One Week Deadline

I’ve mentioned from time to time over the past couple of months that I’m deep in revisions on Manifestation. I’ve had it reviewed by multiple critique partners, each of whom pointed out different suggestions and caught different errors that the others missed. Their input has been very valuable, and I’ve made a lot of tweaks. Most of them are basic grammatical errors, word choice issues, and the like (since most MAJOR issues were resolved in the first three revisions). A few of the issues were minor points of confusion or areas where a CP said some important details were missing.

What I haven’t done, however, is a complete beginning-to-end read-through of this draft. When I was working on Draft Three, I started at the beginning and tried to more-or-less go from beginning to end. What actually ended up happening was I skipped around a whole lot as one issue at the beginning would make me realize I needed to add something to the climax, and another issue at the middle would make me realize I needed to change the opening chapters, and so on. Since I was jumping around so much, cutting 40,000 words, adding 15,000 new ones in their place, and reordering chapters, I never actually, y’know, READ the novel from beginning to end like I meant to.

These Draft Five revisions have been all over the place as well, since I’ve been focusing on the specific issues my CPs raised in their notes. That means I STILL haven’t read the damn book from beginning to end.

Sooooooo . . . that’s what I have to do now. In a week. Before March 6th. While ALSO reading about a whole book of material for one of my grad classes, and critiquing three of my classmates’ stories for workshops, and working double shifts over the weekend, and a few other things I’m sure I’m forgetting.

Now, I have made a lot of progress in revisions this month. There have been a lot of good changes and a lot of polishing to the story. But now I’ve got about 350 pages to read and edit in 7 days. So. Yeah. There’s that.

Which means before bed tonight I need to go work my way through, oh, 50 pages or so. So I’m gonna get on that.

Bipolar Disorder and Suicide

This is a story about anger, domestic violence, suicide attempts, denial, and guilt.

Every word of it is true.

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When I was a child, I got into fights a lot. Though I should explain that “got into fights” really means I was verbally and psychologically bullied constantly by other kids until I snapped and lashed out physically. They teased me for my weight, my clothes, my speech impediment (difficulty with extended-R sounds, mostly in words like girl and earth where the sound is stressed), and just about anything else you can think of. There were no anti-bullying rules at my school, so the other kids never got into trouble for teasing me, no matter how merciless it was, and no matter how many of them ganged up on me. I was unable to manage the situation with verbal responses due to a communication disorder (one as yet undiagnosed) that prevents me from expressing my thoughts in a clear manner. This condition is at its worst when I am stressed out or upset. So when I was unable to get the bullies to stop, and unable to express my pain to the teachers, I responded by lashing out. I spent a lot of time down at the principal’s office because I was seen as the bad guy.

Incidents included me chasing down other kids, shoving them, and occasionally hitting them because it was the only way I knew to make them leave me alone. Due to my superior size and strength most of the other kids would simply run away, and due to my weight and asthma I rarely caught them. However, there were a few pretty bad incidents, such as the time I grabbed one kid by his throat and lifted him two feet off the ground. It took three others to get me off of him.

I never hit any girls. My mother drilled it into me from the youngest age that a boy never hits a girl on any occasion. As a result, there was at least one incident where I allowed a girl to beat me up because I was unable to hit her back after the incident started. I laid on the ground and covered my head with my arms until she was removed from the scene.

I ended up in ultimately useless psychotherapy where I drank hot chocolate and played with wooden blocks. I attended therapy for about two years from ages 12-14 or so, then stopped. Since therapy had done me no good, I began suppressing my emotions. Kids continued to bully me, and I responded by simply not talking. They didn’t exist. I wouldn’t look at them, I wouldn’t answer their questions, I wouldn’t say “Thank you” when they said “God Bless You” after I sneezed. I existed in a world where other human beings were obstacles to be avoided as I walked from one class to another. This continued until I graduated high school.

After six years or so of suppressing emotions, I became quite good at it. So good, in fact, that I’ve managed to go most of my life without anyone knowing the issues that plague me on a daily basis. I can divide these issues into two categories: self-diagnosis and professional diagnosis.

Professional diagnosis: The only therapist I’ve seen as an adult, at age 32, diagnosed me with episodic bouts of depression. He said that any “upswings” I experienced were perceived as “up” only by comparison to how low I get on downswings. He advised me to treat my bouts of depression as “moods,” and remember that a bad mood only passes, and I shouldn’t dwell on it.

