The Bailey Vow

Status Update: I have successfully moved.

I’m still settling into my new home–trying, as I’ve been advised, to slow down and celebrate victories.

But also trying to settle back into being productive. The Movepocalypse sidelined all of my creative endeavors for over a month.

Well . . . except for this one post, which felt so important that I started it on July 15th. I’ve followed through and published it here because, for me, this marked an important evolution in my priorities as a writer of color. If I did not publish this, and take the ensuing vow on this site, I’d be doing my platform a massive disservice.

So, please enjoy what I’ve come to call “the Bailey Vow.”

~~~

A weird thing happened last week.

While packing, I decided to put on Deadpool 2, a movie that happened to be on Hulu–the last hurrah of an HBO subscription I bought for Game of Thrones and would never, ever renew.  The goal was “something I feel I should watch, but don’t actually need to pay attention to.” Essentially, voices in the background while I packed.

I came away from that movie with a few thoughts:

  1. Wait–Josh Brolin was Thanos and Cable?
  2. Deadpool can be funny, but when he dips into Family Guy-esque celebrity humor, he isn’t, at all.
  3. And, most importantly: wow, I love Zazie Beetz’ Domino.

They didn’t give her any development (because of course they didn’t), but she is an extremely fun imagining of a character I didn’t care about at all in the comics.

Deadpool 2-Domino just looks great. The FoX-Men movies often interpret characters to look way worse than their comic counterparts, but Domino is actually the opposite; she doesn’t look anything like her comic counterpart, but her big hair and simpler, less comic booky outfit pair really well with her character. When Domino is falling out of a moving truck but sees a giant parade float under her, she just turns her back, putting her arms behind her head, lounging, mid-air, through the wreckage and landing without a scratch; and, seeing that, we know exactly who she is–the chill, carefree vibe she puts out–and it’s awesome.

“Let me hop onto Twitter and talk about that,” I thought to myself.

And, well . . . Cue that infamous part of “Requiem in D Minor.”

“The little mermaid was written as white, was white in the film, is based in Denmark and based on a European fairytale, but is cast as black . . . How is this not racist and cultural appropriation?”

“Ariel must be a cute girl with white skin and red hair singing sweet and crisp!!”

“Ariel must be white because she is a white girl and that’s it . . .”

“Disney, you made a huge mistake by hiring Halle Bailey . . .”

“. . . This is going in the TRASH.”

Wow. Especially that second quote. She must be “singing sweet and crisp”? . . . What the fuck? It’s like a soda ad became sentient and took racism for a spin on Twitter.

For me, the “black Ariel” conversation continued immediately the next day at work.

With a Hispanic coworker. This happens sometimes, of course; a coworker who’s a fellow minority will out themselves as a fan of Ben Shapiro, or maybe an accidental supporter of the continued, often racist casting standards of Hollywood. Among the points made were . . .

  1. So, what? Is Poseidon gonna be black now?
    My Answer: Holy shit–that would be rad. I didn’t even think of that.
  2. It’s a Swedish fairy tale!
    My Answer: Keywords: fairy tale.
  3. I’d sooner believe a mermaid would be pale-skinned.
    My Answer: I’d sooner believe a mermaid had green skin, giant gills, and an unhinging jaw, actually.
  4. What if Black Panther had been White Panther instead?
    Answer: So, you mean what if Black Panther had been like every other goddamn film in the franchise?

We went back and forth for a while, my coworker making unreasonable points, me thinking, “Why . . . the fuck am I even having this debate? With a fellow Latino, no less.” Why this instead of both of us talking about how cool it is and musing, “Wow. Maybe someday, we’ll finally get a Hispanic Disney Princess”?

Instead, I was enduring the same arguments from Twitter, winding down with the same major point I’d seen on there: “Why don’t they just make a new movie with a new black main character?”

The thing is . . . I don’t completely disagree with that idea.

As I’ve said before in previous articles about All New Marvel’s weird penchant for swapping out white characters with ethnic characters and boys with girls, I don’t actually think that’s the best move for diversity (with the exception of Miles and Carol, who are genuinely just killin’ it). Sure, at this point, replacing white characters with minority characters is the best we can really hope for . . .

. . . but what would be far superior . . . is a bunch of new stories headlined by minorities. Stories like Brian Michael Bendis’ Naomi. Naomi is an amazing title because the title isn’t “Iron Man,” or “Thor” (and, of course, in the eyes of the rabid, sexist and racist masses, “Black Iron Man” or “Female Thor)–it’s just fucking Naomi. No argument, no bullshit, no looming shadow of a white predecessor.

But, to that coworker, I said, “Well, dude, no shit it would be better to have a new movie about black merpeople. But Hollywood would never do that. And people don’t–“

And I know I kept talking, but I don’t remember exactly what I said.

I had been saying, “And people don’t write their best stories with ethnic characters, because they’re usually afraid to.

“Because everyone’s been told, time and time again, that IP’s with ethnic characters won’t sell, which is bullshit.”

To which I asked myself, “Then why the fuck is Kole Buchanon white?”

Since seeing The Force Awakens, I’d imagined the protagonist of one of my own novels, Kole Buchanon, as John Boyega, but I’d never actually gone back and changed his original description–a vague set of visual guidelines that allowed readers to infer whatever skin color they wanted for the character. After all, I didn’t want to upset anyone–I wanted everyone to feel welcome. And, sure, I still do . . .

. . . but, as I said on Twitter, the reaction to Halle Bailey, like the reaction to Amandla Stenberg’s Rue before it, has made it clear that we don’t live in a world where that’s possible.

I can make my characters as welcoming to all races as I want, only for society to assume their whiteness and Hollywood to bolster that assumption, while I ultimately stand up for no one.

Or . . . I can make every single one of my protagonists a minority. Not a careful handful. Not one or two, experimentally.

All of them.

So, here, now, I’m taking what I call the Bailey Vow, so named because I don’t want to live in a world where this insane, racist reaction to Halle Bailey being cast as a mermaid, ever happens again.

I don’t claim that everyone should take this vow; I’m not trying to overturn all of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and get rid of all white protagonists, because that would be bad too. But I do want to contribute to a world where protagonists being brown is no big deal. As a brown man writing for a predominately white genre, I have to contribute to that effort.

Thus, my vow:

  1. To always write stories where the protagonists are minorities.
  2. However–eternally inb4 the white-blind raging that’s sure to come if I’m successful–these stories will not always focus on the protagonist being a minority.
  3. I will always go out of my way to make it undeniably clear that my protagonists are minorities. We’re talking full descriptions of skin color, hair texture, etc., so that no one in their right mind could ever utter the words, “He / She was black / brown / Asian / etc.!?”
  4. Finally, I will always keep the film rights to all of my projects, so if any of my work ever gets optioned by a studio, I can make sure my characters are never white-washed.

It may never matter that I took this vow here; I may never be so successful of  a writer that this makes any difference.

But I took it regardless.

Now I just have to add “Redo Kole Buchanon descriptions” to my To-Do list on the Memory rewrite.

~~~

And, of course, I need to get back on the other projects I’ve been neglecting, now all backed by the Bailey Vow, which makes them more exciting–as if this is the mindset with which I always should’ve approached my projects (because it is).

Thank you for reading, and, if you’d like to be here the next time I decide to post something wildly polarizing, you can subscribe with the button on the left hand side of the screen.

Until then, take care, and write well.

A Writer Watching – Solo: A Star Wars Story

I made the mistake of watching Ant-Man and the Wasp a few weeks ago.

Which sucks, because, had I not watched it, that movie could still be whatever I’d imagined.

It could have, for example, been the awesome heist film I was imagining, heavily involving the Quantum Realm in an effort to rescue Janet Van Dyne. Not a full 2 hours with only 5 or so minutes spent there, no–it could’ve been a strange road trip into the void, reminiscent of a heist in the sense that the cast would have to manage a bunch of details, in both the normal world and Quantum Realm, to ensure their escape.

It could have also built on the narrative of the first film in interesting ways by advancing the cast’s relationships.

Or it could’ve corrected the weird, casual racism of the first movie.

Watching Ant-Man and the Wasp, however, made it an inescapable truth that it was none of those things. It was, instead, a weird, boring mess that was massively disappointing even though I came in with low expectations.

At the end, I thought, “Man . . . I should’ve done a Writer Watching for this.”

And so, we have last Tuesday morning, when I was home, having thrown out my back, and thought, “Let me watch Solo, since my friends said it was good the other night.”

A minute . . . and thirty three seconds.

