Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Wondrous World of Webcomics

Growing up, I never really read comics. Every so often, I'd glance through the occasional funny pages or flip through a book of Garfield strips. I was much more likely to pick up some kind of traditional novel or, in later years, to watch a television program or movie.

It wasn't until I got to college that I was introduced to the concept of webcomics.

During a conversation about national stereotypes, one of my housemates insisted that I check out Scandinavia and the World, a comic featuring personified versions of the various nations of the world enacting either national quirks or international relations. The first one I ever read was basically a re-telling of the Boston Tea Party and just about died laughing. While it can be rather pointed in its hilarious criticisms, it is interesting being exposed to some of the nations of the world that I know little to nothing about. And it felt rather familiar since they are more like strips from the funny pages.

It wasn't till I did a couple of different image searches for fairy tale and Disney related things that I found that comics could tell a continuous story.

The first of these latter comics was No Rest for the Wicked. What really drew me into this comic was how the author, Andrea L. Peterson, was able to cleverly weave together several different fairy tales. Her art style, while it can be rather angular, adds to the edgy (ha ... ha) feel of the comic. If you're thinking at all that it's a happy, pretty fairy tale, it is not; this comic adopts the darker tone that many early fairy tales have. But that's not to say that it isn't funny and enjoyable as well. The relationships and interactions amongst the three main characters (Princess November: "Princess and the Pea," Perrault: "Puss in Boots," Red: "Little Red Riding Hood") are lots of fun to watch.

The second continuous comic I discovered, only recently, was Disney School by Morloth88. In this comic, the author has chosen to re-tell five Disney stories (Tangled, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid) in a modern high school setting. Like No Rest for the Wicked, the cleverness of combination, and particularly reinterpretation for these stories, really drew me into the story. Unlike the others, I know where the story is heading, but the enjoyment comes from seeing how it gets played out. Also, because these are based on the Disney versions of these stories, quotes from the movies also work their way into conversation between characters.

All this to say, my story world has been expanded from its early days of novels and film, and I could not be happier.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

ACFW Conference 2016

With the encouragement and pressing of my counselor and dear friend, I gathered up my courage and resources and flew across the country to Nashville, Tennessee to attend the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference.

To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting into. I think I had some vague idea of workshops/lectures about how to write (in a general sort of way; I hadn't thought what exactly they'd be teaching) and meeting other writers who are working on their stories. Also, though I didn't realize till I got there, I think I had assumed that a good number, if not most, of them would be fantasy writers like myself. Granted, this latter assumption probably came because most of my good friends are fantasy writers and/or enthusiasts so I thought the rest of the world was the same.

Boy was I in for a surprise.

Now to debunk all the assumptions I held coming in:
1) "workshops/lectures about how to write": OK this one wasn't actually wrong. Most of the sessions I went to were about how to create believable characters, compelling stories, realistic settings, and tasteful presentation. However, there were also lots of things like points of view (called POV and referring to whose view/head you're telling from) and platform (how visible you are, mostly via social media, to people not family and friends) that I hadn't really considered or even thought of. Also, Ted Dekker, the key note speaker, imparted some fantastic advice about writing/story sources, that the greatest stories are those about transformation and come from a place of self-discovery, learning a truth or lesson with and through the characters. By the end of the weekend, my head swam with everything I'd learned and wanted to implement. We'll see how I do in integrating them.

2) "meeting other writers who are working on their stories": Again, not entirely untrue. Everyone that I met was working on something. However, what I hadn't expected was for many to already have finished one if not several novels and a good number of the authors already published. I had thought that many would be like me, coming to this conference with very little finished and desirous of learning how to finish well. It was very humbling, and a bit intimidating, to meet people who are so much further along in the writing process than I. One thing I must say though is that everyone I met was encouraging and friendly to the utmost. While I felt a bit inadequate being there in terms of my writing, I found it comforting to be surrounded by so many who hoped, even in a casual way, for my success out of a sense camaraderie.

