Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The Feminist Movie We Need

by Maria Isabelle

Even before The Force Awakens hit the big screen, Star Wars fans were instantly enchanted by the effects, mysterious storyline and intriguing but relatable characters. In particular, Rey has become the heroine of every young girl’s’ dreams and has since resonated with a vast majority of audiences because of her admirable independence and unmatched strength. In a series that has focused for so long on its young male heroes, it’s high time that a fully-formed female character like Rey has come into the limelight.

The Force Awakens takes place thirty years after the defeat of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, and since then, the galaxy has reorganized itself. Luke Skywalker has disappeared and Leia, now the general of the Resistance, leads a splinter group that fights against the new Empire, the First Order. Rey first appears as a nobody, a scavenger on the backwater desert planet of Jakku, who is drawn into the conflict after she rescues the adorable droid, BB-8, who houses vital information about Luke’s whereabouts. Like both Luke and Anakin Skywalker before her, she goes from her humble beginnings in the desert to participating in events that shape the galaxy – and like them, she also discovers that she is strong in the Force.

Rey is a hero for today’s world, vulnerable and strong in equal parts. She is able to scavenge for herself and has developed many survival skills because of this. However, we see that she is utterly alone in the world of Jakku, waiting for someone who may never come back. Despite this, she forms bonds quickly and we see this through BB-8 and former stormtrooper Finn. Later on, we find her in a pseudo-father-daughter relationship with Han, which is both lovely and heartbreaking, considering the unknown origins of her own parents. Rey’s strength comes from her abilities to take care of herself as well as her hope that someone will come back for her.

Her relationships with the male characters of The Force Awakens also show her developed character. Despite Finn’s obvious interest in her, this love interest is not fully formed and instead focuses on using Finn to show Rey’s abilities. When they first meet and are found by the First Order, Finn repeatedly takes Rey’s hand to run, to which Rey responds with “I know how to run without you holding my hand.” Han Solo also recognizes her skills and even offers her a job aboard the Millennium Falcon and a blaster gun on the planet of Takodana because he knows she can take care of herself. Rey also shows her independence in multiple situations where she saves herself: when people try to capture BB-8, she successfully fights them off with her staff and when she is captured by Kylo Ren, we find her performing her own escape plan and Han Solo, Chewbacca and Finn (unnecessarily) trying to save her.

Rey’s skills are not only present in her knowledge of how to survive in the desert, but in how she adapts to the galaxy at large. Her scavenging is directly related to her ability to understand and repair starships, thus winning Han Solo’s respect. Her melee skills with her staff- because as Finn points out, nobody on Jakku seems to use blaster pistols – serve her well when she receives a lightsaber. And her latent skills in the Force may be the most useful of all. It seems obvious that Rey may have received training at some point in the past, and these forgotten abilities come to the forefront once she meets Kylo Ren. The Sith Lord in training attempts to seduce Rey with promises of instruction, reaching into her mind to pull out memories. Rey is able to turn the tables and this moment seems to flip a switch in her. Like Luke before her, all she needed to do was close her eyes and trust in the Force.

Rey is not a damsel in distress like many female characters of the 1970s were, nor is she the hypersexualized heroine so common in the late 1990s. She has more in common with Katniss Everdeen than she does the heroines of the pulp films that inspired Star Wars. She lets audiences see that women can be heroes and fighters in a galaxy far, far away. When fans watch previous films and Star Wars spinoffs on DVD or on local channels, they can see that The Force Awakens continues a proud tradition of following along Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey – only this time, the hero just happens to be a heroine.

 

Prof Pic 1Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. 

Energy, Pollution and Toxic Waste: Eco-Horror in Film

written by Maria Isabelle

Climate change has been a big button issue in recent years as more and more people have become aware of its negative effects. In fact, because of the burning of fossil fuels, the emission of carbon dioxide has increased about 40 percent since pre-industrial times, according to Ohio Energy. With this concern and changing environmental issues come a plethora of films that reflect our natural world’s burdens. Films have been warning us of impending ecological disaster for years. Whether it’s our own hubris coming to get us or the Earth fighting back, here are five of the most terrifying eco-horror-themed films.

 


Godzilla
(1954)

Not only the King of the Monsters, Godzilla is also the king of the eco-disasters. Famously a metaphor for the unchecked use of nuclear power, Godzilla as a force doesn’t even seem to see his victims. He can only destroy, taking victims in a way that doesn’t discriminate, much like the radiation that created him. This classic film is powerfully written and directed, nothing like the sillier entries later in the franchise that would give it a reputation for high camp. Even with the oft-forgotten love triangle that dominates the majority of the film, Godzilla has a lot to say and does so fantastically.

 

The Bay (2012)

When two researchers discover a toxin in Chesapeake Bay (alluding to the actual pollution in Chesapeake Bay), even they couldn’t have predicted that it would release a parasite on the townspeople that turns them into violent killers. A straight-out horror film, The Bay gives us everything the genre needs: unnatural threat, savvy protagonists, and authority figures that refuse to do anything. It actually has shades of Jaws which it seems to homage quite nicely. Viewers who like heavy doses of irony will find a lot to like in this film.

 

 

 

C.H.U.D. (1984)

Photographer George Cooper (John Heard) discovers a civilization of “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers” (C.H.U.D.s) who are intent on invading the surface world. This camp classic from the renewed monster trend of the mid-80s is not subtle about how toxic waste created these mutant maniacs and doesn’t try to hide a very strong pro-environment message in between the gore and special effects.

 

 

 

 

 

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

An often forgotten Roland Emmerich classic, this is the story of scientist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) who discovers that the Earth is headed for an imminent major freeze – one that happens almost instantly afterward leaving the survivors to find a way to keep living until humanity can respond. Like most Emmerich films, the environmental message and reference to the effects of climate change is in your face and over the top, but also sincere and couched in high action with exciting set pieces and very human characters.

