Tag Archives: 2015

And the heart of the Earth a star

Merry Christmas to all my readers who, by virtue of my utter strangeness, are also wonderfully strange (otherwise you’d just shake your head and move on). I love you! ^_^

A Child of the Snows

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

-by G. K. Chesterton

And here is my reading of it.


Christmas Carols and Mental Illness

How is that for a clickbate title?

No, I am not suggesting a correlation. It’s more like I am combining things.

Today I happened upon this: No, I’m Fine

It won’t take long to read it, so go read it! If it doesn’t ring a bell with you, it may still help you understand what some other people face.

I’ve overloaded before. I can’t say if my overloads are like his because I’m not in Mr. Tayler’s head, but what he says is hauntingly familiar. When the stress ratchets up to a level that flips a particular switch in my brain, a kind of pressure-valve, I change. It’s usually caused either by sensory overload (there is a reason I avoid noisy concerts and large masses of people…) or from having too much to do. Being single means that, apart from the kindness of family and occasionally friends, I have to do All The Things myself. And there are a Lot of Things. I tremble when I try to imagine what it’s like for single parents!

This is different from my depression, but not unrelated. The stress can either tip me into overload (more violent, but shorter lived), or depression. That is, the machine either executes an emergency release of pressure, or it simply shuts down. As a friend and I recently said over e-mail, depression sucks. She, dear heart, is grieving. That is a monster of a trigger.

Side Note: if you’re wondering why I refer to my brain as if it’s made of gears and pipes and switches, it’s because it helps me give context to the things that happen in it over which I have no control. And if you don’t buy the idea that I have no control over some processes in that particular fleshy mass, then you really need to educate yourself on how mental illness works. If you can “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” or “cheer yourself up,” then you are dealing with the more unpleasant aspects of normal human emotion. Real depression, or anxiety, or other mental afflictions are not in that range. They are what happens when something goes wrong with the machinery. If you haven’t experienced what that’s like, then the best thing you can do is listen to those who have and believe them.

For my friend who is grieving, this is a hard time. It’s a hard time for a lot of people. I know of a family who recently and unexpectedly lost a child around the same age as my nephew. My heart broke when I heard about it, and it’s been breaking off and on ever since. I can’t imagine what that must be like. How hollow the season of comfort and joy must feel for them right now. How they might want it to go away, to leave them alone. Please remember them in your prayers.

Cheery stuff for around Christmas, I know. As it turns out, I’m stressed right now, but otherwise pretty even-keeled. I’ve had a few small overloads, but no depression. I am extremely blessed to be able to say that, and I am on-my-knees grateful.

Still, this does not look like it will be a lighthearted season for me this year. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (though I do like to have a lighthearted Christmas, when I can). Sure, this is a time for rejoicing that Our Lord came and took human form for our sakes, but isn’t part of that rejoicing a recognition of why He came? Why we needed Him so very badly, and why His coming was not only Good News, but the only possible Good News a world like ours can receive? That the Perfect Creator would take up weakness, vulnerability, grief, pain, and not only death, but seeming-abandonment by God Himself. For if ever we feel so abandoned or forgotten, we can still look to Him and realize that He, too, cried out “why have You forsaken Me?”

And then He overcame. He rose even from that darkness and death. God had not truly abandoned God, as He has not truly abandoned us. And He is still bringing us up along with Him. He came down to our level in order to lift us up from that mire. I think that is very Good News. And seeing the mire around me only highlights just how Good.

Hope is born in human flesh, in a cave filled with animals, and that is our comfort and our joy.

And now, yet again, my Carol Countdown from 2013.

December 1: O Magnum Mysterium – Nothing says Christmas like 16th Century Latin

December 3: Away in a Manger – probably not the version you know…

December 6: Hearth and Fire – more winter than Christmas, but lovely

December 8: Balulalow – A joyful song from Scotland

December 10: Don Oiche ud ImBethil – Softer, more meditative fare. It gives me chills.

December 13: Cantique de Noel – You may know this as “O Holy Night” but I dare say that it is far more beautiful in French, especially with Joan Baez’s voice

December 15: Beautiful Star of Bethlehem – Twangy country Christmas music, and a fine example

December 17: Brugundian Carol – a softer, more mellow folk carol

December 20: Third Carol for Christmas Day – hauntingly beautiful song from the 1700’s

December 22: Veni, Veni Emmanuel – I love “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in any language, but there is something of crystal-beauty to the words in Latin.

