Wednesday, February 12, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Gabriel's Trumpet

It isn't often that I open a book with little to no idea what I'm in for. I received a review copy of Jon Black's Gabriel's Trumpet and, other than a vague idea of the story, I had no idea what the true genre was. Was it paranormal? Murder mystery? The simple answer is — to reveal the genre beyond "historical fiction" would be, in a way, to reveal the ending. And Gabriel's Trumpet benefits from the reader being in the same seat of curiosity as its protagonist, Dr. Marcus Roads.

Marcus is here to find out exactly what the reader is: what the hell is going on, and can it be classified as otherworldly? He's a researcher for the Boston Society for Psychical Research, sniffing out hokum alongside the best and worst of them. The physician is both valuable and contentious in his field for the same reason: he doesn't fudge results. His current case? Find out whether a jazz trumpeter really has come back from the dead to play his way to stardom, accompanied by his iconic silver trumpet.

Marcus's journey is a retrospective of the life of Gabriel "Resurrection" Gibbs, from his youth in the church to his dubious business ventures, his death and (apparently) new life lighting up New York's Harlem Renaissance. And, it seems, you can't follow Gibbs without becoming a part of his story. What starts as a few wagon rides to reticent family members turns into life-or-death scrapes, spiritual battles, and mysterious encounters.

The path following Gabriel Gibbs is, as it happens, a path through African-American culture of the early 20th century. His story winds through Christian life, takes a detour through New Orleans mysticism, and emerges in the midst of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. Expect look-ins from notable names and faces — some you'll know instantly, others buried by time and virtue of not making it into your high school reading curriculum.

A goodly portion of the book is, in fact, real; though unless you're already well informed about the period (and paranormal research in particular), only illusionist/mythbuster Harry Houdini and a few others are likely to occur to the reader. This doesn't take away from the experience at all: if anything, there's something delightful about discovering that most of the strange characters you've been encountering were quite real, after all.

Gabriel's Trumpet, given its subject matter, shies away from very little. However, it approaches the issues it touches in a surprisingly open way. Matters of politics, the ethics of certain occupations, and the intersection of racial identity and the arts are raised, debated in front of Marcus, and laid to rest as he observes them. No attempt is made to pass judgment on either stance — we're simply shown that stances exist. It's almost Charles Fort-esque (another historical figure present in the narrative) in its presentation: Black and Marcus aren't here to tell you what to think, they're only here to present you with the different pieces of the puzzle and leave the rest to you.

In fact, there's only one part of the story that has any real "right" answer: the ending. Because despite this being a very "about the journey" story, we aren't going to be left empty-handed for our troubles. A very few people get to learn the full truth of Gabriel Gibbs and his miraculous resurrection. They can be counted on one hand, and the reader is one of those fingers.

Which isn't to say that stories with absent or unclear endings are inherently bad. But that, plus no through-lines in the text for possible end points, makes an unclear ending seem like a hand-wave to distract from shoddy writing. In the case of Gabriel's Trumpet, we have twice the strength: not only are we given a full debriefing, we're also given enough clues throughout the text to find it for ourselves, should the author have chosen to forego the explanation.

If there is an issue with Gabriel's Trumpet, it's the same issue you'll find with any heavily researched fiction. While the story appears to be constructed specifically to allow us a walk through this point in history, there are times when even that carefully-constructed frame bends under the weight of Black's research. It's understandable. There's a lot to tell, especially in a story that's gamely joining up 20th century black history and 20th century paranormal research in one narrative. Some of these passages were handled well, with Marcus awash in situations he'd never known possible. Others were tonally dissonant and made me come up for air at unexpected times — but these moments were never deal-breakers.

The race to confirm or debunk the resurrection of Gabriel Gibbs is infectious. Gabriel's Trumpet pulls its protagonist — and its reader — through scene after seemingly disparate scene, illuminating an unexpected history along the way. The story of "Resurrection" Gibbs really is the story of the Harlem Renaissance. What that means is this book's true payoff.

Pick up Gabriel's Trumpet from 18th Wall Productions

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019: A Year in Writing

New year, same nonsense. Probably. I still intend to drink way too much tea, spoil my guinea pigs to the point that it becomes inconvenient for me, and watch tons of anime but still not have time to watch everything somehow. It's a pattern that works.

A lot of people have been doing their writing and art year (and decade) in review, which is always fun to see. I love seeing how creators have evolved, moved through different disciplines, and become even better than they already were.

I doubt I'll be doing a decade review until later this month, in large part because I need to go back and look at when things happened. And I did an actual run-down of the year's publications over here on Twitter, if you want some specifics and links.