3) "that a good number, if not most, of them would be fantasy writers": This was probably the most erroneous of everything I thought. Most of the people I met wrote romance in some form (contemporary, historical, suspense, high-adventure). In some ways, I suppose this shouldn't have surprised me since romance is apparently the most popular genre because everyone wants love. In reality, the fantasy/sci-fy/paranormal crowd (called speculative apparently) is one of the smallest and less desireable than many of the other genres to publishers and agents. However, I was still able to meet several other fantasy writers who were lovely and encouraging.

Overall, an amazing adventure that I am very glad I took. I have returned with so many new tricks to try and processes to practice.

However, I have also returned with questions. Seeing all the complications of the publishing world and the dedication that many of the others around me possessed, it made me look at my own desire for writing. Do I want to pursue this more intentionally or allow it to stay as it is, an occasionally dabbled-in hobby? But not only was my writing passion questioned but even my relationship with God. Throughout the conference, people talked about how the Holy Spirit encouraged their writing or how their stories came out of their searches into problems with God's help. It made me face the fact that not only is my writing largely done on my  own strength but also most of the rest of my life. While I have been learning to live in grace over the last year and a half, I still have well-ingrained habits of trying to do things on my own that must go if I am to grow not only as a follower of Jesus but also as a writer. So lots to ponder.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Reflections on "A Fusion of Old and New"

Last night, my amazing brother and his incredible friend performed a recital together of classical pieces both traditional and modern thus leading them to call it "A Fusion of Old and New." Pretty self-explanatory. Aside from their flawless performances, the music was enchantingly beautiful, an intricate interplay of interwoven melodies and tempos and emotions. Quite simply: a joy to listen to. So you may be wondering, "so why the shameless plug for your brother's performance? Does it mean you'll be posting a recording of it?" Sadly, fair reader, that is not the reason for this post. The reason would be that, as the music swelled and swirled around me, I felt inspired to write and came up with my first free-form poem, which is uncharted territory for me. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I had writing it.

And here at the end of all things,
At the end of all that was,
We find ourselves affixed, transfixed,
Transfused by ghosts of time and space now gone,
Now carried into brilliant time and space as yet unseen.
Throw wide thy gates, O Ancient Doors!
Throw wide thy arms, O Stranger Friend!
With thanks and welcome, we invite and are invited
To the touching of eternity.
The funeral of what is past and birth of what is yet to be
Stay for just a moment,
A single, blissful moment,
For the marriage of the present.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Upon My Soul, The Night Has Fallen Dark

The last eight months have been a time of searching and growing. I have examined my soul, forced to finally face those darkly rooted areas that I thought I could avoid. Through the help of friends and an incredible amount of God's grace, I have learned to see not only my weakness but also what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. In light of this, I wrote the following poem and wanted to share it.

So for anyone else who feels that their soul has fallen into unbearable darkness, know that there is light available to you and remember that you will yet rise

Upon my soul, the night has fallen dark,
Without the blessed stars or guard'an moon,
Without the hope of song by speckled lark
Or even mournful requiem by loon.
Instead, in darkness, the utter silent void,
Harangued by condemnation self-applied,
My soul's abused, like mouse by cat is toyed,
And finds there only ash in which to hide.
Alight, my soul; arise on phoenix wings!
You need not stay beneath the ashen heap.
Sometimes we die to see what freedom brings
To life renewed but first must take that leap.
Refining fire awaits to gird your flight,
To give you strength to banish this dark night.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Why So Silent, Good Monsieurs?

As the words of Phantom of the Opera beautifully state, I wanted to explain the lack of posts. Well, greater than usual lack of posts. Especially since I started off this year saying that I would post something every week, which I must admit I have not done very well.

Here goes . . .

I've let go of my dream of writing a book.

Phew. There, I've said it aloud. Well, cyber-ally (if that's a word) anyway.

