The Wattpad Spotlight – Let’s Go For A Pint by Marian Cavlovic

This is my comfort read.

Honestly, you don’t know how nice it is to have something like that. I finish a hard day’s studying/writing/kraken hunting/muscle developing/wench deflowering/exaggerating and fall into bed, my hands feeling for the cool surface of my phone. Then I find this book in my library and read a couple of chapters and I just feel cozy. It’s a little like watching Friends. Only, more paranormal.

This whole thing may be a reaction to urban fantasy tropes. It may be a reaction to the exceedingly cloying ism-ism that seems to have seems to have permeated popular culture in recent years. Or it may just be a funny vampire story. Who knows, it could perhaps even be all of those things put together.

The story follow Lena, a vampire (well, duh) as she deals with day-to-day problems like getting along with humans, going to parties, dealing with amputee-witches, fending off rabid admirers and much more. It is told in episodic fashion, kind of like a sitcom. There is some level of continuity between chapters but the structure doesn’t follow the arc structure I’ve come to expect from fiction. It is very serialized.

And that is precisely why I chose this story for the spotlight. It is one of the few I’ve come across on Wattpad that has made full use of the serialized nature of the medium. This story is perfect for Wattpad. You can return to it after a week-long hiatus and have no problem getting back into the story. More than that, it does what sitcoms do best. Give you characters to fall in love with. Because here, the characters (and they’re a weird bunch, let me tell you) are always the focus.

It’s funny and charming and tongue-in-cheek and delightful and you’ll fall in love with it very quickly.

You can read Let’s Go For A Pint here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wattpad Spotlight – The Purpose Of Miss Shepley by Arden Brooks

I’m a Jane Eyre person. Everyone is either a Wuthering Heights person or a Jane Eyre person, even if you’ve read neither. Because both are suppressed and passionate and violently lashing out against the straitjackets (ahem I meant corsets) society was putting on their writers. But the former wears that passion on its sleeve. It’s boisterous and loud and bombastic. Rolling hills and what have you. Jane Eyre was always the more quiet of the two.

I haven’t really come across any Historical Fiction that managed to nail that passionate yet held back tone that permeates Jane Eyre. This one comes pretty close. Only apparently, it isn’t Historical Fiction.

The Purpose of Miss Shepley is ostensibly a Fantasy novel. The Fantastic elements are not obvious. It is only hinted in brief flashes of lore that something extraordinary is going on in the background. But we aren’t allowed to hear most of it because our protagonist and first person narrator is whisked away halfway through overhearing most important conversations so lemon paste can be applied to her (perhaps plain perhaps pretty) visage.

And I have a strong feeling that that sort of thing is very intentional. While also reinforcing its theme of repression and individual agency vis a vis social norms and a family legacy, it also creates a lot of mystery about the fantastic elements.

The story follows Edith Shepley, whose mother belonged to the very noble house (or perhaps Barony) of Ewert. The background of her father, on the other hand, is a lot more ambiguous. We don’t know who he is. But we do know for sure that Edith looks like a Wyrm. The story so far is an interesting peek at Noble life in the world it is set in. What I like about nineteenth century literature (and biographies of royalty. Yes. I’m that guy. Deal with it) is this juxtaposition between the ordinarily free and playful process of courtship and the far more imperious matters of lineages and ideal matches. This wasn’t really a problem in most other cultures where marriages were (and yet are) arranged by parents.

In Regency England, that was still probably the case, especially among Royalty but there’s always this almost farcical attempt at trying to maintain the structures of courtship and agency. Wooing and the like. This was probably what exasperated most fathers of daughters back then and irritated most men.

This sort of emotional and political complexity set against the backdrop of idyllic landscapes, domestic scenes and the comforts of royalty is what The Purpose of Miss Shepley is all about.

It requires a patient reader, to be sure. The opening is a little meandering and it takes its time establishing its characters. The characterisation, though, is very well done. The dialogue, descriptions and overall prose style are very effective.

You can read The Purpose of Miss Shepley here

What’s To Come

What?

I don’t know, honestly. At this point, anything could happen. I’m at that point where I want to blog seriously but I have no idea what exactly to blog about. So, here’s a very quick preview of the verbiage that is about to splatter across your beautiful laptops and iPads in the days and weeks to come.

Wattpad reviews. Basically, reviews of serialized fiction from the online platform, Wattpad. Keep an eye out for a review of Imalroc by @smaoineamh coming soon.

