Tears for the Soulless

When I was in school, I read a massive fantasy series which I followed over the course of a number of years. The books had a number of characters in them, a number of sub plots and different scenarios that came and went and although I enjoyed all of the stories, I had one favourite character, the character I couldn’t wait to read about. I’d skip bits, read the sections with this character in and then come back to the original time line that I had abandoned. Then, in a not unforeseen twist, this character died halfway through the series and, although I had suspected that it might come (I’ve always had a knack for feeling where a story was going to go) the blow was still a very hard one. I remember sitting in my room, crying my eyes out. My mother, who was use to dealing with a somewhat stoic teenager who never really showed any emotions, was shocked because I never cried about things that happened to me in Real Life. I was told that it’s a book but I found in that one sentence my mother missed a fundamental point. You see, even though the character didn’t have a corporal body or even a soul if you will, that character had become very real to me as the world had and the death there hit me almost as hard as a death would here.

You see, I had come to love and admire the character. I think it’s a very difficult thing to explain to someone that doesn’t really read or immerse themselves into other media but the fact is that the emotions that we feel while reading is real. I made the mistake when I was still barely a teenager to write a major character death into one of the stories that I was working with at that stage and the blow of that struck me so hard that I went mute for a week. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that it would bring up inside me, from the other characters in my heart that had witnessed that. The story might’ve been written down in the crooked drawl of someone who never really bothered to decide whether she’s right or left handed and the grammar might’ve been terrible – but the world and the emotions were very real. I learned something that day and then again the day when I saw my favourite book character die and that is not to underestimate the impact that a virtual world and reality can have in our lives. I also believe that authors shouldn’t underestimate that either in this day and age where it’s so easy for the fans to get touch with them.

I read another series a couple of years ago called ‘The Hollows’ by Kim Harrison. To me, the books were amazing but then again, I started reading them in a time that I was under and immense amount of social stress. My mother had taken gravely ill and I had to come back from England either to be there when she died or to help the family and her put back the pieces if she survived. I found the Hollows during that time and I think due to my wish to escape my real life, I leapt into that world full mind, heart and soul. I fell in love with the characters and was so impressed with the author because she did what very few other people had done well. She wrote in a sexual tension between two characters that she confessed later surprised even herself. The thing was that these characters weren’t actually the ‘main’ couple and at some point I believe that the author realised that she was going to have to do something to get rid of that or to try and resolve it. By the seventh book, the sexual tension had gone, leaving in its place a hollow between the characters that once again broke my heart and made me put down the books series. I had loved the characters too much to see them move away from what I had hoped would be an inevitable happy ending. My love for the series didn’t die but it was left hollow and bitter.

And then of course, there was Mass Effect 3 – the story which I spoke of in length in my previous post. Along with millions of other fans, I completely immersed myself in the world. I worked with the characters, walked with them saw their trials and felt the love that they portrayed so well on the screen. They became very real to me because I carried them around in my head where I had no ‘walls’ to protect me. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and I’ve realised that books, video games, even television programs are actually quite dangerous to someone like me because they penetrate through a barrier that physical people can’t. I am very hesitant in my emotions in my real life and I always feel as if I stare at people over a kind of chasm. I watch them do what they do from a distance but very few things actually touch me. It’s a safety mechanism naturally. In school I was the tall, awkward red head with a book under her arm that had to suffer through more bullying than I ever would admit. If I ignored people and refused to let their emotions touch me, I would be safe. And, I’d be safe in the realm of books and games where I felt these emotions that I struggled with in my own personal life so acutely. Mass Effect 3 was like a reality check, the realisation that I’m not truly safe from my own emotions anywhere. And, perhaps that immersing myself in different world is no protection from them. Like the character’s death had touched me, the ending of Mass Effect 3 did so as well. The difference being that the character’s death in the book series was not only foreseen but it was explored, handled and dealt with in the world that created it. I went through a mourning period where I didn’t touch the books but then, when I was ready to pick them back up again, I could see how the character’s death affected everybody, how they went through their own mourning period and emotions. That all gave me a way to move forward and enjoy the books again. The problem with Mass Effect was that they didn’t close it properly. I’ve mentioned this before but I feel that it’s such a crucial point that people should take note of.

