Let’s Talk About: The Emperor’s Pistol

I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past Wednesday.

It was the beginning of a new trend I’ve started of just getting out of the house. Maybe it’s in celebration of finishing the edit of Memory.

More likely, it’s just an intense desire to be out having fun when I have the freedom to do so. In particular, I’m trying to go out with friends more often — trying to work my life into a legitimate TV show with a full cast of characters.

Because of course I have to think of them as a cast of characters.

Whatever, the point is, I wanted to head to the Met . . . because, back in February, when I started posting on here every day, I mentioned wanting to go there and write about it.

Not just because it’s an awesome museum that I genuinely get lost in every time I visit.

But because it’s where I, as a kid, had an epiphany that made me the writer I am today.

And that epiphany centers on this:

TheEmperorsPistol

Yes, it’s a gun. Nothing could seem more crass, I know, but bear with me.

This is a pistol made for Emperor Charles V by Peter Peck, a maker of watches and guns, back in the 1500’s.

It is, as you can clearly see . . . absolutely insane with detail. The etchings. The detailing on its curved grip. I have no idea how functional this thing could’ve been.

But, when I was young, I didn’t care about that.

Because, when I first saw this gun, all it did was confuse me.

Much in the same way that it’s confusing the first time you find out that Batman didn’t start with Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, or even Adam West.

“Wait . . . There were guns before the guns I’ve seen my whole life?

“But . . . we have them now.”

For whatever reason, it felt like some kind of cosmic betrayal. Like the world was messing with me. Not only had we had them, but they were actually beautiful hundreds of years ago, “when they were way harder to make . . . How does that even work?”

The answer was something that stuck with me. Something that’s prevalent in all of my work, whether I want it to be or not.

It’s the knowledge that I don’t know everything. That I, as a human being, am inherently stupid and limited in my ability to perceive the world around me. The past — the eternal majority of human existence — is a thing I can only know snippets about if someone else I don’t know compiled information about it for everyone — before I was born.

My knowledge, I discovered that day, is the sum of the scattered things I can try to learn about the past . . . and my own stupid, human assumptions.

Like that there weren’t guns hundreds of years ago.

This is the reason why I think about what’s happening 10 feet below me sometimes. With no provocation, I sometimes try to imagine what’s happening 10 feet below me — at home, on the street, or wherever there’s solid ground — and I realize that I have no idea. There is, in fact, no way I can ever know exactly what’s happening 10 feet below me. Unless a) I’m falling, or b) I’m in one of those boats with a glass bottom, to which I argue, a) Oh shit! I’m falling!?, and b) Oooh. Are there sharks?

This 10 feet down talk also applies to you — right now. Apologies if you’re paranoid, but the caveat is that you don’t have to worry what’s going on down there. If you’re in an apartment, it’s someone else’s apartment 10 feet down — none of your business. If you’re in a private house, the cat’s down there, maybe, and that’s none of your business either — even if they’re clawing up the furniture. That’s their night and you’re not a part of it, because you’re up here, reading this post.

The point is . . . our thoughts aren’t unique. Our ideas aren’t original.

When I looked at that gun, I had the first spark of the realization that humanity had not started with me. And I wasn’t the pinnacle of it.

And, despite how all of this sounds . . . I thought that was amazing.

The idea that fantasy could be more complicated — that humanity hundreds of years ago had already been more complex than I thought — blew my mind.

And that freedom — to make things complicated — is at the center of everything I write.

And, of course, I use it to promote the notion that we, as humans, aren’t perfect and all-knowing. Because that idea is beautiful and fascinating to me. It’s humbling.

And it’s reassuring to know that I don’t know everything.