I got a minute and thirty three seconds in before I hit pause and said, “Yeah, I’ll do a Writer Watching on this shit for sure.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoy nerdy film crit, cause this one’s a heckin’ chonker. It’s A Writer Watching – Solo: A Star Wars Story:

  • (1:33) The inciting moment. Han Solo hangs up his stupid, golden dice on the rear view . . . of the . . . speeder he stole?
    . . .
    Does he do this with every vehicle he steals? Ya know, to make it incredibly clear that, “Hey, that one idiot kid who loves these stupid dice stole this one”?
    Sorry, but fan service that blatant and nonsensical infuriates me.
  • (3:45) Alien Thugs: “Han! You got our money!?”
    Han: “Uh . . .”
    Alien Thugs: “Whatever! This is a shake down! Search him!”
    They find nothing.
    “Hmmm. Okay! Whatever! Let’s go see Lady Proxima!”
    Logic: “You guys, uh . . . not gonna also shake down this other character who’s with Han?”
    Alien Thugs: “Lady Proxima, here we come!”
    Logic: “But, guys, like, that doesn’t make sense. That’s definitely not what–”
    Alien Thugs: “IT’S PROXIM-A’CLOCK, BABY!”
  • (5:54) Ah, yes. Finally. A good shot of Lady Proxima.
    . . .
    She looks terrible.
    Like, the idea of a sentient, aquatic alien crime boss is awesome . . .
    . . . but Proxima just looks terrible.
    And don’t @ me with that bullshit, Rogue One excuse of, “She’s supposed to be boring! She’s only in the movie for 5 minutes!” cause, just fucking no. Bad character design is never justified in any story.
  • (7:20) Wow. I actually have to say, this chase scene at least feels like a new scenario. I know we’ve seen people chase each other in speeders before, but this scene still feels unique. Like I’m actually watching a fun new Star Wars film.
  • (9:15) I’m a writer who focuses a lot on realism. Yes, I write fantasy, but within my fantasy stories, characters have to make choices that are realistic. When watching any movie, there’s usually a part where I say, “I could never write that,” about something that happened on-screen, because it makes absolutely no sense in the context of the world, scene, or characters.
    Han, with these dice, is a great example of something I could never, ever write.
    Because he’s attached to them, right? He clearly has a thing for them.
    Then why the fuck would he ever, in a million years, hang them up on a speeder he stole on a whim?
    Especially when that act results in him having to brave blaster fire to take them back not even ten minutes later?
    Realistically, the learned tendency would be to keep them in a pocket. Maybe to hang them up on his coat or something–not to proudly display them on a stolen vehicle that he abandons among his thieving peers moments later. Especially if doing so puts him in danger–even once.
    The idea that a criminal would treat an important momento the way Han is treating these dice . . . just doesn’t make sense.
  • (9:50) Am I the only person who would kill for a Papers, Please-esque movie about the Empire’s strict immigration protocols?
    Or even just a movie about normal people living in the empire, trying to survive its corruption?
  • (10:39) When Han gives Qi’ra his lucky dice: I would give anything for Qi’ra to be like, “Ugh. Not your stupid fucking dice again.”
  • (11:51) When Qi’ra is being dragged away at the travel checkpoint, and we see that she still has Han’s dice: I would give anything for Han to be like, “No! Don’t take my dice!”
  • (12:16) “And for my next trick, I will pull a coat out of thin-fucking-air!”
    To be fair, I’m sure they filmed a moment when you saw him take whatever clothes off of a cart or something, but whichever editor decided to leave that on the cutting room floor made a bad choice.
  • (13:00) Wait . . . is the Imperial March actually playing on that in-universe propaganda?
    Really?
    It’s been the actual theme of the Empire this entire time?
    Well, shit, now I understand why people keep joining the Empire!
  • (14:00) Yeah, see, this whole stupid, terrible explanation for Han’s last name? You should’ve cut that instead.
    That was just high school fan-fiction levels of bad.
    If you ever have the opportunity to avoid a genuinely terrible explanation for something in your writing, stop to ask yourself, “Do I really need to explain this?” If the answer is “no” (i.e. “Han’s last name could just be ‘Solo’ for no special reason!”), then just don’t explain it.
  • (14:31) Han’s Commanding Officer: “Solo! Get up! We’re almost there!”
    Han: “Almost where? Where are we going?”
    Why is he screaming this like he genuinely has no idea? I understand that he might not have been briefed, but if that’s the case, three years of training as a soldier in the Empire would mean that he wouldn’t be at all indignant about not knowing where his platoon is headed. Either he would know where they were going, or he would know better than to question it.
    Instead, this moment is written like he just fell into this scene, experiencing the same cut the audience just saw. Because lol, what a funny, clueless rogue he is! That Han!
    Definitely dampens the idea that he served in the Empire for three years. And, if there’s some canon rule stating that Imperial recruits spend 2 years and 10 months training, then having him serve for only 3 years was an enormous mistake.
  • (16:48) Kinda weird how . . . Rebel-like all of these characters are.
    Like, for whatever reason, we’re getting a bunch of maskless characters fighting on foot . . . instead of Storm Troopers in high tech walkers, ships, etc., so it doesn’t actually feel like we’re watching characters in the Imperial Army.
    It’s disappointing, because I always thought it was really interesting that Han was in the Empire . . . But now it turns out that he was only in the Empire for three years and . . . wasn’t a Storm Trooper?
    I guess there’s a time paradox to look out for: Han can’t have crazy detailed knowledge of how the Empire operates because he never displayed that knowledge in the original trilogy. But eh . . .
    If only George Lucas were still in charge . . . He’d be able to add new, not at all glaring shots of a completely CGI Han saying things like, “Luke, at the Imperial Academy, we learned that the AT-AT’s armor is weak on it’s underside!” or “You have to fire that E11 from the hip, Wicket!”
  • (18:40) Wait . . . He got kicked out of the Imperial Academy for having a mind of his own?
    . . . Then what the fuck is he doing in the Imperial Army?
    I don’t think that’s how the Empire’s supposed to work. I’m not sure that’s how any military works.
    “Well, he’s being super subversive, so we don’t want him flying ships . . . but eh, fuck it, give him a gun and put him on the front lines with our boys anyway.”
  • (21:41) I . . . hate this Han / Chewbacca fight.
    So . . . Han Solo . . . can speak Wookiee . . . and he knew that Chewbacca was a Wookiee when he came out of his mud hole to presumably eat Han . . . but, instead of immediately talking to this Wookiee . . . Han decided to . . . fight him?
    I . . .
    . . . hate this.
    That entire fight was such a goddamn contrivance. No one in their right mind would ever decide to fight a giant monster before talking to it . . . if they knew it wasn’t just some brainless fucking monster.
    It’s the equivalent of a character from Star Trek being thrown into a pit with a Klingon, knowing about the Klingon, and saying, “Oh no! Better fight this monster now!”
    It’s just a classic case of plot twist fallacy.
    Writer A: “And ‘the monster’ is Chewbacca!”
    Writer B: “Genius! So Han and Chewie fight!?”
    Writer A: “Yes! Cause, like, Han doesn’t know Chewbacca; he just sees him as a monster!”
    Writer B: “OMG! So fun! How will he get out of the fight though?”
    Writer A: “Uh . . . Oh! Han can speak Wookiee!”
    Writer B: “Genius! No contradictions there! We can even have him call Chewbacca Kashyyykian, making it clear that he knows the name of the planet Wookiees come from too!”
  • (23:28) So . . . This new alien they’re introducing . . . is basically a talking monkey?
    Phew.
    Man . . . Yeah, the alien designs really do just suck in this movie.
    . . .
    WAIT.
    Hold on.
    Louis examines his star charts.
    Yes.
    Squints at an equation. “(Normal Animal + Human Voice) Pilot / Space =”
    Yes, yes–almost got it.
    Puts a blonde wig over a picture of a raccoo–
    He’s just a rip-off of Rocket Raccoon.
    This stupid monkey alien dude is the world’s first Rocket Raccoon rip-off.
    I would not be surprised if his early draft name was Missile Monkey.
    He’s even a pilot like Rocket. For fuck’s sake.
  • (23:48) Wait. Wait. So, this dude that Han tried to ingratiate himself with before . . . turns Han in . . . and Han runs back to him anyway?
    Why?
    That makes no–
    Okay. Ya know what? I need a break. At this point in the post, I’m stepping away, because I’m actually getting frustrated.
  • (24:10) Why the fuck does Missile Monkey keep pronouncing it as “WOO – ki”?
    It’s like if a new character showed up and started pronouncing it “jahDYE.”
    No. It’s “wook – ee.” It’s always been “wook -ee.”
  • (25:48) Originally, I had a rant here about Chewbacca not saying his name, creating a weird language paradox where there was a Kashyyykian word for “Chewbacca,” and how stupid that was.
    But then, I rewatched this moment . . . and Chewbacca literally says “Chewbacca” in Kashyykian. And it’s so well done that I genuinely didn’t realize it the first time.
    And, just like . . .
    . . . I understood Chewbacca.
    You guys, seriously . . . I know this is really, really stupid and probably one of the most fanboy emotions I’ve ever felt . . .
    But I’ve been listening to Chewbacca grunt for over 30 years without ever understanding what he said.
    But this time, I did understand. . . and I’m seriously emotional about it.
    Probably because there is no other experience I can compare it to.
    This movie is a mess, yes, but there’s something simple and wonderful about this one moment, when I finally, briefly understood this character I’ve loved my whole life.
  • (29:42) Woody Harrelson: “All you need to do is do what I say, when I say it . . .”
    Logic: “Oh, cool. Han has demonstrated that he’s really good at taking orders.”
    Also, what a lazy origin for Han’s blaster.
    It’s another thing that didn’t need an origin, but especially not when the origin is “Some dude gave it to me–cause I needed a gun, I guess.”
    Also . . . Could you, uh . . . give me the extra parts that make it a sweet sniper rifle, too?
    Kinda feel like those would be super useful.
  • (31:08) Woody Harrelson: “Or blow us all to Hell!”
    Hell exists in the Star Wars universe?
  • (31:21) I can’t wait for Missile Monkey to die. It literally can’t happen quickly enough. They tried so hard to pour so much charm into him that I can’t stand it.
  • (31:45) Okay. I gotta say . . . These action scenes are consistently good. Easily the best part of this movie.
  • (32:00) But this attempt at generating tension by showing Chewbacca in danger is funny.
    Oh no! <gasp> Will Chewbacca die, and then not be in all of the future movies he’s already in? The suspense!
    When you have a time paradox like this, you need to create tension in other ways. The audience knows Han and Chewie aren’t going to die, so you have to either create new characters who are likeable enough that the audience would care when you put them in danger (which this movie failed with, in my opinion), or, easier, you set up a villain the audience really hates, then create tension with the possibility that that villain will win. And, sure, they won’t, but, “Gah! It doesn’t fucking matter, ’cause, ugh, I just hate him/her so much!” This movie, at least to this point, has also failed in that respect unfortunately.
    You could relate everything to Han’s mission, or showcase a pre-established bit of lore in an interesting, enthralling way, but this movie dropped the ball in those regards as well.
  • (Sidebar) Okay . . . I took a day off, and something interesting happened.
    I’d paused during the heist scene, so when I hit “Play” today, I jumped right into the action . . .
    . . . and I just fucking loved it.
    That heist was fun, and pretty much all of the scenes after it were fun. There was even a moment where Alden Ehrenreich had such natural banter with Chewie . . . that I actually felt like I was watching a movie about a young Han Solo.
    At the moment, I’m loving this, which is great because I also have to cut down on the notes, or I’ll be writing this until April.
  • (Sidebar 2) Also, I was ready to hate whatever villain this movie threw at me, but I actually love Dryden Vos. He’s a great mix of normal and terrifying. He feels, at once, like an authentic, believable crime lord while also being a dude with weird scars on his face that get red when he gets angry because . . . the blood rushes to them first?
  • (51:04) Vos: “He is arrogant! And he is . . . hungry!”
    Me: Ugh.
    This is one of those lines you squint at after you’ve typed it. “Does that sound weird?”
    Yes.
  • (59:30) Okay. So, I also loved the entire Sabacc game and every moment with Donald Glover’s Lando.
    But . . . here’s where things take a massive, massive dive.
    I’ve realized this weird tendency lately for issues of diversity to be pushed onto other races. Bright had orcs. Extinction (another meh Netflix original) had synths. Overwatch has omnics. And, while having these races and embroiling them in races issues isn’t a terrible thing, it leads to genuinely bad ideas and habits. For example, after I complained about Overwatch adding two new white characters last year instead of more ethnically diverse characters, some of my friends balked, “Yeah, and when are we going to get more representation for omnics!?” I remember blinking in that moment. I wanted to say, “Why the fuck does the race of robot people that doesn’t exist . . . need more representation that brown people like me?” There’s such a bizarre loss of priority there that my head is spinning.
    And I suspect that, no matter how innocent the intentions, it’s the fault of shit like this stupid fucking robot-rights character.
    Why the fuck is civil rights parodied in this movie? What is this fucking trend with trying to make racial tension a gag?
    I absolutely hate it. Like the Latin lover and the Hispanic drug dealer in every goddamn movie, this “goofy social justice warrior” bullshit makes me absolutely livid in its irresponsibility.
  • (1:01:57) This moment is so strange. We take a minute or so . . . for Lando to be upset that there’s a boot on his ship . . . Then Woody Harrelson says he’ll remove it, but reduce Lando’s cut . . . and Lando basically says, “Okay.”
    . . . That is prime cutting material right there. A solid 40 seconds that did not need to be in this story.
    [Edit: It’s weeks later, and I’m editing through one more time before posting this, and I have to say that, yeah, having finished the movie, there’s literally no payoff, whatsoever, for this scene. It’s a perfect example of a useless scene, and I will use it as such for the rest of my life.]
  • (1:14:18) Here, Qi’ra becomes every strong-female-character-in-a-male-driven-movie ever by exhibiting that she is not only hot but also a karate master.
    Seriously, they elected not to show her fight because either A) it was impossible to get anyone to move fluidly in that admittedly next-level-badass outfit she has on, or B) they did film it and realized it looked exactly like every other strong-female-character-in-a-male-driven-movie fight scene since the beginning of time.
    Seriously, if you’re worried you missed anything, here’s what happened:
    1. Qi’ra did a roundhouse kick.
    2. Qi’ra did a cartwheel.
    3. Qi’ra locked her legs around the alien’s head, leaned back, and threw him with her legs, striking a pose afterward. I have this reflex to link a YouTube video of the move I’m talking about, but you know exactly the move I mean, because you’ve seen it 40,000,000,000 times.