Self-diagnosis: I suffer from clinical depression, symptoms including lack of energy, loss of interest in friends and activities, poor social interaction, and periods where I simply sit in a chair and stare while contemplating everything I’ve ever done wrong in my life. These periods are compounded with thoughts of suicide. I also have extreme periods of rage that I consider to be indicative of bipolar disorder. I snap into a berserk rage wherein I become violent, after which I slump into a serious downswing that usually involves hiding in a corner somewhere and crying (for example, after most of the childhood rage incidents listed above, I ran into the woods behind the school, sat under a tree, and cried). I also suffer from occasional seizures, obsessive paranoia, mild hallucinations, the inability to distinguish between dreamed vs actual events in my life, outbursts of incoherent behavior and ranting, and periods where I hear voices. I’m convinced that there is a woman living inside my head who may or may not be a stray soul that latched onto my soul during my childhood and became “stuck,” leaving me living in a dual-soul state (see Ruth Montgomery, Strangers Among Us, for more information on “walk-in” souls inhabiting another person’s body).

When people make jokes online about the NSA spying on us or they pretend to have planted cameras in my apartment, I have to check every air vent and closet because I honestly don’t know whether it’s true or not. When people start major arguments with me, I tend to shut down verbally, my right hand starts shaking and convulsing (never the left; don’t ask me why). I don’t understand human interaction, emotions, or communication in the way normal people do.

I also have strong urges (either due to the theoretical woman living inside my head or other unresolved issues) towards a feminine lifestyle. This isn’t cross-dressing or tranvestiteism; it is a gender-identity crisis that has manifested since before puberty (see also: transgender and transsexualism). It most commonly manifests in the outward expression of the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of the alternate persona previously mentioned (who goes by the name “Jenny”).

I have attempted suicide exactly one time.

From 2007-2011, I was romantically involved with and living with a girl named Rachel. The myriad details of our relationship are mostly irrelevant to the topic at hand, but suffice to say she was cheating on me and she was, quite often, the cause of my seizures and episodes of depression and communicative shutdowns. Our frequent arguments usually involved two-sided screaming, insults, and other verbal abuse.

On one occasion, the screaming and insults reached a point where I began, as I had frequently at a younger age, to feel uncontrollable rage boiling inside of me. It became clear to me that if Rachel continued screaming at me as she was, I would most likely be unable to restrain my anger and keep the situation from getting violent. In order to vent these urges, I directed my physical efforts against the environment around me. I broke a closet door, threw something (I think it was a bottle of windex) and broke a fan, and I smashed a mirror against the floor. Rachel continued to yell and scolded me for smashing things, then retreated into the bedroom.

A short time later I overheard her on the telephone with a friend of mine, wherein she explained what happened and used the words, “I was really scared of him.”

At that moment I realized that my rage had become a threat to Rachel, and I proceeded to swallow most of a full bottle of advil.

Rachel emerged a short time later and found me sitting on the floor in the kitchen with the bottle still in hand. She asked me, “How many of these did you take?”

I responded, “I don’t know. A lot.”

The friend Rachel was on the phone with has extensive emergency training (he was planning to pursue a career in law enforcement at the time). Under his direction, I was led to swallow a glass of salt water in order to induce vomiting. Following this, I was taken to the hospital where I was made to drink charcoal. I was there for several hours while tests were performed to ensure that the vomiting had purged my system of toxins quickly enough. I was then forced to speak with a crisis counselor before I was granted permission to leave.

None of the individuals involved ever spoke of the incident again. Denial seems to be the name of the game. It’s unlikely that it would ever be brought up again (Rachel and I are no longer together due to unrelated incidents [she cheated on me with a drug dealer], and my friend is the sort not to bring it up unless I did first). There are most likely medical records related to this incident, which may or may not prevent me from every buying a firearm in the future, were I inclined to do so.

I haven’t experienced any urges towards violence since that one.

Comments are welcome but it is unlikely that I will directly reply to any that are expressions of sympathy and/or commendations for the supposed “bravery” involved in writing this. That doesn’t mean such comments are unwanted, but merely that I will consider myself unable to properly address them. Please excuse the unusually cold and academic tone of this writing; it’s a side effect of the emotional detachment required to address this issue.