Humans are fascinating creatures as we live on hope. The hope that things will get better, that there is an ending and that there is justice. There’s a reason mythology portrays that hope is the only emotion left in Pandora’s Box. It’s what allows us to put our current circumstances aside if they are less than savoury and allows us to carry on, in the hope that tomorrow will be better. Mass Effect 3 ended that hope because all the stories, all the lives were left mid stride. And yes, they are fixing it now after fans demanded it but the writers should’ve done so from the beginning. I think something all writers, whether they do so for games, or books or television, should be aware of is the impact and perception that people have of their work. They must bare in mind that for every teenager hauled up in his bedroom with a controller, there’s one adult sitting out there, playing a game because it allows them to deal with some personal trauma. I read a story of a man whose mother played Mass Effect because she was suffering from cancer and the game took her mind away from the pain. Another woman wrote of how the game allowed her to deal and move forward after her son’s suicide. For myself, I played it after I was attacked in November of last year. I couldn’t sleep and playing the kick ass character of Commander Shepard helped me get my mind off of that man with his knife. Like the characters are a part of a story, so are those who read it or play it or watch it. And, with a world as immense as Mass Effect, it’s only natural that everybody will find something with which to associate. You owe it to people to give them that closure because they are those who cry for your characters.

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Writing? Why?

I think I’ve discussed this topic on the blog before somewhere, but I know it’s been a quiet year (so chances are you’ll read it for the first time) and it’s been weighing on my mind a lot these days. Since November when I participated in NaNoWriMo, I’ve once again become more in touch with other aspiring writers (and remained in touch with them which is a first for me). It’s been an education, to see people’s passions, to see their drives and hear about their plans for the future. I’ve heard all the theories behind publishing; I’ve learned how difficult it has become and how important the words ‘popular genre’ has become. Publishing is about money, about finding a means to do what you love and making a living out of it.

And, there’s nothing wrong with that but… I’ve realized that in a way, it’s wrong for me.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that earning a living as a writer is a bad thing, but I think that the world today has forced a lot of writers to give up their integrity, to write for the general audience and focus on what’s more popular rather than what’s right. I’ve been told countless times how important it is to be on ‘Twitter’ before you publish, to have a popular blog and interact with fans on Facebook. The task of advertising your book doesn’t fall to the publisher anymore but rather to the author themselves. They have to discuss their pages, make fan notes, have interviews and declare whether their books are suited for ‘Young Adults’. I look at all of it and I’ve come to realize that in a way, I don’t want to become a part of it. I don’t want to live my life in such a way that forces me to justify my work and to sell what I want for money.

The thing is that, I don’t write because I want to, I don’t write because I like it. I write because I have to, because it is the only way that I can allow my thoughts to control me without destroying me, the only way to move forward in a life that I’m becoming more and more cynical about. You see, I’ve never written for anybody. I started writing stories when I was eleven, when the dreams that I had in my mind become so much too bare that I had to let them out on paper. I’d would spend days hauled up in my room, scribbling near intelligible words down on paper purely because I needed them to come out. Even now, when I don’t write, my mind becomes cluttered, filled with nonsense and emotions of characters that have no call to be in my head. I have never written to please people, I have been writing to survive and the only time I ever struggled to do so was when I decided to humour other people’s idea of a story.

I’ve begun to feel like a fraud, like an alien claiming the title of writer because I wasn’t like the others, that nobody seemed to have the desperation that I had within me to make my words known. Yet, today – I spoke to an author, a published author, who had not given in to popular genres, who had not given in to other people’s wishes, who had gone and written a book, not because he wanted to publish it, but because it had to be written. And, he made it.

