Sunday, September 14, 2014

cosplay etiquette: maintaining perspective

Fair warning: this is probably the only time you'll ever see the words "country singer Trace Adkins" and "cosplay" together in the same blog post. I guarantee it's the only time you'll ever see me mention a country-themed cruise to Jamaica. So bear with me--I'm actually going to make a point about cosplay.


Back in January of this year, country music star Trace Adkins had a confrontation with a fan on a cruise ship where Adkins was supposed to be the headlining act. It's not clear whether Adkins lost his cool because he'd been drinking, or whether the persistent tomdickery of this single white fanboy (who was singing karaoke and signing Adkins-like autographs at the time of the incident) knocked Adkins off the wagon after 12 years of sobriety. But all accounts agree that it was a public, verbal dressing-down, and Adkins got off the ship and checked himself into rehab as soon as they reached dock.

This is the kind of story that makes me squirm for all involved, but after putting myself in both parties' shoes my sympathies are 90% with the celebrity. This fan was following Adkins around and pretending to be Adkins. Though I can't say whether any laws were broken, a good lawyer could probably make a case for likeness rights violations, stalking, and identity theft in a civil lawsuit.

Of course, all of us cosplayers and fan-art-makers are violating copyright to one extent or another, but at least we're mimicking imaginary people. To cosplay a living person and to show up at his shows… that's just creepy. 

(I know I'll be creeped out the first time I see somebody cosplay one of *my* characters. Think how horrific it will be when some dude appears at my autograph table dressed as Jacob Tracy and expects me to be his Miss Fairweather. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.)

Now, how does this apply to cosplay, where most of us are playing imaginary characters? Well again it has to do with appreciating the line between reality and fantasy. We all get into cosplay because we like to imagine ourselves as another person in another place, but the sad reality is we're still living in boring old Kansas. Any time you stop playing the character and start presenting yourself as the character, it's a potential problem. And that particularly applies to meeting the actors and/or creators of said character. 

Look, you're already a guy/gal wearing a costume in public. If you go around acting like you really are in Rivendale or Hogwarts or the bridge of the Starship Enterprise people are legitimately going to suspect there's something wrong with you. So here are a few guidelines to know if you're taking it too far:

Scenario A. You're in costume and somebody asks you for a picture. You whip out your best hero pose, brandish your weapon, and snarl. Pic snapped. Cards exchanged. Back to being a guest at a con. All very normal.

Scenario B. You're in costume and some little kid calls you by the name of your character. You immediately fall into character, kneel down and talk to the kid and pose for a couple of cute pics for the kid's parents. You're on your best behavior, the kid's happy, the parents are happy, you feel vindicated. Kid goes on her way and you revert to being a guest at a con, only with a well-deserved sense of done-good. 

Scenario C. You're dressed as Wesley Crusher because you have the chance to meet Wil Wheaton! You're going to get his autograph and a pic and a handshake and WHEEE you'll be the bestest friends evah! Personally, I wouldn't do this. But I know people do, and I think the best approach here is to behave as normally as possible (i.e. Be Yourself) when meeting your idol. Say you like their work. Say their portrayal of the character inspired you. Probably best not to be too confessional here, and definitely don't try to trump the actors' performance with your own impersonation of the character. (I used Wil Wheaton as an example here because he's known to be super-welcoming to his fans. But still, I say, don't expect the celebrity to be your dancing monkey. Wil Wheaton is not your bitch.)

Scenario D. You're dressed as Lady X on the way to meet the creator of Lady X: super-hot comic artist/writer John X. Doe. Many creators love this, but some hate it. Do some research and approach your author accordingly. Again, if you're in costume, probably best to speak to the creator in your own voice, not try to impress them with how much you resemble Lady X and how well you know her back story and how much you'd love to pose for the next comic book and can he help you land the role in the upcoming movie. Not smooth.

Scenario E. There was a story about a year and a half ago about a teenager who was denied admittance to Disney World because her Tinkerbell costume was too accurate and the park management didn't want child guests thinking she was the 'official' Tinkerbell. This, to my mind, falls into the same category as the Trace Adkins cruiseship story above. There are appropriate times and places for cosplay. Don't infringe on the original's territory or you may find yourself bitch-slapped by an angry behemoth.


But Holly! you're whining, Why are you raining on our parade? Isn't cosplay just for fun? Shouldn't we  be allowed to have fun and make-believe? 