And I never, ever can.

~~~

It’s 2AM and I . . . really need to get to sleep, so I’m going to keep this short. Thank you again for reading. I know this one got here at the end of the week too, but I’m going to keep trying to balance work, writing, and my personal life in the non-stop Spider-Man dance that is my life. I’m actually considering taking a break from the blog again just to get my handful of projects into submissions, but we’ll see what happens.

Anyway, 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.

Thank you just for passing by, and, as always, write well.

 

Just Watched #3 – Twin Peaks

“I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

There’s a very specific way that I say, “What the fuck, dude?”

In the TV show of my life, that would absolutely be my catchphrase.

And, as in real life, I’d sigh it when I’m watching, reading, or playing something that thoroughly fucks my mind. To the point that “What the fuck, dude?” takes on a new meaning.

I remove emphasis from everything but “fuck,” the “dude” shortened to a half syllable, as if, in that moment, saying the sentence clearly is too much to ask for. I’m just that tired. That ready for things to go back to normal.

Which is exactly why I muttered, “What the fuck, dude?” at the end of Twin Peaks.

No spoilers here, of course, but just . . . dude . . .

Twin Peaks is, at its heart, a soap opera. Which, of course, is immediately strange because, of all the things I expected Twin Peaks to be, a soap opera was not one of them.

It is also a mystery/thriller, for sure.

And a heavily supernatural, surrealist day dream/nightmare?

Side Note for Gamers: Twin Peaks is also completely responsible for Deadly Premonition. If you’ve ever played that game and thought, “This is so original!” Nope. It was heavily inspired by Twin Peaks. The two are different for sure, but the comparisons draw themselves.

But, whatever; my point is, at its heart, Twin Peaks is actually a soap opera.

And, in being a soap opera, it answered one creative question I’ve had since I was young: “What would happen if I wrote a thing and paid a ton of attention to every single character in that thing?”

The answer: that’s what a soap opera is. Obviously, there are other factors that make a soap opera a soap opera, but I don’t know another word for a huge ensemble piece that tries to captivate a large audience with a mix of relationship drama, intrigue, mystery, and popular fiction elements, regardless of genre.

It doesn’t matter if it’s set in a hospital.

It doesn’t matter if there are witches and little puppets who come to life.

It doesn’t matter if it centers around the mystery of a murdered girl.

Whatever it is–even if it’s a story with a cast full of dinosaurs–if you give each dinosaur their own subplot, what you wind up with is a soap opera. Even if you’re only trying to tell a bunch of individual stories based in one town, in order to do each story justice, you’ll have to add the relationship drama, the intrigue, the mystery, the popular fiction elements, and a bunch of other things anyway. Because, hey, the fact that the kids down the block are trying to save their buddy from the Underneath has nothing to do with Becky Terwilliger (I just made her up [I know, hard to believe]), but Stranger Things doesn’t show us what Becky’s up to, because it’s not a soap opera.

What I’m saying here is, giving a large cast of characters a lot of attention and complexity is what Twin Peaks does . . . and that’s why it’s basically a soap opera.

And, to be clear, I’m not saying that’s bad.

But watching Twin Peaks made me realize that unwittingly writing a soap opera . . . is something I never want to do.

Because, in the end, I’m not sure if I liked Twin Peaks or hated it.

I can tell you that I absolutely loved a lot of what it did. The main plot lines were intriguing, Dale Cooper and most of the characters were great. Some of the subplots were fun and exciting. Lots of the surreal imagery was bizarre . . . and awesome.

But I also just . . . hated some of the characters. Hated them to the extent that I didn’t care what happened to them.

But, unfortunately, the show really cared about all of its characters, including the ones that I didn’t like, which means–in true soap opera fashion–it refused to let them go. And, hey, I’m not saying Twin Peaks didn’t kill people off, but there were two cases of people just not dying when they should’ve. And one case of a character leaving the show . . . without actually leaving the show.

In one of the pretend-death cases, the writers did something new with a character, and it wound up being weird–and the best.

With the other . . . I mean, there was no reason for [REDACTED] to stay alive. I sensed hints of the ol’ Game of Thrones switcheroo, where we were supposed to start caring about a heel, but nope. It didn’t work. At least not for me.

In the last case, a character I genuinely disliked left the town of Twin Peaks, not sure when he’d come back . . . and Twin Peaks followed him. And started a new storyline just for him, with completely new characters. Yes, a spin-off of a show . . . in the show it’s spinning off.

. . . Why?

But, whatever. What matters is, I still enjoyed watching the weirdness of Twin Peaks. And I still learned a bunch from it:

  • Massive stories with large casts are guaranteed to have characters people don’t care about. Because that’s just a symptom of soap operas.
    You have to cast a wide net.
    You have to make the pirate man with the burned hand, because, hey, some people like pirates.
    In the same fashion, Twin Peaks had to make the robotic biker dude, because some people like robot bikers. Also (wow, I actually have to say this), disclaimer: there is no robot biker on Twin Peaks; I was being sarcastic. Just a really whiny biker who managed to super emote . . . while just staring blankly 90% of the time? Whatever–I hated him.
  • Charming characters can get really annoying if their subplots go on forever.
    One subplot involved one of my favorite characters deciding who the father of her child was.
    Twenty episodes later, when she still hadn’t made up her mind, I stopped caring really hard.
  • Incredibly annoying characters can become a ton of fun when they have drastic role reversals.
    The example Twin Peaks provides is really, really out there, but it worked. And, even though it was silly (even the reason for the personality change was pure camp, oddly born from tragedy), I absolutely loved it.
    It’s a thing that can work.
  • High-level character alchemy can backfire. It can backfire really hard.
    “Hmmm. I wonder what we’ll get if we combine a tough biker . . . with an incredibly fragile, emotionally-underdeveloped baby.”
    The answer: Literally the worst character ever.