 

 

 

 

Into the Storm (2014)

A found footage disaster film, Into the Storm switches perspectives between several graduating high school students and a veteran storm chaser named Pete (Matt Walsh) who is trying to drive directly into a tornado. The action builds as the story goes on, getting the characters closer and closer to an encounter with a major whirlwind – another force alluding to climate change. This manages to use the found footage gimmick in a way that doesn’t strain the eyes and can integrate parallel plots naturally.

 

 

 

 

These are only some of the many movies we have made that look at how we’ve treated the planet and suggest that it might cause a negative reaction. Whether it’s personifying our lack of care for water or our fears of nuclear holocaust, eco-horror always hits very close to home.

 

Prof Pic 1Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. 

The Unaddressed Issues in YA Dystopian Fiction

written by Maria Isabelle

The future of mankind is dark, desolate and generally pretty frightening. At least, that is what dystopian fiction like The Giver and The Maze Runner would have us believe. Dystopian fiction pictures a future world where many of our current problems are escalated to extreme proportions.These fictitious works are set sometime in the future after we have continued down our current path of destruction and the end result is a world overrun by violence, greed and sometimes even a creepy monster or two. There is an overarching presence of oppression by some sort of political force in all these works of fiction, and it is when citizens of these dystopias realize the system they live in isn’t the one they want to live in, that the story typically begins.

This is not a new genre of fiction, but it has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, especially in the growing young adult market. While there may be many reasons for this rise in YA dystopian fiction, the fact that many of these stories feature an oppressed hero ready to fight for freedom speaks directly to the oppression many teens feel as they grow up. Unfortunately, this oppressive feeling also highlights what is really lacking in many dystopian works including the minimization of racism, sexism and a number of other issues plaguing modern society.

While issues such as technological dependency, government control, and environmental destruction get A-list exposure, real problems teens (and adults) face on a daily basis are mostly ignored. Right now, there is a big discussion happening on the role both racism and sexism play in YA dystopian fiction. Hit properties like the Divergent series actually go right for societal separation, which one would think is the perfect place for a discussion on racism and equality. Instead, Divergent (and its sequel Insurgent – streaming info for both here) avoids all of that messy real-life drama and instead chooses to base its separation on virtues instead of race, which is unfortunately far more likely the way our evil future-selves would run things.

Along the same thinking, The Hunger Games features a predominantly white world with little room for race issues. Sure, there are some minority characters in the film, but not too many fans likings. During casting of The Hunger Games, it was announced that Willow Smith may play Rue, a young girl that was written as a minority in the books, and the internet went wild.

All over Twitter, blogs, and forums fans of the series were coming out in droves to bash the casting of an African-American girl as Rue. These comments varied from the downright hateful to the more passive-aggressively racist, but the general sentiment was the same. Following the movie’s premier, the comments continued and even though Smith did not play the role of Rue, Amandla Stenberg put forth a sensational portrayal of the character even the harshest of critics couldn’t ignore.

It comes as a surprise to many that in comparison to other dystopian fictions, and actions movies in general, the main protagonists in these films are strong female characters. Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley have been dominating screens in these films for a couple years now openly challenging gender stereotypes. The underlying tone of female empowerment present in these series is great for the young girls that are typically fans of the genre. But rarely are the serious issues many women face on a daily basis like discrimination and harassment addressed.

While most dystopian fictions feature some element of racism or sexism, they barely scratch the surface of the issues and their repercussions in the real world. By tackling these major issues in young adult fiction, we are encouraging the youth of today to openly discuss the real-world problems they face now and will in the future, possibly opening up the genre to a whole new reading and viewing public. Ignoring these real-world issues are akin to simply saying they do not exist or are not important, and we all know that is not the case.

 

Prof Pic 1

Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. 

Break Into TV Writing, The Time is Now

written by Carl Slaughter

What kind of alternative universe is this where there are too many writing gigs and not enough writers?

“BROADCAST NETWORKS ARE OPEN TO PITCHES†BUT WHERE ARE THE AVAILABLE TV WRITERS? †A non-writing producer told me he has never gotten so many “not available” answers from TV lit agents when inquiring about writers.”

This quote from Deadline Hollywood is from a few years ago and the number of networks and shows has continued to explode.

Not only has the volume increased, the quality has increased.

David Fincher, director of such famous movies as The Social Network, and Fight Club, was lured by Netflix with a hundred million dollar budget and a thirteen episode commitment for House of Cards, the hit political drama starring Kevin Spacey.

Fincher’s comment on the drastically changing landscape of television drama: “AS TELEVISION BECOMES MORE AND MORE LIKE LITERATURE†” [Emphasis added.]

Mary McNamara, TV reviewer for the Los Angeles Times, describes the phenomenon even more vividly: “The film industry is having a tough time producing anything other than franchise fodder and Oscar bait, while HIGH PRODUCTION SCRIPTED TELEVISION IS BUSTING OUT ALL OVER. Actors will tell you they follow the stories, and IT’S PAST ARGUING THAT SOME OF THE BEST STORIES ARE BEING TOLD ON TELEVISION. But actors and writers and directors, like most of population, also follow the love. And right now, audiences are in love with television. Truly, madly, deeply, and in ways difficult to sustain in film or the theater. EPISODIC TELEVISION IS REGULARLY DECONSTRUCTED IN A WAY ONCE RESERVED FOR SHAKESPEARE OR THE ROMANTIC POETS. Meanwhile, the people creating the shows we’re all mad for are similarly lionized.” [Emphasis added.]

“The Berlin Wall was a thing of chicken wire and Kleenex compared with the barrier that once stood between film and television in America.” – Mary McNamara, LA Times TV reviewer.