Sure. But keep in mind that your reality, and your rights to enjoy that reality, don't really extend beyond your own skin. When you start demanding that other people validate your reality, it gets uncomfortable in a hurry. 

ham and bean soup

Use a good quality, non-glazed, preferably uncured ham for this. I like Beeler's.

All measurements are estimated. Total cook time up to 4 hours. Prep time 30 min. Makes about three quarts, enough to feed a crowd or freeze for later.

You'll notice there is no additional salt in this recipe: the bouillon and the ham are quite salty enough on their own.

2 cups (1 lb) dried pinto beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 chopped sweet yellow onion (1 cup)
1 small shallot, minced
2-3 cups diced ham
2-3 tsp chicken bouillon powder (adjust to suit your salt preference)
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper
2-3 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried tarragon
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup Dijon mustard

To prep the beans, put in a large stock pot with plenty of cool water. Cover and bring to boil. Boil 5 min, then turn off heat, leave covered on the stove 1 hour.

After an hour, drain the beans and rinse in warm water until clear. Add more clean water to more than cover the beans and return to stove on medium heat. Add all other ingredients, cover and simmer for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. After about 90 minutes you can test the beans for doneness: scoop up a spoonful and blow on them; if their skins split and curl they are done enough to eat.

However, for a nice thick porridge-like soup and tender beans, let simmer another hour. I find 2.5 to 3 hours cook time gives the nicest texture. Stir now and then and add water in increments if necessary.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

on writer's block: the issue of flow

Back in my days I used to roll my eyes when people said my writing "flowed" well. Because it's a fairly non-specific comment I was never sure what they meant; I thought it was one of those comments like, "It makes you think!" that really mean nothing at all and was just something that unschooled critters would say to have something to say.

Looking back, I think narrative flow was one of the things that I internalized at a young age, as a side-effect of being a prolific reader. I hadn't yet read enough amateur fiction to understand how hard that sort of thing is for other writers, and I hadn't yet dissected my own process to the point where I understood what I was doing and how.

But I've been going through a rough patch with this rewrite the last few months. Not the kind of block where one doesn't know what will happen next. The basic events of the novel are not changing, it's the why and how that I've been revising.

And lately I've had difficulty tapping into that machinery where the raw ingredients of characters, words, and situation go in and the lovely firm multi-textured scenes come out.

I can still write grammatical sentences that convey meaning, but the organic quality, the ability to submerse myself in the characters' heads and effortlessly transcribe what I see there, is lacking. My paragraphs are dry, lacking movement. The transitions between sentences feel clunky.

So I've been trying to read more, and specifically read more good stuff. I also picked up a book, How to Read Like a Writer, by Francine Prose, which specifically discusses the use of language.

Meanwhile there are a couple of mid-level writers in my writer's group who are working on this very issue. They, too, can put together grammatically sound sentences that convey who is standing where and what they are doing, but I have never found myself diving into their work and getting lost in it.

So I've been trying to diagnose some of the issues that enable or hamper "flow":

  • Description of setting—when, what, and how much. Tell us just as much as we need to know in the logical and helpful places. For any new setting, give a broad overview and then add in details as the characters interact with the environment. Point of view is relevant as well—whose eyes are we looking through? What's their take on the situation? How does their interpretation of events and surroundings reveal who they are to the reader?
  • Character blocking and perceptions—Mention when someone moves around in the room, and what they encounter when they do. Are they cooking breakfast? Making fishing lures? Knitting baby booties? Struggling to finish a project before the difficult client comes asking for it? Little bits of "business" within a scene help to set mood, establish a character's personality and emotional state, and describe the setting.
  • Dialogue—Is it natural and logical? or does it sound like the author is feeding the characters lines to move the plot forward?
  • Scene progression—Figuratively speaking, every scene should open with a question and end with the answer. In more concrete terms, something happens at the beginning of a scene that leads to another event, which precipitates another event, which prompts another, etc etc just like a row of dominoes. If you skip a domino the readers will think --wait, did I miss something?--and be jarred out of the story. Do this more than a couple of times and they will lose interest, having decided you are not a trustworthy guide on this journey. 
  • Plot progression—If your gaps in logic are particularly large readers will say the story has plot holes. You must show every step of the journey, or at least refer to events in narrative summary.

So, now I know what people meant when they said my work "flowed." Granted, it *is* an unschooled comment--a more seasoned critter would be more helpful by commenting on one of the issues above.

But still, to say that something "flows" well means "All the bits of the scene were in the right order and at the right pace, to such an extent that I forgot that I was reading." And that's a high compliment.