Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cartoons and representation [GIFs]

I have a history of cartoon obsession.

When I was very very young I was into The Smurfs (who knows why) and Woody Woodpecker (I liked the theme song). Interestingly, I dressed up as a Smurf for Halloween when I was about five. And even more interestingly, I wasn't Smurfette--I thought she was annoying--and I didn't even choose a particular Smurf to be. Just some random Smurf. I was very excited about it.

Me with my little sister, who's dressed as a witch.
I didn't actually have a favorite Smurf. I think I just liked that there were different personalities and magical adventures. Then, as I got older, I developed other cartoon obsessions--some of which were extremely long-running. I was into the Popples cartoon for a billion years (still have all my toys!), and my favorite was little Potato Chip.

She's the yellow one who's smaller than the others. Hmmm.
And I was into Rainbow Brite, and my favorite was Rainbow herself for some reason. I'm not sure why, but take a look.

I guess Rainbow was the only one that basically looked like me. I'm sure I didn't consciously decide "I like that one because she's a white girl with long blonde hair," but that's where my kid brain went.

And I wanted to be an Ewok princess but let's not talk about that.

I loved She-Ra, Princess of Power. She-Ra was a blonde white girl. I loved Jem and the Holograms. Jem (well, Jerrica, when she wasn't being Jem) was a blonde white girl. I loved Inspector Gadget and I wanted to be Penny. Guess what?

Blonde white girl.

Good thing I had a ton of characters to choose from, huh? Blonde white girls are everywhere, and though there were some exceptions to my interests and they diversified a TON when I got older, when I was a young child I mostly identified with characters who looked like me.

If you scroll up and look at that Rainbow Brite cast shot, you might see that if you're a brown girl, none of the color kids look like you except Indigo (and she probably doesn't look like you unless you're a very specific type of brown girl). Well, it turns out that's ridiculously common. What's up, She-Ra?

White girrrrrrrrls.

And hang on, what's up, Jem and the Holograms?

Oh wait, looks like they did better. Why?

There was still a tendency to tokenize the non-white characters in the 1980s shows, but it sure was nice that Jem had an Asian girl (Aja), a black girl (Shana), and a Hispanic girl (Raya), though it kinda makes you raise your eyebrows when you realize that Jerrica (white girrrrrl) is the lead singer and the leader of the band AND her family literally took the black and Asian band members in as foster children. But to be honest, for some kids, just seeing someone like you on TV in a fairly regular, central role is nice, though I'm sure it was probably disappointing that they were almost never the "leaders" or "primary/central" characters.

Some shows did a good job getting more representation in for stuff like chronic illness and disability, but they were usually featured as a Very Special Episode and seemed more like a chance for the protagonist(s) to show they care and spread "different is okay!" messages. And you can pretty much forget anything that depicted relationships that weren't hetero. Relationships between girl or boy characters were strictly friendships even on up into shows aimed at teens, but even tiny child characters could be presented as having a crush on cross-sex partners.

Now let's skip to today. There's a ton more diversity on television now, but what's come along with it is massive accusations of "pandering" and "PC police." People sometimes get upset about this--that if there is enough diversity on television that we're starting to notice how not-white or not-straight or even not-cis the landscape is looking, then it must be because the liberal agenda is corrupting the mainstream and trying to push an unrealistic "diverse" population that doesn't truly reflect our world. A while back I was in one of those fun Facebook arguments where someone was arguing a point like this, and that person said in REAL life our groups of friends do not tend to have mixtures of races and non-cis genders and non-straight orientations and various disabilities, and that if we present them as such, it comes off like a "college recruitment poster with forced diversity." Uh, well, no.

My friend group happens to be pretty diverse, actually. When we went to Disney together, it wasn't like we said "hey, let's make sure we have white, black, Asian, and Hispanic ancestry going on here, and let's feature a variety of body types, and let's throw one of our members on a scooter to make it look even more diverse." But when friend groups (and family groups) like this are presented consistently as other, as weird and "forced," then that's what the mainstream is going to see, and that's how we're going to build our brains around these relationships. I didn't actually realize that we "looked like a diversity postcard" until that Facebook conversation happened and one of the other people in this photo pointed out that he in fact does consistently hang out with a pretty mixed group as far as race goes.

I'm gonna depart from cartoons for a second (forgive me!) because I don't have anything else to make this example, but let me tell you about a show called Huge. It only ran for one season and that's a shame, because the representation on it was great, and what's more is that it generally was not tokenized. The most obvious thing is that nearly all the featured characters were fat (because it took place at a weight loss camp, but that aspect was rarely focused upon), and that finally gave fat characters a chance to be something other than the fat one. My goodness! They got to have personalities! And not just limited to being the funny one!

They all had different relationships with their bodies and comfort levels with being fat (Will was there against her will and referred to the attitude there as body fascism, while quite a few of the others wanted to lose weight), but they also had a ton of other things going on. The casting choices were really interesting and the writing was amazing. Without going into too much detail (because, you know, I wanna talk about cartoons), they didn't fall into casting the black girl as the loud sassy friend; she was actually kind of a bookworm and the biggest nerd at the camp (all the way into LARPing), and there was a Jewish character who didn't define himself as "the Jewish one." Most interesting, I think, is Alistair.

