Louis Santiago’s Fantasy Story Stats – Week 5: A Conclusion & Using the Stats

Man, did this one take longer than it was supposed to. What you’ve found is the final part of a look at my Fantasy Story Stats. Because, after four solid weeks of looking at each in-depth, I think a serious refocus on how these should be used is in order. And the best way to do that? Just use them on different properties and see what we learn.

Now, all of these stories are my favorites, first of all; seriously, I love each of the following properties. That said, I’m going to try and be really honest about them—because if you’re not honest with them, these stats do nothing. Sound interesting? I hope so; I’m pretty intrigued to see how this goes.

Disclaimer: Of course, as always, I have to remind you that I’m not an authority on any of the stories I’m about to discuss; these Stats are not a way of dissecting them and I’m sure that when I reread any of these stories, I’ll find reason to contest what I’m about to put down. However, I can confidently say that I am someone who’s been trying to complete a story of his own for years and, that said, someone who found looking at stories through the lens of these Stats helpful for my own compositions. As I’ve said before, these Stats are just tools and using them is more of an experiment and an opportunity for creative reflection than anything else.  

Let’s do it!

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire)

By George R. R. Martin

Genre: Fantasy

Subgenre: High

Theme: Family

Focus: 1-Character, 2-Plot

Tone: Heavy/Semi-Realistic

Spirit: Low

Novelty: Medium

Concept: Medium-High

The striking thing about A Game of Thrones was how realistic it was for the genre. Oddly enough, this is absolutely in spite of the very first scene literally involving evil snow zombies. How does that even work? Because everything that comes after the White Walkers is absolutely realistic and heavy in Tone. Incest? Little kids getting paralyzed? A “dwarf” who isn’t at all the fantasy standard dwarf? All of these things (High Concept, Low Spirit elements for the genre) counteract the first scene, even undermining strong hints at dormant magic as omens or strange coincidences.

But oddly… even though the Tone undermines all of those fantasy elements… it also serves those same elements. Where other authors use incredibly unique world concepts, races, creatures, and monsters to draw readers, Martin’s work features humans almost exclusively. Humans with extremely Earth-centric towns, weapons, equipment and cultures. Humans who consider slightly large (based on the show) wolves as horrible beasts, and where genre-typical dragons and honestly super-familiar undead warriors stand as the most outlandish monsters you can find. But, really, these elements are served by the Tone. Having everything be so normal and real makes the White Walkers terrifying. It makes slightly bigger wolves really awesome. It makes a sword forged of slightly darker metal that always holds its edge the most incredible weapon ever (in direct contrast to extremely flashy lightsabers, for example). It makes you afraid of magic and uncertain what will happen when someone pisses off a witch. Overall, it is an absolutely masterful control of the reader’s experience and I bow before it.

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle)

By Patrick Rothfuss

Genre: Fantasy

Subgenre: High

Theme: Stories, Myth, and Their Influence on Reality

Focus: 1-Character, 2-Plot, 2.5-Location

Tone: Medium/Semi

Spirit: Medium

Novelty: Medium-High

Concept: High

Here, I feel the Focus is especially interesting; there’s no question that The Name of the Wind is a story driven by its characters (the story is, literally, being provided by our protagonist after another character persuades him to tell it). Beyond that, however, I feel it’s arguable whether Plot or Location is the more interesting drive for readers. I can’t see how that could be an insult, but I’ll immediately specify that I found the story’s locations that intriguing; for me, part of the joy of reading was getting back to the Eolain and seeing what would happen there. Or getting to Elodin’s or Kilvin’s next class. One of my favorite moments in the story was when Kvothe explored the Underthing with Auri, and, in retrospect, I divide the story into four parts without trying: Kvothe with his family and traveling in their caravan, Kvothe in Tarbean, Kvothe at the University, and Kvothe outside of the University with Denna (all of these obviously focusing on locations).

Also, as always, I could go on about how High Concept this story is—the fact that it’s being related by the protagonist after he’s gone into hiding; the incredibly believable treatment of magic in the frame of the story; the specific allure of Naming; the countless, personal events that drive the plot and mirror our own lives. I would go on, but if you’ve read The Name of the Wind, you already know all of this and I have to immediately stop this from turning into a review.

Another note: Despite what I’ve said before (told you this would happen), I do think the Novelty of The Name of the Wind would be Medium-High; there’s just a lot more than simply “orphan boy goes to magic school,” a vague overview that absolutely undermines my love for the book.

