Novelizations Panel Schedule, Arisia 2021

Come hear me (and other people) talk about Movie Novelizations!

1pm EST, Saturday Jan. 16th, this coming weekend.

I’m only on the one panel this year. This is a far lighter load than I had last year, when I was on seven panels and modded four of them—one of those by surprise (the Harassment one).

Part of me is a little sad about doing less this year. I really do enjoy being on and moderating panels, for all that I was worn out by it last year. But another part of me is fine with it; I have a weekend that I can use to do other life-things. I won’t come out of this weekend feeling run down from running around constantly and talking non-stop for hours on end.

And yet.

I enjoy nerding out about a hodge-podge of topics, and I enjoy listening to other people speak knowledgeably about their areas of expertise, and I *really* enjoy shepherding panels through their explorations. I’ve made some good friends, people I value reconnecting with, over the years that I’ve been at Arisia. I’ll miss seeing and talking with them this year. I’ll miss being on panels with them.

There were fewer panels offered this year that called to me, fewer panels for which I thought “oh that one fits me to a T” or “I could really add something there.” I don’t think that lack is beyond normal variation, especially given the trying circumstances for any convention this year. And I don’t mean that there aren’t good panels on offer, merely that there weren’t as many that felt correct for me.

If you’d like to hear about movie novelizations, or the struggles involved in translating any given story across media, come check out this panel on Saturday. I hope you’ll see me there.

I had a different post, but news

I’m sure plenty of other people are writing similar things. I haven’t been able to focus since I was told to look at the news yesterday afternoon. An angry mob pushing their way into the halls of Capitol Hill, handled with kid gloves by the same law enforcement that beat so many over the summer, attempting to disrupt and undo the peaceful transfer of power that our democracy is built on…

Side note: I don’t want more people shot by law enforcement. I do not think more of yesterday’s mob should have been shot or beaten or anything else. I just want the phenomenally more peaceful protestors of color, those arguing for less police violence who have been treated so much worse over the last summer in the same city, to be handled with more generous restraint.

Resignations of Trump’s Cabinet members at this point are fervently clutched fig leafs, unless they come with something like the following statement: “I was unable to convince a majority of fellow cabinet members to invoke the 25th amendment. As such, I am resigning instead of continuing to support President Trump. I recommend that the President be removed from office immediately, by impeachment since none of the remaining cabinet will speak out.”

Society is a collective agreement about reality. Our democratic republic relies on that consensus reality being broadly shared by a sufficient mass of citizens. Without that shared reality, democracy fails.

Trump and his abettors have been working for years (decades in the case of Fox, conservative talk radio, and now their more radical news network and podcast heirs) to carve away enough people from that consensus to cover their own autocratic impulses. In many cases, this means working hand in hand with fascists and racists. The preponderance of Proud Boys and neo-nazi affiliated groups in the mob yesterday have been there all along (in case no one remembers Richard Spencer yelling “Heil Trump” after the 2016 election). They aren’t a majority, as our elections have amply demonstrated, but they sure can make a lot of violent noise.

Speaking of which, it seems strange that there’s so little coverage of the makeshift bombs found at DNC and RNC headquarters in DC yesterday.

Regardless, there must be consequences of some sort for these actions. Inciting violence and insurrection is bad. And letting people (Trump in particular) get away with it is worse. He’s reopened a wound in American society, or perhaps simply pulled off the pus-laden bandage and gleefully rubbed shit in it until it became gangrenous.

Ignoring gangrene in hopes that “time will heal all wounds” is an excellent way to die.

Movie Novelizations at Arisia 2021

I’ve had a writing break. I’m still on break, as it were, at least for another day or two. Working at home so much even before the pandemic means that I’m used to the struggle of easing myself back into my work schedule. Doesn’t make it easier. Reading about people’s struggles adjusting to working at home last March and April was vindicating, and offered guilty nourishment for my schadenfreude.

