Monday, November 28, 2011

[November 28th] A Touch of Racism in Music

It’s been quite the debate over whether or not Florence + the Machine’s video for their single “No Light, No Light” is racist. Youtube’s comment section has gone up in flames and several official music critics have expressed their negative opinions in regards to the video. The cause for this criticism is the painted in black Asian dancer, who performs voodoo rituals during the video. Here is the whole bit: 

I’m not convinced the video is racist. It’s decision to play a black-white motif [and I’d like to point out it has been present culturally long before the color became attached to races] with a set of religious beliefs that has everybody’s panties in a twist. To the average viewers pitting Christianity against Voodoo will represent Good versus Evil, mainly because misconceptions about Voodoo as a dark craft are still well and alive. What I believe this pairing to represent is the conflict between rigid control [Christianity] and the close to the heart desires [Voodoo] in the context of a dramatic, forbidden relationship, which throws the one receiving its affections off kilter [here comes the image of falling]. 

But Harry, the painted-black voodoo priest has a voodoo doll and pins it with needles? 

Yes, imaginary reader I’m having a dialogue with. The priest does have a doll and uses the most recognizable imagery associated with Voodoo to illustrate the passionate throes and pain associated with the type of love, which Florence sings about. Florence never sings of anything easy. She intensifies every feeling, every motif in her lyrics to the point that it overloads the human emotional circuit-board. 

It’s not an easy love. It’s all possessing and all possessive. It vibrates and finds itself in every aspect of the singer’s existence. If you watch the video closely, you will see that all the time Florence is laying in bed with a man, which means that the video sequence is happening within her soul space, it’s a conflict and questioning of what to do and how to behave. 

On the outside, she is as calm and controlled as the choir of young boys are [the idea of false self-control is reinforced through the scene where she falls through the stained glass roof], but below the obvious surface she is rocked with these storms of emotions, sweet and torturous at the same time. 

To me this would have been racist, if the dancer chosen to be painted black was Caucasian, which would have been a tasteless call back to racism in cinema, where people from African descent were portrayed using ridiculously painted over white actors. The fact that they chose an Asian and painted him black, thus creating a race that does not exist, but has the quality of haunting and visually striking beauty, is a giveaway that we, the viewers, have to think in terms of symbolism. 

At the end of the day, however, I believe that this video will be perceived as racist, even if I don’t believe it. Working with religion, beliefs and skin color is dangerous, because these are deeply personal and defining to a lot of people. It’s the same with sexuality, especially the jab that homosexuals receive, so I can personally see as to how the video can and has offended a group of viewers, even if it had no intention to attack anyone. It’s the risks that you run with art, I suppose. 

Tell me what you think. Is the video racist? Should artists in any medium try and experiment with skin color and religion? Has a music video offended you?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

[November 27th] Julianne Moore & The Succession in Art

The story I’m writing at the moment [titled “Blinding”] incorporates Bulgarian folklore, lore and fables. It’s echoing the path “Fables” and Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” in terms of transplanting characters from their plane of existence and their endings into our current state of reality. Considering that the inclusion of mythical beasts is a popular practice in the genre of Urban Fantasy as it is, I don’t consider breaking new horizons, other than contributing to the expanding story pull. 

The act of writing “Blinding” has me thinking about succession in art and the establishing of a permanent continuity that feeds the collective memory to newer generation through different retellings. “Fables” reintroduces fairy tales to children, who prefer comic books to regular old books and “American Gods” has peaked my curiosity as to the different deities, other than the Greek or Norse ones. Succession in art is common. 

The 80’s synth beats are reliving their glory days in nouveau electronic, pardon my French and the style of the 1950’s [which has influenced visual arts heavily] sneaks in movies, music and an eternal pin-up movement. Which brings me to Julianne Moore, Harper’s Bazaar and a very couture incorporation of famous paintings. Julianne Moore’s photo session has her adopt poses and style of some of the most breath-taking paintings in the last century, along with new creations. I've expected nothing else from Julianne Moore, who is a style icon in the celebrity circles. This concept photo shoot is quite exciting as it shows these memorable works in a completely new medium, which is far from the remakes that we see.