Mistborn (The Mistborn Trilogy)

By Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Fantasy

Subgenre: High

Theme: Rebellion Against Oppression on Personal and Social Levels; Faith, both Personal and Religious

Focus: 1-Plot, 2-Character

Tone: Light-Medium/Fantastic

Spirit: Medium-High

Novelty: High

Concept: Medium-High

Despite being set in a world where an evil god rules over a land constantly marred by black ashfalls, Mistborn winds up being Light-Medium in Tone and Medium-High in Spirit. How? Also, perhaps, what?

Well, the simple answer is Theme, Tone and Spirit.

The story carries a heavy Tone of Rebellion that’s supported by its characters—friends who have very jovial interactions with each other (in direct contrast to the gloom outside). The oppressive world is also undermined by the powers of the mistborn, who consider the mists (which come out at night—the most mythically dangerous time of day, as the story establishes early on) home. Vin in particular feels “free” in the mists (which is obviously relevant to the Theme). Finally, add to that the actual power that a mistborn can freely use out in the mists and how exciting those powers are for the characters and readers, and it’s actually easy to forget about the gloomy setting. On the contrary, as mistborn are generally only mistborn when they’re out in the night in secret, Pushing off of coins, the story actually becomes more exciting when it would otherwise be at its gloomiest. There’s seriously no end to how amazing I think this massive, thematic Soothing and Rioting is.

And now, for the sake of acknowledging differences in the same writer’s projects…

Warbreaker

By Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Fantasy

Subgenre: High

Theme: Choice

Focus: 1-Plot, 2-Character

Tone: Light/Fantastic

Spirit: Medium

Novelty: High

Concept: High

In contrast, Warbreaker does not have to fight to maintain light Tone; the magic system of the novel, Breath, is based on color, resulting in a fictional society that employs color vibrantly (an obvious difference from the blacked out landscape of Mistborn).

More important here, however, is Spirit, which, in my Stats, is Medium (possibly weird at first glance). However, Warbreaker actively challenges your concepts of right and wrong, evil and good (something that the Mistborn series doesn’t start doing until the second and third books). Without spoiling anything, the Theme (as I see it) of choice creates a grey area that the novel settles into—not all villains are completely evil and not all people are completely good. As is the case between Siri and her sister, people can absolutely be different and make different choices or act in different ways, but that does not mean either way is inherently wrong or right. The world is too complicated for that because it’s a place where people can choose and those choices are really all that matters. All of this, along with a magic system that’s slightly more out-of-the-ordinary than mistborn powers (the overall effects of which are more familiar [as Jedi powers or superpowers] than the ability to breathe life into inanimate objects and have them do your bidding) means that there are more challenging elements in Warbreaker. It is, on the whole, a less comforting and familiar read than Mistborn despite the lighter Tone and premise.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko

Genre: Fantasy

Subgenre: YA (?)

Theme: Responsibility

Focus: 1-Plot, 2-Character, 3-Location

Tone: Light /Fantastic

Spirit: Medium-High

Novelty: Low-Medium

Concept: Medium-High

If you have not seen Avatar: The Last Airbender (the show, not the movie) then all I’ll say is that you should absolutely give it a chance because it’s legitimately amazing. On the list of kids’ shows that are not just for kids, Avatar is easily among the best.

But before I continuing gushing about how great it is, what’s interesting about its Stats? For me, the Focus; this is a case where almost all three elements of Focus are equally balanced in a story. You read to find out what happens next in the Plot (as with any syndicated show), but every episode also has pertinent character  growth, supported by the ever present questions of what Aang will find in whatever drastically changed place from his past the group stops in. And there, of course, is also Location coming into play as the third Focus, although the world itself with the dynamic of the Four Nations, their cultures and the myth of the world of Avatar is enough of a Location draw on its own. Generally, however, each season takes place in another of the Four Nations, making Location that much more important.

Of course, the balance of Spirit is also interesting. Avatar is another case where the audience is presented with grey areas that challenge what they expect from character archetypes. This is an extremely important part of the show from the beginning. Bending is also unique enough of an approach to elemental magic that it feels silly to call it magic. Counteracting all of that, however, is the playfulness of the show; despite the setting, characters speak in what I consider Standard American, a term that extends to include extremely Earth-general mannerisms (people don’t fist bump or do peace signs, but they might bow or shake hands, never using any unfamiliar, Avatar-esque hand gestures or sayings [outside of ones that are meant to be funny because they’re so awkward and non Earth-Standard]). Avatar also creates and revisits its best jokes. And, finally (really), the premise is very nearly the old standard of “boy has great, exclusive power that he must use to defeat evil.” All of this creates an extremely comfortable atmosphere that balances the more challenging elements of the story extremely well (and hopefully proves that, used right, a degree of familiarity in a story can do incredible things).