This year I will be attending Arisia virtually, and will only be on one panel. Organizing Arisia for 2021 seems like a particularly difficult and thankless task, so I am glad that a) someone else is doing it, and b) they’re still doing their best to run a convention despite COVID-19. After working digital LARP camps this summer, I really didn’t want to be on more than one or two panels in a weekend, so this is perfect for me.

The panel I’m on this year will focus on movie novelizations. I hope to include some exploration of other translations of story across media (from pure-text to text with illustration, animation, or live action… and vice versa). I’m fascinated by the ways in which stories (and the story-telling arts) change as the medium shifts, and the ways that story elements become more or less accessible for audiences across different media.

I don’t think that any particular narrative tricks are *impossible* to translate from one medium to another, but they’re certainly not all equally easy to alter.

Take, for example, the ability to convey internal emotional state. A story told purely via text can be first person, granting the reader direct access to the character’s emotional and physical state. In live action form, on a screen, that character’s emotional state is only accessible through the viewer’s interpretation of the actor… with as much (or more) variation in interpretation due to a viewer’s personal response to an actor.

Or perhaps I should compare the ease with which text can dilate and contract time, glossing over the details of a battle in a few sweeping sentences (Lloyd Alexander does this neatly a number of times in his Chronicles of Prydain series) while giving tight focus to an emotional conversation. Live action film can do these things, but I think the audience’s perception of time (and how time works on the screen) is different than the assumptions of a reader. Meanwhile, film can convey a myriad of elements in one shot, encompassing more details (and background clues) in a single frame than is feasible by text; Knives Out is a glowing example of this.

All of which is to say, I’m very excited to nerd out about this with other similarly excited people. I think there’s a lot of good material to explore.

I’ll post more details about when this panel will be when I know more myself.

Musing on Emotional Arcs

Quick bookkeeping: I’ll be away next Thursday, and likely won’t post here. I’m not traveling. But I am planning to spend more time on video calls with family in other time zones, and generally taking a break. I hope you’re all staying safe.

When it comes to making progress in my writing, I frequently feel as though I’m swimming against a tether, trying to pull a ship on the strength of my strokes alone. The only reassurance I have comes from comparing my older pieces to more recent ones, comparing what I missed then to what I possess now.

The biggest change I’ve noticed, over the course of about seven years, is a heightened appreciation for the emotional content of a story; feelings are fun to play with, especially pathos.

For a long time I focused myopically on the tension and climax of a physical plot: threat, danger, difficult circumstances, and the struggle to prevail despite insurmountable challenges. I had trained for that. Running RPGs for my friends prepared me well for creating fun obstacles and leaving my players overwhelmed… but just barely able to pull through and win the day.

When I spoke with fellow students in my MFA program, and when I read their work, it was clear that this was a place others struggled. I heard friends lament their “inability” to write conflict, tension, and danger, or bemoan the difficulty they found in forcing their characters through awful challenges.

To be clear, none of them were unable to write those things, they just weren’t used to doing it.

Meanwhile, I’d look at my characters and wonder what kind of people they were. My friends were writing believable people, tying them into evocative emotional relationships, and most of my characters felt like blanks. Running RPGs, I’d gotten used to setting up all the other pieces and then letting my players fill their characters’ interior worlds. Writing characters, grappling with their internal worlds and emotional experiences, I fumbled over and over again.

Everything felt like playing with cardboard cutouts. Characters did not “speak to me” or take life of their own on the page, except in little promising glimmers.

This isn’t some marvelous tale of miraculous change. My swimming metaphor above, struggling against a massive sea anchor, still feels true. But I have made progress. However it may feel, I am not stuck in place.

I’m not sure whether I’m glad that I started with more familiarity in active conflict and physical plots. But as someone who loves genre fiction and RPGs, I can’t say that I’m surprised. My “YA” reading as a twelve and thirteen year old was almost entirely 1970s & 80s genre fiction, or more recent work from those authors—largely books I’d hesitate to recommend to any young teen these days. There were a few standouts, but I suspect that I wasn’t in the right place to learn about writing characters’ internal lives or a good emotional arc when I was reading most of those books.