December 24: Go, Tell it on the Mountain – The incomparable Odetta, what more can I say?

December 25: Christmas in the Trenches – And finally, the Christmas offering. It’s pretty self-explanatory

Love and blessings to you all! And Peace, and Joy, and every good thing.


George MacDonald, Endings

From the end of The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

“Then you’re leaving the story unfinished, Mr. Editor!”

“Not more unfinished than a story ought to be, I hope, If you ever knew a story finished, all I can say is, I never did. Somehow stories won’t finish. I think I know why, but I won’t say that either, now.”


Fallen Writer

~*GASP!*~

What is this? An original post? It can’t be!

Well… to some extent, it isn’t. The first part of this post was written a year and a half ago. The quoted text is not how I currently feel, so no prayers or sympathies are needed for depression as I am not presently in a depression (prayers and sympathy for stress, however, will be much appreciated!). The insights I apparently had during that grim time, though, are still relevant to my mind, and as I did not post it back when, I have decided to post it now and tie it in with my present thoughts.

And, uh, Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday-of-your-persuasion! It doesn’t look like I will be doing much Christmas-posting, but I will, again, re-post my carol countdown for any who are interested. :)

I am going through some stuff right now. Nothing is “wrong,” but then my brain chemistry doesn’t really care. It never has.

It’s moods like this that make me want to burn down the world. Luckily for me, and everyone else, global immolation is not in my power. Besides, I would probably remember who and what I love in time to stop me, even if it was.

Depression will pass. It always does. I have learned the hard way that the dimness of the world I see right now is no more real than if I were staring at it through rose glass.

If only knowing were feeling.

Different established aspects of the characters I write become more or less real to me depending on my mood, at least in the abstract.

I have found that I do not need to understand a character for them to reveal themselves in my writing, but the insights I get when I am not writing can help me see the “big picture,” what the characters themselves do not see. You know how we, as people, are often too “close” to our own lives to see ourselves objectively? It seems characters are usually like that, too.

Anyway, I’ve known for a long while that I am dealing with two protagonists who have a (mostly unconscious) deathwish. They have forgotten how to love themselves in the way that allows a person to really love their neighbors. In contrast, I have a protagonist who “loves his life” (John 12:25) so much that he is willing to do nearly anything to survive. Right now I can clearly see the irony of the fact that all three are, despite their differences, self-destructive.

If they change, it will be painful, but then processes that create lasting change are ALWAYS painful. Break the twisted bone so that it can heal straight. Even my dull-dark mood is not enough to hide from me the beauty and joy inherent in redemption.

Cheery stuff, no? Though I do touch on eucatastrophe at the end. It relates, in an acute-angle kind of way to what I will say next.

My stories, all of them, are rife with questions of redemption: what it is, what it means, how it works, if it works, what happens when it doesn’t come into play, etc. Being part of a Fallen race, the question is of deep importance to me.

What I’ve been pondering lately, in a more balanced frame of mind, is how to deal with the concept of Fallen Humanity in-story.

Stories are funny things, aren’t they? So many varieties, and yet so many common notes.

My genre is, I guess, Fantasy Fiction (or speculative fiction, if you want a bigger umbrella). Not particularly High or Low, Heroic or Dark. In fact, running down the list of sub-genres, I’m not sure where it falls. That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing, by the way. Some of the best (and worst) fantasy fiction out there plays to type.

The reason is that each type has its aim and the formulas work. If you want a peanut-butter milkshake, you use ice-cream, milk, peanut-butter, and maybe some chocolate syrup. You don’t add chicken soup, or gravel.

So, I am not writing dark, cynical fantasy because my aim isn’t deconstruction. But most of the alternatives have heroes that, while flawed, are still… well… heroic. And their villains are villainous. And I look at them and wonder: how much difference is there, really?

In one sense, of course, there is a vast difference. I am not attempting to diminish the importance of choice and freewill. But the Fall cuts through everyone. In a sense, it brings us all close together, even if we’re together in bondage. I may cheat, or lie, and another person may commit mass murder, but without salvation, we’ve both walked through the gates: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”* If we both find salvation, we both find salvation, regardless of what we’ve done. In this sense, at least, there are no levels.

We’re all sinners. But the world, as a whole, rarely seems to agree. There’s a persistent feeling (one that I have to fight in myself) that some things just aren’t forgivable. That some marks, once made, are indelible.