I think it’s why I find myself feeling the way that I do today, that I’m strangely at peace and excited because I had been given hope again. Or rather, justification to be the way that I am. That, just because I refuse to please people’s idea of fiction, I’m not committing myself to a life of senseless mumblings.

You see, writing is a way of life. It’s my way of life. I use my characters and plots to deal with issues within my own mind. I have used writing to get over the death of a close friend, I used it to get over the loss of my first horse. I’ve used it to help me through the solitary months I spend abroad and I used it to express joy and humour that I can’t always use in real life, or the true feelings that I have become so used to hiding. I use it to escape, to have control and to learn what it is to see a world from multiple perspectives. I’ve pulled that into my own life and have learned to see people as characters in a story they have no control over. Writing has taught me to live, allowed me to live.

And, that’s why I believe I’ll never get published, because I’ll never sell that idea, or change that story, or accept that direction that other people want. I don’t need it, I don’t need approval. I need to stay true to who I am, to write because it’s a part of me rather than something I want to make a part of everything else. It doesn’t make what I do futile…

It makes it mine.

Catch me if you can…

I’ll confess, I’ve been busy – which is the reason this blog has been standing quite stagnant for a while now. Work has been… Work. I try not to get too philosophical about it because then I’d just get depressed and do something drastic like become a Desperate Housewives fan or something. I’ve also played Mass Effect 3 – the game that dominated most of my post for the past couple of months. Whereas the major bulk of the game was everything I anticipated and more, the end of it left a bitter, bitter taste in my mouth. (In a lot of people’s mouths actually – it’s been one of the most heated debated topics in the gaming community for the past month). When I have worked things out in my mind, I’ll post about it but for now, that topic’s sitting on the back burner.

I have been quite prolific with writing I have to say, though a lot of it is internet articles. Here’s a list of what I’ve been up to:

For the web magazine Contains Moderate Peril I’ve been doing a series of posts about my experiences as I played Mass Effect 3. You can see all the articles here.

The most exciting thing that I’ve done is that I’ve managed to get my hands on an ARC of a book that was to be published in the UK on the 13th of March (or 16th? Heck – this is my blog, I don’t have to be accurate, haha). The website I’m actively posting for (Nerd Trek – I post there at least once a week) asked me to read it and review it. The publishers send the book to me and with my luck, it arrived a day before Mass Effect 3. Needless to say, I hardly slept the past month, jumping between saving the galaxy from the reapers and saving the Titanic from its fate. The book’s name is The Company of the Dead by debut author David Kowalski and I have to say, I enjoyed it. It’s a thick bugger, clocking in at 730 pages in a REALLY tiny script (I need new reading glasses…), but it was well worth the read. You can check out my review here and the author’s webpage here.

Other than that, there’s very little for me to add. I think I’m going to give gaming a break for a bit and jump back into things I actually have a hand in (and can control the fate of my characters without leaving them with major plot holes thank you very much Bioware). I’ve started a writer’s group (or really, the group started it, I’m just sort of keeping the strings together) in my home town which is also interesting. And, before I forget – Script Frenzy is around the corner! For those of you who don’t know about it, go check out their website here. It’s a fun, less difficult that NaNoWriMo challenge for April. I’m not sure how much I’ll be participating but I’m definitively coordinating events in South Africa.

If you want to see what I’m up to on a day to day basis, it’s easier finding me on twitter these days. (But then again, most people coming to this blog comes in from twitter, haha.) I know right? It’s hard imagining that I was so against the notion. I think in a way I still am in a way, but I don’t want to dwell on it. Besides, it’s great being funny (or trying to be anyway *whistles*) in 140 letters.

Live long and prosper bunnies. This is not the last you’ll hear from me.

 

And without warning… #NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of the year again in which thousands of people all over the world abandon their lives, their family, their jobs and their general well being to try and complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

I feel as if this year’s event really snuck up on me. I almost forgot to complete my returning-ML form. I have not given my plot much thought since about… well… Today. And, I almost forgot to organise my region’s Kick Off party. It seems that this year, truly, November couldn’t have come at a worse time. But, I take heart in the fact that I’m not the only one unprepared. A lot of students are writing exams, it’s end of the year functions, it’s school, work, terrible weather (both hot and cold depending on which hemisphere you live in) and all round end of the year depressed funk.

