare for battle, but then I hear a voice behind me. "Wait, Flynn! You can't fight him alone!" I turn to see a young woman, her hair pulled back in a ponytail and her eyes fierce with determination. "I'm here to help you," she says. "My name is Lila, and I'm a powerful sorcerer. Together, we can defeat Zoltar and end this war." I nod, grateful for the unexpected help. "Thank you, Lila," I say. "I'm ready when you are." Lila nods and we both start to walk towards Zoltar, ready to face him together.

"I have my own reasons for wanting to defeat Zoltar," Lila said, as we approached the immortal wizard. "My family was also taken by this war, and I won't rest until justice is served." I nod, understanding her pain and determination. "But that's not all," she continued. "I've been studying the ancient texts and I discovered that Zoltar is not just a tyrant, he is also the key to unlocking a greater evil that threatens to destroy the world. We have to stop him, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of all humanity." I look at Lila, impressed by her knowledge and determination. "Then we'll do this together," I said, gripping my sword tighter. "We'll stop Zoltar and save the world."

Wow. Such compelling writing. I told it to continue and describe the characters:

As we stood before Zoltar, I took a moment to take in my surroundings. The castle was grand and imposing, but it was also dark and foreboding. Zoltar himself was a tall, thin figure, with long white hair and piercing blue eyes. He wore a long black robe and held a staff that seemed to glow with an otherworldly light. I couldn't help but feel a shiver run down my spine as I looked at him. I may have been a young man, with a strong build and short brown hair, but I knew that I couldn't take him on alone. I was grateful to have Lila by my side, her small frame belied her powerful abilities as a sorcerer. Together, we would defeat Zoltar and bring an end to his reign of terror.

Without hesitation, Lila and I charged towards Zoltar, ready to engage in battle. Zoltar sneered at us and raised his staff, unleashing a powerful blast of energy. Lila quickly conjured a shield to protect us and I lunged forward with my sword. Zoltar was fast and powerful, but we were determined and fought with all our might. We exchanged blows and spells, each one trying to gain the upper hand. The battle was intense and it seemed as if it would never end, but we kept fighting, knowing that the fate of the world rested on our shoulders.

Still literally LOLing, I told it to introduce a plot twist:

Just as we thought we had the upper hand, Zoltar revealed his true intentions. "You fools!" he exclaimed. "You think you can defeat me? I am just a pawn in this game, a tool for the true enemy." With these words, he disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving us confused and bewildered. Lila and I looked at each other, trying to process this revelation. "What does he mean?" Lila asked, her voice filled with uncertainty. "I don't know," I replied, "but we have to find out. We have to discover who the true enemy is and stop them before it's too late." With renewed determination, we set off on a new quest, not knowing what challenges and twists lay ahead.

Riveting fiction, right?? Wellp, this exercise was useful in one way: I'm 125% sure that whatever I come up with will be better than the tale of ZOLTAR THE ETERNAL.

Just for fun, I also told the AI to give me a title and back cover blurb. Who wouldn't read this masterpiece???

Are you ready for an epic adventure filled with action, mystery, and betrayal? "The Immortal's Gambit" takes you on a journey with Flynn, a young warrior who joins the army to seek revenge for the loss of his family. But as he rises through the ranks, he discovers that the war is not what it seems and the immortal wizard who started it holds the key to a greater evil that threatens to destroy the world. Together with a powerful sorcerer, Lila, Flynn embarks on a quest to uncover the truth and stop the true enemy before it's too late. Get ready for a thrilling ride filled with magic, battles, and unexpected twists that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Don't miss "The Immortal's Gambit" a tale of war, betrayal and redemption.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

When Well-Intentioned Diversity Falls Short

I recently received a promotional email from Disney+. Which isn't anything out of the ordinary. I get a couple a week promoting their new releases. However, the one I got this week made me a little irritated and made me want to talk about corporate attempts at promoting diversity.

In the past few years, and especially since the murder of George Floyd, companies have been trying to highlight all the ways they're promoting diverse voices and viewpoints. Which is great! We need to hear from new and different and underrepresented voices! However, too often these come off as shameless corporate back-patting and just running down a checklist.