So what does this mean for my writing? I guess it means that I’m walking a fine line. On one hand, I want my reader to like and sympathize with the “good guys,” to be horrified by the destruction wrought by their antagonists, and for the two sides to be quite clear (well, most of the time, anyway). But without ever being able to forget that the degree of separation is not as wide as it seems. I’m not necessarily talking about anti-heroes or anti-villains. I’m not exactly dealing in gray and gray morality.

I guess, maybe, I’m asking how we approach the Fall. How, if we believe in true Good and Evil (as I do,) and know that we’re Not Good (yeah, that too), do we view those whose Not-Goodness horrifies us?

I know that, for a lot of people who share my faith, this may sound stupidly obvious, but I’ve always believed that the obvious needs saying sometimes: I feel like this is Important. Not just on an intellectual level, but on an emotional one.

How do we love our enemies? How do we face mass murder, exploitation, corruption, and cruelty? We must condemn these things because we know them to be evil. To excuse or ignore them in a story, as in real life, would be a sin. But in real life we’re forbidden to judge the perpetrators. Part of that may be because of our human limitations. We can’t really understand our fellows. But maybe it’s also because, when we come right down to it, “we” are not as far from “them” as we would like to think.

To an ant the size of a pin-head, an ant the size of  a bean seems huge. To a human they’re both very small, nearly the same size, even.

The Fall makes us all ants.

And so, dear possible-future-reader, if you ever think it strange that I touch on a monster with sympathy, or deal harshly with a protagonist for a comparatively “small” fault, remember that it isn’t because I’m a relativist.

It’s because I’m not.

 


 

*Dante’s Inferno – “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.”


 


Why I am Not Anti-Muslim

I know, I have been sharing a lot lately. Why no original posts? Well, partly because my brain is oatmeal and all creative energies are needed elsewhere.

Also because bloggers I read keep posting fantastic stuff that I can’t help but want to post. So… Brenton, thank you for this one.

It seems, to me, to be completely inconsistent with Christianity to turn our backs on people because we fear that they might hurt us, or hate us, or kill us. I reject that fear in the name of the One who gave Himself up to a species (that’s us, folks,) that unjustly tortured and murdered Him in order to save and redeem them/us.

God, Lord Jesus, forgive us, for we know not what we do.

 

 

 

Source: Why I am Not Anti-Muslim


Thankfulness, Howard Tayler Style

Howard Tayler, of Schlock Mercenary (my daily webcomic fix), wrote what is now my favorite Thanksgiving post ever. He gave me permission to share a bit of it, here. To read the whole thing, go here: Be Thankful for Thread. Seriously. You won’t regret it.

Look beyond the grand, all encompassing “thank you” bucket. Pick one thing for which you are recently and intimately thankful. Hold tight to that thread, and pull.

It won’t destroy the sweater. It will show you how many other people are holding onto that same thread, and when you’ve acknowledged them, and perhaps even personally thanked them, the sweater will keep you warmer. And if it does unravel, hey, now you know who to talk to about getting another one.   -Howard Tayler

Now there is a notion. It may be “turtles all the way down,” but I think I like the look of those turtles. Thank you, Howard, for your post, and your comic. And thanks to all the people around you, and around them, that make that comic and that post possible. And for that matter, thanks to all the wonderful people who read this post and the ramblings of this blog. I am glad of you!

…and then there are the people involved in the making  of my ancient laptop, and my internet access, and my futon, and me… so many wonderful turtles…


Choose Your Favorite Title!

Help pick a title for Mythgard Institute’s Writing Contest e-book!

The Oddest Inkling

SignumBadge_300x90Here we are, only 3 days into NaNoWriMo, and I’m already breaking my resolution to stay away from social media and blogging for a month. But I need your vote! Robyn Stone and I are compiling the e-book with the winners of Signum University’s “Almost an Inkling” Creative Writing contest, and we need to choose a title. Please vote on your favorite title below and/or suggest your own in the comments! Thanks. Whatever title we use, we will also have the subtitle: Prize-Winning Flash Fiction and Short-Form Poetry from Signum University’s 2015 “Almost an Inkling” Creative Writing Contest.

TITLE OPTIONS:
Pod Plots
Sad Little Stories
Sparks and Quarks
Miniature Myths
Microcosmic Mythopoeia
The Soul of Wit
(or, Brevity, the Soul of Wit)
Stories in the Space Between “Tick” and “Tock”
(from Anne Whitver’s “Never Trust a Clock”)
A Word Against the Wild (from Karl’s Persson’s sonnet “Deconstruction”)

View original post 50 more words


Spider’s Ransom

Happy Halloween, folks! And yes, I know it’s late.  But really, is it ever too late for Gothic story goodness?