More recently, I have been blessed by a number of extremely good novels in the past decade, books which have helped me considerably in writing the internal emotional struggles of my characters. N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Lois McMaster Bujold, Seth Dickinson, John Scalzi, Katherine Addison, and Nnedi Okorafor all helped a great deal.

All of which is to say, I’ve been having much more fun writing emotional arcs of late, especially when I can tie them neatly into the grueling difficulties characters face in the physical plot. It’s good stuff.

Star Trek, Discovery, Idealism

Star Trek has been a part of my life since I was tiny. I grew up on The Next Generation, watching it curled up on the couch with my older sibs. While I remember the death of Tasha Yar, I don’t remember Riker without a beard (I see the impossibility there, presumably my brain edits out most of the worse stuff).

I was, arguably, too young for the show. I know it wasn’t geared towards toddlers. Some of my earliest nightmares grew out of Star Trek episodes. Those did not stop me from watching.

Of course, the same can be said for watching my sibs play Doom. Maybe toddler-Henry’s judgement just wasn’t that good. Toddler-Henry almost certainly valued spending time with sibs more than not having nightmares. That’s still true.

All of which is to say, Star Trek has a special place in my heart. Moreover, at a formative age Star Trek fed me an underlying idealism that serves as the keystone for good Star Trek stories. If you’ve watched enough older Trek you know what I’m talking about. When it isn’t there, the Star Trek-ness of the story just falls apart.

That idealism isn’t always well-written. But I admire it all the same. With it, generations of Star Trek have tried to do something that much of the rest of its contemporary narrative milieu dismissed as naive, or uninteresting, or hopelessly unrealistic. Unlike those other stories, well-written Star Trek refuels me.

All of which brings me around to Star Trek: Discovery. I’m working my way through it, bit by bit, but as much as I’m having fun seeing science fiction in the Star Trek universe it still doesn’t feel quite like Trek. This won’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with both Discovery and older Trek. Discovery’s first (and second, so far) season are dramatic and often exciting, and they have more character growth and development than I remember from TOS or TNG, but… they don’t hold the Trek idealism that I love. There are glimpses of it, moments when that idealism comes through, but it’s mostly hidden behind their larger threatening story arcs.

The most Star Trek thing I’ve seen in them so far have been Captain Pike and Number One, part of why I’m so excited for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

I have heard good things about Discovery’s third season, however. I’ve heard that it feels more full of the old idealism. I could really use that right now. So I’m still plugging away, doing my best to appreciate the science fiction show wearing Star Trek’s skin, and looking forward to it growing into something more hopeful and idealistic.

Frogfeast

The swamps that filter the end of the vast Enjeket River are known only as Frogfeast in the local tongue. This name is spoken many ways in many other languages, but they all come back to the same truths: sweltering heat, muggy air, and a cacophony of buzzing insects have fed a frog population like no other. Those who live near the edge of Frogfeast say that even the Enjeket River hippos do not venture into the swamp.

Presumably, that is an exaggeration. Enjeket River hippos are savage and truculent beasts known equally well for their ponderous girth and their propensity for violence. None doubt that a full grown hippo anywhere else on the Enjeket River would be free to do as it pleased without opposition. Surely they only avoid Frogfeast due to its foul smells and dense, sucking mud.

Others venture into Frogfeast, however. Locals swear by the potency of medicines made from the swamp’s plants, and they are known to paddle cautiously through Frogfeast’s twisting waterways in search of herbs. Habitual herb gatherers are a paranoid lot, and will uniformly refuse to push into the dense thickets or across the larger stretches of swamp where they swear giant toads make their lairs. They are picky about where they will drink, and constantly chew the tough roots of a boring local flower.

Visitors from further afield explore where the locals adamantly avoid, hunting places where the waters pool and twist in odd colors, and the air takes on a strange tang reminiscent of molding citrus and iron rust. There they seek out twisting, sponge-textured mineral deposits which are said to form in the swamp’s waters, though they also prize other equally rare formations. Most such finds are valuable in the extreme.