~~~

A part of me feels like I should’ve watched the new season of Twin Peaks before writing this, but I think I’ll save that for another time.

At any rate, thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this one. But if this was lost on you because you haven’t watched Twin Peaks, I . . . recommend it? Ugh. I’m not sure of anything anymore. If you like being really weirded out, watch it; making you feel weird–especially by showing you strangely human moments–is the very root of what this show does.

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.

But, either way, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Let’s Talk About: Endgames

Ages ago, I spoke to a friend about “endgames.”

He blinked. “What do you mean? Like, when you can play the credit roll during a video game?”

“No. It’s just a term of mine, used for an ending that’s really . . . like, well done.”

I don’t remember how he replied or how the rest of my explanation went, but I remember his eyes narrowing.

Because it was ages ago and I wasn’t making sense, horrible as I was (and still am) at talking to people in person.

What I should’ve said was, “Endgames are endings for anything — movies, games, novels especially — that are given a ton of gravity and romance.

“In my mind, these endings lock you in; a good endgame starts well before whatever story you’re playing or reading has ended — and, by sheer will of its awesomeness, it keeps you watching/reading/playing, everything else be damned.”

At the time, I’d offered the end of Super Metroid as an example; the moment you reach Tourian and start destroying metroids (particularly the moment you reach the hatchling), there’s no going back.

And, now, I suppose that’s the best definition of “endgame”: a well-executed conclusion, beginning well before the credit roll or final page, from which there is no return, as the endgame is perfectly crafted to keep you playing/watching/reading.

As opposed to a normal ending: a final boss and a credit roll for a video game, a simple conclusion for a movie, a traditional climax and epilogue for a novel.

For a movie example, I can’t help being a predictable, millennial, comic book jackass and pointing to The Avengers. I haven’t seen that movie in years, but the 40-minute invasion of New York is a clear example of a movie endgame. The invasion is (arguably?) the best part of the movie, providing a ton of awesome moments that keep you watching straight through.

For a video game example, Breath of the Wild has a super epic endgame that starts when you venture into Hyrule Castle, finally ready to fight the Calamity. This one goes the full mile though; there’s unique music, journals around the castle — even a gameplay element that isn’t used anywhere else in the game. It’s a weird one because you can walk away from it, but it’s extremely hard to do so once you’re in it, and that’s what endgames are all about.

For a fiction example though, I won’t provide one great example . . .

. . . because I’d rather point out that, seriously, awesome endgames are . . . everywhere in fantasy.

Remember reading Harry Potter? Remember getting to the last 100 pages of any of those books and just . . . not being able to stop?

Or maybe you’ve read Abhorsen by Garth Nix? Ya know, the last installment of a really awesome YA fantasy series, the endgame of which has 100 pages that span 10 minutes of in-story time? And it’s amazing?

Seriously, I don’t know if it’s just easier to make awesome endgames for novels (if hooking readers for hundreds of pages at the end is second nature for writers), but I feel like endgames are a key feature of a great fantasy novel.