This is, technically, a response to an InMon prompt, from BeKindRewrite, but I have to apologize for the length. The characters involved are not particularly cooperative in that, or any, regard.

Allergy Warnings: some violence, implied murder, Enfant Terrible, a really big ethereal spider, and ye olde speeche.

Disclaimer: The names of the characters have been changed to protect their identity. Any resemblance to real people or events is unintentional and potentially disturbing.


I write this days late. Before, I could not hold my hand steady.
My sons, forget what has gone before. I forbid you to sink your lives into this pit. I forbid it.

The gods cannot be so unmerciful as to expect us to shed what remains of our blood in a vain attempt to destroy evil that, I now believe, was not of our making.

Yes, the spirit of our ancestor spoke truth. This monster was born of our house. But he is ours no longer. If the gods wish him destroyed, let them send one of their own.

I made an oath, and I must keep it, but I will not sacrifice my sons.

The rumors I followed led me, in time, to Aldryd’s Keep. It is a new fortress, high-walled and well guarded. The Lord Aldryd’s reputation is good, but disappearance and death spread out around his stronghold. As he is near to the Maidenwoods, local rumor lays the blame on that twisted haunt rather than at Lord Aldryd’s feet. Still, I wondered at any man of power and influence choosing such a territory.

I had my answer when I entered the gate. The sword, Eleri, burned against my back. All but the grip was hot so long as I kept within the walls.

I took a place in the stables and I listened and watched. Einion the stable-master is an ugly brute, but not unkind. He speaks freely while at his work and I soon learned much of the keep and its folk. Unusual and unnatural death have left them largely untouched. The dangers, Einion told me, lie outside the walls.

Poor fool. But that is unjust of me. I would think the same, in his place.

Before long I had seen Lord Aldryd and all his kin by daylight. They are mortal enough. His eldest son, Heulyn, is a fine horseman and befriended me for my skill. We rode together often, even up to the eave of the woods.

Once, I asked why his father had chosen such a desolate place to lay claim. I saw his bright eyes fade a little, as with a wandering mind, and he shook his head.

“The hills are fertile,” he said, and that was all I could glean from him. The more I came to know the family, and all the people of the fort, the more they seemed like tethered beasts. They moved, in their minds, so far and no farther and had no power to ask questions of themselves.

When work was slack I took to wandering, befriending the soldiers and servants in turn. If it had not been for the angry heat of the sword, I might never have guessed anything was amiss. The signs are subtle.

At night, the watchmen patrol only the walls, never the grounds, and when asked why, they show only blank surprise. No one else stirs between dusk and the hour before dawn.

No one save, occasionally, a strange young woman called Briallen. I had seen her in the daylight, and thought her one of the ladies’ maids.

Then, one night, she waked me with singing as she wandered through the moon-bright grounds. Wildness, like that of a wren, is what marks her.

Her song was desolate, but her voice and eyes were not. I knew her for something brilliantly alive, and when she saw me, she smiled. If your mother’s guard over my heart were not so strong, she might have bewitched me.

At the end of her song I gave my traveling name, and asked hers. She answered without fear and asked why I had come to the keep.

I scarce remember how I answered, but she looked at me with dark, bird-like eyes.

“You are looking for someone?”

I shook my head, and she frowned.

“Lying is no way to make a friend.”

What could I say? I told her that I was, but that I would not tell more.

“I know who,” was her answer. My face must have betrayed my fear, for she smiled and touched my arm. “I’ll not tell him. He has no hold on me. But you should go. He sees you, and I know he suspects.”

“Tell me of him,” I pleaded.

She lifted her chin and shook her head. “I’ll warn a man to save his life, but I’ll not betray my friend.”

“Friend?” Yet she claimed he had no hold on her. I could not then, and still cannot, believe it. Some spell or madness rests on her.

“Friend,” was her answer, firmly given. Again she smiled at me. “Why not? He could kill me, and I live. He could enslave me, yet I am free.”

“Lady, he is a kinslayer, marked with his own brothers’ blood. And by some devilry he has learned to prolong his life by murder. I cannot even count the lives I know he has taken.”

She dropped her gaze from mine. How could she not? But she said, again, “he is my friend,” then curtsied and left me.