Since a middle-aged white guy talking about diversity is, well, not ideal, I turned to my friend and fellow author, Mary Fan to discuss what make a good project with a diverse cast and what needs to happen for it to rise above corporate platitudes.

VICTOR: So the event that made me want to talk about this topic: I got an email from Disney+ promoting all the great content they had to celebrate Lunar New Year with. And it was so sadly predictable.

I asked you to blindly guess what the films were, and you got them 100% correct: Turning Red, Shang-Chi, and live action Mulan. All of which were made in the last three years, and one of which (Mulan) is terrible. Which struck me as the lamest kind of PR approach to diversity. "Look! We have three whole movies!!!" At the same time, that's three more than they had a decade ago.

So my question to you, what can Disney (and other studios) do to showcase diversity without making it feel like they're checking a box on a list?

MARY FAN: What makes this list particularly hilarious is that none of them have anything to do with Lunar New Year. You wouldn’t see them promoting a Christmas movie list with random movies that take place in England or Germany or something — they promote movies that take place at and center on Christmas! In the case of wanting to promote Lunar New Year but having no movies, well, they’re Disney. They could have commissioned a short or two from new Asian filmmakers

VICTOR That would seem like the least they could do. And I think Turning Red is a fantastic movie! Easily the best Pixar film since Coco! But like you said, nothing to do with Lunar New Year. And they have those Pixar Academy short films! This should be easy!

MARYExactly! And in fact it’s kind of cluelessly insulting to showcase generally Asian movies for LNY because it implies that these movies are only worth thinking about on LNY. If it were Asian History Month it’d be a different story. Not to mention, lots of Asian countries celebrate Lunar New Year (which is why that’s the common term now instead of Chinese New Year) yet all the movies they showcase are Chinese. Really, Disney!

VICTOR: This is what I mean by “checking boxes” when it comes to diversity. Disney did a similar thing when it was AAPI Month - Lilo! Moana! And, uh, other stuff! And it takes away from those movies. Turning Red is great! Written and directed by a Chinese-Canadian woman, it’s a wonderful film. But it just becomes a box that gets clicked for an e-mail campaign.

Another thing that made me think about this was the new cartoon on HBO Max, Velma. This is based on the Scooby Doo cartoons, showing how the gang met in high school. One of the twists is that they’ve changed the races of the leads. Velma is now South Asian, Daphne is Chinese (but still with natural red hair), and Shaggy is black.

But the thing is, this seems solely designed to get outrage clicks from angry fans! There’s nothing in the show that would indicate how this could change or affect the character, it’s literally like they clicked a color menu. And that’s all the thought they put into it

MARYOh Velma. I haven’t watched the show but it does feel like they’re ticking boxes. Like, I’m all for “take this classic white character and make them a person of color”, but it should have some cultural context, maybe? Also based on all the commentary the show makes a lot of anti-woke “jokes” seemed to cater to right wing humor, which confuses me. Like, are you just trying to give everyone a common enemy?

VICTOR: Jokes is giving Velma too much credit. I reviewed Velma for another website and i panned it, but I tried to make a point about how I didn't like it because the jokes were awful.

The “diversity"just feels so extraneous to the show. Like there is no reason why Velma is South Asian now, it adds nothing to the plot except for a talking point for angry YouTubers Like I think there could be something interesting in making Scooby Gang different races and seeing how that impacts their ability to solve mysteries. But Velma doesn’t really care about that

MARY: I’m somewhat torn about premises like that. Like, on the one hand simply coloring in your cast feels cheap. But on the other, characters and creators of color shouldn't have to be tied to certain expectations. Like, I’m Chinese American, but I don’t necessarily want to write about the immigrant experience or whatever. Sometimes I just want to write about kids solving mysteries who happen to be Asian like me.

In the case of Velma specifically though I think there was a lost opportunity. You’re tying these non-white characters and creators to a legacy originated by white creators about white characters. From a business perspective I get that reimagining existing stories is an easier sell. But also you’re depriving these creators the chance to develop something new, and make characters who are truly their own.