The foolhardy from afar make the most noise. Most often those with more wealth than sense, they all have a conspicuous smattering of knowledge about the history of lost cities on the Enjeket. They bring tools and employed labor in hopes of discovering the treasures of those whom the Enjeket swallowed in ages past. Some few of them swear that Frogfeast itself covers a lost city, but most agree that it merely serves as a catchment basin, a suitable pan for the gold dust of drowned or desolated civilizations as it were.

Of all these, the locals have the longest life expectancies. Many from afar who forge paths into Frogfeast become lost. Others drown, pulled under by mud. Still others are sucked dry by countless leeches and too many biting bugs, or else take ill and wither away under fevers, vomiting, diarrhea and visions. Some merely disappear without trace, never to be seen again.

Then, of course, there are those who reemerge hale but with some sickness of the mind. They speak of swirls of light, and of smells that no others can find. In time, most of these who are found recover, though they all speak of dis-ease at the thought of returning to Frogfeast. They tend to give the swamp agency, and claim that the swamp would not tolerate their return. A few, humored by their compatriots, have written fanciful stories of their experiences while under the influence of those hallucinations. And some, a bare handful, travel back to Frogfeast once again as quickly as they can, melting into the swamp’s dense undergrowth and vanishing without a trace. They become ghost stories, of a sort, and travelers scare each other with tales of sightings—glimpses caught of them years later, weaving through the swamp, seemingly untouched by the passage of time.

Anger Magic, Quick Setting Exploration

I hinted at this setting idea over a year ago, but… what would a world where anger is a route to magic look like?

How closely tied are those things? Does someone who is angry automatically have access to magic, or is that something that takes more special effort? Is there something about “only some people” etc?

For my personal interest, I want any anger to potentially lead to magic. And I want the magic that comes from that to often be dangerous & uncontrolled.

But… why then would children not cause lots of deaths? Is there something about coming of age or being older? A sufficient concentration of some environmental toxin / mineral / chemical? If it’s that, why wouldn’t fetuses concentrate the already present material in the womb?

Perhaps it’s gradual tissue damage from exposure to an external source of radiation… like, the sun, or a weird alien moon. Probably thinking about WFRP here, and Morrslieb.

Let’s say that anger becomes a reliable route to magic around puberty. That means that most communities, knowing the danger posed by anger-driven magical effects, would work hard to make sure that anger was avoided like the plague. Children would be taught to not give themselves over to anger, to prevent terrible things from happening as they grew older.

This wouldn’t be healthy. Mostly because I’m not interested in it being a healthy way of mitigating anger, but also because I don’t think pathologically avoiding anger for fear of something awful happening is actually good for anyone. This could even create moments when people—consumed by terror—do terrible things to stop someone who looks like they’re getting angry, like murder in self-defense when you know someone else has a gun… grotesque, understandable, awful, socially accepted.

So if the general population avoids anger and wants nothing to do with anger-magic, where would magic users come from? Where would they come in? Who would bother to train any new generations of magic users?

Oh, oh my. What if a person was known as a great and powerful wizard because they had once been utterly furious and were known for flying into a powerful rage at the drop of a hat? And what if, these days, they had resolved the fury which had once driven them? Perhaps they would want to see the world be different, so that people didn’t kill or hurt each other out of fear of someone being angry?

I like the character, an older magician who is no longer able to tap at will into the magic which made them so well known, feared, and respected… but who still performs the role in hopes of changing the world. They might seek to teach and train younger magic users to be able to think through their anger and channel it (anger and magic both) into more productive ends.

I don’t know if this person would be the central character for anything longer than a short story or piece of flash fic, but they feel worth exploring.

The Library of Roam

The fabled Library of Roam is spoken of only in hushed rumors, as though to raise one’s voice might forever close its doors.

But the Library of Roam has no doors, or at least no outer doors to bar entry. Nor, for that matter, can it be found on any map of the known world. The only known way to enter the Library of Roam is to be fortunate enough to find its stacks within another library. Turn a corner amongst the stacks, and one just might find that the light has shifted, and that they are now dwarfed by the surrounding shelves of books—tomes bound in everything from ancient reed, to leather, to flimsy glossy paper.