Nothing seems like a better idea than to ask the organisers of the event to delay it another month… or two… Or maybe three.

And, in that lies the problem that NaNoWriMo tries to solve. (For those new to this – NaNoWriMo means National Novel Writing Month). There are a lot of ‘one day novelists’ out there. People who keep telling themselves that ‘one day’ they’ll write that novel. They keep putting it out and putting it out for a more convenient time but the truth is that no time is better than NOW. You see, we are so good at delaying ourselves, that we end up delaying ourselves in definitively. Which is why an event like NaNoWriMo is so great. It forces you to take a step, to write a book and get it done quickly. The focus is not on quality, but on quantity. The more you get out, the more you can edit in December.

A friend of mine, Suzanne Lazear, managed to use her NaNoWriMo book which she eventually got published. (Innocent Darkness will be released August 2012).

Things can happen during November that can change your life. I’ve done it for two years now (this will be my third) and I’ve been surprised everytime.

So, if you are a ‘one day’ novelist then maybe, it’s worth giving NaNoWriMo a chance. Not only will you get to write that book, but you’ll meet people such as yourself and find out exactly how hard/easy it is to write that book that you’ve been dreaming of for so long.

Of Aliens and Pigeons.

If you’ve been following my tweets you’d have noticed that there’s been a bit of an extraterrestrial trend in them. I’ll confess that I’ve had alien invasion on the brain (in no small thanks to Mass Effect 3 marketing – I present to you exhibit A).

Now, my gaming addiction aside, there’s actually a little bit more to this than meets the eye. The weekend before last I was dragged to a company function in which we treated our customers (and their partners) to a night away at a local game lodge. One of the activities presented there was Lazer Clay Pigeon Shooting. Although not nearly as fun as the real thing (which I did a lot in England), it was an interesting activity to observe and also, to see what my colleagues were capable of.

The ‘Alien’ theme took seed in my mind when I watched a colleague of mine miss pigeon after pigeon and after her fifth failed attempt at hitting the poor defenceless disk I found myself saying out loud:

“You know, when the Aliens come you’ll be amongst the first to go. I’m not hiding with you.”

The observers had a good laugh about it (though carefully when they saw me take the lead in the women’s shooting department and then finally almost win the shooting competition against the one client who had been shooting competitive for years…) and I got so distracted by the work that I let the subject drop.

It was only last week as I was driving from my one client to the other (through a desolate piece of farm land) that the theme came back. As I was driving around fairly early – there was nobody out on the roads. I found myself looking around and thinking:

I wonder if I’d notice if Aliens came and took everybody. Would they notice me? Would they not think to look in this god forsaken piece of land?
Maybe? Maybe not?

And of course, then I found myself thinking: What would I do if the Aliens came?

I’ve been amusing myself with this for the past week and although it’s not the most elaborate brainwave that I’ve had in the past couple of months, its shown me that I’m on track again, that what ever silence had trapped my mind in the past couple of months had dissipated and allowed space for more ‘silly’ thoughts. When I was in England I had reached a point in my life there that I had thought enough, that place where I had turned over every thought in my mind so many times that I was willing to just put it all on the shelf and let them sort themselves out.

I think (perhaps because of the extensive driving that I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks) that I’ve reached that point again. And, it’s a good point to be at.

So, hopefully you’ll be seeing more of me again. I’m hoping to continue back into some semblance of a routine and also log my writing progress (which I’ve been neglecting terribly).

NaNoWriMo is around the corner as well and yours truly will be competing again. I’m not shooting for the 100k words that I did last year. No, this time I’m hoping to accomplish something (And see a fellow Tweeter StillDormant in a dress) and to finally start working on all my outstanding projects again.

So watch this space and – if you see an Alien, call me.

I can shoot the hell out of it…