I frequently make comments on Twitter about my paranoia, depression, psychological issues, identity crises, and schizophrenia. These are most commonly treated by others as jokes, wherein other individuals respond that they’re “crazy too” and that “we all are.” Most of them don’t seem to realize that there is a difference between crazy and crazy. The latter is very easy to disguise as the former. It’s an effective way to blend in. It’s camouflage. You can go online and say, “I had such a bad day,” and other people sympathize. You can say “I’m so stressed out,” and other people say they are, too. You can say, “I’m thinking about packing up my whole life and moving to Canada,” and they jokingly offer you advice on vacation spots. You can say, “My brain just cannot today,” and no one realizes what that actually really means.

You can’t say, “I can’t stop my hand from shaking or hitting myself in the head,” because people can’t see the theoretical joke in that. You can’t say, “I just spent twenty minutes curled up in the corner, crying and ripping my hair out,” because people will look at you funny. And you REALLY can’t say, “Sometimes I think the girl living inside my head is winning,” because then you’ve really lost them.

Fortunately, camouflage is really easy after a lifetime of experience. You just observe people’s reactions to the things you’ve said, and file away for later which ones are acceptable to repeat in the future, and which ones are not. Which, more or less, is what “human interaction” is to me. Fake it til you make it. Learn what is acceptable. Project the front that will serve the purpose you desire, vis-a-vis being left alone and treated like you’re an ordinary person.

And above all else, never give an honest answer to the question, “How are you?”

Writer’s Workshops

Since I’ve spent the last several years attending writing classes at Rowan University, I’ve been involved in a lot of writer’s workshops. Depending on the type of class, they can be managed differently from one situation to another. No matter what the case, however, they take a certain amount of thick skin.

In some classes, we do small group workshops. In these scenarios, your story is usually read by three people, who offer you feedback in the form of both notes and small group discussion. This is usually a relatively painless procedure, but can offer a lot of valuable advice.

The other type of workshop I usually go through is one where the entire class reads your story. Then, instead of getting verbal feedback in a small discussion, the entire class discusses your work, usually for about 45 minutes. This can be a lot more difficult, though arguably it is also more valuable.

I went through a workshop session this week for my Fiction Writing class. Since it’s a graduate class, the workshop consisted of more than a dozen experienced writers, all of whom are working on their master’s degrees. Now, I’ve been one of the critiquers in these workshops plenty of times (and I’ve critiqued and discussed four stories by four of my classmates so far just this semester). But being the one in the “hot seat” is always difficult.

It’s definitely important to bring your thick skin and leave your ego at the door. Fortunately, my classmates all know how to be positive and constructive (especially since they all know THEY will be in the hot seat soon enough). Still, even when the environment is a positive one, it can be difficult to spend 45 minutes listening to a group of people point out all the flaws in your story (doubly so since the writer isn’t allowed to speak until the very end).

In preparation for the workshop, I had my story reviewed by a few friends on Twitter, so I could polish out some of the basic issues ahead of time. I got good feedback on the story. It’s another short story in the Arcana Revived series, this time focusing on Callia Gainsborough and Minori Tsujino (both of whom are major supporting characters in the series, but characters who don’t often get their own time in the spotlight).

Based on the feedback I received from the first group, I cleaned up the basic grammatical errors, polished up the details, and made sure the story was clean and well-composed. That meant that there (in theory) wasn’t much for the workshop group to say about basic issued of grammar, description, and other “surface level” stuff. As a result, they focused more on greater structural issues, like character development, scene order, and world building.

Based on the feedback I received, I’ll be able to develop the story further and address the issues that were raised. Many of them stemmed specifically from the fact that this was a standalone story that is part of a larger work. Callia in particular is a character with a lot of history in the overall series, most of which wasn’t addressed in this short piece. This led to a lot of questions from the readers. So part of what I need to do is make sure to add in enough of those details to address the key questions, so that the story can function just fine as a solo piece. It’s a bit of a different way of looking at things, since I’m used to writing novels more than short stories. More than half of the questions that were raised wouldn’t have been issues if this story was just one chapter in the novels. The questions would be answered earlier or later in the novels, in other chapters. But to be a standalone piece, the story needs to hold itself up without the reader having knowledge of the other works.

The good part is that a lot of the general feedback was positive. Several people told me that they liked the writing, that the description was clear, and that the characters were interesting. So I take that as a good sign. I have the basics down. I have something that people will be interested in. I just need to take all of the feedback and use it to address the flaws in order to make the overall story stronger. So I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. Taking that into consideration, the workshop was clearly valuable. I wouldn’t have known which issues needed to be addressed if not for the feedback from my classmates.

Even if being in the hot seat was hard to do.