Okay. Going to stop now. However, for the sake of looking at the difference in sequels (and the reason why I brought up a show from crazy long ago)…

The Legend of Korra

Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko

Genre: Fantasy

Subgenre: YA

Theme: Sibling Rivalry

Focus: 1-Character, 2-Plot

Tone: Medium/Fantastic

Spirit: Low-Medium

Novelty: Medium-High

Concept: High

In contrast, The Legend of Korra has a much lower Spirit; it’s far more challenging to its audience. Even though it’s a direct sequel to The Last Airbender, it’s a much different show with a much more unique premise, a more complicated plot, and a far deeper look at the grey areas already mentioned here. On The Legend of Korra, people are often not who they seem and characters’ actions are often more personal and individual than they are cohesive and single-minded; on The Last Airbender, everyone was ultimately trying to help Aang defeat the Fire Nation, but in The Legend of Korra, everyone’s doing what comes naturally to them. Even characters who were set on helping the protagonists in the first season have now very naturally fallen back into roles that hinder the progress of our protagonists (Beifong being a great example). On top of that, the world from Airbender has evolved, becoming something much more unique. Even in the case of the protagonist, Korra is a very strong female lead who is actually vulnerable and human (directly challenging stereotypes of the flat, over-compensating super-badass female lead, or the comic-typical super-feminist). She’s so progressive that her sexual orientation and hairstyle choices are not the focus of any parts of the show—at all; in fact, her love life even takes a serious backseat to other issues that matter way, way more (like stopping wars).