I have counted seventy Hollywood actors, most of them A-Listers, who have switched from films to television. The studios are reducing the number of movies. Meanwhile, 48 television networks are offering scripted episodic dramas series. The only people outside the industry who can keep track of the number of shows are journalists on the TV beat.

Television is where the storytelling is and television is where the job security is. It’s only a matter of time before the likes of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts join the party.

But it’s also only a matter of time before this situation equilibrates. The number of shows will decrease and the number of writers will increase. The time for print writers to make the transition is now.

The networks are not only desperate for writers, they are hungry for concepts. So here is an opportunity to not only make $40,000 per episode as writers, but to also create and oversee our own meaningful projects as visionary storytellers.

The TV literary departments of talent agencies have turned into a game of musical chairs. Agencies are laying off film agents and stealing one another’s TV lit agents in an effort to adapt to the television revolution. But I finally tracked down the key agents of the TV lit departments of the major agencies.

Josh Hornstock, UTA (LA); Mike Jelline, UTA (LA); Nancy Gates, UTA (NY); Ian Greenstein, Resolution; Katie Cates, Resolution; Mark Gordon, ICM; Ruthanne Secunda, ICM; Debbee Klein, Paradigm; Amy Retzinger, Verve; Roy Ashton, Gersh.

After reading the profiles of and interviews with these agents, I settled on Debbee Klein as the best agent to help print writers break into screen. Based on what I’ve read, she has the reputation and the stability and she’s client oriented.

I also recommend Ari Emanuel based on these comments in Current Biography: “Ari is relentless. There’s no more loyal a guy for his clients. He’ll beg, borrow, and steal to get his clients what he wants.” “With Ari, it’s all about the bottom line. In a business deal, he’s going to try to kill for you and it’s just going to be about putting as much money in your pocket as he can, until you tell him that there’s something else that’s important to you.”

Using SF Podcasts to teach Business and Economics

written by Moritz Botts

Who wouldn’t have liked to have studied their university subject using their favorite science fiction or fantasy stories? I missed a crossover between my favorite genre fiction and the subject he was studying, so when I became a PhD student and lecturer at a German university, I decided to take matters into my own hands and asked my professor if I could teach a business course using Escape Pod as the main source. I might have understated the fact that Escape Pod is a science fiction podcast thoughâ€

The first question of course is, whether science fiction or fantasy stories lend themselves to the subject that is taught. Accounting would be a difficult subject to teach with a Robert E. Heinlein story, and human anatomy courses should probably stick to the regular, human based textbooks. There are certainly fields which are much more open to genre fiction, like anthropology, which Julianna Beaudoin of Western University in London, Canada, teaches via science fiction and fantasy classics. Authors like Ursula K. LeGuin, a daughter of anthropologists, immediately come to mind in this field. Ram Mudambi of Temple University, PA, uses the fantasy novel The Empire of the Zon as a source for his undergrad international business classes. If a manager has to study foreign cultures and their ways of doing business, why not go for a totally foreign, a fantasy culture? I decided to not rely on my students’ motivation to read though, but rather thought that podcasts would be a solution that make it more likely that students could listen to the “required listening of the week” during their commute, while exercising, or while shopping. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that all podcasts offered by Escape Artists are available free of charge.

Before the course began, I asked myself a couple of questions: Were Escape Pod, Podcastle, or even Pseudopod, podcasts I have been following since 2010, suitable for a university course? Would the young generation of students be open to genre fiction? Could podcasts make it easier for students to follow the course? There was only one way to find out!

In the summer of 2014, the course “Business and Economics in Fiction Podcasts” was offered to undergraduate students of international business at a German public university. The university has a strong international focus, and more than 50% of the students who eventually signed up for this course were exchange students from the European Erasmus program, coming from countries such as Poland, Russia, Turkey, France, Italy, or Greece.

Students picked a podcast from a selection of science fiction and some fantasy podcasts, mostly from Escape Pod and Podcastle. I had preselected these podcasts to include some economics or business related topic, often following suggestions from Escape Artists’ forums. These included totally new takes on supply and demand with Nancy Kress’ “Nano comes to Clifford Falls” (EP 075), the meaning of value with Daniel Abraham’s “The Cambist and Lord Iron” (PC 051), or intercultural communication with David D. Levine’s “Tk’tk’tk” (EP 045). You can see the complete list of stories at the end of this article. In many cases, this meant near future stories with social criticism by authors such as Nancy Kress or Cory Doctorow. Even though students would usually be 21 years old or older, no Pseudopod stories were selected.

The course was offered as a “soft skills” course with credits but no grade, to make it easier to experiment a bit. A typical week would include two presentations by student groups and a section on different academic skills, such as presenting, citation, editing podcasts, or creating a wiki. Therefore, even if the idea of using the podcasts terribly backfired, the students would have still taken something useful with them.

The results of the course were somewhat mixed. On the one hand, all stories were suitable to be used as case studies in economics or business on an undergraduate level. One German student mentioned that he had been very skeptical about using science fiction stories at first, but when he listened to his story – Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Tamarisk Hunter” (EP 384) , he immediately “got it”. A group of Turkish students presented Tobias Buckell’s “Anakoinosis” and expressed a deep concern for the ethical issues discussed in the story. For me, it was initially a bit weird to hear my students present genre fiction authors and talk about the awards they got, but why should a story concerning aliens and spaceships be any weirder than a business case?

The lack of a grade for the course led to a couple of rather lackluster presentations though, and not all students would listen to the podcasts regularly. For future iterations of this course, incentives for a stronger engagement of the students should be given. Also, as the stories seem to “work” in an academic setting, grades could certainly be given, which should raise the quality of the students’ presentations.

To evaluate the course, I handed out a questionnaire during the last class. This survey is not really representative, because of the small class size. Nevertheless, there are a couple of trends that can be seen. Most students hadn’t really heard of podcasts before the start of the course. They usually listened to the course’s story on their computer while not doing anything else. There was only one native speaker of English in the course, and most students found it easier to follow the stories in a written format alongside the audio file.