  • (1:20:26) Man, Wookiees look terrible without hair on their faces.
    Sure, I get that maybe this is some other race of Wookiee, or Chewie and his family have hair on their faces but not all Wookiees do.
    Still, these clean-shaven Wookiees . . . really just look like sasquatches. And it sucks.
  • (1:22:33) After Lando picks up L3, gets shot, and then get’s picked up by Chewie: I would give anything for Chewie to get shot in the leg so Han has to pick him up. But then Han gets shot in the shoulder so Qi’ra has to pick him up. Then Woody Harrelson picks her up, and so on, and so on, until we have a tower of Star Wars characters teetering toward the Millenium Falcon, with, like, Hoar at the very bottom, holding CGI Tarkin.
  • (1:24:03) Okay, I’ll say it.
    One of the things a lot of reviewers were really vocal about was their hatred for Lando’s romance with L3.
    And now, having watched it . . .
    . . . who cares?
    It wasn’t remotely obstructive or gross. It wasn’t played for gags. Hell, it wasn’t even definitively shown!
    Why were people so pissed about this?
    Also, L3’s a droid, Lando. You can just repair her.
  • (1:28:26) Man . . . They are just burning through all of the classic John Williams themes during this Kessel Run sequence.
    Seriously, there are samples of songs from the entire original trilogy in this one scene, and, for a soundtrack nerd like me, it’s incredibly distracting.
    And also a little shifty.
    They’re trying to work that nostalgia way, way too hard.
  • (1:38:53) Yeah, see, I would love a smaller Star Wars story that was just set in places like this weird, ocean-side, desert town.
  • (1:41:00) I’d heard this reveal of the marauder boss was weird . . . and it so is.
    The music swells like the reveal is going to be someone the audience knows. The staff made me think, “Wait, is this Darth Maul?”
    No. It’s a woman. For some weird reason, there was some huge build-up for the badass marauder captain being a woman.
    And, for a moment, I was seriously like, “Wait . . . Do I . . . know her? Is she a character from earlier in the movie . . . ?”
    No. Star Wars was seriously just like, “Look, fellas! He was really a dame the whole time!” and I was like, “Whoa, whoa–wait–why the fuck is that surprising? This movie came out in 2018, dude. The badass being a woman just isn’t a plot twist anymore! Women are badass!”
    It’s also just kind of weird that they went with the “still untouched” look for her. If I’d have designed this woman, she would’ve had the scar over one eye, grey hair. Maybe the eye with the scar would’ve been dead. I know those things are cliche, but a lot of people seem to have a reflex for making female characters visually appealing, no matter what. For my part, A) she just would’ve looked more badass, B) she would’ve been the very first battle-hardened, old warrior lady in the entire Star Wars universe, and C) I probably would’ve loved her immediately.
    Don’t get me wrong–strength can absolutely coincide with perfectly permed hair.
    But it doesn’t have to.
  • (1:50:06) So, this reveal that . . . (fuck–I still don’t know his name) . . . Woody Harrelson is a traitor is very poorly composed. And it’s poorly composed in such a way that hints at different drafts crashing together at this point.
    He very easily could’ve come out and been like, “Kid, I’m sorry. I can’t run forever. There would’ve been no escape. I begged you not to betray Dryden,” etc. And his very first line when entering the room (“I am . . . sorry, kid.”) makes it sound a lot like that’s what he’s going to say.
    But then, he spouts the line, “You weren’t paying attention. I told you–don’t trust anybody,” which is a pretty cliche parlor scene line for a traitor . . . and which was also seeded earlier with a single line from Woody that didn’t fit at all with his previous actions (i.e. he’s working with two long-time partners at the beginning of the movie, one of whom he had an intimate relationship with, and then gets incredibly upset when they die–not the actions of someone who trusts no one).
    I would not be at all surprised if an early draft made Woody Harrelson’s character too redeemable, so whatever happens to him by the end seemed cruel, so, on a later draft, they went back, added the single, incongruous line from Becket (I googled it) about not trusting anyone, and then modded some dialogue here to make him easier to dislike.
    A little rough, yeah, but Star Wars has been using space nazis for over 40 years. The series just isn’t used to grey-area villains.
  • (1:54:30) I probably shouldn’t . . . but I love Dryden’s weird, stupid, goth rave daggers.
  • (1:55:04) Uh . . . guys?
    This, uh . . .
    This whole thing . . . with Qi’ra about to kill Han . . . and her mentor being like, “I know her well!” and her being like, “I’m now going to kill my enemy” or whatever . . .
    . . . Yeah, that’s the same thing they did in the throne room scene in The Last Jedi.
    Seriously, it is almost the exact same moment.
  • (1:57:00) Huh. Dryden’s corpse is all grey now. So he was an alien of some kind then?
    Also, seriously, Paul Bettany, baby, why does this keep happening to you? First in Infinity War, now here? Jeez. Greyscale Sean Bean over here.
  • (1:58:00) Okay.
    Okay.
    It is cool seeing Darth Maul again. Sure.
    However, what I actually love about this is the idea that there are former Sith out there, in the galaxy, being evil.
    If only this was what always happened with the Sith–canonically–the Star Wars universe would be way more interesting. Not like it isn’t already, but the idea of former (fallen?) Sith being left for dead–abandoned by their mentors–and so set loose on the galaxy, has so much potential.
    At the very least, it has more potential than the actual Sith rules (only two–a master and apprentice, the apprentice eventually killing the master to take his place and find an apprentice of his own), which we have only seen play out a single time, in The Last Jedi, the movie 50% of humanity hated anyway. I’d prefer having Count Dooku and General Grievous still out there. Not that I loved either of them, but there’s potential intrigue to be had.
  • (2:00:30) Oh yeah, Han shooting first would’ve just looked flat out evil if they didn’t make Becket look like a scummy, traitorous bastard, first.