Despite the jumbled appearance of the Library of Roam’s collection, there is a method to its organization. Unfortunately for any regular visitor, that method is known only to the Librarian and those lucky enough (or so diabolically cursed) as to visit in their dreams.

Dreamers who wander in from other dreamt libraries may easily find what they seek. Indeed, it is said that they are the Librarian’s favorite patrons, and may converse freely with the Librarian when any other patron would be thrown out for speaking. But no accidental dreaming guest has yet managed to check out a book, and few have managed to retain the knowledge of what they read. They wake with a strong memory of their dream, and a powerful sense of having found all the answers they sought, only to feel it slip away slowly until the dream finally drifts from them like sand passing through clutched fingers. The lucky ones, the few who manage to record all that they can recall immediately upon waking, sometimes piece their discovery back together… but just as many never do, and are left with an aching sense of loss.

Dreamers who enter the Library of Roam of their own volition, and with intent, are the rarest of the rare. They may be frequent visitors, and some have even been seen leaving with books in their hands. They are also frequently strange in ways that make them uncomfortable to be around, with obsessions that leave them unfit for most human fellowship. There are exceptions to every rule, but the Library’s smart waking guests will avoid Dreamers anyway.

Waking guests who find the Library’s stacks amidst another library’s stacks are faced with a dilemma. There is no guarantee that they will ever find the Library again, for it does travel on strange paths between deep sets of stacks out of sight of the outside world. But when they seek a book in the Library of Roam, they must give a note to the Librarian and seek their assistance. For waking guests, all communication must be done in writing. And giving the Librarian a copy of one’s own words somehow allows the Librarian to find any other words one has ever written. For those whose writings are important to them, whose writings must forever remain private, this may be too much to ask.

But if a request is submitted without speaking, the Librarian will always find what one seeks. It is up to the recipient to learn the language of the text they receive, and come to understand what gift they now hold. Luckily, the due date and return policy is lenient: depositing the book in any library’s returns pile will suffice, and one may have a book for as long as one likes. The limit, however, is one book at a time.

Some spend their whole lives seeking the Library of Roam, traveling the world chasing rumors of its presence. Others claim to have charted it to the course of the heavens and the cycles of insects, and swear that they can find it at need. Few have the time or patience to master the arts needed to fully appreciate the gift that the Library of Roam represents, but finding it remains a fond fantasy for many, a dollop of mystery and romance in the world that lures the hopeful ever onward.

Cloudhome

Cloudhome snags streamers of mist and fog on the plucking fingers of its ruins, a flat-tipped peninsula of stone stretching into the sky from the bone-white rock of Femur Butte. Cloudhome’s expanse hangs unsupported, only open air beneath it, and none know how it remains aloft. Those who live in its shadow say only that it must be the work of the ancients, some mystery known to those who came before that has since been lost. The locals who live below praise it for granting them with shade, and for catching the rainclouds which otherwise would escape their dry land for more hospitable climes. They also say that in times long past, Cloudhome was host to wonders that once changed the world. Now it is but a remnant, a fragment of what came before.

The paths up Femur Butte are arduous but well known, and the local goatherds have made a tradition of racing each other to the top. Only a few of them, however, dare to lead outsiders across the floating bridge of rock which arcs between the butte and Cloudhome. They say, and the visiting outsiders who return agree, that the air itself changes as one crosses the arc. It cools as one crosses the bridge, bringing a chill to the skin and frosting the breath of those still hot from their climb. Dew collects on the stones, dripping from the crumbling walls which yet stand on Cloudhome’s edge. Epiphytic fruiting vines cling to the stonework, their berries a bright and lustrous purple that bursts against the stones’ gray.

Within the walls of Cloudhome visitors find a great sense of peace. Mist clings to every surface, clouds caught inside the ruins’ bounds. Those who have investigated the ruins describe a feeling of rest, of safety, and of a great desire to lay down and let their worries give way to sleep. Those who sleep in Cloudhome and return say they have had the most marvelous dreams, often coming back transformed and inspired by their experience… but few who sleep there have made it back down again. Something about the place pulls one ever deeper into the ruins, with a draw that is difficult to escape. The bodies of those who never wake do not rot, but are called Sleepers by other visitors, and are left undisturbed. They may yet rise from their slumbers, reason others, and more than one legend prophesies the day when all those so blessed by peace will stand again.