About half of the students actually like science fiction stories. While most students only listened to a couple of the podcasts, they usually listened to more than one, the most popular being “Tk’tk’tk”.

I am sure that I will offer this course again in an upcoming semester. New and engaging Escape Pod (and Podcastle and Pseudopod) stories will certainly enhance the next course, so keep them coming!

 

Short stories included in the Curriculum

Week 1: From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled… (Michael Swanwick), Escape Pod
Week 2: Accounting for Dragons (Eric James Stone), Podcastle
Week 3: Nano Comes to Clifford Falls (Nancy Kress), Escape Pod
Week 3: The Tamarisk Hunter (Paolo Bacigalupi), Escape Pod
Week 4: Dragonomics (Lance Shonberg), Cast of Wonders
Week 4: The Cambist and Lord Iron (Daniel Abraham), Podcastle
Week 5: Anakoinosis (Tobias Buckell); Dunesteef
Week 5: Special Economics (Maureen F. McHugh), Clarkesworld
Week 6: Anda’s Game (Cores Doctorow), Podiobooks
Week 6: Patent Infringement (Nancy Kress), Escape Pod
Week 7: Just Do It (Heather Lindsley), Escape Pod
Week 7: Tk’tk’tk (David D. Levine), Escape Pod


MoritzBottsMoritz Botts is a research and teaching assistant at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. His research focuses on intercultural differences in management, while his teaching includes international management and innovation management. He is also an intercultural trainer and interested in innovative teaching methods with diverse media. He has written a horror short story in German published in an anthology and various academic articles. You can contact Moritz at botts@europa-uni.de

 

The Making of Waylines

written by Darryl Knickrehm

How to (kind of) Make a Magazine
aka The Making of Waylines

First – be fans of your subject. David Rees-Thomas and I love science fiction. In fact we talked about it almost every week at our weekly beer binging. From the latest stories in Clarkesworld or Lightspeed, to the classics like The Left Hand of Darkness. We love this stuff.

Second – write. Again, David and I are aspiring writers. At the time of conceptualizing the magazine, I had been making and writing short films for years and had moved on to feature screenplays and a novel. David too had written poetry and short stories for years and gotten in to Clarion West. As writers, we wanted to get involved in the community and to add something to it (and all that beer sure didn’t dampen our inhibitions at such loft prospects).

From there, in our drunken stupor, we got the idea of starting a magazine. And so we came up with Waylines!

Waylines? Yes, Waylines! Haven’t heard of it? It’s a SFF magazine with a twist. We publish short speculative fiction PLUS stream short speculative films (and it’s free!) We’ve been out for a year now. In 2013 we ran 6 issues, published 14 stories and screened 18 films. We were lucky enough to run some great stories by Jake Kerr, Anaea Lay, and Eric Del Carlo among others, and get some interviews by the likes of Ken Liu, Cat Rambo, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Aliette de Bodard (we even interviewed old David Steffen). It was a great year.

Now Waylines is back for 2014 (although David has sadly left the magazine). And like any project, it’s important to have it grow. Like that old axiom: the sequel has to be bigger, the 2nd series has to expand upon the last, etc. Magazines are no different. So Waylines is evolving. We’ll still be running our usual brand of short fiction, film, and interviews, but we’re also trying to make some stellar additions.

So what are some of the things brewing in the Waylines? One is poetry. From the hip, to the edgy, to that which is simply beautiful, we are now exploring the wisdom of words. And with the new section, comes a new Poetry Editor. The lovely Beth Cato. This is going to be good.

The next addition, the one we are currently working on setting up, is: comics. Because when creating anything, it’s always a good idea to keep your influences close. And I’ve always loved comics that were a little outside the mainstream (like the original Heavy Metal, and a lot of Japanese Manga). And since comics are a big part of science fiction, I’d love to add that to the mix. We’re currently in the works of setting up this new section and are really excited about it.

Now all of that ‘new’ stuff is important to keep things fresh, but there is one part of making a magazine that is even more important: developing a concept/feel and staying true to it. The concept with Waylines, since those first beer-fueled conversations, was that Waylines could be a place where the various communities of speculative fiction could intermingle and possibly get a taste of the other formats (film or fiction). So while everything in this year’s lineup is moving forward to try new things, it’s all being done in support of our original concept. In truth, it’s a lot like plotting a story.

Yet despite having all these ideas, all these plans lined up, there is one thing that stands in the way. Finances. You’ve got to pay your writers and contributors. For Year One, we paid .05 a word for fiction, and for Year Two we’d like to continue to pay pro-rates (this year at .06 a word, in accordance to the SFWA’s guidelines). For Year One, we were able to raise funds through Kickstarter. For Year Two, we’re trying to do the same. We’re running the campaign right now, from Jan 10 – Feb 10 . Whether this campaign is a success or not will determine if we can implement all of these plans.

If you’re able to do all of that — poof — you’ll have a magazine on your hands! Well, kind of. You still have to do the reading, editing, design, layout, and promoting. But that’s not really that important. Now get to work! It’s time to make something cool.

bigavatar.largeA filmmaker now exploring novel-writing and illustration, Darryl has 8 short films under his belt. In 2009, he began writing his dystopian series, The Citizens of Oblivion. The first book in the series, In Dreams, was released on Jan 20, 2014. In the past year, Darryl was a finalist for the Illustrators of the Future two times, and he also co-founded Waylines Magazine. For more information on his current projects, check out dariru.com or his blog.

Independent Science Fiction

written by Samuel X. Brase

Science fiction often questions the value of success and happiness in the future,usually by contrasting what it means today against unreal alien circumstances. A couple of new short stories offer traditional answers, as well as food for thought when refracted onto the medium of their publication: independent e-magazines.