At the same time, I get that it’s exciting to see a familiar character reimagined. Like how people call for a Black James Bond or female Sherlock Holmes. Characters that reach icon status start feeling more like myths than something with a specific canon. Like how stories such as King Arthur have been reimagined so many times before modern sensitivities had anything to do with it.

VICTOR: That very nicely leads into my next topic. I recently saw a production of 1776 on Broadway. If you’re not familiar, this is a Broadway musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The cast is (usually) almost entirely white men playing the founding fathers. The twist here was that the cast was all female, trans and non-binary actors of various races playing the parts

This sounds great! Hamilton did something similar and that is a fantastic show! But, unlike Hamilton, this wasn’t an original musical, it was just the actors plunked into the old script and calling it a day. So, there was a black woman playing John Adams, but she was saying the same lines that Brent Spiner did when I saw the show in 1997. Plus the staging was extremely flat and static

Roundabout is a great company, and I’m sure they had the best of intentions but it just did not work at all

MARY: I remember that show! Hmm this is another topic I’m somewhat torn about. On the one hand, there are some great roles out there written for white men that other performers want to play. Like, who could deny Norm Lewis the chance to play the Phantom or Javert? Or heck, I want to play the Phantom or Javert — just let me take it up a fifth.

I also recall they revived Sweeney Todd once with a woman as Pirelli. But I guess it starts to feel performative when you make a point of gender and/or race swapping your entire cast without adding anything else (come to think of it, a Black Phantom or Javert does add some commentary to both those roles whether intentional or not).
And hey, just because you did an admirable thing in giving marginalized actors good roles doesn’t mean the production can’t stink.

VICTOR: Exactly! And I am pretty sure some African American actors have played Erik. I think I remember Robert Guillaume doing it. And Phantom cast their first black Christine Daae just before they announced their closing.

Fantasy is particularly bad about diversity since so much comes from that Medieval European template. There were fans angry about having one of the houses in the Game of Thrones spin off be black because it wasn’t “historically accurate.” News flash: if you have dragons and zombies the show isn’t concerned about history But it worked absolutely fine in the show!

MARY: Oh yeah, I remember all the hullabaloo about casting a Black Guinevere in Merlin back in the day. Or how those same types were upset about a Black Stormtrooper in Star Wars (they really have no excuses there…)
What these types like to yell about is how entertainment should just cast the best actor for the role. It never occurs to them that the best actor might not be white… Hey, Norm Lewis is my all-time favorite Javert. Before I saw him in the role, I used to detest that character lol

VICTOR: I could go on about this topic for ages, but I’ve kept you too long already. Any final thoughts on diversity done well or examples to follow?

MARY: Hah, we could talk about this forever! There’s so many layers and perspectives that it’s impossible to have one “right” answer. Personally I like the kind of color conscious casting they do in shows like Game of Thrones or Rings of Power or the Little Mermaid, where they cast actors of color in traditionally white roles though the mythology it’s based on is European (and in the case of Rings of Power, penned by someone who clearly reflects the race biases of his time). These stories have become so widespread and admired now, with fans from all backgrounds, and it’s great to give them some representation.
And then there are the utopian shows like every Star Trek ever, each trying to boldly go where no (or few) directors have gone before. It’s a hopelessly optimistic view but sometimes it’s nice. And of course we do need culturally specific entertainment, like the movies that started this whole conversation (Turning Red, Shang Chi, Mulan). We need lots and lots of it, and where there’s a gap, those with power should use their vast resources to fill it. So when you want to send out a Lunar New Year email, you have some actual Lunar New Year stories to showcase.

My thanks to Mary for joining me this week. And a festive Lunar New Year to all who celebrate.

Victor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim, and his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon

Monday, January 23, 2023

Book Review: Hate to Feel by Chandler Morrison

 "Hate To Feel" by Chandler Morrison 

"And nothing can pull me out of it. No one extends a hand. All the others are too busy casually splashing about in their wading pools, with no fear of drowing. Yet, here I am, drowning every day." 