And that–finally–is it.

I did not think this movie was two hours long, for some reason. I also didn’t think I’d have this much to write about it.

Overall, it’s a strange prequel story with some minor time paradox issues–still exciting if you let the moment and classic music sweep you up. Not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but significantly better than Rogue One.

From a writing standpoint, it’s a great case for opening in medias res; the exposition was mostly bad, giving a ton of set up that just didn’t need to happen–especially Han’s five seconds in the Empire. For a franchise like Star Wars, and a movie about young Han Solo, I’m sure they felt like they had to show every well-known bit of Han’s past, but this story would’ve been much tighter if it had just started with Han somehow falling in with Becket. Maybe Han could’ve been angrier and more sullen at the beginning, explaining his past with Qi’ra and Corellia to Becket and the others in their campfire scene, then changing when he met her again on Dryden’s ship.

Also, in the case of Becket and his “never trust anyone” line, it’s an interesting look at what quick, patchwork edits can do to a story. A reminder that if we ever decide to go back and make a minor change to a character’s tone, it’s always worth going back through the manuscript and making sure it fits.

And, finally, seriously, 1:01:57. If you have problems deciding what to cut out of stories–if you find you have a tendency to entertain every idea with no concern for their purpose–then jump to 1:01:57 in Solo: A Star Wars Story. This scene, which I’ve already dubbed “The Boot,” is the perfect example of a scene none of us should ever write.

~~~

Anyway, that’s it for me. If you read this far, thank you; I really appreciate it. Also, holy shit–you’re a trooper.

If you enjoyed this novel’s worth of film criticism, and you’d like to know when I post again, feel free to click the subscribe button on the left side of the screen. Or follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor.

Either way, take care, and write well.

Just Watched #4 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

Disclaimer: Man, yesterday was one of the worst days of my life in recent times. Nothing life-alteringly horrible happened, but plenty (like too many) small things went horribly wrong. There was the having-a-long-heated-debate-with-a-friend-about-why-I-don’t-date part. There was the discovering-the-spot-of-grease-that-was-smeared-all-over-the-foot-of-the-stairs-in-my apartment-building part, during which I took a comically bad fall and landed on my hand and hip. There was also (after the grease) the “Oh-cool-it’s-a-thunderstorm-now-that-I’ve-hauled-my-clothes-out-to-the-laundromat” part; I had an umbrella, thankfully, but it wasn’t big enough for me and my clothes. 

So, all of that is to say I got home, had gelato, watched Luther, and refused to write this post until today. Sorry it’s a little late, but enjoy.

So, last week, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. I know that Wonder Woman is out and I still really want to see that, but my order of interest in comic movies will always start with Marvel, then go to DC. Because, after Batman V Superman, and how many people swore that movie was good, I’m just inclined to believe all DC movies are worse than everyone makes them out to be. I still want to support Wonder Woman, sure, but if Marvel suddenly released a Squirrel Girl movie on the same morning the new Batman came out, you better believe I’m watching Squirrel Girl instead.

That said though . . . man was Guardians 2 disappointing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it overall, but it feels like the end of the road for the “fun Marvel movie” formula.

That formula being “Jokes! Jokes everywhere!”

Granted, there were parts of the formula that didn’t crop up, like “the completely non-threatening, zero stakes villain” that plagues a ton of Marvel movies, but Guardians 2 still absolutely failed to balance its action and humor. That’s often a problem with comic movies . . .

. . . but Guardians 2 fails to make that balance in the worst way: by sacrificing good action . . . for a ton of unfunny jokes.

And that lack of balance is what I took from the movie, writing-wise. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The movie opens with the Guardians fighting an inter-dimensional monster for exposition. You think to yourself, “Oh, sweet. This is going to be some awesome exposition!”

Nope. That action scene is immediately undermined . . . by baby Groot dancing.

It’s supposed to be cheeky irreverence for the action scene, making the high stakes into a joke.

But, no, it doesn’t work. Because that kind of joke only works when it’s used to undermine something the audience doesn’t want to see. Namely, any scene that an audience can fill in the blanks for — something they don’t need to see to understand.

But the Guardians were fighting a tentacle monster that was vomiting rainbows everywhere. Why the fuck would I not want to see every second of that? More to the point, why would I not want to see that instead of more dancing Groot?

That intro sets up a really bad joke climate for the entire movie, making more of its humor start out at a deficit, which means that the best parts of the movie are its genuine action and drama.

I wound up loving Nebula, which I didn’t expect; I also wound up wishing that one of her best lines wasn’t undermined by yet another joke without legs.

One of the better parts of the film was Yandu’s escape, an action scene that almost went uninterrupted by a recurring bad joke.

I liked the villain and felt like the climax of the movie was high stakes . . . although it also tried to break its own intensity with another joke that reminded me of Pixels (so, ya know, the worst kind of joke there is).

What I’m saying here is . . . Guardians 2 made me realize that the delicate balance between action and humor works both ways.

When a story should have levity but doesn’t, that’s bad.

When a story should have levity, but it has way, way too much of it, that’s also bad.

And that matters to me especially because there was a point when Memory had way too much levity.

When I originally sent it out to friends, some thought it was great and didn’t need any huge changes.

Others were honest about how annoying they felt the protagonist was.

My Friend: “He does a lot of thinking about doing something bad, then doing it anyway. And that’s annoying.”

Me: “Uh huh.”

My Friend: “It’s like reading a Silver Age comic, where they talk about — ”

Me: “Omfg, dude, okay. I get it. I swear I’m horrified and I get it.”

They went on to explain that some of his moments were cringy, and, on my next read, I absolutely saw what they were talking about — a lot of placeholder jokes that I just dropped in and forgot because I was trying to hit my NaNoWriMo count for the day.

Now, Kole Buchanan is the same character, but with his bad jokes fixed or excised altogether. He’s also more capable, less whiny.

What I’m saying is, fixing the balance between humor and action in my own novel was an important first step on a road I’m finally nearing the end of.

So, watching Guardians 2, seeing Drax laugh really hard at something for the umpteenth time, I had a quiet sigh of relief.

Thank God for honest friends.

~~~

Hope you enjoyed that one. As a man who has only recently found his way through the Marvel-nurtured struggle of levity VS drama, it’s good to be on the other side. Assuming that I am on the other side and the jokes in Memory are actually funny and well-timed . . . Yeah, I’m-a get back to editing now.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

I’m actually going to go grab a breakfast burger and Advil for my hip. Then I’m going to eat, bing-watch some more Luther, and then edit. That’s my sick day plan, and I hope your plans for today, whatever they are, are awesome.