The only balance is the way Korra is absolutely a legacy story; many subtle references are made to moments from Avatar. The story also actively uses the mythose of Avatar’s world as plot elements in Korra. Overall, these elements make the experience more comforting (and again demonstrate how well the High Spirit of a story can supplement a more challenging, Low Spirit sequel).

~~~

Well, I think that about wraps it up for my Fantasy Story Stats. Thank you, as always, for reading, and if you gained anything from these stats, please subscribe, drop a comment, give me a like, or do all of those things—I’d appreciate it.

On Choosing the Right Soundtrack

Last time was pretty serious. Well, maybe not serious–maybe more like incredibly straight forward and academic. And <em>boring.</em>

So I thought I’d get a little loose this time—talk about something I like, with the stipulation that I tell you at least twice that it’s something I like.

And that would be assigning a soundtrack for my stories.

Now, before you navigate away, I should specify a few things. Firstly, I use the term “soundtrack” loosely—more on that in a bit. Secondly, I do believe that if you don’t already do this, it can actually help your writing. Thirdly, that is as long as you do it… in moderation.

Firstly, Not Really a Soundtrack

I’m a weird guy when it comes to music (at least). I’m admittedly terrible with actual, normal music; I honestly would not be able to name a single Led Zeppelin song for you. And at the same time, no, I also would not be able to name a Katy Perry song for you—I defy genres and generations with my musical ignorance.

However, I can hear five seconds of original soundtrack from two rooms away, come over, and, without even looking at the television it’s coming from, tell you, “Jurassic Park. The scene when Grant and the kids are climbing over the wire fence. That track is called ‘High Wire Stunts’.”

I’ll go right on to immediately add that I know this is a problem.

However, what I want to specify immediately is that my goal here is not to make that your problem; I’m absolutely not suggesting that you compile a detailed and complete soundtrack. Aside from the fact that it would be incredibly hard to find music that matches all of your scenes and all matches the same tone, it would just be a huge waste of time.

Because, let’s be real—if you compiled a soundtrack worthy of worldwide distribution… who are you showing that to? How are you planning to use it? I don’t want to assume you don’t get it, but this leads right into how you should think of your “soundtrack”—basically, as a writing tool.

I’ll lead with an example: here’s a part of my soundtrack (and yes, it’s more Castlevania). But immediately, let me point out a few things:

1) This song is the theme for an abandoned gallery my characters find at one point. But not all of the song is the gallery’s theme—more like everything but 1:32-2:02 or any other part where it gets insanely Castlevania…y). Those organ solos don’t fit the tone of my story at all.

2) Regardless, there is no point where the piano portion of this song could actually play anywhere in my story; in an animated or live-action version of my story, there just honestly would not be enough suitable time in that gallery.

3) I would also absolutely never write to this song or even reread my work while listening to it; it’s just too distracting.

So how exactly do I use this song at all? Before I write any scenes in the gallery. When I’m thinking about the gallery—how it looks and sounds. When I need to figure out an aspect of it. When I want to remember how it feels to stand in it.

And that means that, like the rest of my “soundtrack,” that song is a kind of personal tool that’s detached from my writing in every way an actual soundtrack shouldn’t be. And that’s what I’m suggesting; that you find whole songs, parts of songs—maybe even clips that are only seconds long—that you compile as writing tools, not expressly as a playlist. And not even expressly music; this is what I played for the weeks it took me to get through chapters 10 and 11, and having this, looped, helped to a degree that’s embarrassing to admit.

Secondly, How This Can Actually Help

Consider what I said last week about assigning a theme song for your characters. I explained that, in my mind, a theme song is a perfect way to hone what you know about your characters. If you can find the right one, they can serve as beautiful, simple summaries of your characters and, when necessary, remind you who the character is and what they’re going through. And if you manage to keep the theme from changing your character, they serve as a great way to hone your understanding of a character.

Well, add to that the idea that your scenes and settings (for the sake of simplicity) are characters. At the very least, they share similar traits; setting can (and should) have a tone. A scene can have a certain mood. A location can and should convey a story, if only briefly and subtly. A cave can be small and close, warm from the fresh fire at its center, where a friend looks up from their book as you enter. Or the fire could be dead, the air acrid with the stench of the charred cook pot hanging over it, your friend’s chair overturned, the man himself missing. In any of those cases, a song used as reference always helps you to find the words that match that tone.

In the case of the example I gave above, the song for the gallery, it’s full of the exact kind of muted, drowned beauty that embodies that setting to me. It easily helps me remember everything about it, from the wet gray color of the gallery’s walls to the sad, sunlit half-silence of it.

I suppose the simplest way to say this is, if you’ve never tried using a song as inspiration, you should absolutely give it a shot. I believe that you can create awesome characters without assigning a theme, but I think having reference music for your scenes is borderline essential.

Thirdly, Be Casual About It