Now, he used male pronouns on the show and I don't know if he was supposed to be canonically transgender, but he definitely said some things that suggested he thought of himself as having an inner self that was female, and what's amazing is that this was not his entire character arc. Something unrelated was introduced about him first, so the audience got to know him and got to understand him as a person, before the gender hints were introduced and enriched the character more instead of singularly defining him. They don't even come out and say Alistair is trans or not; it's okay that they weren't explicit, because honestly he may not have even known. Usually with trans characters, if they're not pitched as a joke, they're very clear about their identity and there's no room for a questioning, unsure young person who's possibly closeted or confused. It's also clear he's attracted to men, but it's not explained whether he is attracted to men as a gay man or as a straight woman (or something else if he likes more than one gender or isn't strictly a man or a woman himself).

Which brings me back to cartoons. (Whew.) Can we talk about Adventure Time? Oh I think you know where I'm going with this.

The character to the left here is known as BMO (or Beemo). Adventure Time presents him as a living video game system who lives with the main characters Finn and Jake. And there are a ton of great episodes featuring BMO, making him a huge fan favorite, before it becomes clear that he sometimes calls himself she for no particular reason and no one thinks it's weird at all. (There are plenty of extremely weird things BMO does that other people DO think are weird.) So basically, BMO is canonically gender fluid. And it's not this big point they make, where he'll stick a bow on his head and now he's a girl or something. Sometimes BMO is just she and it's fine, and not at all the point of the episode. Of course, one could say that we could use better gender-fluid representation than a living video game system, and I would agree there, but considering everyone on Adventure Time is some kind of bizarre creature (except Finn, the last human), I don't see it as particularly problematic. And I've noticed that creators tend to slide these things in in contexts where those against "the agenda" will have less ammunition to declare them inappropriate for children. I think they kinda know what they're doing there. But kids growing up gender fluid might see this and go "oh, there's someone like me," and not feel that BMO being a sort of robot invalidates it.

There's also been a lot of noise about how two of the characters on Adventure Time are gay. I don't know if "gay" is the right word (because who knows, they could be bi or pan, or might not have considered their relationship romantic, etc.), but it's pretty clear that two female-identified characters had an intimate relationship of some sort before the events of the show. Does it really matter that one is a demon/vampire and the other is a princess made out of bubblegum?

The subtext is pretty obvious with them, especially if you listen to Marceline sing about PB. But since they don't explicitly say anything about them "being gay" or show them kissing or anything, this can still be shown in places that don't allow non-straight relationships to be presented to children. But they can still admit that Princess Bubblegum has one of Marceline's tee shirts. That she wears to bed. And sniffs sometimes. And keeps in her closet with a photo of the two of them.

But here's the thing: Adventure Time has tons of complicated relationships. Most of them aren't romantic. This is just another one, presented as a normal part of these ladies' past that they're struggling with, and they all have multiple issues like this. Finn has to get over liking someone older and uninterested in him, and finds someone his own age but is still incompatible in some ways. Marceline has a weird relationship with someone who took care of her as a child and is now a huge jerk that she feels like she owes something to. And Jake the dog, with his relationship with a rainicorn (half rainbow, half unicorn), seems to have the most well-adjusted romance on the show, even if it's visually kind of disturbing.

Lady Rainicorn is pregnant here. Jake's the dad.
Google their puppies. They're pretty weird looking.
And despite revolving around two male characters, there are a ton of good female characters. I especially like that Princess Bubblegum, despite being super traditionally feminine and a princess and BRIGHT PINK, is also an obsessive scientific genius. And it's not played as a joke. She's consistently science-oriented and makes useful and brilliant things. Great message for girls who frequently see messages that if they want to be interested in science and math, they are therefore more boyish or should present as such.

Now let me touch on The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. The most striking thing about this pair of shows is that there is not a single white person in the cast. NONE. And despite being made for American audiences BY American creators and run on an American network, it didn't have to be whitewashed to succeed. I'm sure some people interpret some of the characters as white because they're used to it, but they're all clearly alternate-universe versions of East Asian and Inuit folks. There are no people with light-colored hair unless they're elderly (unless you count Yue, but her hair was turned white for a very specific reason). And though most of them have light eyes, it seems to be an artifact of their living in an alternate universe where people control elements, so people from the Water Tribe have blue eyes, people from the Earth Kingdom have green eyes, Fire Nation has gold/amber or red-brown eyes, etc. (I don't think it's a rule, but it's common.)

Many of the most powerful characters are women/girls, especially when we get to the second series--Legend of Korra, where the central character is a teenage girl who is dark-skinned and not incredibly traditionally feminine (especially since she's shown to be muscular, the way a fighter generally would be).