Because — to be clear — I’ve read general fiction novels that didn’t lose anything by not having endgames. I’m not, by any means, saying that Pride and Prejudice actually needed a final showdown with goddamn zombies.

But, when I write fantasy, with the aim of making it entertaining and actiony (my short stories are always dramatic, it turns out, so not those), I always feel like endgames are essential.

Because I’m a man who just wants to write something awesome. And, I don’t know a better way to do that than by taking all of the beats of a story and tying them to tons of non-stop catharsis at the very end. That at least seems like an awesome way to end a fun fantasy novel — every time.

Unless, of course, you do an endgame poorly.

And, I mean, let’s be real here: I’ve absolutely written a terrible endgame.

How? Well, I don’t remember how long it was, but I can say for sure that the endgame in War of Exiles was way, way too long.

In the same way that Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater had a terrible endgame because it was way, way too long. Trying to make an endgame feel epic is all fine, but it’s super easy to over-stuff your endgame, making it a bloated mess (cause, seriously, why was there an escort quest at the end of Snake Eater? Why!?).

So, I guess I’m saying . . . here’s to this phenomenon that I love — so much that I made up a term for it. I’ve loved and studied endgames in all media for a long time, and I think that they’re worth examining as a writing technique on their own.

At the very least, consider this: the next time you watch, play, or read something that has a really awesome conclusion that was given a ton of love and majesty, maybe just stop and think about how much you loved it. And why.

~~~

And so it was that Louis Santiago’s blog became “LetsTalkAbout.com.”

Seriously, I’m itching to get back to other series, particularly Writer’s Workshop and Let’s Make, so look for those in the weeks to come.

For now though, thank you for reading. I’ve been meaning to write about endgames on here for a really long time, and I hope this post adds a little complexity to how you think of conclusions in general.

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.

But, either way, thank you again just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Let’s Talk About: The Everything’s Great Threshold

I started watching Parks and Recreation recently. As a man who’s genuinely terrible at keeping up with television, I’ve had this show on my Netflix list for as long as I’ve had Netflix.

Parks and Rec follows a familiar curve. Season 1 wasn’t great, very obviously lifting its joke climate from The Office. In season 2, the show finds its own identity and becomes way, way better.

But, by season 6 . . . it’s exhausting to watch.

Why? Well, that’s what I decided to make this post about. Because it’s exhausting for a reason that I’d never experienced before.

Everything . . . is just perfect.

In its earlier seasons, Parks and Rec had a lot of entertaining conflict. Budding romances that viewers wanted to see happen, goals that the department was trying to complete, setbacks for a cast of fun characters to figure out together.

By season 6, however, it’s a nonstop thrill ride of pretty much everything going well. There is one major set back for the protagonist, but, within two episodes, it’s like it never happened.

And, maybe I’m a pessimist . . . but that kind of optimism is just . . . so boring.

And it’s cloying; I’ve seen things go well for people in real life — long streaks of good times — and that’s fine, but I’ve never had to watch friends on TV, high-fiving and constantly talk about how much they love making out with each other.

I mean, sure, you can blame this on the fact that Parks and Rec wasn’t designed to be binge-watched on a streaming service. It was written to provide spaced-out doses of good vibes on NBC.

But it’s still tedious watching episode after episode of everything going great and being perfect for everyone. The cast is split up into neat, perfect pairings that fall in love very easily — sometimes unbelievably. The main characters are just rolling in job promotions — that they often turn down because they’re already so happy.

I mean . . . fuck’s sake. So far, there have been no normal weddings on this show; every wedding on Parks and Rec has been a cute, surprise wedding. Not “most of them” — literally all three of them have been surprise weddings. Every single one. Because every single couple that’s gotten married on this show loved each other so much that they just had to get married “tonight!”

Couples don’t fight; they disagree with each other, but the disagreements are always easily resolved. Which is weird because, in early seasons, relationship problems endured — as they do in real lie — instead of neatly fizzling out.

Near the end, babies start happening, and I actually sighed when one husband decided he really wanted babies . . . on the same day that his wife — in another part of Indiana and unable to reach him by phone — found out she was pregnant.

Wow. The magic of everything being unrealistically perfect.

It almost feels . . . contrived somehow.

I write this, and I think, “Well, they just wanted to write a really uplifting show by making it absurdly optimistic.”

But the question becomes . . . isn’t that just boring for everyone?

Because good stories revolve around good conflict.

And, I understand that there is still conflict and motivation in later seasons of Parks and Rec — because you can’t have a story without conflict — but, I guess what I’m trying to say here is . . . there is a ceiling to positivity in fiction. A point at which it becomes impossible to care about a group of characters, because they’re routinely handed victories.

I’m calling it the Everything’s Great Threshold, and it’s going in my personal, writing rulebook.

  • Too much positivity — to the extent of magically-timed solutions to your characters’ problems — kills any tension a story could possibly have.

Or, in other words, when everything is perfect, small problems become challenges — and challenges aren’t real problems.

When said by a character whose life is perfect, “We have to put together this benefit dinner on short notice!” is not a problem. It’s a challenge.

When said by a character who’s struggling to do their job well — someone who has already gotten a warning that they’re up for review, for example — “We have to put together this benefit dinner on short notice!” is pure hell. It’s intimidating, nerve-wracking, and, when it’s resolved, for better or worse, it yields a much better emotional pay-off.

At least that’s how I feel. Granted, I’m just an amateur who’s only had one short story published.

But, hey, life doesn’t just throw victories at you.