“Adele Bloch-Bauer I” – 1907 – Gustav Klimt 

“The Cripple” – 1997 – John Curring 

“Man Crazy Nurse #3” – 2003 – Richard Prince 

“Seated Woman with Bent Knee” – 1917 – Egon Schiel 

“Madame X” – 1884 – John Singer Sargent 

What do you think about succession in art?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

[November 26th] A Night Among the Bulgarian Cultural Elite

Yesterday was the official book launch of Angel Angelov’s “The Act of Walking on Water”, a pleasant affair, though a bit lengthy, highlighting the release of a slim collection of shorts. I randomly learned about the event thanks to a newsletter from my favorite bookshop in Varna “Shakespeare & Friends”, which organized the event, provided wine and a buffet to boot. The event, given the capacity of the bookstore, was successful with over twenty people attending, which is a full house in my book. 

Unlike most readings/launches I have been to [my experience is limited to this year’s Fantasy Con] the emphasis fell down on dialogue between the author and the guests, rather than any of the stories. Angelov didn’t read his works, nor did he discuss his collection. I felt no attempt of a sales pitch either, which I found so very different from what I’m observing in the West as behavior during such events. 

From what I gathered, Angelov is a well-established niche author, one of the difficult ones to read, so there is no appeal for him to generate any hype. His built-in audience, no matter how small will track his works and to me it seemed that this audience consists of other intellectuals rather than mainstream readers, although that may not be true. If it is true, then that confirms my belief that the Bulgarian literary community is close-circuited as evidenced by the number of creators in attendance [literary critics, painters and theater folk]. 

The downside of this particular book launch was that it was more about the author rather than the book or the potential readers. I understand that with friends and personal acquaintances as the majority of the audience, there would be no incentive to ‘sell’ the collection, but at some point the event became as a sort of gathering to venerate Angelov and his strengths, which I considered to be tasteless, albeit good-natured and probably well-deserved. What I also didn’t find all that enjoyable was the tactless use of the space, where the author seemed to overstay his welcome in the bookstore. Obviously, from my conversations with the bookstore owners, there were no negotiated terms on how long the event should have lasted. 

Even with these small imperfections, I had a good evening, which turned me into more of an active participant in the event as I had to translate in real time, from English to Bulgarian and from Bulgarian to English, as the bookstore owners are both English speakers. Also, I was the night’s oddity, being the only person under thirty [even under forty] interested enough to stay and have a few chats. Business cards were exchanged, photos were made. All in all, a great evening for meeting the Bulgarian cultural elite. 

Your turn. Tell me what event you were recently? Did you like it?

Friday, November 25, 2011

[November 25th] The Art of Exit Man

It's been a long day and I have been to the book launch of "The Act of Walking on Water" by Bulgarian author Angel Angelov. It was a wonderful hour and a half affair with chatting, wine and speeches devoted to the man of the hour, Mister Angelov. The wine has gone to my head, which is why I will be writing a complete report in the morning. 

In the mean time, I've been meaning to bring your mind to the art of Exit Man. He's from Spain or at the very least a Spanish speaking country, judging by his website, which I can't seem to effectively navigate. This type of art I most commonly associate with skaters as it appears on a lot of their T-shirts. It's pretty breathtaking with its psychedelic choice of colors, though I have picked the least colorful pieces of art. 

The peculiar thing about this art direction is that I see it on all the power boxes in my city. There is a real urban movement in Varna to go around and paint over all power boxes out in the street, which would be real dangerous to touch. I have to bring in some amateur photos of these sites. 
In the mean time, enjoy. Also, tell me what is the art that has you interested? 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

[November 24th] On Writing Longhand and the Importance of Words

I’ve not spoken about writing in a long time, because I consider the craft of writing as a rather personal experience. My main understanding is that every story is different and every writer is unique in his/her thoughts, inspirations and techniques are strictly individual. From where I’m standing, I’d rather not dish out advise. There are plenty of websites, which provide you with countless posts on the technical aspects of writing. Magical Words serves advice like a petite French restaurant; compact portions sculpted to beauty. Chuck Wendig overtakes the table as an Italian seven course meal, calorie rich and dripping sauce.