Now I should explain the connection to less posts and the releasing of my dream since I realize that the connection may not be as obvious as it is to myself. About two months ago, I was discussing with my counselor what I would do with myself if I could do anything at all. Almost immediately I answered that I would write a book. She asked why and it took me a while to come up with an answer. When I finally did, which took some further questioning and thinking, I realized that I wanted to write one to prove that I could. This was a revelation to me and I thought a very poor reason to want to accomplish something. This is not to say that wanting to do something to prove that you can is always a bad reason, but as a reason to do something that you profess to love for its own sake, it's a bad reason. So I decided that writing a book was something that I needed to let go of and, after saying aloud that I let go of this particular dream, I started crying. When my counselor asked me why, the first things that came to me were sadness, which is natural after a loss, and relief, which it took longer for me to understand. After some assigned reflection, I realized that I had made the completion of a book my standard of my writing ability. In other words, if I couldn't write a book, I wasn't a good writer in my own mind. After years of people saying how much they liked my works and that I should write a book one day, I had taken it too much to heart. I had made this someday-book an idol and chain in my soul, and upon its release, my heart felt relief.

Hopefully now, the whole lack of posts/writing a book dream correlation makes a little more sense.

Since then, I haven't really written much at all. Some of my more discerning readers may see the connection to my previous post and the dream release. That was written a few weeks later, if memory serves well, which it only does on occasion. It's been funny because I thought I would miss it much more than I actually do. Right after this time, I began painting a lot more (which is a hobby I took up almost a year ago now, sheesh). Only recently have I again felt the muse's pull to write again. Which I may or may not do, though I'm thinking I may.

All this to say, that is why I haven't been posting as much and that I sincerely apologize to anyone who has been thinking I've fallen off the face of the earth or anything of that sort. I haven't but I have been trying to explore some new horizons. So there may yet be more postings of stories and musings in the future but I'm not going to be so concerned about making definitely sure they come about.

Monday, June 29, 2015

You Give Up a Few Things, Chasing a Dream

Note: If any of you are unfamiliar with the movie “Treasure Planet” or the book Treasure Island, go see/read them and come back if you don't want any spoilers. Otherwise, proceed with your own caution.

In the lesser known animated Disney film “Treasure Planet”, a sci-fy re-telling of Robert Luis Stevenson's Treasure Island, cyborg John Silver and cabin boy Jim Hawkins have a moment after returning from a friendly jaunt among the stars. Silver praises Jim for his flying prowess saying that people would have been singing his praises if he'd had Jim's talent at his age. With a wry laugh, Jim states that that wasn't his experience but that he hoped to change that. “Sometimes - plans go astray,” Silver warns. “Not this time,” Jim responds confidently. At this point, Silver draws attention to his cyborg leg and performs some maintenance with the help of his protoplasmic pink blob pet, Morph. Looking a bit worried, Jim asks, “So, uh, how'd that happen anyway?” Gazing at his mechanical hand, Silver murmurs, “You give up a few things, chasing a dream.”

Dreams are costly things. As much as we like to think of dreams as lovely fluffy things like clouds or unicorns, we must first endure the thunder and lightning and horns before we can see their fulfillment. Throughout modern media, especially in children's literature and films, we are encouraged, even dared, to follow/pursue our dreams. Usually there is shown some kind of struggle, but I don't know that that always give it justice. How many have actually pursued their dreams and found that, far from the single large obstacle in their way that they saw in the movies, they must face obstacle after obstacle after obstacle after obstacle and then a small step forward. To actually achieve one's dreams, one must be willing to sacrifice anything from time to mental/emotional energy upon its altar.

But what happens when the pursuit of a dream becomes bondage? When all of one's energy and focus goes into the fulfillment of the dreams at the expense of everything else? Would our culture still say to pursue it? That the end must and will justify the means? John Silver, aside from the obvious loss of his right leg, right arm, and right eye, sacrifices, albeit somewhat regretfully, his relationships with Jim and even Morph. Finding Captain Flynn's treasure has become his one consuming passion in life. Should we applaud him for his single-minded determination to follow his dream not matter where it lead him? Of course not! He's the villain after all and I think this is important. It is not only a matter of physical or emotional loss that Silver experiences; he loses a part of himself. The part of him that praised Jim's talent and encouraged him when he felt discouraged is abandoned when it comes into conflict with his greater dream of treasure.