History of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape

In order to fully understand the various racial, ethnic, political, and personal issues related to the Washington Redskins name change debate, I’ll need to start with a stronger historical background. My prior knowledge of Native American history and culture is greatly limited, mostly stemming from my elementary school education. In order to supplement this knowledge with deeper and more nuanced information, I’ll be starting with some basic online research. Depending on the resources I find, this may be supplemented by print materials (books, magazine articles, or academic journals).

To start this exploration, here is a summary of the information I’ve found so far:

General History

The Lenape have lived in parts of what are now New Jersey, Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania for over 12,000 years. When European settlers began to arrive in the mid-1600s, the Europeans began encroaching on Lenape territory. There were some initial efforts to stop this encroachment, including the creation of the earliest Indian Reservations in the 1700s. Despite these efforts, they were eventually pushed out, and many of them later migrated west and settled in Wisconsin. The Lenape living in New Jersey today (approximately 3000 in number) are the descendents of those who either remained behind or eventually returned to their ancient homelands.

Names

Names are a big part of the debate over the Washington Redskins, and the “Proud to Be” video created by the National Congress of American Indians focuses on the types of names Native Americans embrace for themselves. Because of this, I think that understanding the history behind some of these names is also important. I found that the name “Lenni-Lenape” means “Men of Men” or “Original People.” Rather than using these names, however, the European settlers called them “Delaware Indians.” I find this historically significant since it represents a similar issue to the one being faced today: present-day Americans of European descent are still using names of their own choosing, rather than using the names embraced by the Lenape themselves.

What seems to make this even more significant is the fact that the Lenape are also referred to as “grandfathers” or “ancient ones” by other Native American tribes. According to the website listed above, the Lenape are a tribe that has existed longer than many of the other tribes, and even spawned a number of them. I can’t help but think of these names in relation to the fact that the Lenape were the original inhabitants of North America, long before European settlers arrived. This dimension gives the name a multi-layered meaning; the Lenape were both the “original” tribe that spawned many of the others and the “original” inhabitants of the lands before European settlement.

War

The Lenape have been involved in many conflicts, both as warriors and as diplomats. There were times when they helped to mediate disputes between European settlers and other Native American tribes.

I already previously knew that there were a number of violent conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers, but I also learned that there have been some alliances. First, the Lenape (along with the Seneca and the Shawnee) sided with the French during the French and Indian War. The conflict began between British colonists and the French, over who would control the Ohio River Valley. The Lenape at the time didn’t want the British to continue settling in their lands. They sided with the French because of the trade agreements they had that benefited both the Native Americans and the French, and because the French had no interest in settling the disputed lands.

Later, during the American Revolution, a treaty was signed between the new American government and the Lenape. The treaty “allowed American troops to pass through Lenni Lenape territory. In addition, the Lenni Lenape agreed to sell corn, meat, horses and other supplies to the United States and to allow their men to enlist in the U.S. army.” The American government offered statehood to the Lenape, which would have included representation in Congress. However, these promises were not kept. There was also division among the Native Americans, some of whom didn’t wish to get involved in the war. American soldiers later broke the treaty and engaged in several massacres of Native American people during the war.

In later years, Native American soldiers fought as part of the United States military in the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I & II, and beyond. This included more than 12,000 Native American soldiers in WWI, and more than 40,000 in WWII. The above linked article describes Native Americans during WWII as having “an intense desire to serve their country” and that they “were an integral part of the war effort.”

Citizenship and Rights

The American government didn’t recognize Native Americans as citizens of the United States until the “Indian Citizenship Act of 1924”. Then it wasn’t until 1978 that the “American Indian Religious Freedom Act” gave them the right to practice their religion and cultural practices without interference.

All of this information is just scratching the surface, but after reading all of the above articles, I definitely have a more detailed understanding of some of the major historical events. This should serve as good background for future research.

Critique Partners and Body Placement Diagrams

Manifestation Body Placement Diagram
Manifestation Body Placement Diagram

Getting critiques is always an interesting experience. After going through Rowan University’s Writing Arts program, I’ve been through quite a few workshop sessions, either group sessions (where the entire class reviews my work), or individual 1-on-1 critiques with a partner. These experiences helped me develop a thick skin for having my work read and criticized by others, and I’m always willing to listen to well-thought out, constructive critiques.

(Rude, insulting critiques written in aggressive language, on the other hand, are summarily ignored.)