In that metaphor, what am I? I’m just a story in the kitchen and I’m fine to be one. Recently, I had to switch from writing on the keyboard to writing longhand, because my day job demands me typing. The implications are two-fold. First, my fingers are already tired from hitting away at the keys and second, my brain associates this time of writing as a chore*. Writing as an act and a process, sitting down and typing words, grew to be tedious and my ideas, no matter how bright and shiny and witty suffered, when it came to give them shape. 

Write or Die is an excellent software, if your brain has already swollen with the pregnancy of a story, which your fingers desperately want to deliver, but not when your story has its own umbilical cord tied around its neck. I needed c-section and writing longhand functioned as such**. Yes, now everything is a thousand times slower. Yes, I have to actually make more time to write the same amount of words I crank out for an hour. But. The big But. I place the right words, I add texture to my story I can’t do when facing the white screen or race with my fingers, because everyone types faster than they write. Sometimes it’s all about the physical presence of the notebook that helps me get my idea out. 

I’m feeling a bit guilty that I’m choosing impracticality over efficiency, which doesn’t make sense. It’s irrational. This sense of guilt is stupid, because it implies that you’re racing against something or someone. Is writing a race? Well, kinda. It’s a race against death. Everything is racing with death. Everything knows that it’ll lose a race with the big, underlined and bolded THE END; it’s more of a matter of how much gets done. This brings me down to the devil: quantity and boy do we know about quantity. Word counts, word meters and the month of the word count tracking NaNoWriMo***. 

Quantity is a fixation. In “Booklife” Jeff VanderMeer pins this quest for wordcount as a goal that is hollow, pardon, I’m paraphrasing from memory. VanderMeer spends some time to the importance of the right words and his points are excellent. While I understand how setting a goal, which has to do with getting a set number of words down, helps track progress, this is a ‘surface’ progress. First drafts become our arenas to suck and fail, but I feel as though advice to allow yourself to fail during first drafts is misinterpreted as ‘suck, but just get it out, doesn’t matter how much you do suck’. In my mind, this conspiracy theory emerges, where this predominant attitude about sucking has joined this fetish for metric measurements in a craft, which is not meant to welcome math****. 

The right words matter even in a first draft, because later on, during revisions, you’ll find that you have a solid first draft that needs little modifications on a linguistic level. That the prose actually helps you find the right direction for the story and relatively ease your journey in the land of Edits. Sometimes you can suck too much to know how to fix a story. And all the time you saved dashing through your first draft [and more] will go into your editing. 

What do you do when crafting first drafts? Do you stop to think or go where the hands take you? 

*I’d like to take the opportunity to distance away from my brain as we never have seen eye to eye on a various subjects. 
** I disturbed myself with this metaphor, so I will stop with it. 
*** Dudes, I’m far from criticizing NaNo for anything else. I still believe in its key value, to tech persistence and consistency when writing. 
**** I hate math, so there you go.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

[November 23rd] The Death of Anne McCaffrey

I've just been able to come to the intertubes and I was floored with the news that Anne McCaffrey had died and yes, my title is intentionally dramatic. I personally have not had the pleasure of reading her work, although I had in my sights. Even unfamiliar with her body of work, I know of the influence Anne had in the community as evidenced by the long list Charles Tan has assembled with tributes. 

Christie Yant over at the Ink Punks has written a post, which pretty much sums up how I feel about the passing of such a profilic author. I have to agree that I wish I have read her novels and send my thanks when she was alive. I'm not sure I would have loved them, but authors need to have a connection with their fans, need to know that they are needed. 