And though they do occasionally tackle things like sexism on the show (with men underestimating girls or oppressing women), it's not really in your face about it, and women/girls are understood to be worthy, respectable people in this world. So not only do you have a really unusual ALL POC CAST, but you have good female characters who are a variety of different things that incorporate their feminine identities into who they are (rather than, say, having a rough-and-tumble girl who's presented as being that way despite her femaleness). And as if all that wasn't cool enough, you have a blind character who is integral to the plot as something other than a blind person (though they do kind of subscribe to that trope where her blindness is sort of canceled out by a special ability, even though there are situations where her blindness does limit what she can do realistically). Toph occasionally uses her blindness as a way to poke fun at others or herself, but it's also pretty cool that she generally isn't presented as "wow you totally forget that she's blind!" You really don't--it's part of her character, but not the central, defining aspect of her. It's nice to realize there really isn't a central, defining aspect of any of these folks. And even though I'm mostly talking about messages that work well for kids hoping to see themselves in media, it's actually pretty refreshing to see lots of older characters who aren't just shoved into the plot to be parents or wisdom dispensers for the young characters. They have their own story arcs, and some of them occupy that nice middle ground between elderly and young adult, which is also unusual to see (especially in a cartoon).

Lin and Suyin Beifong, awesome badass silver-haired sisters with a troubled history!
Oh, and let's not forget that on Korra, they have canonically bisexual characters. Both of the women who later have a relationship with each other have expressed and demonstrated attraction to men as well. Some of the fans were annoyed that the lady/lady relationship literally came in the last moment of the series and then you didn't get to see them really exploring it or continuing to show their representation, but some were happy that it happened at all.

Some people freaked out about how a "kids' show" is "pushing the queer agenda," but nobody thought it was inappropriate on the previous series when preteens expressed their love for each other; that was a heterosexual relationship, so it was sweet and relatively innocent and totally appropriate for children's television. They're used to seeing that boys and girls get together, so it makes sense that they get to kiss while they're busy saving the world. For some reason even very slight hints of romance between same-sex characters imply GAY SEX while an actual kiss between cross-sex characters is not implying any sex at all, except in the way that all simplistic heterosexual relationships in this context imply that innocent birds and bees "happen" offstage and that's all fine and good to make reference to.

Aang and Katara got to kiss. Asami and Korra just got to hold hands.
But children, even if they're not going to be same-sex-attracted teens or young adults, need to see that it happens and that it isn't bizarre or ridiculous or the sole defining factor of any complicated characters we come to love throughout these shows (and, by extension, being same-sex-attracted doesn't define you or limit you necessarily).

And then we come to the latest addition in my already overflowing cornucopia of cartoon faves, a lovely thing that is taking the world by storm these days: Steven Universe.

First, I've written a lot here about positive messages for girls and women, but let me talk about the Steven character here. He's a little boy whose mother ceased to exist when he was born (long story, and I'm not gonna tell it), and his mother's friends from space look after him. So he has three mother figures. But this is a fantasy/SF show so of course he's also helping save the world, and he happens to have access to some of the powers and tools his mother had. Basically, Steven is the only male fighter in this group, but everything from the style to the function of his role in the group is traditionally feminine. All his tools are pink and/or related to flower imagery, and they are mostly protective; he has shields and healing abilities and bubbles to stop others from getting hurt.

And meanwhile the feminine-coded characters all have offensive weapons--Amethyst has a whip, Pearl has a spear, Garnet has gauntlets that let her punch the hell out of things. Interesting that they're presenting this sort of thing with a boy as the hero but presenting a surprisingly gentle way of fighting that is all based on the same love and protectiveness his mother had, and interesting that the show's narrative and characters never suggest this is surprising or unusual for a boy. (He also does traditionally boyish things too, like collecting action figures and craving "adventure," without any apparent dissonance.) So that's a nice little dose of a less traditional masculinity for little boys who watch--especially if others were to follow the example of not telling similar little boys in their real lives that their interests or inclinations are "for girls."

Now I'll get to the alien characters in a minute, but in this show there are a ton of human characters who are from various cultures and are different races, and just like with some of the other cartoons I mentioned, their variety and diversity is actually incorporated into who they are without being the focal point of their characters.

Steven's crush on the show is Connie, a dark-skinned little girl with glasses and very strict parents. The family's last name is Maheswaran, which is Indian. They don't specify anything about their national origins; they just show the characters. They also have the mother working as a doctor and the father working as a security guard, and they are addressed as "Dr. and Mr. Maheswaran." Nobody suggests it's odd at all for Steven (who presents white) to have a crush on a non-white character. They're a lot more worried about what her strict parents are going to do if they find out his unusual living situation involves living with space creatures.

And then we have the Pizza family, which has an interesting dynamic; the mother is not present, and the twin girls Kiki and Jenny are parented by their father and grandmother. Dad and Grandma are immigrants from Ghana and have obvious accents, while the girls (surprise) sound more American. It's really refreshing to see that a show like this casually includes not only non-token people of color, but gives them a history that doesn't define them even though it's clearly part of who they are. These guys aren't front-and-center characters, but they feature prominently in a few episodes. There are plenty of white or ambiguous-race characters too, but the background population of Steven's hometown Beach City is appropriately diverse in my opinion, and when you see groups of people, you generally aren't going to see just a sea of white faces as if white is the default.

The cool kids from Beach City
Now as for the characters who take care of little Steven, they use female pronouns and definitely are coded as feminine by our standards, and all have female voice actors, but technically they appear to be a sexless species. It's unclear whether any of their species might look masculine, or whether "she" is just some kind of default pronoun amongst them because that's what they all happen to look like in some form or another, but I don't knock it. I like seeing the primary characters as ladyish beings.