I’m a firm believer that any extra work that’s meant to supplement your writing can eventually hurt it instead. I want to say, “excepts for like, making up a custom language for your world.” But even in that case… if you’ve spent ten years perfecting that custom language … that’s probably not helping your stories in the long run. Particularly because, if you’re like me, you’re an amateur; we don’t have the luxury of spending years honing any one detail because, honestly, the point at which we should’ve been writing—and letting that experience dictate how we refine our worlds—is always. If we spent the majority of our time working on a language or compiling a detailed soundtrack, it would be like someone calling out of work to spend the day sorting their pennies. Probably a horrible comparison, but my overall point is that actually taking time out of a writing session to hunt down relevant tracks? Not a good idea. Using any time that you could spend writing to instead find the perfect pairing for your campfire scene? Not better than just taking a shot at writing that scene.

What I’m saying is, the best way to handle this soundtrack business is to put the entire idea in the back of your mind—not out of mind, but somewhere easily recalled—while you watch movies, play video games, or pretty much do anything. You should take from this the idea to listen to what you hear with the background knowledge that you can apply anything to your writing. Maybe that sounds a little bizarre, being ready to relate everything you hear to your stories.

But, honestly, that’s writing 101. If you haven’t started insanely thinking of everything in relation to some plot you’ve been working on, well, there’s no time like the present to go the writing-appropriate amount of crazy.

All kidding aside, you are a writer. Either you’re sitting here thinking, “I already do this,” or you should be.

The Turning Point

I’ve danced around the topic a few times on this site, careful to not talk about the actual experience or give any details about it, but, at this point, I don’t see a reason to hide that I work at Borders. I’m still not going to talk about working there or any of the people I work with because that’s not what this article is about. However, my being employed by Borders Inc. is incredibly relevant to this post.

You’re probably wondering why if you don’t follow the news at all. The answer: Borders is liquidating, and in a week or a month or sometime soon, I’ll be out of a job.

So, immediately, the question becomes, “What am I going to do?” And just as immediately, answers spring up. Some friends have been awesome enough to offer me recommendations at their jobs–places and positions that are completely what I’ve always wanted to move on to. Another opportunity–a tutoring job–would be very easy to get even though it would make me miserable. And, always, there’s the worst choice–natural progression: get a job at Barnes & Noble and lean back into the same spot I was just in.

But, even with the position I really wanted, I knew that I couldn’t. It wasn’t that my resume wasn’t good enough or I wouldn’t do well at any of these jobs.

It was because I knew I had to take the opportunity to really change my life.

I won’t be able to not look for some kind of part-time work, but in the hiatus, I decided I have to stop, collect myself, and finish War of Exiles.

I’m more than vaguely aware that this is a bad idea. I’m aware that it’s going to be very lonely and stressful and incredibly difficult. But I’m also aware that if I don’t take this chance to really finish my first novel and the several short stories I’ve already started on, I may never get any of it done. Or maybe I will, in 2015. Or 2018. Or 2024.

But it’s my dream. It’s always been my dream, ever since I played Final Fantasy III (it was III back then, not VI) and was amazed by the world and the drama between the characters. And I don’t want to put my dream on the back burner; I already have for years and years when I promised myself I wouldn’t. In my eyes, this is the only choice–it’s what I just have to do.

So what’s on the agenda?

  1. Work on the outline for Exiles and short stories everyday. The terrifying goal until I find my speed–a finished chapter outline every week, a finished short in the first month.
  2. For as long as I have an unlimited Metrocard, go to places from my past. I know this sounds weird, but I need to get my drama from somewhere. I’ll blog about some of those places here, killing two birds with one stone. I’ll also blog with updates on my progress, but I’m probably going to want to write about some of these places, and why not here?
  3. If I can, shoot at various locations. May as well work on my photography a bit while I’m at it.
  4. Work with Chaos Mechanica and other partners on a new website. For when I really, really need that instant gratification.
  5. Read fantasy novels when I really, really need a break. There’s nothing like rounding out my knowledge of my genre and keeping my head in the game while enjoying myself at the same time.
  6. Casually work on RED and other art projects when I have time.

And I believe that’s it.

I remember my goal on my 28th birthday–don’t turn 29 without getting something published.  If I hadn’t decided to completely rewrite my first novel, I possibly would’ve been on the way to achieving that goal. But now, I realize that with a few months left, I have to scrap that goal. Because I have a new one now, and it’s not a maybe or a try.

Finish the final draft of your book and get it published six months after you lose your job.

Just typing it terrifies me.

RED Comics #2 – There and Back Again

Disclaimer: RED Comics are written and assembled by Louis Santiago using screen caps from DVD’s. All issues of RED are free; they are made as non-profit entertainment by a man who loves to distract himself from his writing. However, the RED name / logo and the Louis Santiago logo (aka my own face) are creative property of Louis Santiago. Enjoy!

The Death of Ultimate Spider-Man… By the Amazing Spider-Man’s Hand