I'm convinced Anne has had many people come to her with letters of gratitude and appreciation, but it never hurts to appreciate a good person [a fantastic author with a sprawling legacy in our community] while we have the chance. Something happens when an author dies; to the readers, to the writers, to the community as a whole. It's sad, irreversible and rings a bell that time is fleeting and you should make the most of it, even in your literary explorations. Don't be reactive, be proactive, when experiencing an author. Say 'thank you'. Cause you may never get the chance otherwise. And for me, meeting Anne will happen only through her work.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

[November 22nd] The Walking Dead: A Descent into Boredom

Eh, I'm kinda interested in hearing what you think about the new The Walking Dead episodes so far. I had such high hopes for the show, considering that I showed the enthusiasm to review it over at Innsmouth Free Press, but I made the fundamental mistake to create 'expectations', which unfortunately were not met. Is it normal that I should expect a show to be completely boring story lines, which go nowhere [it seems as though they are like drugged asylum patients with identity crisis]? 

In my latest review of the series "Chupacabra" [yeah, I'm a bit behind], I open with the following: 

“Chupacabra” follows after the weakest episode in The Walking Dead to date, which is not as hard as one would imagine. The episode is the latest to miss the mark for me, but at the same time, there is some improvement, as well as some thrills. 

This is not how a review of a beloved show should start. It's very bizarre for me. Anyway, I just managed to sit through episode six "Secrets" and was equally struck down by blandness. I know these people can act, but the lines they are uttering make them sound like amateurs in a B movie. Of course, this is only my opinion. 

Although it's not BAD, there are 40 minutes worth of screen time of nothing. "Secrets" showcases the laziest writing I've seen in quite awhile and sudden confrontations, which make no sense. Dale has never been so vicious and his behavior towards Shane broke any suspension of disbelief. So out of character. 

Speaking of dull TV, the fall season has some pretty weak offerings. Grimm struck me as an overused idea stretched over a cliche archetype of a story. Once Upon a Time alienated me with unbelievable worldbuilding ideas. Even Fringe is reaching a point in its universe, where it repeats itself, considering that they largely left the shape shifting story line without a single mention and now are picking it up again. 

So guys, the ones who are watching TV shows, what have you to say? What do you like? What can you recommend and what can you warn me of?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

[Nomber 19th] State of the Writer

I've been silent a bit more than intended and it's high time I share some insight on what's going on with plans and projects that I'm running.

Writing-wise I've completed the rough draft of "Girl with One Eye" and am two thirds in the first draft of "A Kiss with a Fist", though both have been tough to write. After reading about Paul Jessup's disenchantment with conventional storytelling, which expects a natural progression from point A to point B [resolution wrapped in a pretty colored bow], the stories I've written are divorced from this notion. There is no challenge to occupy the character's life and demand a swift resolution [well, there is, but it's not central to the story]. I like to think I'm in exploration of life as a series of things that happen to a person and the reactive element in human nature.

The difficulty with these stories in particular stem from the fact that both of the narrators don't have eyes for the beauty in their surroundings and in their lives as well, which demands more modest and transparent prose. After the sophisticated and richly ornate prose in "Crimson Cacophony" it came to be a shock to my system. Another hurdle comes from my aversion to using the keyboard, when I create, mainly because my day job demands I spent eight hours per working day typing, which saps my creative desire to write my first drafts on the computer. 

And no matter how useful "Write or Die" has been in nailing down first drafts in record time, I can't use it when my brain is against the idea to tap on keys after work. I didn't know what the problem was [I thought I was being lazy], until I sat down to at least try and outline a scene. The result: I very convincingly wrote in my vision of the story on paper. Longhand, no matter how strenuous on my arm, is how I'll forge on with my short story projects from here on.

So what have you been working on? 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

[November 16th] Memoirs: A Tool for Alternative Education?

I've been thinking about Jung Chang's memoir “Wild Swans” for about two weeks now, so I thought to finally share my thoughts on this book, which is only two years my junior with a first print dating back to 1991. With all the new releases, I'm reading, I find it oddly bizarre that a novel can be older than me or around my age. Although I'm tempted to review “Wild Swans”, I will keep my praise to myself, but look at my experience from another angle. 

As with all worthwhile experiences, finding “Wild Swans” in the first place had been random. I was browsing through my favourite bookshop “Shakespeare & Friends”, when I stumbled on this thick beauty and decided that it deserved a chance. At the time it felt like an impulse purchase, but I know you know that some books speak to you in a language that only your body can decipher and this is pretty much what I believe happened to me. I've never read a memoir. Moreover, I have rarely had a hunger to read outside my comfort zone [though this is changing at the moment], but I extracted so much gut-punching knowledge from every page in “Wild Swans” about China that had me thinking about whether it's not better to study about history, other cultures and the development of countries and civilizations through fiction. 