Of the three characters who look after Steven, two of them look like they are coded as women of color. And all of them are voiced by women of color. On top of that, they present with a variety of body types (which is especially interesting because their race can shapeshift, so you know they are more or less choosing to look the way they do). And even though their bodies have a lot of feminine signifiers, they pretty much never present as sexualized even when they stand or pose in a way that's traditionally "girl being attractive," which I find really, really interesting. (Probably has something to do with the smart choices made by the female creator of the show.)

So here you have a skinny, not-at-all curvy body type; a short, chubby body type; and a very tall sort of small-waist-giant-hips body type (or, er, whatever that is). None of them actually appear to have breasts, which is appropriate since their species isn't mammalian, and even though they're all quite different, they still seem feminine in their own ways. (Doesn't stop fan artists from drawing them with more traditional and sexualized bodies, of course, but what can you do?) The character design shows so many different ways to be a lady, all equally valid. It's a far cry from so many other animation projects that stick boobs and long eyelashes on female non-human characters (even animals!) to distinguish them from male characters (while male characters don't need any signifiers to be assumed male).

And there is also the cool fact that the character to the left here is the team leader. Garnet is just incredible in so many ways. She's the character who has the most signifiers of being a black woman (despite being basically a sentient rock from space, guys), and you usually don't see superhero teams that are led by black women; this is a far cry from all the teams and groups that might let one black gal in but she's always backup, always tokenized, and almost always there to be strong and sassy. But even though her being the most powerful of the group would usually suggest that she'd also be incredibly aggressive in a possibly stereotypical and problematic "angry black woman" way, she doesn't come across that way at all. She's recognized as the boss, and she provides a good bit of the intelligence of the group due to her long history of leadership and her having "a sort of future vision," and she's always the one who's most reluctant to speak and says the least--in a sort of mysterious soft-spoken way that delivers quiet strength.

And she'll just do this instead of telling you she hates your music.
I think I love that GIF a little too much. Sorry. In case you were not aware, Garnet is easily my favorite.

It's pretty great that the group's fearless leader doesn't have to be a loud or "sassy" stereotype to still be read primarily as a black woman on the show, but they don't feature black characters by entirely subverting the tropes either; you see both common and uncommon depictions of characters of color. And they also manage to make them really complex and multi-layered; I mean, most of the time my fave Garnet there is extremely stoic, but there are moments of real intimacy and emotion even with her, though when she actually puts on an expression other than cool cucumber even her companions don't know how to react. (There's even a very complicated scene where Steven's guardians admit to themselves that they don't really know what to do when it comes to raising him.) It's really nice to see people--even cartoon aliens based on rocks--behaving more like real people than most characters do, showing off different ways to have family relationships and handle the difficulties that arise.

There are a few other really cool character choices on the show. Like that Steven's dad is kind of at a loss as to how to bring him up without his mother but is still presented as a caring, non-deadbeat dad. And like when one of the kids who has trouble making friends is NOT a sweet, intellectual nerdy kid with a heart of gold; they instead portray him as a sort of judgmental, borderline bullying type himself. But my favorite thing is definitely the relationships Steven has with his guardians and their relationship with each other. There is clearly jealousy and sorrow and resentment and love happening between all these characters, which sounds funny because if you look at the art style it appears to be slapstick and cartoony, and cartoons of that nature usually lack the kind of depth I'm talking about here. But trust me, it's there.

And speaking of relationships . . . yes, this one also has some pretty incredible same-gender relationships too, if you allow that the Gem characters are all the same gender (and look feminine to viewers). One of Steven's guardians had what appears to be a very strong attraction to and devotion to Steven's mother before she disappeared (though it's unclear if it was reciprocated), and in one powerful episode at the end of the first season, two characters were depicted searching desperately for each other and kissing joyfully when they were reunited, leading to other awesomeness.

What's really notable about all these more recent cartoons that I adore so much is that they aren't about representation. It's casual and just part of the world--like it should be part of ours, and actually is if you know where to look. People who aren't white blonde girls can find themselves on TV, and families that aren't nuclear can find examples of their members thriving, and people who don't have traditional heteronormative relationships can see that sometimes that happens in the world--and hopefully it isn't as much of a fantasy as, say, sentient space rocks and waterbending powers and dogs that can shapeshift. They can see themselves, and everyone who watches can learn that people they're not familiar with don't have to be marginalized, othered, or treated like perverts.

And even though we aren't saving the day on a global scale like our cartoon heroes, we could be saving lives and building confidence with these inclusive messages. I certainly want the cartoon world to reflect leaders who aren't white blonde girls, women who don't have to be passive or sexualized to be considered women, and groups of friends who don't all look the same and sometimes have same-sex relationships or non-binary genders. 