I saw her again several times, most often bright and smiling. The folk in the keep take no note of her unless she speaks to them. When asked, they do not recall her. Whatever enchantment rests on them, I think it was only Eleri that protected me from it. Briallen seemed protected too, the only one fully awake in the stronghold, beside myself.

Me, and one sweet, mad young woman.

Among the rest, though they were kind enough, I was soon lonely. I never knew when their minds would wander, and deep conversation was impossible.

Briallen begged me, time and again, to simply turn and leave. I knew, despite the disease in her mind, she spoke wisdom. Even then I guessed that I could not win, but I was bound by my oath.
Despairing of any other course, I resolved to find the monster in his den. Broad daylight was my safest choice, for if he sleeps at all, it is under the sun.

By this time there was only one place in the keep that remained a mystery to me: the central tower of Aldryd and his household.
Heulyn allowed me entrance to share a meal with him. To my frustration, though not surprise, my one attempt to wander from him led me to his mother and sisters, weaving. I was forced to bow and retreat back to my friend.

That evening I could not sleep. I lay trying to think of a way in.

Eleri quivered in its sheath, knocking against the wall where it was laid. I leaped for it, but too late.

A small, powerful hand caught my wrist and wrenched my arm back. My feet were swept from under me. I fell hard, my shoulder knocked loose.

The monster, still grasping my injured arm in one hand, took my hair in the other and threw me against the far wall, away from my sword.

Before I could recover, I heard a light voice. Its first words were addressed to Eleri, as though I were a servant, beneath notice.

“You again? And here I thought you would rot with my brother.”

I thought madness had taken me. I saw my own son settle himself between me and my only defense.

I say “my son,” for in that instant of terror I thought it was. Our ancestor’s ghost, may he rest, should have warned me. This monster is, after near two-hundred years, still a child. My youngest is ten as I write this, and the creature is of the same build and size. The same hair, like fresh rust, the same eyes and a freckled face. At first, only a faint scar across his cheek, the expression of his face, and the horror I felt assured me that he was not my own. Though, as I think back with a clear mind I see other, more subtle differences.

That the gods allow a monster to have such a nest is more horrible to me than all terrors of claw and fang. I begin to understand Briallen’s madness. What more is needed to drive a young woman so far, but a hellish thing that wears such skin?

“Who are you?” he asked.

I made no answer and looked away that he might not compel me.

“Tell me who you are and how you come by my brother’s sword.”

“I… am a grave-robber, though trying to be an honest man.” It was as much truth as I would spare him.

He snorted at it. “What grave-robber steals a wooden sword? None, unless he knows it is more. Only three know. I am one and I killed another. If you will not say who you are, perhaps you will tell me where to find the third. Where is Aislinn?”

“Who?”

Something black as soot reached through the wall at my back, across my chest. It was like a spider’s leg, long and jointed, but as thick as my own arm. Several more legs quickly pinned me. I cried out and struggled, bruising myself, and I might have been crushed to death had the child-monster not walked up and laid a hand on my chest.

I never looked into his eyes, but it did not matter.

The next thing I recall is sitting before him, the spider’s legs still clasped loosely round me. Fear was gone and I felt adrift.

“How came you by Eleri?” he asked.

Gods have mercy, but the monster’s voice is soothing as the whisper of falling snow. I told him all; how I had been lured into the Maidenwoods and found our ancestor’s cairn beneath the fern. How his ghost begged me to finish his work. I told how his sword recognized my blood and bound itself to my service. Every second question sought after Aislinn, but the name was, and remains, strange to me. At last satisfied, the little monster released me from enchantment. I have rarely felt so weary.

When I raised my head, he looked at me as a hawk eyes a rat, hunger that despises what it eats.

“Ciarán?”

It was Briallen’s voice and it broke across the monster like a wave. He startled and turned.

“Haven’t you killed enough of your kin?”

The monster looked at her as she stood in the stable door. His eyes were sharp.

“He is under oath to kill me.”

Her face was troubled. “Surely he’s no threat. Take the sword from him and let him go.”

“I cannot take Eleri from a living man.”

“Even with it, what chance has he?”

Ciarán, or so she calls him, turned to me again and smiled so like a child that, weary as I was, I shuddered. “Very little.”