While I like to pretend I take interest in learning about other cultures and their histories, I rarely find myself in the position where I pay an academic level of attention to another culture or history of a nation. The way my brain is wired challenges me to digest information in raw form, no matter how well ordered or sparingly presented it is. Facts are not my thing and interest alone can't pull me through. With fiction, however, sign me up. “Wild Swans” presented me with a China all my history textbooks failed to do.* 

Considering how the volume of information grows, especially now that most countries in the world connect with each other and attempt to re-establish cultural connection, the newest generation has a tough challenge to absorb as much as possible about any given subject. Theoretically, it would be a lot easier to learn about any country's history through a narration rather than paragraphs with dates. I'm not saying that this should be the dominant form in which history should be taught, because I've yet to see the perfect substitute of a good old fashioned textbook [in the sense that a textbook gets the job done]. Studying with fictional memoirs or even autobiographies would be an additional tool to help keep what has been studied in class. 

Why do I believe this would work? Because history is indifferent to the student. It has happened in the past and those events do not concern him, even more so, if the student lives in Iceland and has to read about Spain. There is no connection, plus the 21st century is the era of “me”, if you take a look at how products are marketed on a personal level. They are not being sold to a consumer, but to the individual and all commercials seek to establish an emotion connection with its intended audience. Memoirs such as “Wild Swans” are the commercials that sell history. 

They offer a brief glimpse into what has happened over a period of time, narrowed down to an individual, whose voice the reader is exposed to through the whole book. If the memoir is competent, then the reader will bond with the narrator and relate to the pain and the hardships through any turbulent era. It's not about the dates or the figures, but how they translate as tragedies or triumphs, which appeal on a more personal level. Given that teenagers are in the age, where they are in a constant state of discovery and emotional growth, it's a safe bet that a powerful book such as “Wild Swans” would use their raging hormones in history's favour and feed their desire to learn.** 

 Then again, this would bread problems on its own, because in order for this model to work, children would have to be avid readers and enjoy the assigned titles, which in middle and high school is an issue as no child likes to be forced to read. Personally, I hated every single book that was assigned to me to read, mainly because it was not up to me to make the decision. So my post is more of an exercise in theoretical thinking than anything else, but worth some thought. What about you? Do you like memoirs? Do you find them useful to access another culture or are they just another pretty story?

*: Of course, I can't confirm the historical accuracy in Chang's book. Perhaps, Chang tweaked some of the details to fit her plan for the story. However, the Zeitgeist and the mentality of the people in the one century in “Wild Swans” along with the major historical events ring true to me as a reader. I have read that the memoir has been labelled as a fictional narrative, but even if the example given in the book through the three generation of women had not happened, Chang reinforces the belief in her readers that these events, or similar ones given the historical context, must have happened to someone. 

**: I'm talking in an ideal case scenario. Let's not forget that this is theory.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

[November 15th] World SF / The Portal Merger

Something in tone with the news

Yesterday, it has been finally announced that The World SF Blog (run by Lavie Tidhar) has merged with Val Grimm's The Portal. This is an exciting merge, one which I believe is a perfect fit as both venues are complementary of each other.

The Portal provides excellent, high quality reviews of short fiction [I had to follow quite a lot of rules and guidelines, which made me more critical about my reviews] with an international angle, while The World SF Blog has its fingers on the pulse of international SFF with a lot of fun authors [my christening has to do with horror duo S.L.Grey, which really tops my 2011 experiences].

As a contributor to both venues, I'm more than excited to see the full effect of the changes take place and focus my own efforts in one place entirely.  

Here is the official press release post: World SF Blog to merge with The Portal; Expand Operations. And as soon as the new fiction editor Debbie Moorhouse has been announced, there is a new story on The World SF blog by Milena Benini from Croatia titled "Dancing Together Under Polarized Skies".

This reminds me. Are you interested in international fiction? 

