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.

Dialing it Back

Earlier today, after an orientation at work . . .

Coworker: “Louis, you coming to Chipotle?”

Me: “I . . .” o_o

Coworker: “Yes, you are. Okay.”

Me: He thinks about the post he needs to write tonight. And he realizes he desperately doesn’t want to tell his coworkers–again–that no, he can’t hang out because he has to write a thing. And that’s when he realizes that the post he has to write tonight . . . is about how he has to write fewer posts so he can have a life. The irony sits heavily in his gut, like a Chipotle burrito. “Yes,” he finally decides. “Yes, I’ll go to Chipotle.”

~~~

So, I’m a little sad to write this one.

I have absolutely loved writing posts every single day for the last month and a half. The original plan was to write every day until October, at which point I’d wrap up a “season” and take a break until next February. I’ve actually been thinking about writing every day for an entire year since NaNoWriMo 2014, and finally just starting to do it felt amazing.

But then . . . I got a promotion at work. Something I totally wasn’t counting on. Professionally, my plan for this year was to get a new job at a museum, hoping for a little bump in pay and steadier hours.

What I got was a significant bump in pay and a ton of extra hours. Which is awesome.

Until it came to this blog.

If I’m completely honest, I was already struggling to post on a normal schedule. Posting late at night meant sitting on my bed and dozing off while writing each post, which I’ve been doing . . . for weeks. And, to be clear, that’s weeks of actually falling asleep mid-sentence, then jumping awake, angrily trying to finish a thought from who-knows-how-many-minutes-ago. Eventually, I got frustrated enough to shout, “Goddammit! Just let me do this!” to an empty bedroom.

At the very end, I started taking naps the moment I got home from work, hoping that would refresh me (and stave off the dips in quality that I know rode in on the exhaustion). It barely worked.

And, regardless . . . the price was always to sacrifice time with The Hand and the Tempest.

For a while, that was okay, because I could still write in my notebook at work.

But, somewhere around a week or two ago, that stopped being possible. And I was so busy–with training, preparing for a presentation, stepping up to the new title–that I didn’t notice.

That is, until last Friday, when, for reasons that I don’t remember, I listened to the theme for Stranger Things.

Stranger Things . . . A show that I loved more than I can say.

Its theme is what I call “righteous,” which, for me, means “a song, image, or any design that I want to write for. I want to write a story that fits the theme for Stranger Things for reasons I don’t really understand; maybe it’s just a reflex of young Louis, copying things he loves.

But, at any rate, hearing that song made me remember how I had to avoid making H&T like Stranger Things.

Which in turn made me realize that I hadn’t written in over a week. That, even before that, I’d just broken down to writing loose notes that I’d never gotten around to typing up.

All of this is to say . . . I have to cut back on the daily posts, even though I really, really don’t want to. The site has grown so much since I started and I don’t want it to slow down.

But it has to. Because I have to finish H&T soon, and I need to get a new short published; the “Aixa” banner is killing me at this point.

So, I’m going to dial the posts back to one a week. Still better than once a month, but much more forgiving than my daily jam.

However, there’s also an addendum on the life goals now:

  1. Get more short stories published.
  2. Get my novels published.
  3. Become a successful writer.
  4. Get back to a point where I can post here every day. Because I love it.

~~~

I want to take a quick moment to thank everyone who’s followed recently. There’s been a huge rush of new followers here on the site and it has made me feel . . . invincible.

Together with all of the likes and comments, I’m pretty sure the support from you guys is the reason I got that promotion in the first place. I’m not kidding; I went into that interview feeling like I deserved it because I knew that there were people out there who liked my work. People who kept coming back, reading, and commenting. You guys . . . changed me. Seriously, I sat with a group of people and made them all laugh tonight.

This from a man who was afraid to enter cafes by himself in 2013. That sounds like an exaggeration–it isn’t; low on cash and unwilling to meet anyone, I once went down to The Common Grounds and just stood outside for a moment . . . before walking away, afraid. It’s strange to think that’s true, but it’s liberating to know that part of my life is really, finally, over. So, seriously, thank you. I still feel like I can do anything, and I cannot thank you guys enough for helping me get here.

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.

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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.

Fantasy Spotlight – The Lord of the Mountain | The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

So, a few weeks ago, I wrote about how much The Legend of Zelda has inspired my writing. In short, the series kindled my preference for uniqueness . . . and weirdness.

Because, man is The Legend of Zelda weird.

Now, to be totally honest, I’m still playing Breath of the Wild and still absolutely loving it. Loving it so much that I know it’s going to be my last adventure in gaming. I started with Zelda II, I’m ending with BotW. Because I know that it isn’t ever going to get better for me; there will never be a more cathartic experience than having my favorite series rally back against stagnation and massive criticism . . . by becoming a game I’ve wanted since I was 12. I got the unique, open-world, combat-heavy adventure I’ve always wanted, + Zelda. I’m actually quitting after this.

But, the one thing that disappoints me about BotW . . . is that it plays it safe with the series’ weirdness. As a huge fan of Majora’s Mask, I’m sad that there’s no terrifying mask salesman. No moon with giant, human eyes and a snarl.

However, there is one . . . creature in the game that absolutely brings the weirdness.