After work today, I met my good friend @GentlemanMonstr for some Five Guys and a stop at Midtown Comics. As the undisputed overlord of the comic world (in my opinion), the Gentleman had something obscure in mind. For me, it was the exact opposite: Ultimate Spider-Man #160. In all honesty, it was something I wasn’t looking forward to, but it was, of course, something I needed to read, not only because I’m the Spider-Man fan among my friends, but because I loved the whole Ultimate Spider-Man series, from it’s rocky start to… well…

We naturally spend more time than necessary at Midtown. Then it was a casual walk to Penn Station where we parted ways. I got to my train platform and thought that I should wait until I got home to read how it all ends, but I realized that after the countless hours on the train that I’d burned reading and rereading Ultimate Spider-Man, there was no better time.

Now, I’m not going to explain what happens because this is a no spoiler zone. But I will say that something odd happened; something I didn’t expect:

I wasn’t bothered. I wasn’t upset; when it happened, I got a little teary eyed (yeah, I’ll admit it), but I didn’t shed a tear, which is weird because I honestly expected to at least shed one damn tear–I’m the Spider-Man guy, after all!

Now, is this because the writing was off? Was Peter’s death too sudden? Was it lacking real drama and emotion? Did I not feel it? Well, while I’m not saying those possibilities are absolutely out of line, I think I know the primary reason for my ambivalence:

I had Amazing Spider-Man #663 in my bag.

And you’re thinking, “So you’re fine because Amazing Spider-Man is still alive?” And, I mean, overtly, sure, but it’s more complicated than that. The “Big Time” plot line brought serious changes to Peter Parker’s life. For the first time, we saw Peter get a job that pays his bills, new costumes, new side characters (thank God), and even a new love interest. As the arc’s name suggests, things in Peter’s life finally start looking up for the first time in… well, ever. Finally, finally things actually change for Peter Parker. Significantly.

So, what does this have to do with Ultimate Spider-Man? It’s simple: after all of the changes in Amazing, going back to Ultimate  felt like looking backwards. For many of us, there was a time when Ultimate Spider-Man was fresh and young and awesome, and it was probably because at the same time, Amazing was tired and boring. For many of us, Ultimate Spider-Man gave us what we’d always wanted as Spider-Man fans: change. Variety. But then Big Time finally came and we–well, I–realized that… Ultimate Peter Parker is still just a kid. He’s still in high school. He’s still worrying about Mary Jane. Suddenly, Ultimate was the past. A past we’ve all read and watched countless times. A past that some writers burned to the ground by over-using the same tired characters. A past that it’s sadly easy to let go of.

Believe what you want, but somehow, I don’t think the time could have ever been more appropriate for the unfortunate passing of our young, beloved Mr. Parker. Not because I wanted it, but because right now–before a new writer comes along and retcons all of Big Time and FF–right now is the only time I could possibly bare it. In all honesty, while I can’t say I started reading comics because of Ultimate Spider-Man, I can promise you that I never would have become so deeply invested in them if not for the incredible sense of adventure and awe that the Ultimate run instilled in me. For that, I will always be grateful for young Peter Parker and the incredible places Brian Michael Bendis took us with him.

But that doesn’t mean I want to ever go back to how things were. Not after so much has changed. The Peter Parker who was always so worried about Aunt May and MJ and work and J. Jonah Jameson and Venom–that young man is dead. And although I loved him, I’m content to let him rest in peace.

The PDF That Just Wouldn’t Die

I’m not sure how it is for you, but Photoshop projects always take longer than I expect. I have an idea and think, I can get that done in an hour tonight. But then I get in front of my computer and realize I just can’t edit a part of the project the way I’d intended or a part of my design just doesn’t look good on paper. A great example is the first issue of RED Comics; nearly every panel was a trial (although it was one I enjoyed because it forced me to troubleshoot with a lot of methods I made up on the spot [all of which–thankfully–worked]). But at most, that tacked on an extra week to the project (more like an extra day when you factor in getting home from work late and spending only an hour or two of my daily writing time on the comic).

Unfortunately, when a project gets such a tiny portion of work time, they sometimes take way longer than an extra day to complete. Especially if they’re ridiculously (and unnecessarily) complicated. Like my Yonkers 3.31.11 PDF.

Which took all of eternity to complete.

I exaggerate, but if you haven’t taken a look at the Yonkers 3.31.11 PDF yet, please do so now (right click, then download the link) and then continue reading here.

If you think the pictures are awesome, I thank you. But what I really want to get at here is that the design for the PDF (the fonts, the order of the photos, etc.) took a month and a half to finish and I can’t really tell you why–aside from maybe saying that I cycled through a bunch of different fonts, tried to make a different logo, and tackled a bunch of other completely absent concerns that had the project spinning in limbo for way longer than it should’ve been (and, of course, spending an hour a night with it [and sometimes no time at all with it] didn’t help the project’s progress at all).

So, why bring this up? What’s on my mind? It’s simple. Maybe I’m burning myself out? I recently edited my friend Kenneth Broadway’s novella manuscript (a fantastic novella, I might add) and when I handed it back he said, “Let’s actually meet and talk about this though.”