Monday, November 14, 2011

[November 14th] Chuck Wendig's Blackbloom, A Hermaphrodite Deity

The Hermaphrodite-Angel of Peladan by Czanara

I've been exponentially unavailable to sit down and update my blog, even though I consider to have quite a few opinions as of late. But let's not wind up early on a Monday. I'm starting the week with a worldbuilding project hosted by Chuck Wendig. Wendig has become my go-to guru, when it comes to reading writing advice, mainly because he's telling things that ring true and mainly because he presents concepts, which I have already read in a flambe of tasteful profanity. 

His latest project is creating the world of Blackbloom, where his loyal readers pitch in ideas under 100 words for every aspect of the world. Last challenge, the emphasis was on the Blackbloom pantheon and my goddess-god Tallyr has been picked. The reason why I'm happy for this is that Tallyr is the sole representative of alternative gender. Tallyr is a hermaphrodite:

Tallyr is the god-goddess of the Blackbloom flowers, which grant un-death. Tallyr was once called the Lightless Garden as he/she grew the Blackbloom flowers during the third season, when Blackbloom enters into an eclipse, when her power over shadows and their secrets ripens. It is said that his/her body is the soil and the seeds from which the Blackbloom flowers grow. Now, Tallyr walks as a frail figure with eye lids grown shut and the way he/she hears is through the vibrations in the ground. 

I'm thrilled to have a hermaphrodite in the pantheon, because who knows what kind of myths may go around based on the fact that Tallyr represents both genders, which is apt because everyone dies, no matter if they are male and female, so un-death is available to all. In this vein of thought, the deity of un-death should represent both genders. 

The next challenge is about geography. Come join us. 

As a side question: Are you tired with a normal male/female pantheons that sprout in most fantasy novels? Also, can you recommend a book where an other than male/female gender is used for a deity? 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

[Nomber 2nd] KazNoWriMo & The Walking Dead

Completely unrelated, but made of win.

It's almost midnight and I want to conclude my blogging task, because I'm more than certain that I will not get done any writing at the moment. Real life has occupied Wednesday and apparently my role in this predicament is one of the bitch. If I'm crass, it's all because Chuck Wendig is being a bad influence on my potty mouth.

Anyway, since I'm fairly behind on all sort of deadlines, I'm skipping #NaNoWriMo as 50,000 with school, work, parenting responsibilities and loads of side work is damn near impossible. Plus, I'm on a short story binge, which makes me pretty non-eligible to participate. This is the reason I'm going indie with Karen Mahoney's KazNoWriMo, which not only allows for work on multiple projects no matter their length, but the goal is more realistic for my schedule: 30,000.

In other news, I'm in charge of the The Walking Dead reviews on Innsmouth Free Press. Reviews for the first two episodes What Lies Ahead and Bloodletting have been posted. I'd like to hear what you think.

PS: Check me out at Day 02 through #Movember. I even cobbled a small verse:
On the 2nd day of #Movember the stache has still to grow,
let's all hope that it will be big and hang down low.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

[November 1st] Movember is Coming

Technically, Movember has come. For all that wonder, why I'm insisting on misspelling November, I shall clarify that Movember is the month, where men donate their faces for science. Thirty days we grow our staches so people may donate and when people donate scientists and doctors smile a snide smile [curling their own mad-scientist's moustaches at that], knowing that they have all the funds to kick cancer in the ass.

In all seriousness, cancer is nothing to laugh at and the worst thing is that these days it goes with a lot more lax attitude towards age differentiation. It can happen to anyone, which is why I've made up my mind to grow a stache [as feeble as it may be] and at the very least spread some the idea that you need to get yourself checked on a regular basis.

Day 01:

As clean shaven as I possible I embark on this crusade. Each day I will come up with a weird sing-song verse to spread some joy.

On the 1st day of #Movember I licked my upper lip,
so that it grows a stache with a long and healthy tip.

If you are in a donate-y mood, then click on my profile HERE or click on the icon to the right. It will lead you to my profile. I've joined the UK causes, because that's where my heart lies to be honest. Let's kick cancer in the ass.