I’ve been going through a lot of critiques lately, and I’ve been on both the sending and receiving end. In the past two months or so, I’ve had about half a dozen people critique the short story Belladonna that I’m revising, and I’ve gotten two critiques for my upcoming novel, Manifestation. I’ve also done at least a half a dozen critiques for friends, either for short stories they’re working on, or for sample chapters of their novel. I believe very much in a quid pro quo style of critiquing, and I’m always happy to offer my help back to the community that has supported me.

The beautiful part about having multiple critique partners is that they all offer something different. Each has a unique point of view and will notice things that others might not. Sometimes it’s simple things (both of my CPs for Manifestation caught some typos that the other one missed). Other times it’s more complex aspects of characterization and plot.

The diagram shown above was drawn by my friend Chris. He has a very tactical and visual mind. We’ve spent many years playing Dungeons & Dragons together, so he’s used to thinking in terms of strategic placement, movement through a battlefield, and other combat-oriented things. Because of this, he was able to catch some mistakes in one of the opening scenes of Manifestation, and he went so far as to draw a diagram pointing out how things would work (I photoshopped out some other elements of the diagram that contained spoilers). He’s also been extremely helpful in figuring out things like how some technology would work (for example, I had a few scenes where I improperly described a few things being done with a smartphone, where a tech-savvy CP was able to catch the errors).

My other CP for Manifestation is Eve Jacob (who has her own nifty site). By contrast to Chris, her notes more focused on specific character traits of the main characters in the novel. This is really helpful because many of these things are areas that Chris was silent. Part of the difference in the two CP styles may stem from the fact that Eve is a writer (and will therefore be more likely to notice things like plot and characterization), whereas Chris isn’t a writer and focuses more on things related to his areas of expertise. Having both perspectives simultaneously is helping a great deal with revisions.

I’ll probably have a couple of more people look over the novel after I’m finished going over these sets of notes. That way, since I’ll already have fixed the issues the first CPs pointed out, a new set of eyes will only be picking out new problems. The more eyes the better, since I need to put as much effort as possible into making this into the best book I can.

The Racism Behind A Name

This post is part of my ongoing research into Native American culture and modern issues of oppression. To see all posts on this subject, view the category page.

“Should the Washington Redskins change their name?” This topic is one of major debate right now. The basic argument is that the name is offensive and racist, which makes many Native Americans argue that is should be changed, while many sports fans say that it is a long-standing tradition and a symbol of pride for their team. I’m going to explore both sides of this issue.

There are many different aspects of Native American Culture, history, oppression, racism, and modern views to explore. I haven’t yet narrowed down my primary focus, so for the moment, I’m going to explore some thoughts and ideas here on the blog. Much of this will be a sort of “thinking out loud,” where I try to sort through ideas that I’m not very familiar with. I’ll be sharing research material that comes up as I explore these subjects.

The first thing I want to do, however, is declare my standpoint. In Communication Studies, Standpoint Theory is a theory which states that an individuals perspectives and views will be altered by their place in society, their history, their knowledge, and their power. On a basic level, this means that people from one standpoint can’t understand the troubles of another. For example, a wealthy white male from a privileged home who went to private school and works in the government can’t understand the troubles and life of a minority female who is a single mother living on welfare. Their experiences are different, and that can affect the way one views the other.

Every aspect of your standpoint can influence your view. If you’re the same race as another person, but one of you is rich and one is poor, you’ll have a similar standpoint on some issues and a different standpoint on others. There is no single “catch-all” category that will allow anyone to fully understand anyone else’s viewpoint.

Because I will be attempting to understand a culture I know little about, I am entering this research with firm awareness of my standpoint with regards to this subject. Therefore, I think it is important to declare who I am, so that both myself and anyone reading my research will know my standpoint and be aware of any possible biases or preconceptions my standpoint might bring.

I am a white, heterosexual, single male. I come from a lower-middle class family. I have experienced life working for minimum wage, and I know what it is like to be uncertain where my next meal is coming from. I do not have children, nor do I have any experience raising children (including personal understanding of the struggles and financial burdens of childcare). I am a college graduate, but I am also a nontraditional student and I didn’t graduate college until I was 33.

Based on my standpoint, I understand that I have a limited awareness of racial issues. I read about them, I learn about equal rights in school, and I support equality in every way. I have not, however, experienced the type of oppression that many people from minority groups have.

With that in mind, when I sat down to begin addressing the issue of Native American culture and oppression, I found that I went through a train of thought that ended up leading to an interesting question. The rest of this post will be exploring those thoughts and ending with that question.