I probably made a face and said, “Well, yeah, definitely, dude. When are you free?”

To which he said, “No, when are you free? I’m not the guy who’s always crazy busy doing a million things.”

I’m pretty sure I raised an eyebrow. “I’m not that busy. I just–”

“Work with Ronin at HotMop Films sometimes.”

“Well, yeah, but–”

“And go take photographs at ruins with Felix Velez.”

“That’s true–”

“And work with Chaos Mechanica on writing and film projects.”

I remember stopping to think about it. And then saying, “Yeah… I guess I am pretty busy. All the time.”

It was a charming thing then; it was nice to think that I’m finally being as creative as I’ve wanted, but I’m starting to realize that maybe I have my hands in way too many projects at once. The divided attention is slowing everything down. But then, the question becomes, “What do I drop?” Photography? The novel? RED Comics, which I just started (even though I just bought a few DVD’s this past weekend specifically to use for issues 2 and 3)? My ink abstracts have already fallen by the wayside for years, and that’s always disappointing to me when I think about it; do I really want another interest to fall by the wayside with it?

Or am I just wasting time thinking about all of this when I should be figuring out a way to optimize my workload? … I think I know the answer to this one.

RED Comics #1 – A Game of Checkers

Disclaimer: RED Comics are written and assembled by Louis Santiago using screen caps from DVD’s. All issues of RED are free; they are made as non-profit entertainment by a man who loves to distract himself from his writing. However, the RED name / logo and the Louis Santiago logo (aka my own face) are creative property of Louis Santiago. Enjoy!

Getting Closer

I realized I have something time sensitive to say, so I have to try to belt it out before that company I just mentioned arrives.

If you haven’t already heard about it, you should know about the Met’s Get Closer photography contest. It’s not a huge deal; you photograph a piece from the permanent collection and then get a close-up of one of its elements. Then you submit them to the contest’s tumblr with a short blurb about why the element you captured for your close-up is meaningful to you. The prize is a year’s membership to the museum and the use of your picture for add campaigns (bragging rights). Like, I said, nothing crazy, but it’s something to do with an afternoon. Make sure to check out the actual contest rules to make sure you know everything you need to before heading over.

Only, if you’re going to head down, make sure you do it soon; the last day for submissions is this Friday–April 8th. And, if possible, make sure you give yourself a lot of time at the Met; it took me longer than I expected to find the piece I wanted to shoot for my submission (and before I found it, it was a solid two hours worth of photographing everything I found interesting, which wasn’t bad because it’s the Met, but still, that meant stopped and photographing just about everything).

Oh, what was that you just asked? “What was your submission, Louis?” did I hear? No wait, that was a car horn outside, but whatever, here it is anyway: The Fist of the Archer Herakles. If you know me at all, you’ probably saw this coming. Mythology? An archer? Yeah. So me that it’s ridiculous.

It’s Been a While

It’s been just about a month since my last post, begging the question “What the $#(*?”

Well, I’ll tell you what the $#(*.

Life. My best friend’s moving to Seattle in two weeks, an event I found out about around two weeks ago. Aside from being extremely bummed about it, my weekends have been absorbed by various going away functions (and my recovering from those functions). I’ve also been… graced with more responsibility at work, permanently stuck with handling the magazines section (a sad thing; I don’t dislike magazines, but I woefully pass through our genre section, looking at all of the terrible covers and heaving a sigh of loss [Example:

<sigh>

Coupled with that are other creative endeavors (just this Thursday, I spent my morning photographing a ruin with some fellow artists, an oddly exhausting and dangerous hike through a single facility, making me feel more like a Belmont than I ever have). It may not seem like much, but it’s definitely been more than enough to make it extremely hard to belt out more articles, even if ideas for them keep on coming.

I had to write something today though, while editing and posting a new background pic (taken during that Thursday outing), before company arrives. I’ll have another post up before the end of the week, even if it kills me. And then, more posts about the afterlife and why it’s great for writing/gaming.

Gamer Quirks

Some time last month, while chatting with a friend of mine (I don’t remember who, but let’s call him Ted) about our favorite games, I mentioned that one of mine was Flashback. To this Ted naturally replied:

“Never heard of it.”

So I explained: Flashback was a PC game that was ported to consoles in ’92. It came out for the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and the Sega CD. And I rented each port about 9 times before we finally bought the Sega CD version, at which point I played nothing but that for a solid year. Of course, Ted was shocked and, assuming he’d missed something, asked what the game was like. I replied:

It was a Prince of Persia-esque side-scroller, only, your guy, Conrad, probably had less flexible controls; it was like trying to control an ent, only the ent’s limbs were on hinges and rails, so it could only move in very specific ways (no nudging, for example; you press left and Conrad takes a perfectly measured step left. You press the button to draw your gun and Conrad stops moving and draws it, always, unless you’re rolling or jumping). There were AI aliens that would kill you in two seconds if they weren’t too busy being complete idiots, getting stuck on very simple obstacles. But all things considered, even though the game worked on pretty solid (if invisible) rails, it still managed to be ridiculously hard and incredibly interesting; one of the stages had you walking around a city called New Washington, doing menial jobs (like delivering packages) to insanely intense ones (like fixing the city’s overloaded power generator before it exploded and killed you and everyone).