But I wanted to break things down a little more here beyond just listing what happened. (Also, I want to honor my Twitter poll where people said they wanted both a blog post and a Twitter thread.) So: 2019 in writing, a bit more verbose this time.

News and Features

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A big part of what I do every day — paying the bills, basically — is news and features writing for different websites. Most prominently, I'm still working daily at Crunchyroll, doing news pieces as well as longer-form features.

As of this year, I'm also doing features and trending posts for Fanbyte, covering anime, video games, and any other weirdnesses I come across. I'm also back at The Sartorial Geek with monthly deep-dives into TV, films, and literature. You can also find me in Otaku USA Magazine and its anime-only specials on your local newsstand.

Make no mistake, this sort of thing is a fair bit of work. And I'll likely be taking on more in 2020 (in fact, I am... watch this space).

Random Thunk's Zine Emporium

Ginger Hoesly just closed out her third zine over on RaThZEm, which has raised several thousand dollars for various charities already. This year featured two new zines: Moon Man, a celebration of the career of Peter Capaldi; and A Pile of Good Things, an Eleventh Doctor retrospective. I'm very happy to have been in both, writing a branching adventure for the former and apparently a scathing take-down of alternative medicine in the latter.

Digital zines are available for a limited time. After that, look forward to her next projects.

Altrix Books

It's been a big year for Altrix, which I co-run with Paul Driscoll. I released my first anthology, the limited-run Unearthed, featuring stories inspired by the black sarcophagus found in Alexandria. In addition to editing the book, I also contributed the Owl's Flower story "Kill the Cat."

Paul currently has Master Pieces on sale, raising funds for the Stroke Association. As you may have seen, I contributed the Missy-centric "Auntie Mary" to this volume. Paul's also announced Master Switches, a sequel anthology raising funds for the same charity.

Plus, we announced the beginning of The Chronosmith Chronicles, which kicks off this year.

More Charity Anthologies

Charity anthos are a decent chunk of what I do, if it hasn't become evident. They're fun, they're a way to write things I love for a good cause, and I meet some great people through them.

Chinbeard Books released Me and the Starman this year: a collection of essays remembering the life and works of David Bowie. I contributed a piece on Labyrinth, in with many many more. This one should be on sale for a long time to come.

In the world of the expired limited-runs are Mild Curiosities, dedicated to Ian and Barbara (for which I wrote "Touch the Stars"); and Defending Earth, dedicated to Sarah Jane Smith (for which I wrote "The Sparks"). There are, naturally, plenty more of these to come in 2020, from some familiar names.

Sockhops & Seances

In the realm of original fiction, I showed up in 18th Wall's Sockhops & Seances, a collection of 1950s-era paranormal tales. My short story "Son of the Wolf" is among the stories featured, and is one of a few currently up for an award! If you'd consider voting for me and other 18th Wall types (provided you like our stuff, obviously), it would be much appreciated.

Vanishing Tales of the City

Vanishing Tales of the City

Last but not least is one that's coming this year, but has been available for pre-order for a bit. Vanishing Tales of the City is my contribution to the Obverse Books Anniversary Sextet, which also features books by Nick Campbell, Blair Bidmead, Nick Wallace, Simon Bucher-Jones, and Jonathan Dennis. Each is devoted to a different Obverse property: Iris Wildthyme, SeΓ±or 105, the Manleigh Halt Irregulars, and so on. I was give the City of the Saved to work with, but you'll find the others (especially Iris!) present.

What's Coming in 2020?

MacBook Pro near white open book

The Chronosmith Chronicles!

More Owl's Flower!

Charity anthologies for days!

A couple things I can't tell you about yet!

Thanks for all your support so far. 2019 was a lot of fun, a lot of learning, a lot of discoveries, and kind of a lot of work — but worth it. I look forward to what this year will bring and hope to create things you'll enjoy. And maybe occasionally take a nap.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

NOW AVAILABLE: A New Missy Story in "Master Pieces"

I'd say it's been a busy time, but it's never not busy over my way. Between work for Crunchyroll and Fanbyte, front- and back-burner book projects, working on collaborations, and family responsibilities, there's always something on. But it has been something of a busy time in a good way... which is why I'm a little late yelling at you (from this venue, at least) about my work on Master Pieces.

Master Pieces is the third book from Altrix Books, which I co-run with Paul Driscoll. Some of you may know we initially started it as an imprint under which to publish Seasons of War: Gallifrey, but we've gone the extra distance with it. Unearthed came out under the Altrix heading, and this latest — edited by Paul — is now up for grabs.