After a thoughtful silence, he sighed. He seemed to grow more pale and his eyes darkened. He reached out a hand to my face and I saw, from the corner of my eye, something glint in the moonlight. I scarcely felt the cuts, but warm blood ran down my cheek. He caught my gaze and trapped it, but this time my mind remained clear. His words cut far deeper than his claws.

“This is your ransom, cousin. Pay it and I will let you live: Strike my name from our line. Break your oath and turn your sons away from me. If you persist in hunting me, I will free myself of my father’s House by destroying what remains of it. I have often wondered how far his offspring have spread, and if the savor of their blood has changed.”

I found I could speak, though I hardly had the courage. “I will do as you say, only I cannot break my oath. Let me go and I will warn my kin away and bear the burden alone. They will be no threat to you.”

For a moment, I thought he would refuse. He laughed and patted my head like a dog. “Honorable man. Be sure to tell your sons the consequences. If they break the ban, I will have no more mercy.”

I knew nothing more until I came to myself hours later. The sun had risen over the keep and folk bustled about, taking no notice of me. My shoulder was returned to its place, but it ached and the blood had dried on my cheek and neck. Eleri still burned angrily until I left the keep.

I am unsure of my next step. How such a thing is to be fought, I do not know. Clearly, he has more sorcery than rumor grants. And what am I to make of the great spider, strong as iron, that can reach through walls? Perhaps I should seek out the Aislinn of which he spoke, though I know nothing of her but the name.


Fullmetal Alchemist: Backtracking

2 things about me that will explain this geektastic post.

Thing 1: I have a casual appreciation for Japanese manga and anime. I have zero expertise and a limited field of knowledge.

I think the graphic-novel medium walks a fascinating line between visual art and writing. I was moaning to my father, just recently, that certain transitions are only possible in picture form. One powerful moment in the Fullmetal Alchemist manga shows characters talking about seeing a friend again, unaware (unlike the reader) that said friend has just been murdered, and the next image on the page-turn shows pallbearers shouldering the casket. Ouch.

No matter how well I write, that kind of visceral immediacy is out of reach. There are things words do that images cannot, but sometimes a picture beats a sea of words.

But like any medium, the quality of manga and anime ranges from what I consider crap, to great storytelling and highly skilled and artistic creations. There’s a lot that I enjoy that I wouldn’t go so far as to praise.

Thing 2: I backtrack. I return to things, I re-read, I re-watch, and I am endlessly fascinated by how works strike me differently over the course of time.


If you don’t want to slog through this whole post, or if you already know the difference between the 2003-04 “Fullmetal Alchemist” anime and “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood,” then you can skip down past the picture of Roy burning things to find my geeky gushing. But don’t worry, I have avoided spoilers.


Having not watched any anime or read any manga for a while, I decided to backtrack and re-watch some of the things I had seen in the past. It’s been fun and enlightening. But while I was muddling about, I discovered that there was a new (newer than the one I had seen, anyhow,) “Fullmetal Alchemist” anime, with the word “Brotherhood” tacked onto the end of the title to differentiate it from the first one.

For those unfamiliar with the title, Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) was originally a manga created by Arakawa Hiromu and published in serial form in “Monthly Shōnen Gangan” magazine. Attempting to describe it is challenging, but I would say it is an alternate-earth, steam-punk, science-based-magic, conspiracy adventure involving a large cast of characters. It also has a huge emotional range, but more on that anon.

I had mixed feelings about the 2003-2004 anime, and at the time the manga was still incomplete. I was drawn to the characters, interested in the world, and for a while, excited to see where the story was heading. I was ultimately disappointed. Perhaps my expectations don’t mesh well with Japanese storytelling patterns, but I often am disappointed in the conclusion of Japanese anime series.  I still growl when anyone mentions “Neon Genesis Evangelion” to me. My loathing of that series is only increased by the elements in it that I liked.

So, the original “Fullmetal Alchemist” anime left a bad taste in my mouth, but I liked it enough to be curious about this new installment.

Something that often seems to happen with a popular manga is that in order to ride the hype, an anime-adaptation is created before the series is complete. This either results in wheel-spinning, original (non-manga) side-stories, or, in the case of “Fullmetal Alchemist(FMA),” a divergence of the anime from the manga. Since Arakawa was still working on the manga when the first anime emerged, the series took her beginning and proceeded to a different conclusion.

This made me more curious. Was my dissatisfaction related to the loss of the original creator’s vision? Further investigation was required. I re-watched the original series in order to refresh my memory, then I began simultaneously reading the manga and watching “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood(FMAB).”