But it has to be done from the ground up--it can't be tacked on with "hey, we added a new token character!" or it will feel inorganic. Authenticity is key when providing representation of diverse populations in media, and it must be built into the foundations of the work. It should not be an afterthought or a deliberate attempt to mollify progressive audiences that the creator thinks are bullying them into doing it. It should be presented inclusively because that's how the world actually is. Regarding the straight white cisgender non-disabled male character as the default unless there's a plot-relevant reason to change them to something else is the root of this problem, despite what Nickelodeon writer Matthew Klickstein will tell you. The cartoons I profiled here are doing it right, and if more creators do it right in the future, we'll hear less of the "IT'S ABOUT TIME!" commentary from the marginalized folks who are just so relieved to see themselves reflected, and we'll also hear less "YOU'RE DOING THAT BECAUSE DIVERSITY'S HOT NOW!" from the critics.

It should have been "hot"--and natural--all along. I'm looking forward to when the people who still uphold the status quo will be routinely forced to question their sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, transphobic ideas in groups where they are outnumbered by people who support realistic diversity, but we're not there yet. I'm glad, though, that the dialogue has been opened enough that such people are condescendingly calling it an agenda. That means they've realized there's something being said, and that like it or not, they're going to have to listen.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Personal Digest Saturday: March 21 – March 27

Life news this week: 
  • Health and life in general are slightly better this week. Sent some more short stories out but mostly just a bunch of dead ends over here.
  • So, you know, I watched a bunch of cartoons instead of being productive. Whee.
  • Chatted with my sister over the weekend, and found out my dad is gonna travel with me to and from New York in May/June so that's pretty great. It's definitely happening.
  • Got my spring redecorating done. Which means I have to eat all the candy left over from the previous season. Awww noooo, jeez. ;)
  • Writing in the Margins, a new channel devoted to discussing diversity, debuted this week, and I'm one of the vloggers. I have two videos in the collection.
  • I had to do some traffic counts for my company on Tuesday. It involved going into the field for ten hours and counting what turns the cars were making. It was nice weather and wasn't nearly as boring as I expected because I got to listen to music the whole time.
  • Jeaux and I ate at Saki Sushi, and it was pretty good. I got a tofu thing and he got sweet and sour chicken. We didn't do all you can eat because that's ridiculous for me. I never ever get my money's worth at an all-you-can-eat place. Oh and we listened to a Night Vale live performance. Which is what we're going to next week, AHHHHHH.
New reviews of my book:
  • None.
                Places featured:
                      • Just some people talking about asexuality on a Star Trek BBS. Someone recommends and quotes from my book, and a conversation develops about how asexuality can't exist because it doesn't need a word or isn't truly a human experience (countered by clued-up people apparently).
                                Reading progress:

                                New singing performances:

                                Here I'm singing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper.

                                New drawings:

                                Webcomic Negative One Issue 0515: "Show Me Yours."

                                New videos:

                                The Writing in the Margins videos are live!

                                New photos:  

                                Me doing a traffic count.

                                Social media counts: YouTube subscribers: 4,435 for swankivy (23 new this week), 442 for JulieSondra (3 new). Twitter followers: 626 for swankivy (5 new), 851 for JulieSondra (4 new). Facebook: 277 friends (no change) and 158 followers (no change) for swankivy, 524 likes for JulieSondra (3 new), 55 likes for Negative One (no change), 101 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 1,874 (4 new).

                                Thursday, March 26, 2015

                                Bad Fairy 2 Status Report: Chapter 20

                                It's unfortunate but weekdays have not been good to me for writing the past couple weeks, so I seem to only be coming to my status reports with writing from the weekend. Oh well, I'll take what I can get.

                                Words: Chapter 20 came to 3,156 words.

                                Basic details: Delia has managed to take a dead person out of the afterlife, store her soul in her own body for a while, and pave the way for her actual body to get born. Then she has to figure out how to get the princess's future mother to stop drinking wine because otherwise she'll damage and kill the children she carries, and Delia doesn't want that to happen to the princess she worked so hard to find. The plan is pretty elaborate and involves her sneaking into the palace and creating a very weird illusion to trick the queen, but sadly it makes some of her old enemies suspicious.

                                The good: I get to show off some of my exceedingly weird mythology by highlighting how Delia carries the unborn princess's soul for her before she's born, and hey, how can you go wrong with what is essentially a spy mission? She actually sneaks into the queen's bathroom and messes with her while she's taking a bath because that's the only time she's alone. Delia really has no qualms about invasion of privacy, haha. But hey, it's for a good cause. Also, the weird frog story she comes up with is ACTUALLY IN SOME VERSIONS OF SLEEPING BEAUTY. People tend not to know that. Yes, a prophesying frog. I didn't come up with it. Also, upon rereading it, I noticed that I had unconsciously written Delia as saying "we" instead of "I" sometimes when she had the princess with her. Neat.

                                The bad: I leaned on the stuff I wrote on the first version of Bad Fairy (when it was all one volume), so I'm sure some of the phrasing isn't what I would have chosen now, and the perspective was slightly more distant in that version, so I wonder if it feels too much like a story being told and not enough like Delia living it. I might have gotten most of that feeling out but it's too early to tell. Also, the parallels to Delia carrying the princess's soul to pregnancy references are probably going to weird people out. I don't really care, though--I did a lot more squicky stuff earlier in this book, so if they're still with me, they probably won't run from this. But a sort of half-conscious soul sitting around singing and talking to you so only you can hear it is pretty dang weird.