“Thief of Futures” by D. Thomas Minton demonstrates value in terms of wealth and talent; the story is only concerned with characters who are either rich or possess a very certain innate skill. Everyone else is consigned to the background. “Antiquities and Tangibles” by Tim Pratt examines value through connections and luck; the more social-oriented tools of achieving success and accruing value. Those without connections and luck have no chance of exploring happiness to the extent the main characters do.

On the other hand, the stories themselves have been made available for free on the Internet, by independent publications unrelated to major publishers and the traditional approach to literary success. The medium undercuts the message.

I’ve taken value as one of my main concerns because it opens up discussion to issues that are increasingly relevant within our current political situation. How much do we value corporations and how much leverage should we allow them? The same with political parties, the same with wealthy individuals. Where do we draw these lines, and how do those boundaries influence society?

Independent art reinterprets these questions through guerilla tactics: Free availability of art, approachable artists, new venues. Each tactic challenges formal institutions, such as corporate publishing, by providing alternative means of creating and enjoying art.

Redefining the value of art is important because it helps differentiate literature. Art death occurs when one set of teachers raise generations of students to believe the same lessons and dogma about writing. Established knowledge is not a bad thing, but it is something to be resisted, because progress doesn’t come from the establishment,progress is found on the boundaries, the edge of understanding and form.

Why is progress necessary? Maybe the establishment has it right.

Old forms of art cannot address the issues of contemporary society. Outdated tools are useful, instructional, and entertaining; but they lack the scope our present times demand. Thus, while the establishment may have been “right” when it became entrenched, it has little hope of being “right” now. Is there really any question that literary methods from fifty years ago are able to dig into the issues of our present day?

Independent science fiction can slide into this role. Stories such as “Thief of Futures” and “Antiquities and Tangibles” are the very beginning of the discussion; they speak from the status quo, but are presented through the new medium. Such juxtaposition reveals the demand our present times place on literature. Once the free and immediate nature of the Internet influences stories, twenty-first century fiction will truly begin to find its stride, and will separate itself from what came before. Science fiction is uniquely poised in this regard; as genre writing, it is forced to stand on the outside to begin with,all the better to test form and content. I encourage all writers of independent science fiction to let the medium seep into their writing, to let ideas of free and immediate fiction run wild.

Samuel X. Brase is the editor of Cosmic Vinegar, a monthly e-magazine dedicated to independent science fiction and politics. You can read more about the two stories discussed here in the November 2011 issue, available for free.

“Green Room” Writing

written by Phil Brucato, reprinted from his LiveJournal page

Not everything in a story happens on the page. When an author writes material that occurs “offstage,” that so-called “green room writing” may inform the events that the audience sees. Giving foundations for the characters, their motivations, personalities and activities, green room writing may well feel like wasted effort. Trust me, though , it’s really not.

I coined the term green room writing when describing the many false starts I had with my short story “Ravenous.” An intense urban faerie tale inspired by my experiences in a heavy metal group, “Ravenous” featured the implosion of the narrator’s band in mid-gig. The story’s first few drafts began in the “green room” , the often-cramped backstage space where performers wait before a show. My original versions of the tale started with the bandmates sniping at one another while a warm-up group performs out front. By the time the first show ends, all five members of the narrator’s group are ready to blow†and soon do.

It didn’t work for me, though. The characters seemed realistic, the dialog zinged, the tension radiated in all directions†and yet, it didn’t work. I pounded through two or three drafts of the opening like this, wondering why my inner critic kept pouting at it.

Then it hit me: The action didn’t begin in the green room. It started as the band stepped onstage , tense, pissed off, surging with adrenaline and facing a drunk, voracious crowd.

“Ravenous” doesn’t kick in when the music does , that option seems too abrupt, and doesn’t give the reader time to care about the characters. (I know; I wrote that version, too.) The tale starts just before the lights go up, with five fiercely terrified young people ready to pounce and be pounced on in return. “I’ve got that just-before-the-cages-open feeling in my chest,” says our narrator, Nikita. The bomb’s just about to explode, and in the next few paragraphs, it does.

By the time I wrote the band’s detonation, I knew every character on stage. Each one spoke with a distinctive voice; each had a unique personality. I knew how the bandmates looked, what they wanted, why they blew up in the ways they did. That scene essentially wrote itself. From first draft to final, I changed hardly a word of it.

I was able to write that scene the way I did because of the various passes I’d run through in that green room. Although they didn’t appear in the final story , nor should they have appeared , those literally offstage brainstorming sessions informed all that followed afterward.

Green room writing can feel frustrating. Personally, I get annoyed when my Muse dictates something that probably won’t make it to the final draft. I often feel like I’m wasting my time, and that goes double if I actually like what I’ve written and know at the time that no one but me (and possibly my editorial first-readers) will see it. That said, I realize that green room writing is helpful†even, sometimes, essential to a good story.

Sure, I’ve written many tales that leapt full-force from my imagination, with engaging characters and fascinating action intact. It CAN happen that way†but it doesn’t always. More often than not, especially with long or complicated storylines, I need to “waste” time and words figuring out what happens in the green room. As frustrating as it might be to throw scenes out or re-write that damned first hook yet AGAIN (yes, Holy Creatures To and Fro, I’m looking at you!), those secret stories we tell in the green room can make the ones seen in the spotlights sing.

Author, dancer, hypercreative malcontent and more, “Satyr”Phil Brucato has been a professional writer for 20 years. His work spans from game design with White Wolf Game Studio, West End Games, Laughing Pan Productions, and Silver Satyr Studios; to interviews and articles for BBI Media and Realms of Fantasy Magazine; essays in Disinformation Press; and fiction in various venues. Oh, yeah – and a webcomic called Arpeggio, too. Also, check out his Facebook Author page, and Steampunk Tales.