My first thought when I was faced with the question “Should the Washington Redskins change their name?” was “It’s football, who cares?” I obviously had to move past this thought, but it’s important because it adds another dimension to my standpoint: I am not a sports fan.

Why is that important? Sports aren’t a crucial social issue, or so I might have said. But then I thought deeper about it, and I realized that someone’s status as a sports fan has some deep cultural implications. Here’s a list of why someone’s standpoint as a sport’s fan is important:

  • There has been research done into the psychological effects of “Sports Team Identification” (when a fan considers themselves part of the team’s group-identity) on a person’s behavior. A study by Keaton, et al., found that “Identified sport team fans who used catharsis, conflict linkage, and relational maintenance report a greater inclination to commit negative social behaviors as a result of team performance” (p. 3). In short, devoted sports fans develop a psychological connection that links their own self-worth to the performance of the team. If the team fails, the fans can feel like failures themselves. This can lead to aggressive behavior such as lashing out.
  • Sports also play a cultural role in our society. They are a group activity with customs, traditions, and an emotional impact on people who are involved with them. Orlando Patterson, a historical and cultural sociologist, said that sports have a “cultural and economic significance” and that “sport is a highly crystallised form of social structure, not found in other areas of society” (p. 550). In essence, this means that sports can be viewed in a cultural context in the same way art, music, and religion can. In fact, it can be argued that sports brings an even greater sense of community, a stronger emotional impact, and more cultural fixation than art does (just compare the number of fans at a sporting event to the number of visitors to a museum).
  • Sports fans are very well known for defending their team, and Sports Team Identification can lead to an “us vs them” attitude. Rival teams (such as the Cowboys vs the Eagles) can lead to fans feeling that fans of the opposing team are “enemies” or at the very least “others” (as in, not part of the “us” group). This can lead to segregation, and if someone from a rival team enters, say, the wrong sports bar, they may be subject to ridicule and aggression.

So by looking at sports in this way, I shifted my understanding of sports as “just another waste of time” (no different in my mind than any other activity), to “a complex, cultural activity that leads to the formation of groups and altered emotions and social behavior.” I think that distinction is important because of the points I’m about to address.

When considering the question of the Washington Redskins’ name change, I think it’s important to address what that change means. Originally, my view was “It’s not a big deal.” When I start thinking about sports teams and their fans as cultural and social constructs, however, it becomes more complex. The proponents and opponents of the name change debate become two different cultures, each with their own history, traditions, beliefs, and practices. Is one set of beliefs more important than the other? Well, I don’t think that’s the important factor here. The important factor is racism.

When I first heard the argument that the Redskins’ name was racist, I stopped and tried to put myself in the shoes of the Native Americans who would be insulted by this name. At first, I had a hard time. I’m Irish, and I could label myself as “Irish-American” instead of just “white.” My grandfather’s family was born in Ireland, and his parents and older brother all moved here before my grandfather was born. I have distant second-cousins still living in Ireland, and my family keeps in touch with them.

Based on my standpoint as an Irish-American, I tried to think how I would feel if the debate about the name change was over another team: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. My thoughts on the matter basically amounted to, “I could be offended that this team name stereotypes Irish as both drunkards and brawlers.” It did not, however, move me to any real emotion (I didn’t get angry or offended over this; I merely considered the possibility that others could).

I felt like I was missing some important point, however. Sports fans in favor of keeping the Redskins’ name have said they feel that the name “honor[s] the Native Americans” as “a symbol of loyalty and courage.” Those statements are easily open to dispute, but rather than focusing on the statements themselves, I want to look deeper.

After giving the issue some thought, I ended up considering the following scenario:

Imagine you are an African American. You find out a new sports team is forming nearby. The team uniforms will be inspired by colors used in the flags of African nations, and the team is meant to “honor African Americans” as “a symbol of African pride and heritage.”

Then you find out that the team will be named “The Mississippi Coloreds.”

Would you find this offensive? Would you want them to change the name? I went to Twitter and asked if people would consider “coloreds” offensive. The responses were consistent: yes, they find it offensive. Along those lines, I am sure there would be a LOT of protest to naming a sports team in this way.

This then brings me to a better understanding of the Redskins’ name change debate. If it’s not okay to name a sports team “honoring African Americans” by naming the team based on the color of that race’s skin, then why do people think it’s okay to name the Redskins in the same way?

Perhaps our society hasn’t had enough education in this regard to view “Redskins” as an offensive term in the same way we do other racist words. Though you might need to consider whether you would ever use the word when speaking to a Native American. I think that a more appropriate way to “honor Native Americans” would be to only use names they embrace, rather than names they find offensive.