                                Appropriately creepy doodle of Delia
                                drawn for me by Tumblr artist soapybacon

                                The quotes: 

                                Some of the stuff about Delia bonding with the princess is pretty cool but I'm just not comfortable sharing it. Here's a blurb about Delia plotting to sneak into the castle:

                                The plot I came up with was fairly simple, all things considered, and the most complex part of it involved the actual travel to the castle. I made an appointment with a long-distance carriage company and spent the time until the journey working on the illusion I would need and researching the security at the palace. I found its magickal protection pathetic. Guards and other safety measures were more than sufficient for keeping out mundane threats, and there were security spells on the gates, but they had virtually no safeguards against aerial entry. I would be able to simply fly over the outer wall and sneak about, cloaked by a combination invisibility illusion and transparency spell. It was so easy that it disgusted me. The princess agreed with a puff of disdain. These were the people who would raise her?

                                Soon it was time for me to pack my bags and journey to the castle. But this time, I would not be talking to the king. His wife was my only target. And I knew exactly how to get her alone.

                                Delia messing with Queen Trinity's head while giving a little nod to what her favorite teacher taught her, haha:

                                There’s your mommy, I told the princess.

                                She didn’t respond, but I felt her paying attention.

                                I took out my prepared illusion and set it free from my bubble of invisibility.
                                The fat green frog hopped from behind a potted plant and made its way across the veined marble tiles. My illusions teacher back in circle, Master Medwin, had been a big fan of summoning fake animals like these, showing us how many aspects of illusion were necessary to make our thoughts feel like reality. This was my homage to him. The wet slaps of the frog’s false feet echoed expertly. I wasn’t an illusions master for nothing.

                                The queen heard the odd sounds and opened her eyes, reacting with little surprise as she spotted the culprit. Even a royal bath chamber was not impervious to the occasional invasion from outdoor creatures, and I got the feeling it wasn’t the first time she’d seen a frog in her bath. I felt no alarm or annoyance from her—just slight amusement, as if she liked visitors as long as they weren’t people—and her eyes tracked it as it hopped closer.
                                My goofy attempts at foreshadowing. For the record, Delia is being VERY sarcastic when she refers to the fairies as her friends:

                                Suspicions rose. The fairies of the castle instantly recognized that a talking frog could be created with magick, though none of them had any reason to do it, nor did they know anyone who had a reason. They did not interfere with the queen carrying out the frog’s commands—it had not ordered her to do anything sinister, after all—but my fairy friends from circle got wind of it, and Beatrice herself was mightily vexed. Especially since the queen’s squawking included promises of a mysterious dream omen. Beatrice knew exactly who could send dreams of that sort.

                                I ignored her investigation for the most part, but I shouldn’t have. Beatrice was about to make my life much more difficult.

                                And I'll share with you a bit of the creepiness I'm talking about with regards to Delia's relationship with the princess before she's born (and when she refers to Cerridwen, that's the goddess of death and rebirth, and also Delia's patron goddess):

                                The sad day came when the queen conceived. It was joyous in a way that the princess’s body had been called into reality, ready to house her spirit, but it very nearly ruined me to part ways with her. The window of opportunity was small for placing a new soul, and if I didn’t seize it, a different soul would slide in by way of Cerridwen’s hands through the natural order of things. I instead used those hands to lift my princess out of my heart and place her in the womb of another. And then I spent days choking on the emptiness she’d left behind, frequently reaching with the hands of my essence to touch her absentmindedly and finding myself clawing at the nothingness instead. But I could still feel her far away. The distance was devastating, but irrelevant to the part of me that would always be one with her.

                                Wednesday, March 25, 2015

                                Wednesday Factoid: Random Memory

                                Today's Wednesday Factoid is: Share a random memory from your childhood.


                                One time my mom decided she didn't like an old halter top of hers anymore. 

                                The top, and my mom in the 70s

                                I don't know why she wanted to trash the top--it could be that it was old, or no longer appealing to her, or some other reason--who knows, I was a kid, I didn't get those things. She'd had it since before I was born, so maybe it was just time. All I knew was that she made her distaste for the garment known, and then she threw the top away.

                                I rescued it.

                                And then started hiding it around the house so she would find it.

                                I even put it in one of our breakfast cereal boxes one time and then deliberately asked for that breakfast so she'd find it.

                                I guess eventually she managed to actually throw it out, but I managed to annoy her with it a few times before that happened.

                                I had a weird sense of humor.

                                Monday, March 23, 2015

                                Cover Reveal and Giveaway: SWEET MADNESS by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie!

                                So I'm helping out with a cover reveal today! This is a creepy and intriguing upcoming title that I'm gonna share with you since I like helping out my fellow Pitch Wars mentors. You've got to check this out if this is your kind of book:
                                SWEET MADNESS
                                Coming September 18, 2015 from Merit Press

                                Lizzie Borden took an axe,
                                And gave her mother forty whacks.
                                When she saw what she had done,
                                She gave her father forty one.