“Oh,” Ted replied, mostly because I didn’t tell him exactly what I just wrote. I probably said something like, “There were aliens and you controlled a guy but the controls were kind of retarded… And I loved it.”

I remember later that night, coming home and talking to my brother about it. Really, I’d played the crap out of Flashback, a game most people haven’t even heard of. I felt like such a weird choice for me… Like the black sheep of my gaming career, only it was hilarious to admit it. Yeah, a little embarrassing, but also incredibly nostalgic and oddly empowering; we all have our favorite games of all time and they’re all usually taken from the same handful, but this was something different–something I realized I didn’t have to share with anyone. A gaming experience that, even if it was off kilter and full of faults, was still mine.

My brother smirked and said, “Well,  *I* beat Dracula for the Sega CD… way too many times.”

And I said, “Oh my God, that’s right!”

It was like duplo Castlevania! Only completely unfair! I didn’t remember until my brother reminded me a moment later, but there was a 50% chance the game would crash when you finally reached Dracula!

And man, it was true! He did play the crap out of that game! Determined to beat him, I reminded him that I beat Overblood about 5 times when we rented it, not comparable at all to my weird Flashback obsession (I’m *still* waiting for them to put it on XBL), but yet another of what I started thinking of as “gamer quirks”.

Now, I’m a guy who loves video game culture; the effect of MMO’s on gaming society, the myths gaming society creates and maintains, the slang associated with different games, all of it interests me. So discovering my gamer quirks meant defining them–“An addiction to an unpopular game or a small element of its game play. Also, a particular, ingrained gaming habit.”– and defining them meant immediately asking all of my friends for theirs:

  • Ken, a math professor in training living in Mineola, NY confesses his crime: “Remember that Cool Spot game for the Genesis way back when? Well there was a spinoff of that game for the Gameboy. Except while the Genesis game was a platformer, the Gameboy game was a complete ripoff of the board game Othello. Also, the CPU was a cheating bastard. I could never win a damn game. I got so into my quest to beat the CPU that I actually stole this game right out of my best friend’s bedroom and played it until it stopped working some years later, having never earned a single victory.”
  • Liam, a loss prevention detective in Manhattan tells about his gamer quirk, and, no, it’s not an addiction to an unpopular game, but it is an addiction to one of its errors in programming and, hey, that counts: “I’d just beaten Link’s Awakening for the first time and my brother finally agreed to tell me how to exploit the map glitch. The glitch itself is fairly simple; whenever Link has reached the edge of the gameboy’s screen and the game was about to switch to the next screen you pressed the Select button to bring up the map. If you timed it right when you exited the map you’d be on the next screen but at the far side of where you should have been if you’d entered the screen normally.
    The possibilities with this glitch were numerous. You could use it to access parts of the game that shouldn’t be available to you; awesome and a load of fun, but it was only the tip of the iceberg.  For me, the full potential of the glitch could only be accessed in caves. Caves were fairly limited designs guiding you along a specific path. The beauty of the glitch was that you could warp onto the walls of the cave, where the designers never expected you to be. Because they never figured you’d get onto the walls the designers didn’t put barriers around the edges preventing you from trying to walk onto the next screen. They also didn’t put any terrain there. So what happens when the rules of the game allow you to walk into a room that doesn’t exist? You force the game to create a room for you to enter. Each room was new and unexplored. The same wall could yield different rooms if you leapt off from a different place. It was  like exploring an undiscovered country.
    “I spent hours and hours exploring weird glitched-out rooms that were composites of other terrain in the game mashed together in sometimes grotesque ways, opening chests to find items that didn’t exist and never showed up in the inventory or duplicates of already existing boss items. In fact, I spent more time exploiting this glitch than playing the game the way it’s makers intended.”
  • Joshua Kenney, founder of Professional Misanthropy, explains, “I am a loot whore. I don’t mean that I run end bosses in World of Warcraft until my fingers fall off to get that complete Tier 4 armor set.  I would, ‘cause I do love the shinies, but I’m usually too busy grabbing every single piece of loot every monster I killed has ever dropped. So I guess I’m more a loot kleptomaniac. Perhaps the gamer part of my brain grew up during the Great Depression, because I can’t stand to see perfectly good loot fade away simply because it’s not “worth it” to pick it up and sell it to a vendor back in town. Loot is always worth it.
    “It’s a useful skill early on in these games, when you’re trying to build up a bankroll, but the farther in you get, and the more you find yourself carrying stacks and stacks of loot, the more folly it becomes.  Which is why I’m usually so poor in Diablo-esque loot fests: I spend all my time picking up leather scraps and orc snot, even when that shit is way below my level.”

Okay. So, be honest; do you have one of your own gamer quirk? If so, comment below, or post #MyGamerQuirk on twitter! I’m dying to hear more of these!