Yet the ruins of Cloudhome are not all quiet. In some parts, there are unceasing noises, low rumbles and grinding from inside walls or beneath floors. Elsewhere lights flicker like foxfire in the mists, glimmers that lead ever further into the vine-entombed ruins. There are stories of vast black glass panes, where points of blue and green light gleam and shift, and of statues which speak to all who approach them in tongues long lost. And the ground does not all feel stable beneath one’s feet; inquisitive antiquarians have vanished into suddenly-gaping clefts in the flagstones, and more than one stone block has fallen from the sky to the ground below. Broad stone doors may open or close with little warning and no one to shift them, walls have rattled together and opened new passageways where none before existed, and thus the ruins of Cloudhome have preserved themselves as an unmappable enigma.

Even so, people still come from near and far. Some come seeking peace. Others seek, and find, lost knowledge etched in its stones, or buried in the ruins among the traces of a time and people long past. Healers, alchemists, and herbalists concoct medicines made from the plants and fruit of Cloudhome, fetching a high price far afield amongst those in the know. Many wish to know how it is that such a place could exist, let alone soar among the clouds with only a narrow tether to the earth stretching out beside it. Some few come with the dream of changing the world, of changing themselves, seeking wisdom in the dreams found amidst the clouds. 

Pillars of the Stars

Eight pillars of rock, metal, and glass soar towards the sky from a wide open plain. Set in a circle, with strange arrangements of mid-air arcs and lines connecting each with others, these pillars stand thousands of feet tall. Their shade alone has shaped the world nearby. Each is wider than a copse of vast trees. Together, they dwarf most cities.

No life clings to their exteriors, except a strange lichen that grows on the Pillars and no where else. Their stone is mixed intricately with their glass and metal, not as an ore but as though someone somehow blended all three together from separate pieces. The variation on the surface lies ropy in places, smooth in others, all congealed together in sheets and bands that run from the pillars’ bases to their very tops.

The pillars are believed by many to hold keys to the secrets of the night sky. Their arrangement, and the twining layers of arches and straight lines between them, etch lines across the stars that possess deeper significance. No oracle disagrees with this. Many seers believe that the truest reading of one’s fate can only be found amongst the Pillars. More than that, the Pillars are known to alter the fates of those who have spent time amongst them, though little is known of how such changes occur or how severe they may be. 

Those whose futures have been prophesied, and who have visited the Pillars, find that their prophesies no longer hold power over them. Those whose fates have been spoken, whether by curse or by boon, may have those fates tilted or twisted by visiting the Pillars. So it is that the Pillars receive pilgrims desperate to alter their futures; those who consider themselves truly cursed seek an alternate path forward, and few who know their future holds good fortune are willing to travel anywhere near the vast monoliths.

The Pillars do not guarantee any good outcomes, however. Indeed, many who visit them suffer unlikely and woe-begotten ends. Some few even die at the Pillars themselves, skin blistered by the unyielding cold of the stars, or ears riven and bloody from the Pillars’ rising whine. The columns are not silent: at all times, each has its own hum. But their hums and harmonies come and go, shifting, ebbing, and flowing in volume and tone.

Somehow, these tones do not bother the animals which have come to live in the Pillars’ shade. The most notable of these are the deer which have been said to dwell among the stones. Even when pilgrims have fled, their ears ringing and beginning to seep red, there have been sightings of deer watching, unharmed, while birdsong echoes. Some pilgrims have claimed that a stag with antlers of stone and glass watches over the herds. Others speak of the foxes which roam the land in the Pillars’ shadows, with their unblinking eyes of verdigris.

None have yet ascended the Pillars, though some few have tried. It is thought that any who reached their tips might touch the heavens, or find that they had reached the bridge to the stars themselves—and perhaps even beyond.