The anthology was originally conceived of by Scott Claringbold, whom I wrote for in both Nine Lives (a Shalka Doctor charity anthology) and Relics (a more open-ended anthology for which I contributed an Owl's Flower short piece). Altrix took it on to see it to completion, with Paul at the forefront as editor. It's turned out lovely, I think, with a cover by Ginger. Whom I think you all know by now.

The conceit of this Doctor Who charity anthology is that it's Master-led... but with no Doctor. The idea was to see what the Master gets up to when not countered, and it's ended up being a wonderful broad range of topics. There are some revisited stories and settings, some entirely new incarnations of the character, and a few surprises along the way.

I wanted to write about Missy for my story, as I've only ever touched on her in passing elsewhere. She's a tough one to write for (at least for me — I'm sure others breeze straight through, and more power to them), as there a mix of propriety and borderline cannibalism that turns out absolutely wrong if you don't balance them right. I personally feel I may still be chasing down that perfect mixture, but I'm pleased at a chance to attempt it.

In particular, I wanted to look at what happens when the Master bends to the Doctor's most common habit: befriending humans. Does it work? How does it play out? Is it a beneficial relationship for anyone? Could any of the Masters really support a "companion" in their schemes?

Removing the Doctor from the equation was an interesting way of going about the anthology, as it (as far as I'm concerned, anyway) removes a lot of the Master's motivation for big crazy schemes. Of course, the Doctor is "nothing without an audience," either, so fair's fair in that respect. As for what happens when the Master's favorite audience is absent... well, not to be that guy, but you can find out by reading the book. Or at least, you can find out a few potential examples.

Master Pieces is raising funds for the Stroke Association. So not only are you getting a good read, you're also benefiting a good cause.

What that also means is that — as an unofficial charity anthology — it won't be around forever. So you'll want to grab this sooner than later. If you want to read my take on Missy, plus the many many takes on Masters throughout the series, head over to Altrix. You can get it in paperback or as an ebook at your convenience. And if you enjoy it, please leave a review!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Harry Styles Punked the Entire ARG Community

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ARGs are the webcomics of the 2010s, and potentially the 2020s: they've been around for longer than people realize, they gained notoriety via a handful of prestigious titles, and now anyone who knows the term wants to make one. (Including me, really; I'm not above such things.) There are entire communities, messageboards, subreddits, Discords, and YouTube channels built around deciphering them. Some have run for years, some for weeks, and others are simply a well-meaning flash in the pan.

They're also (whether you like it or not) very effective marketing.

For those not in the know, "ARG" is short for Alternate-Reality Game: interactive fiction that encourages (and occasionally requires) audience interaction, either to move the story forward or to understand it fully. The YouTube channel everymanHYBRID, one of the Slenderman Big Three, is a good example. To get the whole story, fans had to decode messages and follow multiple social media accounts, and participants out in the real world received clues that they then had to feed back into the narrative. Nick Nocturne's search for Jack Torrance is a good example of an ARG ticking over with rarely-seen efficiency.

ARGs also work best when approached with a heaping helping of suspension of disbelief. We all know it's fictional (either by admission or because we're familiar with the creators' other projects), but we play along for the fun of it. It's understood (usually, at least) to avoid "game-jacking" — that is, jumping in and pretending to be part of the core narrative without the creators' consent — or breaking immersion by telling people to "calm down, it's just a game" or the like.

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Recently, a new potential ARG floated to the surface, centering around an island called Eroda. It was picked up quickly by the usual suspects (including the aforementioned Night Mind), and the ARG community was on top of it immediately. It had all the earmarks of a good mystery: a tourism website about an as-yet-unknown island with strange legends around it. Their tourism videos featured voice-overs that hovered between calming and Slightly Weird. There was a YouTube account, an Instagram, and a Twitter. And it looked like there would be some sort of strange story to piece apart.

A lot of theories flew. Was it completely original? Was it tied to a new video game? A new land in Dungeons & Dragons? Heck, was there a real Eroda trying to gain notoriety by presenting itself as strange and unearthly?

Then, suddenly, a lead from an unexpected quarter: the Harry Styles fandom.

As a not-Harry-Styles-fan (nothing against him, I'm just more into alternative and J-rock), I'm not sure what tipped them toward the realization. But someone pointed out that "Eroda" backwards is "Adore," and Styles's new single "Adore You" had an impending release. There were a few awkward moments in the ARG community as the possibility was weighed. Like. How would we all feel if we'd busted out our magnifying glasses for a guy from One Direction?

And then. Yep. It happened. The entire Eroda ARG was a lead-up to a short film-style music video for the song in question.

And, look. It was pretty good, y'all.

The video tells the story of a boy with a bright (literally) smile on Eroda, a tiny isle off the coast of England where everything is always gloomy and sad. One day, the boy meets a fish separated from its school, takes it in to look after... and things get weird for everyone.