Thanks again just for stopping by, and, as always, write well.

Let’s Talk About: The Term “Mary Sue”

So, the trailer for The Last Jedi is out, and it doesn’t look like it follows Empire’s plot, which is super exciting for me. I’m eager see more of Finn and Rey . . . and I’m also just ready for a Star Wars movie I like. My reasons for disliking Rogue One could easily be a post on their own, so I’ll just tuck that rant somewhere safe–save it for another time.

Instead, I want to talk about the phenomenon that’s chased Rey around for the past year and a half.

The internet’s weird idea that she’s a Mary Sue.

Now . . . Let me start this by saying that I genuinely hate how the term “Mary Sue” is used.

Mostly from the angle of a wordsmith.

“Mary Sue” suffers from Literally Syndrome;  it has lost all of its meaning in the swirling toilet bowl of comments sections everywhere.

Currently, it’s been dumbed down to mean “an overly capable female protagonist.”

And that is absolute, utter bullshit. Because there shouldn’t be a skill-ceiling for female protagonists to make men feel safer and more relevant. And, without a doubt, men are trying to feel safer when they argue that a strong female character is a Mary Sue.

Regardless, “Mary Sue” has a definition that’s useful. It’s not flattering, but it makes sense and should persist as a term we can use–not as the go-to invective of the internet’s manlings.

My definition: “A Mary Sue is a female character in fanfiction who acts as very obvious wish fulfillment for a female, amateur author, in a variety of ways (acting as a paramour for a beloved character, being unrealistically perfect at all things, single-handedly saving the day, etc.).”

The thing I hate about that definition is that it’s not gender neutral, which doesn’t make sense; there are absolutely male Mary Sue’s, but, aside from “Gary Sue” and “Marty Sue” just sounding weird and terrible, I’ve most often seen Marty’s used as counterpoint to the “overly capable female protagonist” definition for Mary’s.

Which means that I’ve seen the comments section where people are screaming “Rey is a Mary Sue!” and other people are screaming, “Then Batman is a Marty Sue!”

And, oh man, for fuck’s sake, neither of them are Sue’s. Both of them are protagonists of long-running, mainstream franchises. Neither of them are characters created for the wish fulfillment of an amateur author.

You know who is a Mary? Deboora Solo, Han Solo’s long lost sister, who’s a better Jedi than Luke, a better pilot than her brother, and able to tear off robot’s arms faster than Chewie ever could. Good ol’ Deboora, created by Debbie Reynolds from down the street!

You know who’s a Marty? Jacen Wayne, Bruce’s illegitimate son, born and raised in secret by (fuck, I don’t know) . . . vampires! So he’s like Batman, but younger, stronger, and cooler, with a popped collar! And he was created by Jason Bertenberger! . . . Suprise, surprise.

The point is, Mary Sue’s surrogates are embarrassing, and they suck–they’re a bad habit of amateur writers–but they’re also a real phenomenon, and they deserve a good term.

But, alas–hark–I can already hear manlings chiming in, “No, I’m not done! Your definition is lacking! Mary Sue’s are obvious wish fulfillment–that’s all! And Rey? She’s obvious wish fulfillment for women!”

To which I say, “Holy shit, dude. Welcome to what a fucking protagonist is.”

“Oh my God. I just checked the encyclopedia, and, yo, it turns out escapism was the whole goddamn point of fiction–the entire time. Whodathunkit!?”

Phew . . . Okay. Breathing now.

Apologies. I try to keep a cool head and not get insulting about things here–I really do. However, the new generation–the part of it that I’m seeing (which is the “Let’s defend a YouTuber’s right to be a deluded racist!” part) enrages me. The world is full of people who say whatever offensive shit they want and then shout others down when they react. It makes me sad. For a while there, it seemed like humanity was actually figuring itself out–becoming better. But we weren’t. We were just silently getting worse the entire time.

Regardless, what I’m trying to say is, “an overly capable protagonist” is basically synonymous with “a protagonist” in most stories. In fact, unless it’s a drama, the protagonist of a story is always more capable, cunning, and/or charming than every other character. From Rey and Batman all the way back to Hercules being impossibly strong and handsome as he completed his Twelve Labors.

Denying that–and weakening our lexicon–for the sake of protesting a strong character, is ridiculous and embarrassing.

~~~

Man . . . I was working some stuff out with this one, huh? Whatever. I said something I needed to say. And, hopefully, some day, I’ll be popular enough that this’ll actually catch on. Sure, I’ll probably also get death threats, but eh.

Thank you for reading. Hopefully, I’ve given you ammunition for the perpetually burning flame wars of nerdom. I know I got pretty intense with this one, but it’ll be worth it if I gave anyone food for thought.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out, which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Just Watched #2 – Logan

I’m a firm believer that, any franchise–no matter how terrible or vapid–can have its one amazing installment. Given enough time and enough freedom, I think that all the right elements can finally come together to make something absolutely amazing. Sometimes, it takes forever. Often, it takes so long that it doesn’t happen at all. But, in some reality, there are four Ben Affleck Daredevil movies, and the fourth one is the best comic book movie of all time.

But, even believing that, I never would’ve thought I’d say what I’m about to say.

 

I wholeheartedly believe that the best comic book movie of all time . . . is a Fox X-Men movie.

I can’t explain how thoroughly and repeatedly I’ve been disappointed by the Fox X-Men. Even when I did enjoy one of their movies, it always came with a caveat. “X-Men 2 isn’t as bad as X-Men.”First Class was pretty good for an X-Men movie.” “I enjoyed Days of Future Past, but holy shit–the weird inconsistencies . . . with Fox’s own continuity that they established.”

But Logan . . .

Logan is a beautiful, sad masterpiece.

If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil anything.

Now . . . even though I think you can argue that it’s the best, I don’t know if Logan is my favorite comic book movie. Because one of my criteria for a favorite anything is that I want can watch it, play it, or read it over and over again. And I’m not sure I can ever watch Logan a second time.

I cried. I have no qualms telling anyone–I absolutely cried. It hit me really, really hard. Harder than any other comic book movie ever has. Because it pairs romantic, comic book ideas with extremely real drama–with genuine, human concerns and emotions–so well that it actually hurts to watch it. In this case, it’s literally a juxtaposition of childhood escapism with adult grounded, adult fears.

Fears I’ve had. Logan centers on emotions I’ve felt as a single, older man who has genuinely considered giving up. It feels like I’ve had to fight everyone for my entire life, because I had a violent asshole of a brother who, at his best, would casually steal my belongings, and, at his worst, would slap me around for answering the phone for his creditors. To get through that, I fostered a passive personality that attracted all of the wrong people.

Having lived through that life, now trying to squash that reflex to be passive, I’m a man who’s tired of fighting; I don’t like starting fights with people and I absolutely fucking hate people who start fights with me “for fun.” I’m also a man who just wants his own family but has no idea how to start one. A guy who still doesn’t even have the money to date, trying his best to take care of his mother. I’m in my 30’s and trying to figure out how I can find a new apartment big enough for the both of us. I don’t know how.

Logan is the story of a former X-Man, living in a world where there are no more X-Men. He works a shit job so he can earn enough money to buy a better life for himself and an aged Charles Xavier. His companion in this is Caliban, a mutant who takes care of Charles when Logan is working, but in his day-to-day, Logan is alone. There is absolutely no love interest in this movie, because of course there isn’t; Logan has to focus on taking care of Charles. On working and escaping somehow.

That’s only the exposition, but, hopefully, the similarities to my life are clear.

And, hopefully, the movie’s ability to convey basic, human drama is also clear. There’s no Red Skull, trying to destroy the world with a cosmic cube. There’s no alien invasion in New York. There’s no protagonist who dresses up as a bat and tries to convince you that, no, really, that’s totes realistic and not at all ridiculous, you guys. Logan has an antagonist and a bit of comic book-ish conspiracy–rising action in the form of a woman who asks “the Wolverine” for help escaping a para-military group, a mysterious girl in tow–but those things are more like vehicles for the drama. They are a way to tell you something about the world. About the expectations of a man.

And, I wish I didn’t have to add this, but I don’t “the expectations of a man” in the douchy way some might think. This isn’t a movie about some old bro dude recapturing his glory days from high school. Logan is more mature than that.

Because it focuses on the fears of older men. The fear of not being able to take care of the people you care about. The fear of passing your prime, but still needing to fight, only you’re not able to anymore. The fear that, no matter how far your run, your mistakes–the demons of your past–will always be there, and you just have to deal with that.

And, again, without spoilers, I’ll just say that it’s a movie that tries to say one thing to the people who have all of these fears. The people who are tired of fighting the world and their demons.

“Don’t be what they made you.”

I’ve never felt like a comic book anything changed my life.

But after seeing Logan, came home and made as much time as I possibly could to write. I’ve tried to center myself and work toward what I want out of my life.

Because, even though things have started turning around for me, I realized I still don’t think I deserve it. Somewhere, all of the world’s fucked up programming ruined me. I kept expecting to lose the new job or fuck up in some major way.

But I’m right there. I’m starting to live the life I want.

And to actually accept that, I only need to do one thing.

Be who I am, not what they made me.