                                Who was Lizzie Borden? A confused young woman, or a cold-hearted killer? For generations, people all over the world have wondered how Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, met their gruesome deaths. Lizzie, Andrew’s younger daughter, was charged, but a jury took only 90 minutes to find her not guilty. In this retelling, the family maid, Bridget Sullivan, shines a compassionate light on a young woman oppressed by her cheap father and her ambitious stepmother. Was Lizzie mad, or was she driven to madness?

                                So does that sound pretty cool? If so, mark it to read on Goodreads, or preorder it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble!

                                ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
                                Trisha Leaver lives on Cape Cod with her husband, three children, and one rather irreverent black lab. She is a chronic daydreamer who prefers the cozy confines of her own imagination to the mundane routine of everyday life.  She writes Young Adult Contemporary fiction, Psychological Horror and Science Fiction and is published with FSG/ Macmillan, Flux/Llewellyn and Merit Press. To learn more about Trisha’s books, upcoming shenanigans, and her quest to reel in the perfect tuna, please check her out on her website, on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, or on Tumblr!

                                Lindsay Currie lives in Chicago with her three awesome children, husband, and a one hundred and sixty pound lap dog named Sam. She has an unnatural fondness for coffee, chocolate and things that go bump in the night. She spends her days curled up in the comfortable confines of her writing nook, penning young adult psychological horror, contemporary fiction and science-fiction and is published with Flux/Llewellyn, Merit Press and Spencer Hill Contemporary.  Learn more about her on her website, on Twitter, on Instagram, or on Facebook!

                                To celebrate, check out this giveaway for four AMAZING books from Trisha and Lindsay's publisher Merit Press!

                                Saturday, March 21, 2015

                                Personal Digest Saturday: March 14 – March 20

                                Life news this week: 
                                • Pretty awful week all around. Highlights include additional mysterious symptoms like rashes and bruises, doctor visits that tell me nothing, other people telling me I don't have real problems because I'm much more likely to be simply imagining them, being ignored repeatedly, not being able to get anything done because of other people not keeping their promises, and ultimately being told none of my problems are worth the attention of anyone important.
                                • And none of my fiction writing stuff is happening right.
                                • The thing that's going reasonably well in my life is the reception of my nonfiction book--still getting nice little mentions here and there, including a Publishers Weekly ad this week.
                                • And I got a little writing done and that was nice too.
                                • I made another video on Sunday for the group channel that will be releasing soon, and y'all will get to see stuff about diverse perspectives.
                                • Jeaux and I ate at a place called Genghis Grill which was pretty cool and we listened to the latest Night Vale episode. I was feeling especially crappy that day though. I randomly ate at Moe's with him on Monday, too, though that wasn't planned.
                                • I hope next week I have better news to share with you.
                                New reviews of my book:
                                • None.
                                              Places featured:
                                                            Reading progress:

                                                            New singing performances:

                                                            Here I'm singing "Listen to Your Heart" by DHT.

                                                            New drawings:

                                                            Webcomic Negative One Issue 0514: "Being Quiet."

                                                            New videos:


                                                            New photos:  

                                                            My friend Dallas said we should get married so I got dressed for our wedding:

                                                            And haircut comparison photo for March:

                                                            Back, February 2014
                                                            Back, March 2015
                                                            Front, February 2014
                                                            Front, March 2015

                                                            Social media counts: YouTube subscribers: 4,412 for swankivy (23 new this week), 439 for JulieSondra (1 new). Twitter followers: 621 for swankivy (4 new), 847 for JulieSondra (2 new). Facebook: 277 friends (no change) and 158 followers (the new follower from last week bounced) for swankivy, 521 likes for JulieSondra (5 people disappeared, for some reason), 55 likes for Negative One (no change), 101 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 1,870 (9 new).

                                                            Thursday, March 19, 2015

                                                            Bad Fairy 2 Status Report: Chapter 19

                                                            Right, so I only got one chapter done within this week, but it was kind of a beast of a chapter, and a really emotional one since Delia gets to meet the actual princess. As in, the title character of the fairy tale she's in. As in, the person who most of the retellings focus on. As in, the person she gets blamed for cursing and around whom the entire fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty orbits.

                                                            Words: Chapter 19 came to 6,173 words.

                                                            Basic details: Delia puzzles out some of the solutions for how she's going to ally with a yet-to-be-born princess and then actually goes into the afterlife "interviewing" potential princesses, until she finally finds one after three years of doing so. Their conversation takes up most of the chapter.

                                                            The good: Well, it's pretty much all good. The plot's key detail is now in play, and we actually get a really interesting new character. I got to show actual details of how Delia communicates with people in the afterlife if they don't speak her language--lots of fun discussion of their language nuances--and I got to show Delia learning something from her princess and having a really transformative conversation with her. Delia kind of pretends to be this big mastermind moving chess pieces around, but this chapter makes it pretty clear that sometimes she has no idea what she's doing.