Holy handgrenade.

This is where the gushing begins. For starters, Colonel Roy Mustang (fun fact: Arakawa named most of the soldiers after military weapons and vehicles) gets to Kill it with Fire so much more in FMAB than in FMA, and I do love fire. Behold this awesome fan-art of Roy by astridv on deviant art.

Roy Mustang Color Sketch, by astridv: http://astridv.deviantart.com/art/Roy-Mustang-color-sketch-164882535

Used with permission: Roy Mustang Color Sketch, by astridv: http://astridv.deviantart.com/art/Roy-Mustang-color-sketch-164882535

Muahaha!

Anyhow, it turns out that Arakawa has a gift for weaving together emotional depth and humor, frequently making me laugh and tear up within the span of just a few pages. It’s mood-whiplash, but she does it so well that I wouldn’t think of suing over my injuries. FMAB has the same wild balance and it is extremely addictive. I am trying not to be jealous of this gift for tone-shift. It is one I would love to have, but alas!

Then, of course, there are the characters. I was initially drawn to the characters in the FMA anime, too, but some of my favorites were underdeveloped.  In fact, I’d say that most of the characters in that anime are underdeveloped, though a few of them (hello, Envy) take some interesting turns. In FMAB and the manga, that is not the case. Oh man, is it not the case. And there are even more fantastic characters introduced who are also well-developed. Characters that were dismissed or killed in FMA are shown to have more to them, even, believe it or not, Yoki.

We are given a wide variety of interconnected relationships and a level of complexity that I find fulfilling. Yes, the story still centers around the sibling bond of Edward and Alphonse Elric (as well it should), but it is ultimately an ensemble piece with numerous interlocking storylines.

Arakawa is a writer after my own heart for this simple fact: She takes characters that other writers might shove to the sidelines and makes them important. I feel as if every one of them is the protagonist of their own story and that, if she had focused on them instead of the Brothers Elric, she would still have had a complete and fulfilling tale (though some of them would, of course, be tragedies).

I can’t often say that. And that is how I want to write. That is also the kind of story I most enjoy reading.

Her antagonists have depth and her protagonists are complex and dynamic to the point where, at the end of the story, I hate to close the book (or turn off the screen) and miss out on the rest of their lives.

Arakawa’s plot is no mean feat, either. The FMA anime had a plot that made some sense, but that felt rather empty. The manga and FMAB, though, pull together something that feels natural for the setting and that grows up out of the history and the characters like an oak from an acorn. It’s solid. And the point made, at the end, is the story itself.

Brava.

My love for this bit of fan-art defies words. “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in a Nutshell,” by Inknose on DeviantArt: http://inknose.deviantart.com/art/FMA-brohood-in-a-nutshell-196091887


Creative Blogger Award!

I have received an award nomination from Medieval Otaku! My thanks, sirrah. I am honored.

Creative. It’s a loaded word. I’ve often wondered what, exactly, it means. The dictionary definitions are, in this case, unhelpful. When I am called creative, it usually seems to be because I’ve synthesized things that I have absorbed into something related, but a little different. That’s pretty much all this blog is. There is nothing new here, really, just combinations of words expressing things that have come from my pondering of the external information to which I’ve been exposed. …Try to say that five times fast.

I think Tolkien’s idea of Sub-creation is fitting. I am a subcreative blogger and as such I am happy to accept this award! There are some rules involved:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and include a link to their blog.
  • Share 5 facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 10 – 20 bloggers and add their links.
  • Notify the bloggers you included.
  • Keep the rules in your post to make it easy for everyone to know what to do!

Oh boy. Five facts. MedievalOtaku chose to focus his facts, concentrating on his alcohol preferences. I will follow suit and focus on my own drug of choice: writing. Read on, if you can pass the gatekeeper.

A visualization of my muse. Watch your fingers.

A visualization of my muse. Watch your fingers.

Factoid 1: Universal

Everything I write arises from the same universe. That universe has been in my head since early childhood and over that time it has expanded and clarified itself, but it is otherwise largely unchanged. If I am capable of writing in another universe (I’m not sure that I am,) I am not interested in doing so. This may be why I don’t write fanfiction despite the fact that I love geeking out over various fandoms.

Also, the universe is so vast that I am capable of finding something to draw on in order to tell almost any kind of story.