Not everything in a story happens on the page. When an author writes material that occurs “offstage,” that so-called “green room writing” may inform the events that the audience sees. Giving foundations for the characters, their motivations, personalities and activities, green room writing may well feel like wasted effort. Trust me, though , it’s really not.

I coined the term green room writing when describing the many false starts I had with my short story “Ravenous.” An intense urban faerie tale inspired by my experiences in a heavy metal group, “Ravenous” featured the implosion of the narrator’s band in mid-gig. The story’s first few drafts began in the “green room” , the often-cramped backstage space where performers wait before a show. My original versions of the tale started with the bandmates sniping at one another while a warm-up group performs out front. By the time the first show ends, all five members of the narrator’s group are ready to blow†and soon do.

It didn’t work for me, though. The characters seemed realistic, the dialog zinged, the tension radiated in all directions†and yet, it didn’t work. I pounded through two or three drafts of the opening like this, wondering why my inner critic kept pouting at it.

Then it hit me: The action didn’t begin in the green room. It started as the band stepped onstage , tense, pissed off, surging with adrenaline and facing a drunk, voracious crowd.

“Ravenous” doesn’t kick in when the music does , that option seems too abrupt, and doesn’t give the reader time to care about the characters. (I know; I wrote that version, too.) The tale starts just before the lights go up, with five fiercely terrified young people ready to pounce and be pounced on in return. “I’ve got that just-before-the-cages-open feeling in my chest,” says our narrator, Nikita. The bomb’s just about to explode, and in the next few paragraphs, it does.

By the time I wrote the band’s detonation, I knew every character on stage. Each one spoke with a distinctive voice; each had a unique personality. I knew how the bandmates looked, what they wanted, why they blew up in the ways they did. That scene essentially wrote itself. From first draft to final, I changed hardly a word of it.

I was able to write that scene the way I did because of the various passes I’d run through in that green room. Although they didn’t appear in the final story , nor should they have appeared , those literally offstage brainstorming sessions informed all that followed afterward.

Green room writing can feel frustrating. Personally, I get annoyed when my Muse dictates something that probably won’t make it to the final draft. I often feel like I’m wasting my time, and that goes double if I actually like what I’ve written and know at the time that no one but me (and possibly my editorial first-readers) will see it. That said, I realize that green room writing is helpful†even, sometimes, essential to a good story.

Sure, I’ve written many tales that leapt full-force from my imagination, with engaging characters and fascinating action intact. It CAN happen that way†but it doesn’t always. More often than not, especially with long or complicated storylines, I need to “waste” time and words figuring out what happens in the green room. As frustrating as it might be to throw scenes out or re-write that damned first hook yet AGAIN (yes, Holy Creatures To and Fro, I’m looking at you!), those secret stories we tell in the green room can make the ones seen in the spotlights sing.

Reasons for the Decline of the Print Magazine Business

written by Phil Brucato
Adapted from a Facebook post, in response to the question “More interesting to me than the question of who’s to blame for it being so hard to run a profitable professional magazine, is the question of what can be done about it.”

As a former Periodicals Lead at Barnes & Noble, an author and editor …for White Wolf Games and Witches & Pagans Magazine, a micropublisher, webcartoonist, and a now-former Realms of Fantasy columnist, I can give you an answer for that.

Right now, and until the book-selling business catches up with the changes of the last decade, not a damn thing.

The primary reasons for the decline of the magazine business have less to do with the quality of periodicals – less, even, than with the rise of the internet – than with an outmoded, archaic and unspeakably wasteful distribution process.

The method through which periodicals are distributed and sold dates back to the era of cheap paper, expensive televisions, limited media, general print literacy, and the rise of mass advertising.

The first mass-circulation magazines originated through a combination of news-and-fiction publication and advertising. During the Victorian era, companies with something to sell either teamed up with newspapers and dime-store publishers, or simply released their own magazines. Much of the Victorian social atmosphere (including the “you-must-buy-THIS-in-order-to-be-socially-acceptable” message still driving many magazines today) came from magazines published by the companies that were selling the items in question. Etiquette magazines were published by clothing manufacturers; technology magazines were sold by machine manufacturers, and so on. As paper and printing became cheaper throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, literacy rates rose and audiences expanded. To spread out the expense involved in publication, the corporations sold advertising to other companies as well. Thus, the “golden age” of print media was funded largely by advertising.

During the rise and heyday of newsstand distribution (running roughly from the turn of the last century to the 1980s), deals were worked out in which sellers would purchase mass quantities of a wide range of periodicals, and then sell what they could. To sweeten those deals, the publishers offered to buy back the unsold periodicals. At the end of a periodical’s shelf-cycle, the sellers would bundle up the unsold periodicals and give them back to the publishers. The publishers would refund the difference between the original purchase price and the unsold periodicals. Thanks to a combination of advertising rates (and eventually subscriptions), low costs, a vast audience, and very little competition from other media, this system worked. The fact that it was wasteful (unsold periodicals usually wound up in the dump) didn’t really bother folks until the 1970s.

In time, as a distribution system emerged, the publishers would sell their periodicals to distributors; the distributors would take a huge cut of the selling price and then handle the transactions with newstands and bookstores. Advertising still paid the majority of the costs involved with the periodicals themselves – by that time, the publishers received a mere 1/2 to 1/4 of the selling price. To “save on costs,” distributors gradually eliminated the stage wherein unsold periodicals were returned to the publishers; although books were often returned for that refund cost (allowing them to be resold elsewhere), magazines and newspapers were simply trashed.

Thus, a publisher would pay to produce a large quantity of periodicals, sold them a virtual loss, paid for the process with advertising, and then refunded the difference between sold and unsold copies… usually off the back of the next print run. Along the way, the majority of printed periodicals wound up in the garbage.

That’s the system we have today.

And it is fucked.