~~~

I would talk about what Logan taught me writing-wise, but it’s a movie I can’t discuss for too long without getting emotional. So, instead, I’ll just say go and see it. Even if you don’t like comic book movies, just give this one a chance. It’s more intense, emotional, and heartfelt than any of them by far.

Everyone, thank you for reading. It still feels weird to post only once a week, so, at some point, if I can figure it out, I’d at least like to step it up to twice a week. Until then, thank you to those of you who are still dropping by, and I hope you’re all doing well.

For anyone new to the site, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out, which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless though, thank you everyone just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Dream Diary #2 – A Remnant of Sith Hatred

In the lore of the dream, I’d been a member of the Rebellion.

Or, really, whatever faction stood in the Rebellion’s place; my dream took place far in the future of the Star Wars universe, and, although technology doesn’t seem to advance in a galaxy far, far away, there were drastic differences in tech in my future. Machines were more organic, which was strange, parts of them made of muscle, other parts — terminals for example — mapped to bioform towers that expanded and contracted as needed.

The Force, as we’ve seen it, also wasn’t a thing anymore. No one talked about Jedi or Sith. There were just . . . normal people and Force-users, everywhere, a distinction that was strangely lacking in gravity. I was a Force-user, for example, but no one cared, because it wasn’t super unique. I hadn’t been trained on a distant planet and didn’t wear fancy robes. I was just a guy who could mind-trick people into not seeing him — into looking past him or not noticing he was there, even when they looked right at him.

In that future universe, I was a former Rebel gone rogue–a strange way to think of it, but accurate. Because the Republic had maintained its victory at Endor for thousands of years, and now the “Empire” were the ones with old, broken down technology, trying to bring down the established government.

It was never specified in my dream, but I think I was part of a Republic infiltration group meant to stop an Imperial plot to capture a planet with a new weapon. However, at some point during that operation, I was left for dead, which fueled my hatred for my old friends.

It’s the emotion that centered the dream for me — the element that made it relatable (and writable) for me. I’ve felt something similar in my waking life — in varying degrees, of course. I don’t always hate the friends I lose contact with, but with some of them, my anger is unrepentant. In my dream, it still burned hot enough that I understood why I switched sides, even though the Empire was evil. I genuinely hated my former friends, although it was tinged with a Star Wars-appropriate amount of doubt, tempered with real-life reflection.

Anyway, I don’t know what the Empire’s new weapon was — what it looked like and what it did were totally glossed over. I knew it was a space craft (because doomsday weapons always are in the Star Wars universe), but that was all I knew about it.

Which, of course, means that this dream was terrible fanfiction because I wasn’t a Marty Sue; I wasn’t an important character in the space opera I was living — had no part in making, defending, or wielding that weapon.

Really, all I did for the majority of the dream was sneak around the weird, tech-flesh bases of the Republic, hacking terminals, avoiding patrols. There was one point when I let the mind-trick stealth powers fly and just walked through a Republic base, in full Imperial gear. Of course, it’s me though, so a character with power can never have absolute power, even in my dreams; guards with the express intent of spotting intruders could see me regardless, so the moment I got back outside, into a cavern full of Republic Stormtroopers, I was back to running between shadows.

At some point, I ran into another Force-wielding Imperial operative on the same mission, which triggered a remnant of Sith hatred. As if there could be only one apprentice, I made a spiteful competition out of getting to a key terminal first. I beat the other operative, but this weird moment added to what I learned from the dream, which I’ll get to in a second.

Let me just say that, at some point, I did get to stand inside of the Empire’s new weapon — on the bridge, with other Imperial agents. We’d captured an official of the Republic who didn’t know what the weapon was supposed to do, and I got to watch him go from rebellious to terrified as he had the base’s capabilities laid out for him.

“Wait . . . You’re not saying this weapon can,” swallow, “do this right now?”

No one answered him, and one of his worried, frantic glances fell on me. I held it and smiled at him. “Yes. It can . . . This planet is now under Imperial control.”

Dreams aren’t always in first person for me, but that moment was. And man was delivering that line awesome.

~~~

Now, I’m a writer who loves legacy stories. The idea of a universe advancing in time and changing significantly is really interesting to me. Because, no matter what a legacy story is trying to achieve, it will fail if it’s too different . . . but it’ll be boring if it’s not different enough.

Batman: Beyond is an example of a legacy story that’s different, but not different enough. I’d put it somewhere on the low end of the Legacy Spectrum of Success because, while good, it’s very reluctant to abandon Bruce Wayne. And, as I see it, the golden question for any legacy story will always be “What do we do with the old cast?”

The Alloy of Law is a better example, because it leaves behind the Mistborn trilogy’s cast, making them a rare, sometimes vague, often playful reference in that world’s history. However, the world is a little too different for me — because it goes in hard with a Wild West aesthetic . . . which feels different in a bad way. The original trilogy’s setting was hyper-unique, with a world covered in black ash, and terrifying Inquisitors, giant metal spikes in place of their eyes. I still absolutely love Brandon Sanderson, but I never thought cowboys would be the future of the Mistborn world, and that change still feels strange to me.

The Legend of Korra is a much better example of a successful legacy story because it shovels almost everything out the window . . .  while still feeling the same. The protagonists are all different, the world has changed a bunch, even the tone is more mature. Some members of the original cast make appearances, but most of them have passed, off camera, which is only natural. Even so, the fine details are still the same; people still Bend the elements, and the world outside of the new, advanced Republic City is still very much as it was.

Those examples have always made me wonder how far a legacy story can be pushed before it stops being a legacy story. Prometheus is a kind of legacy-prequel that tests those waters by having almost no bearing on the Alien series.

With this dream, I think I tested those same waters, even though I didn’t realize it.

The used future feel of Star Wars is still there, only now its the classically clean and sterile Imperial ships that are old and dirty.

The sense of rebellion is still there, only now strangely backwards, with the evil Empire struggling to gain ground that the Republic only barely notices is there.

Force-users are still around, but they’re less remarkable, which balances somewhere between Darth Vader being real . . . and Darth Vader being looked down on as a practitioner of bullshit space magic by the one Imperial officer in A New Hope.

Particularly interesting to me, the old Sith ways are still there — but only because of perspective. The fact that my protagonist hated other Force-users who worked with the Empire was possibly only relevant to my character; the other operatives might be buddies, for all I know. But I hated them regardless, and the audience was locked onto that perspective, which made that hate an oddly effective throwback for the Sith, even though I wasn’t Sith — I was just a Force-user on the Empire’s side. It felt like a great way to hearken to a bit of series lore without actually using it.

Overall though, the question is . . . do I think this dream would make a good Star Wars legacy story?

The answer: Oh God, no. Are you kidding? Look, I enjoyed this dream, but it’s way, way too different. And weird. Freaking flesh-tech? Are you kidding me? That would never work in the Star Wars universe. That idea alone took the dream into Bad Legacy Story Town. Star Wars is all about fun (at least, at the moment, it’s still mostly about enjoying yourself [man did I hate Rogue One, btw]), not about hating everyone. And definitely not about following the story of a man fully invested in helping take down a peaceful galactic government. I mean, to a degree, it’s off-putting for me that I even had that dream.

But still, it taught me something about writing.

And delivering that “Imperial control” line was pretty sweet.

~~~

Thanks for reading, guys. It feels like I haven’t written in ages. I have been able to sleep on a normal schedule again though, so I can’t really complain. I hope everyone’s April has been going well though — that the words have come easily.

For anyone new to the site, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out, which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Rain and Jurassic Park

Welcome back. Thanks for coming by for this first in another week of posts.

So, I realized . . . I do a lot of series. In fact, since I started posting every week day . . . I think every single post has been part of a series.

It’s getting a little exhausting.

So I thought I’d kick it old school and just talk about something random.

And, since it was showering earlier today, I thought that random thing would be . . . rain.

Because it’s a really intense trigger for me.

To be clear, I don’t mean that rain is my muse; I don’t get ideas from walking out in the rain. Inspiration doesn’t come to me from the unique roar of a storm.

No, rain just–very regularly–motivates me. And we’re talkin’ stop-what-you’re-doing-and-go-write motivation. Literally; a bunch of times during my life, I’ve stopped the moment a first drop hit my window sill. I’ve blinked, gotten up, walked to the window–or, other times, I’ve just sat and stared.

Either way, the clean scent of billowing atmosphere would roll in through the window.

And I’d breathe it in. Let it out with a sigh.

Then turn off whatever game or movie I’m distracting myself with, and immediately get back to my manuscripts.

I almost want to suggest a totally fun name for it–something like Writer’s Guilt–but a name like that wouldn’t be 100% correct.