Factoid 2: Guardian

My relationship to my internal universe, and therefore to my writing, is not and has never been one of creator or owner. For, while there are certain creator-like privileges I have, such as being outside the timeline, my role is fairly passive. A dear cousin of mine recently told me that I had “disassociated,” and perhaps she is right. I still consider myself responsible for what I write (I know that, on some level, it all comes from me) but the process is distanced from my conscious self.

I am the one who decides what stories to tell, how to frame them, and how to communicate them as effectively as possible. The stories themselves, though, seem to well up and spill over. They are not consciously constructed. …if you think this is getting weird, just wait.

Factoid 3: Characters

They’re, by and large, a rowdy bunch. Like the universe they come from, any control I have over them and their creation is largely subconscious. I can nudge them this way and that, but as often as not they will simply laugh in my face and do whatever they please.

Since I started writing seriously, around the age of 12, I do not recall ever constructing a character, not even a bit-parter. They either walk into my head and start introducing themselves, or else they show up on paper and I learn about them as I go along. Their existences are linked to how I process information. I can sometimes see what train of thought formed the roots of a character, or what external influence shaped them, but I never set out to build them.

Sometimes these characters even react to things going on in my real life (I have one that loves to snark at movies, and all of them are very reactive to music). I’ve said this before, but please don’t call the folks in white coats. I’m really not delusional. My characters will vouch for me. ;)

Having such independent characters means being frequently surprised. I have had a character display signs of a genetic disorder I didn’t (consciously) know existed until I began to research some of her symptoms, and another character recently displayed a form of PTSD that I didn’t know about until, again, I began to research what was happening to her. Fun times.

Factoid 4: Plot? What plot?

Yeah. This goes hand-in-hand with the character thing. Because, you see, it is difficult to plot a story when the characters are apt to do whatever the heck they want to at any time. I generally have a basic arc in mind (that the characters have shown me) but that’s it.

Instead, I let things flow then come back and figure out how to frame them in a way that makes a functional story. It’s about as hard as it sounds, but I am getting better at it. In other words, I don’t set out to tell a certain story, or to communicate something particular. I wind up discovering what the story is and discovering what it is communicating to me as I go along. It’s fun and addictive and I am not at all joking when I call writing my drug of choice!

Now, I know that I do have agendas as a writer. I will not deny that. I feel that non-sexual relationships and love are too-little explored in popular fiction. I feel that stereotyping is a huge problem in literature as in life. And most of all, I want to write the sorts of stories I would enjoy reading! I am sure all of these things feed into my inspiration. But it is not nearly as deliberate as some people think.

Here let me state that I am not trying to shirk responsibility for what I write. I am responsible for every word I let loose on the world (God have mercy!). But this is how I relate to my writing; what the process feels like to me.

Factoid 5: Process

Every writer has a process, and from what I can tell, no two are alike. Mine is heavily geared towards free-form followed by intensive and repeated editing. It doesn’t work for everybody.

At minimum, everything gets edited ten or fifteen times. My record for numbers of edits may come close to 100, but I stopped keeping count.

I have heard some people complain that editing deadens their writing. For me, the opposite is true. I think that my muse feeds on the editing process as much as on anything else because, when a piece is simply not coming together, repeated editing will bring about wonderful lightning-strikes of inspiration. Sometimes the edits are slight, tweaking a word here, or cutting something to tighten a paragraph. Sometimes they result in multiple-chapter-rewrites. It’s all good.

I love editing.

Now onto the awards!

BeKindRewrite – Yep, this one always seems to make it to my list. I love her writing and I love her thoughts on the process. Plus, she makes catchy songs about formatting manuscripts.

Bluewhimsywriting has been quiet for some time. It’s sad, but at least there is a backlog.

Dreaming of Other Realms – Has recently returned to her blog with renewed determination to continue writing fiction! I love the way her mind works.

Grimmella – A fascinating smattering of speculative-fiction things. She has a great aesthetic eye, and is delightfully opinionated.

Love the Badguy – because villains need love too.

Origamijoel – tessellation masks. I am in awe.

A Pilgrim in Narnia – This man’s discipline and range of communication are inspiring.

Res Studiorum et Ludorum – Has, I think, already received one of these, but it doesn’t matter. He shall have another. So say we all.

Technicolorlilypond – There are some people who have a completely unfair range of talents. This blogger is one of those people.

The Warden’s Walk – He has returned! Go forth to his blog and peruse his fiction, his reviews (I absolutely love his short-video reviews!) and other mysterious wanderings.

And that’s it, folks!


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