This thing on Clark Ashton Smith. And a thing on Lovecraft.

And yeah, that’s about it, honestly.

Stay tuned, whoever you are. Unless it’s just you, dead air. In which case, hello, old friend.

Arrival – Alien Linguistics

I’m sure I’m not the only one to have picked up on this recent trend in Science Fiction cinema for personal stories. The big, original, high concept sci-fi movies that we tend to remember at the end of every year seem to be complicated character studies of complicated people rather than the space opera/alien invasion stories of yester-century. Not that the Space Opera has in any way diminished in popularity, though. Guardians of the Galaxy and The Force Awakens have shown that there’s still a fertile market for that sort of stuff. But, the success of both those movies rides on the hyperactively franchise-based nature of American blockbusters today. I can’t really seem to remember any original regular science fiction that did well over the past few years. Shyamalan’s  After Earth was a complete travesty. Jupiter Ascending was kinda meh, to be honest. And even from the more successful franchise side of things, the big critical hits seem to be Rogue One and Prometheus which are both a lot more personal in scope than either of their predecessors.

But the movies that have been at the vanguard of this new personal trend in Science Fiction cinema have mostly been original, independent works. There’s Ex Machina and the very passionate Interstellar (yeah, I’m a fan) and The Martian. And then there’s Arrival.

The moment I got what Arrival was about, the Embassytown comparison was the first thing to spring to my mind. But, that wasn’t particularly fair. Both are stories about cognition that is entirely alien from ours. Both are stories about language and linguistics. But the similarities end there.

Arrival follows Louise Banks (with a strangely melancholic performance by the usually peppy Amy Adams), a linguist who is tasked with learning to communicate with aliens who have parked their spaceships on several almost random locations on the earth. These creatures are utterly alien from us. They are vast and lumbering things with eight, spidery appendages. We call them heptapods. Their language is entirely entirely written and makes use of a complicated set of symbols.

The cinematography and music are very reminiscent of two recent movies I’ve already mentioned: Ex Machina and Interstellar. Villeneuve goes for a mostly naturalistic approach to the environment and we’re choked with imagery of rolling hills, fields, lakes and the threat of rain from the word go. The score is orchestral, sparse and burgeoning, building up along with the film into a towering crescendo.

And both of these serve as a contrasting backdrop in front of which Villeneuve places his main character. Louise is cold and cut-off for most of the movie. She is based on a trope we don’t really see often in fiction, let alone science fiction. She is a character waiting for instructions on how to live. And towards the end of the movie, she gets them.

Jeremy Renner is surprisingly charming and Forest Whitaker is very Forest Whitaker.

If you’re into cerebral science fiction and you like complex character studies, I’d definitely give this one a go.

Reading Malayalam Fiction – My Tattered Jacket

I did not grow up in the land where I was born. Every year during summer vacation, we would cram a month’s worth of clothes, chicken nuggets and schoolbooks into four, heavy suitcases and we would fly three thousand kilometers across oceans and deserts till all we could see through the frosted aeroplane windows were the lush, rolling hills of Kerala.

We would be on the same flight a month later, our suitcases just as full, only this time, there would be books in place of the chicken nuggets. We’d have finished all the chicken nuggets a day after we had landed.

I couldn’t really buy many books where we grew up. Small paperbacks I could finish reading in a day cost about as much as a video-game I could play for a month. So, I’d save up my pocket money for our annual trip to India and I’d pester my parents till they took me to the bookstore. And then, for a couple of hours, I’d be in that peculiar heaven we book lovers are intimately familiar with. Only, it was different for me. This would be the only time I’d get to go to a bookstore all year.

The attendants there in their neat, brown polo shirts would observe me, rapt, as I loaded a trolley with enough books to last me a year. Fourteen was the highest that tally ever went up to. When I was twelve and thirteen, the books all belonged to roughly the same genre. The fantasy-YA side of things. These were the books that gently directed me to the rabbit hole that is Speculative Fiction. I still don’t know how deep that rabbit hole goes. My dog-eared copies of The Lord of the Rings and The Horse and His Boy, their once creamy pages now flecked with every shade of curry and condiment, still sit on my desk, almost begging me to reread them. Year fourteen to sixteen, I broadened my horizons. I began reading historical fiction, horror, crime and even non-fiction. But there was still one shelf I assiduously avoided.