It was ALWAYS fucked, but now – with rising print costs, POD technology, media competition on all sides, declining interest in print media, alternate venues for distribution and content, taxes added to every step of the process, and taxes placed as well on publisher inventories (which drive publishers to fill their Dumpsters with unsold goods once or twice a year), the unspeakably BROKEN nature of this system is inescapable.

It has nothing to do with the quality of publishers. It has nothing to do with the quality of content. It has nothing to do with vanity presses, or work habits, or the people involved in the process. THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN. From the beginning, it has been a wasteful numbers game, and the numbers have finally caught up with it.

Since the proliferation of the internet and the explosion of net-based content, print media – periodicals especially – has declined. Fewer people read books, let alone magazines, because there are so many other media with which to spend time, money and attention. Fewer copies are sold, yet – thanks to an archaic retail policy called “Wallpapering”(*) – vast quantities of books and periodicals are still being produced. Selling venues will demand 10,000 copies of a magazine, buy them on 60-90-day payment terms, sell 1500 of them, trash the rest, and demand credit or a refund from the publisher for the other 8500 copies… payment due usually before the original payment even arrives. This is why the last decade has seen publishers of all kinds being mowed down like French troops charging German machine-gun nests in World War I. Because THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN, and yet everyone’s still playing the game like it’s 1970, not 2010.

Currently, there is no way to make a truly profitable virtual magazine, short of packing it with advertisements and selling spin-off goods.(**) Steampunk Tales is a quality virtual magazine, and yet the sales have been so low that authors get less than $10.00 a story in royalties, if that much.(***) It’s not that Steampunk Tales lacks quality – it’s great. And it’s not that the publishers don’t work hard – they do. It’s that people still feel a disconnect between virtual media and tangible payment. They may very well donate money out of goodwill, but when faced with the idea of paying a mandatory cost for virtual media, most folks opt not to.

So, the short version of this long post: The next generation of publishing must work by different rules. It cannot be “all content is free” – that’s unsustainable, as creators and publishers need to be compensated for their work. It cannot operate by the old system, either – that system has ALWAYS been unsustainable.

As a micropublisher myself, I believe a large element of that future lies in small-run publications sold more-or-less directly to its audience, with little profit but little waste. Right now, however, the dinosaurs – booksellers, publishers, authors, even audiences and critics – are stumbling around like the old rules still apply. They DON’T. Traditional magazines, I believe, are headed back to their original status as advertising venues and – yes – vanity presses. Regardless of the quality involved, the old market model cannot sustain them.

So what can be done? We change the rules, work our asses off, and pray that we can forge a new system out of the ruins of the old before we all go broke. Because if we can’t manage that, everybody loses.

—————–

* – A policy based around displaying huge stacks of goods to foster “an impression of prosperity.” The venue buys more units than it expects to sell, “wallpapers” the shelves with them for a while, and then returns the unsold units for a refund.

** – This is how webcomics can become profitable; I know, as I publish one myself…not that mine is profitable yet.

*** – Again, I know this from personal experience. I used to write for Steampunk Tales, and from the three stories published there, I’ve made virtually nothing.

Author, dancer, hypercreative malcontent and more, “Satyr”Phil Brucato has been a professional writer for 20 years. His work spans from game design with White Wolf Game Studio, West End Games, Laughing Pan Productions, and Silver Satyr Studios; to interviews and articles for BBI Media and Realms of Fantasy Magazine; essays in Disinformation Press; and fiction in various venues. Oh, yeah – and a webcomic called Arpeggio, too. Also, check out his Facebook Author page, and Steampunk Tales.

Storygasm Results!

written by Nathaniel Lee

Here are the stories resulting from the Storygasm event in rough chronological order of prompts received. Feel free to take yours and post it elsewhere or link directly to this page. Thanks for contributing!

Prompt – “Lonely Cowbots” by Damon Shaw

Initially, CP0012 ignored it when CP0013 arrived with a Stetson perched on his heat sink. CP0012’s programming contained very few instructions about non-bovine topics. The following day, however, CP0013 began broadcasting sounds and disturbing the herd:

“>10 N=BOTTLESBEER
>20 N=100
>30 PRINT N-1
>40 IF N>0 GOTO 20”

CP0012 opened a communications channel. “Query: Justification for broadcast.”

“Answer: I’m a cowboy! Howdy-howdy-howdy!”

CP0012 filed a repair request and returned to watching cows. Insofar as CP0012 felt anything, he liked cows. Cows were predictable.

In the distance, CP0013 emitted the first sounds of a synthesized harmonica. CP0012 shut down his microphone.

Prompt – “Lost Hearts” by David Longhorn

She answered the door on the fourth ring.

“I want it back,” I said.

She shrugged one delicate shoulder and turned away, leaving the door ajar. I stepped inside. Racks of cages lined the hallway, full of hearts. They were limp, despondent things, gazing out at her with hopeless longing. Three more, a bit better groomed, lurked nervously on the couch. She shoved them aside and seated herself.

“I don’t have it,” she said, crossing her legs.

“You†how?”

She shrugged again. “It got lost. You should take better care of your heart if you don’t want it getting lost.”

Prompt – “Buridan’s Ass” by Loren Eaton

The first thing I saw when I walked into the Philosophy department was Buridan’s naked ass.

“Buridan!” I shouted, covering my eyes. “What-? Are you†floating?”

Buridan rotated towards me, and I felt an odd pressure, as though I were suddenly under ten feet of water. Buridan drifted further away. “I have achieved enlightenment, of a sort,” he said. “Recall the donkey and the hay.”

“The free-will proof?”

“He was trapped between desirables. I, in contrast, loathe everything equally. Thus, I am suspended.”

“Department meeting starts in ten minutes.”

Buridan sighed. “Help me down. I need to find my pants.”

Prompt – “The Relativity of Relativity” by Matt Kempke

“Family Reunion!” the banner proclaimed. White puffs of hair and bristling mustaches bobbed around the pavilion.