And for that reason, and a bunch of others, I wanted to highlight it here on the site. Because I feel that this one creature is a beautiful, perfect encapsulation of the entire Legend of Zelda series. That achievement, intentional or not, deserves attention on a tiny blog.

So, everyone, let me start at the beginning . . .  and explain how I found the thing called the Lord of the Mountain.

~~~

As is the point in Breath of the Wild, I was exploring Hyrule one night, setting out into a region I hadn’t explored yet. I’m not sure how many other people get neurotic about exploring every bit of Hyrule, but I’m obsessive enough that I get lost for hours just walking through fields, exploring canyons, etc.

So I was excited to find that this new region had a small mountain on it. Calm and quiet, I started hiking up its southern side.

And almost immediately found that its sandy ledges were home to crows. It stuck out to me, because I hadn’t seen crows anywhere else in Hyrule. Ultimately though, I dismissed it, figuring that the crows were just a bit of the region’s identity.

 

Further up the mountain, it began to rain, the world taking on a mantle of blooming fog. Normal too.

Until I reached the top of the mountain . . . and the fog became thicker. Brighter. The music began to change, and I became excited, thinking I’d found a fun, new secret.

But that was before I listened . . . and heard the creepy discordance of the fog’s song. I followed it through a cleft of stone at the top of the mountain . . .

. . . and came out onto a ledge full of spectral rabbits.

Something’s wrong.

I didn’t move. I’d seen one and only one of these small sprites before–little, long-eared blooms of blue-white light. When a villager spoke about that one rabbit, he’d spoken of a myth. Now, there were at least fifteen of them, foraging around a pond, beneath a tree of pale leaves. All of it was silent in the fog.

I shouldn’t be here.

I tried shifting closer, but one of the spirits saw me and bolted, setting off a chain reaction. The rest of them bolted too, and I jumped to my feet, drawing my sword, expecting an attack.

And that’s when I saw it.

Among the rabbits, a larger beast dashed into the mist, vanishing with them before the fog faded. The pale tree turned dun, the clearing suddenly mundane. No attack came . . .

But I wanted to know what I’d seen.

The next night, I came back. Found the clearing again, made sure I spotted the beast first. A spectral horse, glowing just as the rabbits did. It was facing away from me.

I sneaked close, realizing this was a creature I could ride. Thinking that taming a mythical beast was meant to be part of my adventure.

I jumped on, soothing the phantom horse until it calmed down, smiling when it finally stopped bucking. Eager to get a better look at its golden horns, I turned to see its face.

BotW_Lord_of_the_Mountain_Model

And I saw this.

To be clear, that is one side of its face. On the other side, there’s another set of tilted, golden eyes, staring into the distance. Those eyes are eerily out of place–too far to the side and too high on tandem faces that don’t move. What looks like a trunk is actually a cloth–or maybe a veil–hanging off of that face of masks.

I’ve learned about the medieval fear of the forest, a very real cultural trend that Susanna Clarke conveyed beautifully in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It was a practical fear of wild animals that turned into myths of terrible creatures and gods who liked to trick and punish those who trespassed in their woods. The wild was a place that no one could control, better left alone, for everyone’s safety.

This creature’s face finally drove home that fear for me. The crows. The feeling that I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. The music. My exact words were, “Oh God. I don’t like this.”

Afraid and confused, I rode this thing down its mountain, thinking that maybe the game would confirm that it was a good idea–that there would be a cutscene somewhere, or maybe that the man running the nearby stable would compliment me on taming it.

That stable master’s words were, “Is that . . . Is that the . . . Lord of the Mountain!?

“Why would you bring that thing here?

“We’ll all be cursed!”

I galloped the entire way back up that mountain. I brought the Lord back up to its clearing and dismounted the moment we reached its pond.

The Lord looked at me, and then galloped off into the fog, becoming nothing again.

I never once went back to that mountain top.

But I know the curse is there. That I’ve incurred it. That there’s some consequence; a tax for fool-heartiness, meted out by a thing I’ll never understand–with a face of masks.

And that terror is a beautiful reminder. Those strange, terrible things that I love about the series are still there. If anything, they’re more horrifying now.

But, in part, because they’re also a great secret now, easily missed in a series that is all about secrets.

With barely any dialogue, this one creature made me feel all of these complex things. I had a personal reflection about the entire series and what it means to me, coming to a head with one simple, vague warning. A warning given substance by setting cues and major shifts in tone.

But also purely by character design. The Lord’s face, the ringing of its hooves as it walks, the fact that its horns are branches . . . it sells every facet of the series. The mystery, the strangeness, the lack of answers, the sense that we don’t deserve answers.

I can’t talk enough about how in awe I am of this one beast. I know a lot of its majesty in my story dependents on my extremely variable experience with it.

But I also realize that, as a writer, I have the ability to control a similar experience, making it uniform for everyone.

So now, creating a beast that achieves the same goals as the Lord is something I aspire to.

Because I want to give readers a moment this emotionally complex in one encounter with a silent beast.

~~~

Wow. I am sorry that went so long. TL;DR: man, that Lord on the Mountain sure is something.

Really though, thank you for reading, and I hope this one at least conveyed the experience I had, and made it clear how intensely the right design can make someone feel.

PS–The attempts to get on a better schedule and trim down longer posts will continue, I promise (sorry for this 1000+ word beast).

But, for now, 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.

Again 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.

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.

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.