Because, when it starts raining, I’m not hearing a voice pressuring me. I’m not remembering something someone told me or some promise I made.

I’m remembering . . . the feeling of watching Jurassic Park for the first time.

I know–that’s weird. But it’s true. Jurassic Park came out when I was 11 and I saw it in theaters. Naturally, the part that had the biggest impact on me was the scene at the T-Rex enclosure.

If you haven’t scene Jurassic Park, I’ll just explain that, at one point, the majority of the cast is stranded at the T-Rex paddock when the park’s power grid is turned off. The loss of power means that their automatic vehicles stop moving.

Right beside the T-Rex paddock’s electrified fence . . . which has also lost power.

When the T-Rex arrives, it turns into a scene with a ton of suspense.

In part because there’s no music.

Just the constant sound of rainfall.

At that point, I’d already played Final Fantasy III on my Super Nintendo. I’d already realized that stories were really awesome because they had the power to make you feel things–experience stuff that was cool . . . and important.

But Jurassic Park was the moment when I first thought, “I want to make something like this.”

And that something was, of course, a ridiculous short story about my cats becoming giant-sized and chasing me and my cousins around our apartment (I was so 11).

But, decades later, with significantly less cat-heavy stories under my belt, the sound of rainfall is enough to remind me of why I write in the first place. The feeling that I want to give to other people.

The feeling of being 11 years old and in complete, wordless awe.

~~~

Thanks for reading. This week is going to be a little crazy for me with the promotion, but I’m still going to try to get these posts on a better schedule (getting them out during the day instead of around midnight). I’ve been prioritizing other things over writing on here, which means sometimes, I’m get started on these posts really, really late. The result: I’ve been fighting sleep to finish some of these. We’re talkin’ writing a sentence, passing out, jumping up a minute later, determinedly writing another sentence, passing out again . . . It’s obviously not good for quality, so I’m going to try to figure something out.

But, anyway, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Either way, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Fantasy Spotlight: Home Base

Hey there. We’ve almost made it to Friday, and I thought I’d write something a bit positive after a few days of disappointment and criticism (excluding that Muse Tuesday about Jadha Swayne, which got so much love [and, man, just thank you guys for that, btw]).

In the vein of being positive though, I thought I’d create a new series to do just that. Where Let’s Talk About is more critical, Fantasy Spotlight will be a place for me to highlight tropes that I absolutely love.

And for this very first installment, I thought I’d have a happy rant . . . about home base.

On the first seasons of Buffy, they had the library at Sunnydale High.

On Cowboy Bebop, they had the Bebop.

On Daredevil, they had the offices of Nelson and Murdock.

I could go on forever, but I’ll reign it in and explain. Home base is a common ground among protagonists in any story. A hub where our characters rendezvous, make plans, and take refuge. Not every story has such a place . . .

But I’m realizing that many of my favorite stories do.

Giving it some thought, I assume it’s because of the versatility and relative subtlety of the home base narrative device. Protagonists–particularly in ensemble pieces–naturally gravitate to a common ground where they feel safe. Or a story naturally centers around one place out of necessity; spaceships like the Bebop and the Firefly often serve as the home base of sci-fi stories, because characters can’t just teleport from one planet to another.

Either way, the fact that we get to experience our characters finding these places, making them their second homes . . . makes them second homes for us as well. Places where we grow with our characters as we read along for years. Or places where we watch them mature during one crazy weekend binge on Netflix. No matter how we experience them though, those second homes remain as close to our hearts as the characters we watched grow up in them.

In the end, Lost Girl went way off the rails, but I still loved a large portion of that show. And, if I walked onto the set for the Dal, or Bo’s apartment, I’d probably get teary-eyed. Put me on the Millenium Falcon and play the Force Theme–or, my God, put me on the Highwind and play Aeris’ Theme–and I am 100% bawling my eyes out.

Because those places . . . were my home. As cheesy as it sounds, games, shows, and novels that feature home bases have to make them awesome by nature of the medium. Entertainment is all about escapism, so home bases have to be somewhere you want to return to. Some place you would absolutely love to visit.

Only . . . you can’t. Ever.

It’s an idea so simple and beautiful . . . that it hurts.

Making it all the more beautiful when you remember that you have that place regardless. That it will always be there, warm and waiting, in your heart. Beautiful and breathtakingly real in your memories.

Like I said, not every series that I love features a home base. Classically, fantasy novels are migratory; someone’s going on a big quest, leaving their awesome hobbit-hole behind.

But I will always love the countless homes I’ve had through the years. Beautiful, familiar places that will never truly exist.

~~~

Phew. The feels! Thanks for indulging me, and I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did. It’s probably obvious, but I don’t think I can die a happy writer until I make a home base of my own. A place for people to escape to and feel safe in. As a man who’s often needed to escape over the course of his life, it feels like the least I can do.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Monday, AM #2 – John Wick and Underworldbuilding

Welcome back to Monday. This is the part where I reflexively say, “It’s good to be back!” but it isn’t, cause it’s Monday.

I did actually get my days off this week, so I’ll get to spend the beginning of it comfortably doing posts and writing . . . although I also really want to slip in a matinee of Get Out, because I wanted to see it in the first place and it had such a good opening.

But whatever! Let’s talk about the weekend!

John Wick and the Discerning Gentleman’s Criminal Underworld

I saw John Wick: Chapter 2 on Saturday night. First of all, no spoilers here.

Second, it was . . . I mean.

Okay . . . So, I didn’t dislike the first John Wick, but I also didn’t love it.

I feel the same way about Chapter 2. No offense to anyone who does love the series. I just think I’m too deep in Fantasy town to fully appreciate an Earth-modern revenge story.

Among the other runny-shooty action movies I’ve seen in recent times, the John Wick series is the absolute best–and Chapter 2 had some moments I will absolutely always remember (while its predecessor didn’t).

But, I found myself way more intrigued by the worldbuilding in Chapter 2, which was my favorite part of the first John Wick. This sequel dives right into Wick’s gold-fueled criminal underworld, making it way more dense and fun to experience.

What that world winds up feeling like is . . . a criminal underworld for the discerning gentleman. Everyone is well dressed. Everyone is polite, and everyone is super rich. Baby’s first spoiler, John Wick starts the movie with a nice suit . . . and then gets an even nicer suit to wear while killing people.

And maybe that’s the part that really makes the John Wick series interesting for me; the elaborate background of the underworld is there to serve as a foundation for a movie that’s really just about a guy who punch-shoots a lot of people to death.

What a weird series.

But what a beautiful thing for its creators to know it wouldn’t be as interesting without its super-charming criminal underworld, where everything costs exactly one golden coin.

The Hand and the Tempest Project Progress

H&T is going well. I’m almost done with chapter 4–almost to the point where the novel becomes more comfortable for the main characters. And me.

The thing is, I had a moment the other day where I thought of the perfect opening line for Rainwater Archaic, the next big project on my schedule.

Now . . . I’ve already written the first chapter of Rainwater. It was among the group of unpolished stories I wrote last year. At first, I thought it would just be a short story–the first in a series, maybe–but I didn’t like how it turned out (the tone got way, way too heavy), so I took a break from it. During that break, I realized I wanted to take my time worldbuilding for it–figuring out that I wanted to make it a standalone novel instead.

Now, I’m just really, really ready to write that novel. And I want so badly to put H&T on hold to do it. But I’m also 100% certain that doing that will kill H&T, and, despite complications with the actual writing part, I do love H&T’s characters. I want to tell this story.

I also just want to be done with it by summer. If I stay on this schedule, that definitely won’t happen; I’d finish it until late this year or next year.

So, the next few weeks are going to be all about bumping up my average words per day.

And, if you were here for last week’s Dream Diary, I’m pretty sure that this is what that nightmare was about.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m already trying to get a lot of things done, but I’ve been trying to do it all . . . while staying comfortable. I’ll stop writing if a scene is giving me too much trouble, giving myself a day to casually figure out where I want a scene to go. At work, I’ll only volunteer for extra work if it’s convenient for me.

But I can’t keep operating like that–particularly with writing. If I want to get anywhere, my daily sessions have to be longer and produce more words. At work, I have to be more selfless if I expect to get any kind of promotion. Any more responsibility.

And, I’m not sure because that dream from last Friday was so goddamn weird, but I think that responsibility was the monster I was hunting. Not normal, get up, go to work, pay bills responsibility, but career writer responsibility. I’m hoping that one day, I’ll be writing with a schedule given to me by a publisher. I’m hunting for that opportunity . . . but I’m also afraid of the stress it’s going to bring with it–weary after 10 straight years of it.

But, I can’t learn how to write like a career writer . . . then, when the opportunity comes up.