This train of thought has certainly influenced the way I view the name change debate. I think that when taken in this context, it should be clear why the name is offensive.

There are a lot of other angles for me to pursue as I take this research forward, but I think what I’ve covered here is helping me to narrow my focus. Some of the key issues are cultures, the “us vs them” perspective that can develop between cultures, and the offensive nature of referring to a group of people based on their skin (even if people claim they are doing it to “honor” them). I’ll be exploring these issues more in the future, and hoping to increase my own understanding as I go along.

Starting Draft Five: One Month Countdown

So I mentioned about a month ago that I was sending Manifestation out for critiques. Well, this week I got some feedback from the wonderful Eve Jacob (who has a nifty site you should check out). I’ve also got a few more critiques coming in the near future, including one from a real-world friend of mine, Chris McKnight, who unfortunately has no web presence for me to link to.

Having critiques (and having not looked at the book for a month) means it’s time to start revising again. I’ll start working on Draft Five, and I have one month (until March 6th to be precise) to get it done. There’s a nifty little meter on the sidebar —–> which hasn’t been updated in awhile. For the next month it should be updated regularly to show how much progress I’m making.

Meanwhile I’ve also got Belladonna revisions to do, but they’re lower priority. I’ve already done five drafts of that story, and I have a couple of critiques I need to review still. Most likely I’ll work on Belladonna some more after I finish the next draft of Manifestation. Then both the novel and the short story should be released sometime later this year (I’m aiming for summer, since when school is out I’ll have a lot more time to work on them). I’m looking forward to adding some more works alongside Radiance to my shelf.

That’s all for now. Though tune in tomorrow for a research-related blog post. I’m in a research class at Rowan University and I may be deciding to investigate the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation. I’ll discuss more details about the research project and why I chose that particular subject in tomorrow’s post.

How Video Games Have Influenced My Writing

Most of the time, writers seem to talk about the books that have influenced their writing style. I’ve certainly been influenced by Tolkien (naturally), Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, James Alan Gardner, and plenty of other authors. I’ve taken inspiration from many other sources, including webcomics like Girl Genius (the main character of that comic, Agatha Heterodyne, was one of the primary sources of inspiration for my character Tock Zipporah (whose proper name is actually “Minerva Agatha Zipporah”)). But since I’ve been playing video games since I was about six years old, gaming has definitely been another influence that has changed the way I write.

There are a few different specific ways that video games affected my writing, so I’ll address each one individually.

The Influence of Gods and Monsters

I write urban fantasy, and my work is steeped heavily in mythology, magic, monsters, and other classics of the fantasy genre. I try to veer away from overused creatures (such as vampires, werewolves, elves, dwarves, and dragons) and create a combination of my own homemade creations along with my interpretations of less-used mythological creatures.

One basic example of that is golems. Golems are creatures made from inanimate matter, and can range from magically-animated stone statues to living clay to robots that are powered by mana instead of electricity. I don’t tend to see golems used all that often in most of the books I read (though I’m sure I could name a few examples, like the animated suits of armor in the Harry Potter books). They’re a common sight in both video games and tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. My character Tock is a golem-maker, and video games are definitely a big influence in the way I design her golems. Instead of creating animated stone statues or living suits of armor, Tock tends to go for things like magitech creations, similar to those seen in Final Fantasy VI. In that game, you see things like robots that fire magic-powered lasers, living war machines created by magic, and magic-powered mechwarrior suits (called “MagiTek Armor” in the game). All of these things have been a huge influence in the way I view Tock’s ability and the things she creates, particularly in Contamination and Collapse.

Another influence from the Final Fantasy games in particular is the design of their summoned monsters. Many of them are based on various real-world myths and legends, and you can go into a lot of detail analyzing how closely the games stuck with the mythological inspirations versus how much creative license they took.

I don’t directly draw from many of the summoned monsters in Final Fantasy, but my all-time favorite has always been Shiva. So much so that Shiva is a very direct influence over my short story, Radiance. In some of the later books in the series (including Book 4 that I’m working on a first draft of right now), there are other places where you’ll see the influences of Final Fantasy summoned monsters emerge. I tend to take things in a vastly different direction with a lot of creative license, so the results don’t have much in common with the games, but I can’t deny where some of the inspiration came from.