Derek Diver is a data review specialist whose had his fair share of bad luck with love, but something about Scarlet seems different, IS different. The only problem is his girlfriend Amy that he no longer wants to be with, and Scarlet's super douche of a husband Bryce. 

When things escalate to a full fledged love affair and then unexpectedly crash and burn, there are catastrophic consequences to Derek's life and the people in his life as well.

"When people express concern over your well-being, it's very rarely really genuine. They just want a reason to play amateur psudeo-psychologist. It's ego masturbation." 

"You're always looking for a reason to fall apart."

This book was absolutely heart aching. While I acknowledge Derek is a psychopath and one hundred percent wrong for the things he chose to do, his feelings of suffering and loneliness and hate were all valid. Morrison has written this story in such a way that he digs deep at your emotions, makes you hate those feelings that rise to the surface when you find a passage you whole heartedly relate to. I felt many times while reading that Morrison stole a page from my own life and made it his own. The topics of sexual abuse/trauma, drug use, and lost relationships all resonated deep with inside of me. The chapter that Tamara details the relationship between her and her uncle while speaking to Derek ate away at my core. I kept saying, "Chandler, how on earth could you ever know these things?" Things so deep and raw that I almost couldn't admit the similarities. 

"Maybe existence is just something to be suffered, not relished."

The passages between Derek and Jack, especially those about love and drug use were SO hard to get through. Having experienced my own profound loss of relationships and drug use, I couldn't agree more with so much that was said. Love is the ultimate sacrifice of self; you give away every piece of you to someone in hopes they won't stomp the beauty out of your soul and most times you just lose yourself along the way while they never appreciate any of you at all. Derek absolutely caused some, if not most,  of his own pain. The same can be said about us as people as well though. I can very much see and understand how all those hurtful and resentful things caused the train reaction we get from this book and from Derek's character. And who knows, maybe that's what Morrison wanted all along, for us to hate to feel.

"I'm a miserable, coke-addled, pill-popping alcoholic. I'm living proof. And I use the word 'living very loosely. So, no, Vera didn't do this to me. But my love for her did." 

Morrison doesn't get nearly enough love for this book. I know he's known for his incredibly controversial "Dead Inside", and it's an amazing book, no shade there. BUT Morrison is MORE than THE SCENE in the abortion clinic. His writing is magical and profound. It's life changing. And this book is life changing. This is the book to read, this is the book that needs talked about as much as THE SCENE. Definitely read "Dead Inside", but maybe start here first. See what Morrison is really about, because this story is deep. There are no satiric's in this story. This is real life and it fucking hurts. 

"Why is it the things that give us the most pleasure, the things that make life manageable, aren't sustainable?"

I wondered A LOT while I read this how much of the story and setting was based off Morrison's own experiences living in L.A. I find it hard to believe some of this isn't a piece of his own heart beating off the paper, allowing us a glimpse into his own soul. If it's not, I don't want to know. 

"But beauty isn't everything, Derek, and that's all you really have. 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Hobbies for The Sake of Joy

Today's post is brought to you by this tweet from one of my favorite authors:

This isn't the first time I've seen this bit of advice go around the internet, but it is the first time it has inspired me to write a post. That may have to do with my newest (going strong for over a year now, so "new" isn't exactly accurate) obsession for crochet, and how I've found myself eager to protect this hobby from the temptation or the social pressure to figure out how to turn it into a side-hustle for money.


I feel like I've talked about this offhandedly or abstractly in past posts, but today I wanted to talk about 
My small collection of Chef's Coats from a past life
it more directly, starting with my passion for cooking as a young person. I came from a line of talented home-cooks/bakers. The women in my family were skilled in the kitchen, which imparted in me a great love of food. When I started attending middle-school and got home on the bus early in the afternoon, my Dad suggested I cook dinner, daily, for the family, since I had the time. Some kids might've hated that chore, but I was excited for the opportunity. I loved cooking!.

Eventually my love of home cooking inspired me to be a chef. So, I threw myself into pursuing that goal. I thought about attending culinary school , but I ultimately compromised with my more practical and life-experienced father and pursued a B.S. in Food Service Management. I worked in almost every aspect of food service at some point--though my favorite place was always in the kitchen--for over 15 years.