~~~

Keeping it short and sweet for today. It feels good to get back to writing theory though; this site has been more of a journal recently.

But, hey, for anyone who was enjoying the journaling, just know that I got through the first chapter of Memory this week, finally fixing the problems I’d had with it before. I’m going to continue editing the rest of the novel, making sure everything works with the new intro, but the point is, I’ll actually be submitting again really soon, and that feels awesome.

Anyway, thank you for reading. 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.

Either way, thank you 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.

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.

Practice Poems #3 – 20 Feet Beneath You

Look down.

Imagine what’s 20 feet beneath you.

Someone else’s bedroom?

The underside of a bridge?

Maybe an animal den.

Probably all of those things.

A red panda’s hammock, hanging from bridge girders.

You’d have to wreck your schedule to find out for sure.

Beg the cops to let you clamber down there and take a look.

Or maybe just circle around, camera ready, frantically looking up.

It’s not worth it–I’m telling you.

Just believe instead.

~~~

So, that was a ton of fun to write.

But, serious time now, here’s a heads up: I’ve talked before about needing to figure out something with this blog. The intention was to find a way to reliably post earlier in the day.

The promotion at my day job . . . has made that incredibly difficult.

I was already struggling to post, fighting sleep to write here after working on the MS. The struggle has only gotten worse; the job title comes with a significant bump in hours and a ton of responsibility, which are both great, but terrible for my writing schedule (i.e. I can’t sneak in a few hundred words at work anymore).

So, just a heads up, I’m going to take the weekend to figure it out, but I might have to cut my schedule down. I love posting every day, but it might be a luxury I can’t afford anymore. More on that this Monday.

For 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 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 has meant posting 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 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.

Fantasy Fandom: Steven Universe

Confession time: I still watch cartoons.

I’m a writer who believes he can learn good writing habits from absolutely anywhere, so I have no qualms about trying out new cartoons that friends recommend.

Or just . . . trying them out when they look awesome.

Adventure Time.

Rick and Morty.

And, especially–said with a heavy, nostalgic heart–Avatar: The Last Airbender, and its follow-up, The Legend of Korra.

The thing is, my ability to watch those shows turned out to be surprisingly rare when I suggested them to fellow writers.

Me: “Avatar–not the James Cameron one, the good one–is one of the best fantasy stories I’ve ever exper–”

Other Writer: “I’m not watching a cartoon show.”

Me: “–ienced . . .”

Another time:

Me: “You haven’t seen Rick and Morty?”

Another Writer: “No. People keep telling me watch it, but, ha, I just never get around to it.”

Me: ” . . . ”

Yet another time:

Yet Another Writer: “Oh, our [mutual friend] got [whatever article of clothing] because it’s supposed to look like the one character from some cartoon?”

Me: <looks at said article of clothing> “Oh! Lumpy Space Princess? Adventure Time?” <inhales to shout, “I love Adventure Time!”>

Yet Another Writer: “Right–that’s it. Sorry. Didn’t know because I’m an adult and I don’t watch cartoons.” <actually rolls her eyes>

Me: “. . .” <sigh>

So, look, everyone has their reasons, so I don’t want to judge.

But, man what a shitty, boring life.

Cartoons are amazing. They have the ability to convey incredible love and support very real diversity.

And, when it comes to the range of cartoons I watch, no show does love and diversity better . . . than Steven Universe.

dccomics_ad_SU_v5

For a short summary, a group of aliens called Crystal Gems live in a town called Beach City. There, they defend the world from attacks from their own people–homeworld gems who want to turn earth into a colony for a giant space empire, or corrupted gems, made animalistic and insane after a war with humanity ages ago. Among the Crystal Gems, there’s Steven, the half-human son of the Gems’ former leader, Rose Quartz.

Why I Love It