It can be easy getting caught up in a dream. I know that I often only see the rosy, golden result at the far end, ignoring the dark and painful road that leads to it. It looks so beautiful, sitting there in its pristine, un-achieved glory. But its beauty can be just as insidious as the siren's song, leading to places you never would have chosen along paths you would never have trodden. I have found myself weighed down with chains of my own making. Like Jacob Marley, I formed my bonds link by link, all the while thinking that I was growing closer to my dream. It was my dream that had been a mine from which I gathered needed iron for my chains. My dream had become a nightmare, something that still retained its golden exterior and promise of good but now held something hidden, something sinister. Like Silver, my dream had turned sour and had consumed a part of me. It had weakened rather strengthened, causing atrophy instead of growth.

Yet, we needn't remain attached to our dreams. We can let them go, let them fly away like loosed balloons, should they be carrying us away from where we ought to be. This is not to say that knowing that a dream has become poisoned means that it's any easier to release. In fact, it can be even more difficult to do so as it is often long-held dreams that become the most binding. But in the loosing there may come even greater good than the good we thought we'd get by holding on to the dream, though it may take time to see the good beyond the loss. Silver comes to realize the depth of his obsession and then must choose which good he really wants, Flynn's treasure or Jim. In a dramatic moment of either holding onto a boat-load of treasure or releasing it to reach the falling Jim, he lets the treasure, the fulfillment of his deepest and longest held dream, fall away so he may save Jim from doing the same. As they're escaping, Jim comments in amazement, “Silver, you gave up...?” Panting for breath, Silver responds, “Just a lifelong obsession, Jimbo. I'll get over it.” And so it can be with releasing a dream. First, we must realize it for what it has become. Then we can decide to let go and get over it.

Now this is in no way trying to diminish the importance of dreams. In fact, dreams are precious things that God gives us to inspire and encourage us onwards to greater things. And even if we must release dreams, that does not necessarily mean that they are gone for good. In Genesis 22, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Isaac was the fulfillment not only of Abraham's deepest dream but also of God's promise to him that he would have a son and be the father of many nations. By asking him to sacrifice his son, God was asking him to let go of his dream in a dramatic and seemingly definitive way. Yet Abraham obeyed. When asked by Isaac where the sacrifice would come from, his father answered that God would provide. As he was about to plunge the knife into his son's heart, God stopped Abraham and showed him a ram to sacrifice in Isaac's place. In the same way, we can be asked to let go of a dream or even be asked to kill it, but that may not necessarily be the end of it. It could be simply a season or a test to see where our focus and energies really lie. But even if it should be something left on the side of the road not to be picked up again, may I be able to say that Thy will be done and it is well with my soul.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Be Strong, My Child, and Fear No Nightly Noise

In honour of my good friend Sara's graduation, a wonderfully insightful and talented writer and blogger, I wrote the following sonnet. Can you find the allusions to George MacDonald and J.R.R. Tolkien? In the words of Bono, "Every artist is a cannibal / Every poet is a thief" and I only steal from the best.

Be Strong, My Child, and Fear No Nightly Noise
Be strong, my child, and fear no nightly noise.
They are but shadows, clawings of the Ash
And whispers of the Alder who destroys,
Desiring all to hunger, rage, and gnash.
But in you, child, there beats a heart of gold
As pure as laughter from a baby's lips,
As bright and warm as fire in places cold,
As precious as the desert dew that drips.
So sing, my child, and make your presence known;
Beat back the goblins with your foot and song;
Let blaze your light and they are overthrown
For courage, kindness, goodness make you strong.
Go now, my child; adventure waits for you.
Remember me and say a prayer or two.