This year, the last year I’d ever undertake this voyage before settling in India for good, I bit the bullet. I began furtively eyeing the Indian Fiction section and the Translated Works shelf in particular. I added a few books translated from Malayalam into the pile. I went home and burned through them even before the flight back.

My previous and sole experience with Kerala through literature was Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, which was written in English. From my first foray into the Translations shelf, I read Mira Nair’s Hangwoman and Benyamin’s Goat Days and The Yellow Lights of Death. I adored all these books. The stories told ranged from sweeping epics to poignantly personal narratives, sometimes in the same book. I could culturally understand these characters so  perfectly. I was amazed by how beautiful my national literature is.

But, I was also filled with a new and peculiar kind of shame. I asked my parents to read sections for me from the original Malayalam and I was blown away by the sheer baroqueness of that language. What made these books award winning, critically acclaimed masterpieces was not their detailed plots or the richness of their characterization. It was this gorgeous, self-aware, consciously crafted language.

And that was something I couldn’t tap into. It was like looking at a stunning winter vista through an open door but not having a thick enough jacket to actually venture out. It felt crippling.

I am trying to learn to read Malayalam. Right now, I can manage to finish one children’s book in three hours and comprehend maybe half of it. I’m hoping to be able to graduate to perhaps middle grade fiction by the end of this year. I am hoping to be able to be acquainted with the language enough to access the great wealth of my own national literature.

I am hoping to be able to walk through that door. I’m stitching my jacket. But what this humbling little experience has taught me is the importance of the original language in literature. We read for telepathy. We read to access another man’s thoughts. Only, I can’t do that with Malayalam fiction. I can only read those thoughts as interpreted by someone else in the language of the very people who oppressed my people for centuries. So I’m stitching my jacket. Stitch yours as well.

The Philosophy of Fanfiction – The Genre of Cognitive Familiarity

Tell me the last literary conference you attended (or watched) where someone didn’t bring up the whole ‘What are we going to do about Fifty Shades selling so many copies?’ question? Published writers (and perhaps more scarily, readers) are reacting with a kind of abject, existential horror at the idea that something so degenerative, misogynistic and poor in quality became published and is selling more copies than them. Or they were for a bit but I think everyone has reached a point where they can forgive E.L. James and move on.

The allegations thrown against her have ranged from “She wrote it on her BlackBerry!” (le gasp) to “She’s never even been to Seattle!” (le even gasper).

But the most interesting issue people seem to have found with the series is this terror at the idea that it is basically a find-and-replace edit of a fanfiction story starring Edward and Bella from Twilight. Which is intriguing in itself because one of the things Twilight got very very right was sexual tension. That steam that was getting pent up over the course of the first three novels was only let out a little with the fourth novel in the official series. Fifty Shades is like breaking the pipe open.

But it also explains the flatness and lack of motivation of the characters. To put it simply, they aren’t James’s flat and uninspired characters. They’re Meyer’s. And as such, they tick all the right boxes for blank slates the readers can project themselves onto. Only, in the case of Edward, with the abstinence element gone, he is just pure power and menace and nothing else as Christian Grey. So, Edward Cullen was made even flatter.

But we sit and pick this apart and complain but the whole Fifty Shades phenomenon has been going on for a long time. No, not in fanfiction but in porn. This is essentially an SNM porn parody of Twilight. And in porn, the sex is paramount.

So then we can establish that Fifty Shades of Grey is fanfiction for erotica. So why read fanfiction?

We’ve been toying with the idea of Suvin’s Cognitive Estrangement for a while now. I think fanfiction may be about anti-estrangement. It is the genre of cognitive familiarity.

There is, surprisingly, no glut of academic papers relating to fanfiction but the one I did find corroborates this to an extent.

 Because the text appears to describe a fictional space, systematically tracing its salient features, it projects “a map” in the mind of the reader (see Ryan, Narrative 124-25). Fan readers can imagine this space’s layout with great accuracy. They know that relative to the door, the table is located on the left with the whiteboard in front of it and that the desk is in the far right corner. They also know that Cameron is standing with her back to a corridor and next to House’s office. What is more, they can fill out generic references (for example to a “small desk in the corner”) with specific images from the show (in this case, of a desk with a computer, positioned near a large window). While the text establishes a body on the scene, the reader’s projection helps to create an impression of complete access.