                                                            Sketch of the princess's previous life
                                                            that I drew like ten years ago
                                                            The bad: It's a longish chapter that is focused on a LOT of dialogue after a couple of chapters that have next to no dialogue, so I wonder if it will feel uneven. I also worry that I haven't done a good enough job really fleshing out the bond they make, because realistically they aren't actually spending that much time together and I still had to make it seem like it was worth the promises they made. Also, very much like the mythology and fairy traditions I invented, the names and words I used in the translations are partly based on real cultures and partly invented. I sometimes worry that when I do this I'll just look like I'm appropriating interesting bits without really understanding their source. But the Bad Fairy world actually is supposed to be a weird blend of our world and an invented one, so I think that's how it should be. I don't identify their world as having the same continents or countries or cultures, but it's pretty clear that Delia's feudal society is one of those medieval Europe rip-offs, and the princess comes from a similarly ripped-off tribal African culture, buuuuut she's basically going to be reborn as a little white blonde baby, so it kind of makes me sad that one of the only places I get to show racial diversity in this series is getting buried.

                                                            When the princess is ready to be reborn. :)
                                                            The quotes:

                                                            In setting up the rationale for why she was doing something incredibly risky and strange to put an ally in the palace:

                                                            I was playing with lives here, and I knew it. But while I considered it a bit of payback for the king—to force him to accept my influence no matter what he thought he wanted—I did not want to inflict my desires, selfish or selfless, on an innocent person. I liked the idea of manipulating people who deserved it and would never know who pulled their strings. But I did not like the idea of grooming a person to be my pawn, even though I wanted to play a masterful game of chess. So I would enter this arrangement only with the full understanding and permission of the person who would do my bidding.
                                                            It was no wonder that it took me three years to find her.

                                                            Upon seeing the soul who would become her princess for the first time:

                                                            It was vanishingly rare to see elderly people in Summer-Winterland. At least, it was rare for them to look old. Most preferred to return themselves to their glory days or reinvent themselves as a stunning beauty, and yet here this woman wore her wrinkles with pride. She’d earned them and the wisdom that came with them, and considered them a sign of accomplishment, not shame. It made her both intriguing and beautiful to me.  

                                                            They sort of have an argument when the princess introduces herself using a title rather than a personal name. Delia especially doesn't like that part of her "name" indicates that she "belongs" to a husband, like property, along with identifying her as a great-grandmother and a spiritual singer. The princess helps Delia understand some important truths of her identity by singing her a strange song:

                                                            [A]s she brought me into her world with more songs of spiritual devotion and connection to her village as her followers and children, I felt more and more lightheaded—like I was becoming drunk, but instead of losing my wits, I was gaining them, with a similarly bubbly feeling as I ascended into unfamiliar clarity.
                                                            Her music, though inundated with references to spiritual and religious beliefs I did not relate to, conjured a full, blissful understanding of how an identity could be transformed and expanded by combining with relationships and accomplishments. Her name was not erased or subsumed by these things. It was dissolved in such a way that her old identity permeated every part of her new one, but it fundamentally changed everything about how she was seen and what she did for people. She could not have become what she was without who she had been, but she no longer wanted to be known as the dust that rode on the wind when she could be the wind that carried the dust. I swallowed her story like milk.

                                                            After they have both relayed their life stories and Delia is getting to telling the princess what she wants to do:

                                                            “To think,” she said when I grew dark and quiet again. “To think all of this was happening in my world and I only know of it now that I have left it.”

                                                            “I didn’t know of your ways either,” I reminded her. “The world is big and we are separated by so much space.”

                                                            “Yes, but the people who were my life and the music I made—it all seems so small next to everything that is you.”

                                                            “Oh no, your music and your legacy is far bigger than I am. I’ve tried to make music and it eludes me, and I’ve not even had one child.”

                                                            Her leathery face was so solemn now. “Your magick is like music. Your king is a fool to not treasure what it can do. And your teachers are fools to call you dangerous. Look what it has let you do!” She spread her arms, the teal beads on her wrists clinking. “It’s brought you here beyond the grave to hear my story and tell your own. And now those who know you can live out their days soundly, knowing what lies in store after death. If only I could tell my daughter.”

                                                            “I don’t tell anyone.”

                                                            Her eyes widened. “No one?”

                                                            “They did everything they could to drive the love of knowledge out of me, so I don’t believe the rewards should be theirs.” I smiled. “If I’d met you in life, I know you would have been the first in the world to respect me for it. I would have told you.”

                                                            “Well, you have told me.”

                                                            “That’s true. But only after you’d already found it yourself.”

                                                            “Will you tell my daughter for me? Tell her the soul survives. Tell her I’m waiting.”

                                                            And then at the end, they're discussing how Delia will "recycle" this woman as the princess and talking about how it works:

                                                            “I will be the first to do this, am I right?” she asked.

                                                            “The very first,” I agreed, “in the history of all time.”

                                                            “So you do not know if I face danger.”

                                                            “I hold hands with the goddess of death and rebirth—my people call her Cerridwen. She is watching us. And She has helped me construct the spell that will let me take you out of here just like I go in and out. If there is any danger, I feel She would have warned me.”

                                                            “Like I said, I trust you. And Her, that means.” She looked up, the whites of her eyes so stark against the inky color of her skin, as if hoping to see Cerridwen smiling down from above. “After all, if you fail, what’s the worst outcome? I am not worried you’d kill me.”

                                                            That startled a laugh out of me. Yes, joking about death was much easier when one was dead.