The show is as much about the Gems and their adventures as it is about Steven, and his growth as a kid. Not simply a rapid loss of innocence, but a sapping of faith that Steven counters with a determination to love and accept everyone.

To not fight, which is, in and of itself, beautiful. It’s a concept that I’ve been working with and one that I think the world needs more of.

But the show’s passive, loving male protagonist is only the beginning of its press for diversity and acceptance.

For starters, Steven is also, obviously, a fat kid. The show embraces that immediately, unabashedly focusing its first episode on Steven’s love for Cookie Cat Ice Cream Sandwiches (which he begins to believe are the source of his budding gem powers). Rather than doing the usual song and dance of fat-kid-loves-food-and-that’s-all-he/she-loves, the episode eventually pushes Cookie Cat aside in favor of showing our overweight protagonist . . .

. . . helping save the day.

Wow. Whodathunk it, right? An overweight kid being some kind of hero? Also, please apply the appropriate amount of bitter sarcasm from a guy who’s struggled with his weight for his entire life. I would’ve loved to have this show when I was 10. Especially because it never slims Steven down to convey character growth; there’s no shitty diet and work-out montage that makes “thinner” synonymous with “better” or “stronger.”

Seasons later, Steven is still fat, and still a hero.

That initiative is followed up with the rest of the 95% female cast. Because, you see, all Crystal Gems are women.

So, our young protagonist is surrounded by incredibly strong, loving, women with a ton of depth.

There’s Amethyst, who’s short, heavy, and loves fighting as much as a good gag.

There’s Garnet, who’s strong and stoic (the old go-to for strong female characters), but she’s also . . . a spoiler I refuse to give away.

Last, there’s Pearl, a comical take on typical thin-equals-best character design–a gangly ballerina who obsesses about perfection. And also hates Steven’s father, because she was in love with Steven’s mother.

Because, of course, all Crystal Gems are lesbians, a concept that the show completely embraces.

But that’s still only scratching the surface of this wildly progressive cartoon for kids. There are episodes where you find out male characters are gay–without gasps or ostracization. There’s Connie Maheswaran, Steven’s best friend, who’s Indian-American.

And there are episodes where side characters are made extremely human and flawed by their conflicts. There are episodes where main characters struggle with the consequences of war and toxic relationships. And, to all of these problems, the solution isn’t just the usual, comic book-ish “Punch it real hard!” Sometimes, it is, because it needs to be.

But just as often, the answer is love. The answer is taking pain in and dealing with it constructively, instead of just dishing it back out.

There’s just . . . so much that Steven Universe does that I genuinely can’t explain here.

So, rather than continuing to rant, I’m going to finish up with . . .

What I’ve Learned from It

Here are the three major things the series has taught me so far:

  1. Do not be afraid of diversity. We’re clearly living in an America that still fears it, but it doesn’t change the fact that everyone is beautiful. Write for everyone, without holding back. If you feel you don’t know enough about a marginalized group, do research and write them anyway.
    On that note, yes, write heavy characters. Ones who are smart, ones who are beautiful. Because, as a heavy man, I know for a fact that there’s more to us than how much we enjoy eating. We aren’t a bunch of maladjusted, bumbling jackasses, but the majority of media will always portray us that way–unless we provide a different dialogue. That dialogue being that not every hero is a 20-something-year-old model.
  2. Punching isn’t always the solution. Despite what fight-heavy America wants you to think, fighting often just makes a bad situation worse. Stories that embrace combat as a problem, rather than a solution, are just as engrossing–and often richer in real emotion.
  3. It is always possible to explore a range of side characters. They’re a wealth of stories just waiting to happen. All you need to do is allow those characters to have their stories that exist completely (and realistically) outside of the protagonist’s world. Have a protagonist who’s a hero? The Asian woman who works in the cafe down the block has an awesome story to tell–because she’s a real person–but that story might not have anything to do with your hero.