The Writing and Reading of Fan Fiction and Transformation Theory, Veerle Van Steenhuyse, Ghent University

Van Steenhuyse goes on to elaborate about the concept of immersion, transportation and flow. Flow is greatly increased in fanfiction because the cognitive buffer period of having to imagine the look and feel of the world is eliminated. But that brings on new challenges. The writer does not simply describe the world in fanfiction. The writer often describes the world through the eyes of someone the original author (or director) hasn’t given a perspective to. Van Steenhuyse has taken the character of Allison Cameron from the House MD TV show and shows how the same locale is not described as it is in traditional fiction but described through the eyes of someone different in fanfiction. And that is the extent of differentiation.

But, before we get ahead of ourselves, who or what is a fan?

someone who admires and supports a person, sport, sports team, etc.

is how the Cambridge Dictionary defines a fan. And that obviously entails a degree of loyalty and fidelity to the object being admired. But beyond that, it entails familiarity.

The concept of fanfiction ties in to a greater concept called fandom. 

The community that surrounds a tv show/movie/book etc. Fanfiction writers, artists, poets, and cosplayers are all members of that fandom. Fandoms often consist of message boards, livejournal communities, and people.

That’s Urban Dictionary.

The purpose of exploring these things is to move on from the question of ‘Why read these?’ (because familiarity entails faster flow and alternate approaches to very well known worlds) to ‘Who reads these?’

Well? The fandom does. And the nature of the fandom is such that they have watched every episode, read every page or watched every movie the original creator has put out. In addition to that, they have picked these characters, worlds and locales apart on their own and collaboratively. They know these characters as well as the author does, sometimes even better. So, they are very familiar. And familiarity is a necessity for enjoying fanfiction the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

Which brings us to the next question. Why write them?

To understand this, I asked the community of fanfiction writers on Wattpad and got very illuminating answers.

epichorn31 approaches it largely from the perspective of being a fan themselves.

When you get into a fandom enough, whether it’s a book, movie, TV show, band, etc., sometimes you come up with wild theories or ideas that just weren’t explored in the original work. Alternately, you just want to ship your favorite characters. It’s mostly the last one.

So it’s all about playing with the familiar and exploring new concepts with what has already been established. This extends even to the concept of shipping where romantic partnerships are created between characters who were not romantically paired in the original work.

For Getting_to_Know_Them, writing fanfiction is a way to practice  writing.

In all honesty it is a great way to get started with writing, not only are some of the harder parts such as Character Design, Plot navigation and world building already done for you allowing you to focus on the story but you also have a solid base to start exploring and experimenting and figuring out what works in terms of design. Due to writing within the constraints of another persons writing you will find yourself thinking about why they wrote the world to be in that particular way and you will also start to think of the problems that come from designing and creating worlds and characters.

jettmanas  shares a similar perspective.

This idea extends to characterization as well, as Getting_To_Know_Them puts it.

After the basics most people move on to OC’s where they are looking at the basics of character design and melding their own characters to another persons set of rules. Most initial characters from younger writers will end up being Mary / Gary Stu’s due to the lack of experience in character design that allows for the person to understand the strengths and flaws of characters and how they work into a narrative (Good Fandom to see bad Examples: Harry Potter – 90% of fics re-balance the story by having Harry become some sort of God-like character with 6 different “secret” magical abilities and being a shifter etc) Eventually a writer will learn to balance characters.

These writers explore a very intriguing aspect of fanfiction writing. What do you learn from writing fanfiction? Well, fanfiction must (to an extent) entail being part of the fandom which must entail familiarity. But writing good fanfiction must go a lot deeper than that. The writer must have a firm grasp on the way the world operates. The writer of good fanfiction is forced to pick apart the worldbuilding of the original work which is always good practice for any writer.

As far as characterization is concerned, the challenge becomes even harder because to achieve cognitive familiarity, the portrayal of the  character in the fanfiction has to have a high degree of fidelity to the character in the original work. And that isn’t easy writing to accomplish, especially if the work in question involves complex characters with difficult motivations (Harry Potter works as a fair example.

The challenge ramps up when the characters are real people. Which is why I have this longstanding theory about why 1D fanfics are better than Justin Beiber ones and outnumber the latter vastly. It’s because 1D seem to be more interesting characters, personally. This even extends to the Phan fandom. Real human beings have to be picked apart for flaws, traits and insecurities. What better way to learn how to invent fake people?