“Have you met Cousin Bernie?” Meredith gushed, leading her charge over to the grill. “He’s discovered the reason hot dogs come in tens but buns only in eights.”

“Howdy!” Bernie waved his tongs.

“And here Uncle Cal. He’s discovered the relationship between sound and intelligence. How does it go, Cal? The quieter you are, the smarter you seem?”

Cal nodded solemnly.

“And me, well, this here is my final experiment. A=N^f~1.” Meredith smiled. “As the number of family members increases, personal aggravation approaches one.”

Prompt – “I’m Not Telling You Twice” by Jim Murdoch

“Matthew Roderick Johannson, get down here this instant!” Mom called from downstairs.

“Jeez, Mom. You don’t have to tell me twice.” Matt paused his game.

“I’m not telling you twice,” said Mom from the doorway.

“Oh,” said Matt. “Sorry, Mom1. I thought you were Mom3.” He squinted until the quantum phantasms merged back into a unified Mom, or at least a Mom-shaped cloud representing the current most likely Mom.

“Those games are terrible for your ability to focus. What if you’d slipped into the wrong stream completely?”

“Mom!” Matt rolled his eyes. “The chances of that are like mathematically zero.”

Prompt – “Walrus Planet” by Sam

They gathered in thousands on the vast ice floes. Along the edges, there was a constant transition as hungry individuals slipped into the chill waters while others hooked their tusks into the ice to heave their sated bulks out of the water and rest.

In the distance, off to the south, there were flashes of light, like a sporadic Aurora. Then, a rumble as of far-off thunder. Several whiskery heads lifted curiously, but when nothing further presented itself, they returned to the business of sleeping and digesting.

Another walrus slipped into the water. The southern sky slowly darkened to night.

Prompt – “Oh my god, this wasn’t a dream†it was all real.” by Joey Jordan

“I had such a bad dream,” said Remy. He leapt into the air and spun lazily in a circle, petting the barking dog-tree for comfort. “My house wasn’t endless, and I went outside to go to work, only I couldn’t fly. Then, in the car, the radio just played music and no one appeared or disappeared. I had to drive the whole time. I didn’t skip ahead at all.”

“Sounds unpleasant,” agreed the leprechaun.

“Then I went to get a haircut, and, Remy paused, his hand drifting to his neck. Cool air brushed the freshly shorn skin. “Oh my God,

Prompt – “What kinda person walks around in a yellow hooded cloak? It’s not like it would hide you from anyone.” by Joey Jordan, who apparently didn’t read the rules very closely

Chuck’s finger tightened on the trigger when he spotted the bright yellow figure. He pushed through the foliage.

“Hey,” he hissed. “What are you doing in a yellow cloak? Why are you wearing that?”

The man gave Chuck a quizzical glance. “Because it’s raining out,” he said, gesturing at the sweltering, sunlit treetops with his briefcase. Chuck saw wingtips poking out beneath the rain-slicker. “I’m not getting soaked waiting for the bus.”

Chuck looked for the rest of his squad. When he turned back, the small clearing was empty, save for a distant growling engine and the smell of diesel.

Prompt – “Bargain Messiah” by David Steffen

“There,” Jeezie said. “That’s the best I can do.” Sweat poured from his forehead and soaked his ragged beard as he handed over the cup.

Mary sipped and grimaced. “Cherry Kool-Aid,” she said. “Unsweetened.”

“Sugar is really hard,” said Jeezie, somewhat defensively.

“What about walking on water?”

“Sure!” Jeezie brightened. “I need a vat and a bunch of corn starch. I saw it on Mythbusters.”

Mary sighed. “Salvation?”

“Well†I do know how you can save money on car insurance.”

“Forget it,” said Mary. “Mom was right. Splurge on major purchases and only use the bargain bin for little stuff.”

Prompt – “Axe of Kindness” by Gary Cuba

“Here.”

“No ‘thank you’?” said Leon.

The barista glanced over Leon’s shoulder and paled. “T-t-thanks,” she stammered.

“You’re welcome.” Leon tucked a dollar in the tip jar. “See? Kindness pays.” He walked out with Throckdar in tow. Immediately, they spotted the traffic cop leaving a ticket on Leon’s car.

“Oh, really!” said Leon. “I’m only thirty seconds late.”

Throckdar hefted his axe significantly.

The cop swallowed. “I’ll just tear this up.”

Leon and Throckdar settled into the car, the suspension groaning. “So how’d you get stuck with this, anyway?” Leon asked.

Throckdar shrugged. “Community service. Goblin king had good lawyer.”

Prompt: “The last man on earth sits in his living room. SUDDENLY he
finds his mailbox full of bills” by Sebastian Kempke

Mortimer opened his mailbox. ÂBills, bills, ads, and bills. Automatically generated, computer-printed, sent in pre-paid envelopes through the mechanized mail system. ÂUntouched by human hands from the moment they were printed until the robotic delivery trucks shunted them into Mort’s mail slot. ÂHe handled them carefully, as though they might explode.

“Occupant, current resident…” Mortimer slit the envelopes open and read each word aloud. ÂNobody heard him, of course. ÂHe might be the only person left. ÂOther than the robots, of course.

“Here’s one with my name on it,” Mort told the cleaning bot. ÂIt whirred and trundled blithely on.

Nathaniel Lee is an amateur wordsmith with delusions of grandeur. He’s been writing stories since the second grade, but as yet has not found anyone willing to pay for them. ÂHe maintains a daily writing blog at Mirrorshards.org, and several of those stories have winkled their way onto the Drabblecast (Episodes 154, 156, and 158). Nathan and his wife keep two cats, Ozymandius and Belshazzar, and they spend most of their free time staring into glowing screens of one sort or another. ÂNathan is also an avid board gamer and roleplayer who suffers from a chronic lack of willing participants.