Visual Effects of Magic

Magic can take many forms in novels. In Harry Potter, we see characters using wands and chanting magic words in faux-latin. In the Sword of Truth series, we see a lot of mystic glyphs and arcane inscriptions. In the Wheel of Time we see magic described as a weaving of energies, which for me usually brings to mind the image of glowing threads creating a tapestry of power before they are unleashed.

Many video games tend to have more visual elements. A lot of this has to do with practical issues of gameplay. For example, you can’t expect a character in a video game to stop mid-battle and sketch magic runes on the ground with white sand in order to create a spell effect. Instead, there tends to be flashes of light that are designed to add to the excitement of a game while also adding a personal touch of style. These visual styles can be so distinct that you could easily identify which game a spell came from just by the way it looks, which adds something to the overall style of the game.

The magic in my books tends to be very visual. There is a complex rules system that determines how magic works, and that is far more important to the plot than what a magical effect looks like. But at the same time, I feel that vivid descriptions can make a battle scene more exciting and add more personalization to it. In some books, like the Wheel of Time series, there are times when two magic-users are simply staring at each other while an invisible battle rages between their minds. That can get fairly boring, whereas the more interesting battles are those with plenty of fireballs and lightning bolts being thrown around.

I also feel, however, that there should be a certain uniqueness to the visual effects of magic. Many of the book series I’ve mentioned have unique enough magic systems that if you were to see a description taken from each one, you’d immediately know which series that description is from, just from the way magic is described. Again, this isn’t a plot-central issue (and the way magic is related to the plot is far more important than the visual effects). But creating unique visual elements can be a good way to develop a personal style that will be associated with your particular books.

A good example of this in my series is the character Maelyssa Southeby, from the story Belladonna (which is currently in revisions). Like Radiance, Belladonna details a character’s journey as she develops a strange power that she doesn’t understand. Mae has a power that, technically, could have been created without visual elements. She could have used it with pure magical energies that couldn’t be seen by a normal person. Instead, however, I developed a design for her power that is more personalized and unique. I think it helps make the power more “hers” and not just “another superpower.” Part of the difference is purely aesthetic, but those aesthetic choices can be a good way to personalize something.

Combos

Some types of books have magic systems that have certain specific things they can do, and certain things they can’t do. In Harry Potter, for example, you’ll tend to see the same spells used over and over again. One thing you don’t really see is the characters finding a way to combine their powers.

Now, the idea of powers combined can, if done improperly, become cliche and trite. I tend to veer away from anything that requires characters to combine their powers in order to send a message about teamwork and how “together, we are stronger than we are alone.” That sort of thing gets a little too after-school-special for me.

However, there is another way that the idea of combo powers influences my writing. In many video games you can have characters combine two completely different abilities in order to do something that isn’t just stronger and more effectively, but which is actually impossible to do with a single character alone. I’m not just talking about increasing the power level to a greater scale (if you read the Wheel of Time books, you’ll see Aes Sedai “link” in circles for greater power, but they still just throw fireballs and lightning bolts; they merely throw BIGGER fireballs and lightning bolts).

When designing my magic system, I made sure to keep things very open-ended. There are no fixed “spells” that have to have a certain effect in a certain way. Many magical effects in my books are based on how creative the character can be in how they use their power. Because of this, characters can also find ways to use their powers in conjunction with each other to create unique effects. This leads to some interesting scenarios in the later books where the characters are able to puzzle out some unique solutions to the problems they face.

Leveling Up

In video games, the power levels of your characters tend to go up steadily throughout the course of the game. Books aren’t always like this. In the Harry Potter series, Harry might become more skilled in his use of magic by the end of the books, but he’s not casting spells that are more powerful (for example, he still uses “Expelliarmus” in the final battle, but it’s not like he’s able to disarm a dozen wizards at once). The same applies to some non-magical books as well; Katniss Everdeen starts off The Hunger Games as an expert archer, and there’s no real sign that her archery improves over the course of the books.

I prefer to have my characters grow, not just in terms of their personalities and flaws, but in terms of their skills and magic as well. So at the beginning of Manifestation, no one even HAS magic. No one has a clue how it works. Chaos ensues. A big part of the short stories Belladonna and Radiance is the way the characters first manifest their powers and have to learn how they work. Characters then grow steadily stronger throughout the course of the books, learning new ways to use their abilities and increasing the scale they can operate on.

There’s probably some other more subtle influences video games have had on my writing, but this is a pretty good run down. Of course, there’s always the chance my books will one day be made INTO video games, in which case these influences would come full circle.