I have to learn how to do it now.

~~~

I guess that means get ready for a way more stressed out me sometime soon. The tension’ll probably ramp up mid-March, when I get back from PAX East. Can’t wait!

But, for now, I have to have breakfast, and start building that tension with an attempt to finish chapter 4 today, action scene and all. I will absolutely try to not force anything, but wish me luck.

As always, thank you for dropping by. I really appreciate everyone who pops in, even if you just give a quick read.

Until next time, everyone.

The Latin Bechdels – Part 3: The DAGGER Test

Disclaimer: I’ve taken way, way longer than intended to get this post out. Why? Because I wanted to figure out the perfect way to talk about the DAGGER without offending anyone. I’m not sure that’s possible; the DAGGER Test is designed specifically to call certain elements of fantasy–some of them beloved–into question. I took pains not to mention any particular series or novel, but I’m sure that the DAGGER will criticize something you love.

That said, I’m not naming names in this post because the goal here is not to call anyone out. And also because the weird, exclusionary elements or ideas that the DAGGER points out are all institutional.

That in mind, I’m not saying that any of the elements herein need to be abolished forever or that they are universally, eternally wrong.

All I’m trying to do with this post–if I’m destined to be a popular author one day–is give a large audience food for thought. My goal is to challenge a few old story standards, not start a flame war. 

That said, here we go.

We’ve finally made it to a long, serious discussion about what I’m calling the DAGGER (Degrees of Archaic, Grandfathered, Generalizing, Exclusionary Racism) Test. Unlike the last two, this one does not focus on racism against Latinos in fiction; instead, the DAGGER is about institutional racism, as a whole, in the fantasy genre.

Now, despite the name of the test, I don’t think the DAGGER is a violent thing (which probably means I should change the test’s name . . . but no). What the DAGGER exposes shouldn’t be looked at as really harsh, intentional racism. Instead, what it exposes is institutional racism; most of the stories that fail the DAGGER on any level don’t fail because the people responsible for them are horrible bigots. In most cases, creators fail the DAGGER because fantasy, like the rest of the entertainment, has a long-ingrained tendency to white-wash everything.

I think that, for most writers, it’s strangely difficult not to be exclusionary with fantasy. After all, the genre has its roots in medieval England–with characters exclusively speaking with heavy, British accents so often that we don’t even notice it anymore. Many fantasy stories focus solely on a cast that comes from royalty (even stories where the young prince is trying to save commoners rarely deals with the actual commoners). And fantasy races are a major part of many fantasy settings; if you take that fact and pair it with America’s pro-white tendencies, of course things are going to get hairy.

What I’m trying to say here is, I love fantasy. I love fantasy races as well. I love the idea of a story taking place on an enclosed continent, with the sea standing as a big, mysterious barrier between our characters and the Otherlands/the Far-away/the etc.

But I do think that there are certain standards we need to question as fantasy writers. A few practices that are a bit quaint that we should try to steer away from.

Classifying these quaint standards and making them into degrees that can be applied to stories is all that the DAGGER Test is about.

Do you want to figure out if your fantasy story is quaintly exclusionary of real-life races? Take the DAGGER Test. The more degrees your story has, the more exclusionary it is.

The DAGGER Test

Criteria for Passing: Your fantasy story has none of the seven following degrees of institutional racism.

    1. Your fantasy world features no people of color. The entire world has been explored, but nowhere in that thriving fantasy world does a person of color exist. This does not apply to a fantasy world where the entire planet has not been explored (i.e. analogues of medieval England). Not every series clarifies this point, but The Wheel of Time is a good example of a story that makes it clear that there are other cultures in distant lands and across the seas.
    2. Your fantasy world features people of color, but none of them are named and none find their way into your plot. Because it’s as unlikely as it is unwittingly exclusionary (in most cases [I choose to believe]).
    3. Your fantasy world features people of color who double as a character class. While fantasy cultures can be really cool, sometimes, they’re awkwardly one-note. For made-up example, if “He’s a Vaneth assassin” is synonymous with “He’s a Vaneth,” the end product is a very generalized culture. “He/she is Vaneth, which means he/she only does the one thing that Vaneth are good for.” To be clear, this does not apply in a case where the fantasy culture is shown to be complex, with varying social tiers, jobs, ideas, etc.
    4. Your fantasy world only features either white Humans . . . or abnormal/inhuman fantasy races of varied skin color. I feel like this one is a bizarre accident in most cases (a mixture of an enduring, old Hollywood preference for white characters mixed with a love of monster fantasy races [like orcs]). But still, if not handled correctly, that combo sends a really bad, subliminal message: “You’re white or you’re a monster person with weird-colored skin.”
    5. Your fantasy world features fantasy races that are also all white. The tendency to make all characters white often spills over to fantasy races. And, really, of course it does. There are some series that challenge this very well (The Elder Scrolls series does an awesome job of presenting elves of varying skin color and culture), but most of the time, its an all white cast of humans, dwarves, and elves saving the day. It’s neither better nor worse than the fourth degree; it’s exclusionary in its own way.
    6. Your fantasy story features a fantasy race that is better than all of the others. That race is also whiter than all of the others. Although I love them, elves, who typically sing better, dance better, make superior weaponry, and use superior magic, are often exclusively light-skinned, commonly with bleach blonde hair and bright blue eyes. In stories that feature drow, this degree doesn’t apply only if the drow are not portrayed as evil/thieves (Extra Disclaimer: I also love drow, but I have to call it like I see it).
    7. Your fantasy story features people from far away lands, but they’re all just white people who dress and/or talk differently. Because sometimes ethnicity in a fantasy world amounts to other white people getting wacky with their color choices. To be clear, this does not apply to people in a distant town on the same, enclosed continent; if I traveled south on horse back, I’m going to find people who sound different and dress differently from how I dress (it’s called the south and I’m scared of it). Here, the problem is when invaders arrive from a different continent, wearing crazy armor that looks like it’s made out of swords (or whatever) and they’re all . . . still white people for some reason. Now, hey, vikings. I know. It isn’t unrealistic for a race of white invaders to lay siege on a continent controlled by another white race. All I’m saying is that maybe we should question when the invaders/foreign delegates/etc. are also white but wearing different clothes. Is there a strong, creative reason for it? . . . Or was it just an easy, reflex choice? Are you trying to mirror actual history or are you just shying away from representing people of color?

Now, considering these degrees, you probably know a fantasy series (again, not naming names here) that has a little or a lot of DAGGER in it. And, really, almost everything does.

But, again, the goal here isn’t to point fingers or sling flame. It’s to cast an evaluative eye on fantasy as a whole–it’s weird, quaint predilections.

So, for anyone reading this, I’m not asking for you to raise arms against me or anyone else. I’m asking you to just consider the DAGGER. Particularly for aspiring fantasy writers, take the DAGGER with you. Please.

Because, if there was ever a time for us to start re-evaluating fantasy, as Americans, it’s now. Just the other day, I saw on Facebook that Chick-fil-A (seriously, Chick-fil-A) of all places finally stopped making contributions to anti-gay groups.

Hearing that and thinking about other recent events here in America, with our government and our people getting amazingly progressive . . . maybe it’s also time for us to question the standards of fantasy. Not to abolish elves, stories on enclosed continents, or stories logically dominated by white characters–I’d never suggest any of that–but to actually cast a raised eyebrow at those ideas. Time for some of us to reconsider putting them in our stories. Time to make harder, more complicated choices about the characters we put into our work. Time to acknowledge that America’s tendency to white-wash has gotten into everything.

And to work against that. Because slowly, finally, America, as a whole is working against the white wash and I don’t want fantasy–my beloved, amazing fantasy–to miss out.

—Project Updates—

LS-ProgressBar(3.0)-9.26.15As is almost . . . always the case with my sci-fi stories, I soft quit on “Reset.” What does that mean? Well, I definitely didn’t throw my hands up in frustration. There was no, “I can’t write this!” I just took a break from it (to figure out a snag that I totally figured out) . . . right as I found the perfect setting and tone for my fantasy short, “Rainwater’s Archaic Goods.” And, holy shit, wouldn’t you know it, the moment I started brainstorming details for “Rainwater,” I just forgot about “Reset.” At no point did I groan an exhausted, “I have to put this story on the back burner.” Nope. There was just a recent, “Oh, right! ‘Reset!’ I . . . was supposed to be writing that.”

And now, talking about it, I realize that “Dream Runner” was also sci-fi . . . I’m seeing a pattern here. I will go back to “Reset” at some point, but not while I’m burning to finish/polish/submit a group of strong fantasy pieces.

When it comes to my goals from last time, I wound up spending all of my recent writing time editing “Aixa,” which I’m submitting this weekend. Memory edits have been slow because–full disclosure–I burned out on edits and I had no idea if some of the changes I was making where hurting or helping the novel. So I had to step away, although I’m going right back after I send “Aixa.”

Well, that wraps up this controversial series of posts on racism. And man am I grateful; this one in particular was a study in, “How can I write something that’s guaranteed to piss people off . . . without pissing them off?” Oy.

If you enjoyed this post, I always appreciate a Like or Follow. But, regardless of all that, thank you just for passing by. And, as always, write well.