There came a point, however, when the practicalities of adult life made a foodservice career less desirable. The unsteady pay, the irregular hours, the time away from my family, the physical demands. Most of all the burn out. What had been a hobby full of joy became decidedly less so when I was subject to the demands of both the customer, superior management, and the bottom line. Making a new hors-d'Ĺ“uvre was fun the first two or three times, but after the hundredth or thousandth time, I was sick of it. It was no longer fun, but a tedious chore. When keeping the lights on and a roof over my head depended on making money from something I used to do just for fun, I found myself resenting it. That was no way to live.

When I finally quit cooking professionally, I looked forward to regaining my joy of home-cooking that I knew would come from doing it only to please myself or my loved ones. Food is still one of my loudest love languages.

While I have gone on to find a career I enjoy doing and that I don't resent (probably because it was never a beloved hobby), I still made the mistake of monetizing hobbies a few other times before I learned my lesson (I hope). It's a little hard to admit, but that's basically what has happened with my writing career, particularly when it came to *publishing*. I've loved writing ever since I was a kid, but I didn't make a serious thing of it until about 10 years ago. Until then, I had written solely for my own pleasure. Once I started publishing short stories, and then my first novel in 2015, I threw myself into the hustle. And for a while it was fun. Now... not so much. I'm definitely experiencing burn out, and when I think of writing another book, I feel a little dread at the thought of what comes after that: the querying (IF I decide to go that route. Or maybe I'll just stick my finger in a light socket for a good time instead), the editing, the begging for reviews, the ads, the promotions, the shilling on social media...
Midnight Burning (2015) was my first published novel

I think there will be a day down the road where I can get back to writing for the joy of it again, but I'm not there yet.

So, as you may know, I've been putting a lot of my creative energy into crochet, lately. Or "yarnin'" as my husband calls it. So far I've been quite satisfied with making things that I want and then foisting them onto my friends, who have been nice enough to at least pretend they are happy to receive my yarn offerings. Once in while I catch myself thinking about creating an Etsy store or an Instagram account to promote my stuff. 

A pair of reindeer I made and gave away as Christmas gifts this year.

Then a very loud voice in my head will say, "NO! Haven't you learned your lesson yet?"(Besides the practical fact that it would be impossible to monetarily recoup, in dollars-per-hour, the amount of time it takes me to make something.) So, for now, I'll protect the joy of my newest hobby. I'll make what I want, when I want, and continue foisting it on friends and family. Until they cry for mercy, that is.

Monday, January 16, 2023

New Kindle Vella Release - WALIAFPSNTTTOFG

Another quality post brought to you by Steve! 

Hey, kids!  Happy MLK Day.  For the first time in what seems like many, many years, judging by a brief look over my past posts I seem to be relatively optimistic for the future this MLK Day. I can't say all fear for the destruction of civic society has abated, but I think things are going in somewhat the right direction again after a long, long time in the wilds.

That being said, perhaps this is an appropriate day for me to share my latest project, which was definitely written during those last few years while wallowing in existential despair:


This story is kind of an analysis of my lifelong fascination with the very banal people who don't even seem to notice as they compromise their lives away into monsterhood.  Which is not an indictment, per se.  I've certainly done it myself on at least two occasions.  And more of you than I guess would care to admit probably have as well.  And who is the titular fucking guy responsible for our collective woe? Well, you'll have to read it to find out, although that's a bit disingenuous, because you'll really have to read between the lines to actually find out.

In any case, now is definitely the time to check this out because three episodes are up as of yesterday and they are all free to read. This story has been my first attempt dipping my toes into the world of Kindle Vella and I should say that the jury is still out.  I guess I won't really know until next week, when the first "paid" episode comes out, how interested people are in continuing this story.  But for now, it certainly can't hurt you to go check it out for free.

I've got a ton of irons in the fire right now, so I will just let this one be for now and talk to you all real soon with tons more cool news.  Thanks, everybody!
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