~~~

Well, I did it again. Another 1000+er.

Thank you for reading this one. And, if I’ve piqued your interest in any way, I’d suggest giving Steven Universe a chance. And, for that matter, if you have the adult friend who recommends cartoons . . . maybe check them out on occasion. Because, even though it might not seem like it, there’s a ton a cartoon can still teach a grown adult.

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 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.

Muse Tuesday – The Eternal Frontier | Ant-Man

When he woke, Hank found himself wedged into a runnel of wood grain. Wide-eyed, he checked the time and found he’d only been asleep for a few hours, as planned.

“Son of a bitch.” He sighed through his nose. “Shrinking faster than I thought.” 

Maybe exponentially.

“Or with serious gains.”

You’re talking to yourself again, Hank.

“Not like there’s anyone here to listen.”

But if there was?

He shrugged.

And then sat up. The grain flowed around him in a dark river of iterating rings, dappled and imperfect. If the malfunction in his suit was speeding up, he’d be able to watch the dapples get bigger as he walked over them, becoming holes he’d step into.

And then pits he could fall in.

Eventually, pigment would turn into patterns–messes of atomic structures that would be impossible to recognize as blue or red. Nets of molecules that would part beneath his feet.

“Okay. You know what? I like talking to myself.”

Talk to Jan.

Blinking, Hank pulled the recorder off of his suit–a piece of black box protocol just for such an occasion. He took a deep breath. “Jan . . .”

The edge of the grain river was up to his ankles. Had it already been there?

He shut his eyes. “Beautiful . . . impossibly intelligent Janet Pym . . .” He swallowed, and licked his dry lips.

Walk. You can still get to the manual particle override, but only if you start walking now.

“I know.”

Then why aren’t you walking?

He adjusted his grip on the recorder, fabric creaking. “I’m going to take a moment with this. Because it’s maybe the last time one of my experiments tries to kill me. And I know you love when that happens–these stupid adventures of mine.

“But I’m pretty sure the experiment’s going to win this time. And that . . . feels depressingly appropriate. Of all of the ways I could die, this, somehow, feels right.

“So, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to detail this entire, stupid adventure of mine–this last one–so you can at least laugh at it some day.”

Please.

The river curved away ahead of him–an arc of thirty paces.

“But, ya know, as I explain, I’m just gonna walk too. Because the only thing scarier than the idea of dying here . . .

“. . . is the idea that this is the last time I’ll ever fuck something up.

“And, having said that, I realize now that I didn’t say I’m afraid I’d never see you again. I also realize that this recorder has no rewind feature.”

He sighed as he started walking. “Goddammit.”

~~~

So, this is the one idea I’ve ever had for an Ant-Man story. It was super fun playing up Hank Pym’s tendency to be terrible, but toning it down–making him a combination of genuinely horrible, abusive Hank Pym, and lovable, clueless scientist Hank Pym (who’s my favorite). The result was a total fuck up, which feels like a perfect fit (especially after his arc in The Ultimates).

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

If this is your first time here, 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.

No matter what you do, though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Practice Poems #2 – Furious Puppetspeak

No idea if it’ll become a trend, but I like ending the week with a poem.

Let’s jump right into it.

~~~

There are places beyond the walls.

Rooms you’ve never seen, full of voices you’ve never heard.

They’re so close to being familiar.

Furious puppetspeak, rattling just across the street. Down the road.

Even if you tried, you couldn’t hear it.

You probably never will.

~~~

Just keeping it short and sweet this Friday.

Thank you again to everyone who’s passed by this week! I hope you get to enjoy the weekend. I just got the promotion I applied for a few weeks ago, so you better believe I’m taking advantage of this last work-free weekend.

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.