A third reason is a lot more commercial.

As DysgraphicBen  puts it:

The first (goal of fanfiction) would be to entertain fellow fans, especially when something new is either so far off or no longer possible.

According to jettmanas :

Another advantage is people are familiar with the brand, and are typically more likely to read it than something random.

In Wattpad, a fanfiction story collects reads, votes and comments a lot faster than stories in the other genres precisely because of the fandom. Which acts as a motivation for others in the fandom to write. And those will also be read, motivating others to write and so on.

Which brings us back to the beginning. Why are we horrified by this phenomenon? What does it mean?

China Mieville (yes, him again) in his talk about The Future of the Novel at the EWWC, discusses the idea of the liberation of the narrative. The text will no longer be closed but will open with everyone given the ability to mashup, remix, muck around with and enjoy a text in a vastly different way from what is already happening. And I was all like, dude, that’s already happened.

Fanfiction represents something beautiful. It shows that the text has already been liberated. It does not deny the originator any credit (on the contrary, the originator is often worshipped) but adds to an existing canon with ideas ranging from the crowd-pleasing to the outre and the bizarre. And it ushers in a cadre of new writers who know how worldbuilding works, how good characterization is to be done and how to constuct a plot.

Fanfiction is like a self-taught Creative Writing course when done well. It deserves not scorn but close, careful study and a lot of respect.

My thanks to @epichorn31  @DysgraphicBen  @jettmanas and @Getting_to_Know_Them for their well thought out, detailed responses to my queries. 

Weird Wednesday – The Conspiracy

This is part of a new cinema thing I plan on doing every Wednesday just to keep things fresh. Enjoy 🙂

The translation of the weird into a medium that is primarily visual (be it movies or video-games) is something people get their proverbial panties in a twist about for no reason I can really comprehend. The idea goes that movies tend to show you everything, so that ‘estrangement of that which cannot be described’ element is lost.

Let me be the first to call bullshit. Movies don’t show you everything. Movies give you a peephole the size of your screen into a world that ideally should be as three dimensional and well realized as our own. When done right, weird cinema is all about what’s going on in the places around the screen. It’s all about what we don’t see.

If you’ve burned through the entire Lovecraft collection, managed to wrestle with the Night Land behemoth and have already reread all the Mieville and Moorcock stories you happen to have, conspiracy theories are where you should be going. Most people only really watch the TMZ-esque five minute conspiracy theory videos on YouTube but that’s not really where all the weird fun is. If you google hard enough, you’ll find entire works of non-fiction going up to twenty chapters about Monarch, MK ULTRA and the lizards.

I leave the choice of whether it is fiction or not entirely up to you but I can assure you, this stuff is most certainly weird. Why? Because it follows the intrinsic idea of the weird. The novum is something that has always been there, watching us. It is something we haven’t noticed yet but has always been there, subtly shaping world history. And that’s squarely where conspiracy theories lie. The government is working against you. Everyone in charge are satanists. Horrible mind-control experiments have been going on (and are going on) with young children as the guinea pigs. And most of all, all the music you listen to, every news source and every movie you watch is subliminally controlling you.

If that isn’t weird fiction, I don’t know what is.

Which brings us to the topic at hand: The Conspiracy. The Conspiracy is a 2012 Canadian horror-thriller directed by Christopher MacBride. It follows a two-man documentary crew interviewing an enigmatic figure named Terrance. Terrance (portrayed brilliantly by Alan Peterson) is one of those nutters who think 9/11 was an inside job, the government has been overrun and that shadowy organizations control the global financial and political systems we have come to rely on. They are initially skeptical. Then, Terrance disappears and they fall down a dark, dangerous rabbit hole trying to find out what exactly happened to him.

I’m generally not into found footage movies but this one is very very unobtrusive. For most of its run-time, it handles itself like a well-shot documentary and avoids most of the gimmicks that plague this genre. The performances by Alan Poole and James Gilbert are very nuanced and balanced and it is never implausible as a proper documentary. There are no jump-scares and nothing particularly supernatural but it does a gradual buildup of tension that is just so tangible and effective.

I knew this movie worked because the moment it was done, that weird conspiracy thing started happening to me. I started reading up on all this stuff again and that sort of shift started happening in my mind. I was starting to consider whether the government conspiracy thing was plausible.

The Conspiracy is produced by Resolute Films and distributed by XLRator.