All that said, this was a really well-run campaign. Billboard talked to the team behind the stunt, and the lengths they went to were impressive. They used broken links and awkward wording to make the tiny world of Eroda (where social media would likely not be well understood) as realistic as possible. They frequented ARG hotspots online to gather and react to theories. They responded to engaged followers more and more frequently in the time leading up to the video's release — more personal replies and retweets than I had time to go through. This team was all-in.

Like I mentioned, ARGs as advertising are fairly common and can often be good. 2001's A.I. Artificial Intelligence was an early example, with Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines 2 rolling out the "Tender" app more recently to bust its game world open. Thomas Dolby played with the idea in 2011 with what I guess you'd call an MMOARG(?) for his album A Map of the Floating City. And so on.

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Eroda may not have been a slow-burn YouTube series or a mixed media juggernaut involving half a dozen social media accounts sending each other cryptic messages, but damned if it didn't work. The music video it led up to contained a complete story, it looked good, and heck, the song was kind of a bop. It's also encouraging to see that the team building it has taken cues from successful ARG creators, delving into their spaces online to interact with them.

That's the main thing about this, the thing that earns a "fine, Harry Styles, ya got me" out of this whole thing: they cared. They decided to use the Internet's love of alternate reality and weird fiction to draw eyes to the new single, but then they actually went and did it well. As long as the mystery is compelling and engaging, and everything is handled with care and thought, it shouldn't — and probably won't — matter that the end game is a product rather than a finale video.

It also probably makes a difference whether the product actually is something that would warrant an ARG. A music video that takes place on a strange island? Warrants it. One last mystery for Gravity Falls? Warrants it. A new cheesesteak sub or a facial serum? Probably does not warrant it. I'm sure we'll see attempts made, though.

So yeah. You get me this time, Eroda team. Well played.

If you're interested in finding more ARGs to follow, check out the Night Mind YouTube channel. Some of my faves of late are Echo Rose and the recently wrapped CatGhost, both by indie creators.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Japan Has the Best Merchandise

When it comes to covering anime news, there's a lot of different aspects (as I tend to mention whenever I write about something going off the rails). Sometimes it's a trailer or show announcement. Sometimes it's an anniversary or an obituary. And then, a lot of the time, it's merch.

And genuinely, truly, we don't hold a candle to Japan when it comes to marketing the heck out of their stuff.

I have multiple friends who work in Artist Alleys and vendor rooms, or who create (to use the legal term, not the negative connotation) "derivative" works. I've talked about these before: some companies don't want these ever, some are okay provided you're not copying an existing item or making money hand over fist, and others still will go out and hire these makers. The most successful and least legally dubious of these makers are creating things to fill a void: things the brand doesn't make, won't make, or would never think to make.

In some cases, it's a matter of things that are just plain underrepresented (see eras of Doctor Who that aren't 4, 10, or 13). In others, it's things that your typical US or UK marketer doesn't even think to make, unless they are under the umbrella of one very specific conglomerate. That could be enamel pins, pillows, knitted goods, wallets, household wares, what have you.

Japan, meanwhile, is the exact opposite.

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It's something of a joke to say you can get Hello Kitty anything (and you really can), but the mentality isn't exclusive to this character. You can get Sanrio anything... and the same goes for a lot of other companies. Character goods are a huge deal in Japan; if you as an artist can create one cute character that people like, you are set for life. Because then you can put that character on anything. Give them a style makeover and put them on everything again. Pick a fight with Gundam and put them on everything together. The possibilities are endless.

It's not just Sanrio, either. Popular anime series, if they're clever, do the same thing. The first image in this article is from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, an actual good show that also just so happens to have a cute, easy to render protagonist in Rimuru the blue slime. Did you know you needed a Rimuru coffee mug? I didn't. But now I do.

My friend Red Bard has done videos on this exact concept, to the point of showing that you could (if you had a lot of money and access to a back catalog of goods) live entirely on Evangelion-branded merchandise. More such vids are in the works. This is all a very long way of saying: Japan tends to look at marketing very differently from us. And as jokey as it all seems when looked at as a whole, answer me completely honestly: would you turn down a pocket planner or stationery set themed after your favorite show? Or, I don't know, a set of goods that cross over your favorite TV series and your favorite sports team?

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The closest you're going to get to this in America is Disney properties, really. (And, on a completely related point, Disney properties are the ones fan creators get dinged for fronting on.) Even then, it's done with the same sort of Exacto knife precision we get in most things, where sub-brands are established with care and never strayed from or experimented with. So basically, you'll probably get close to this range of options if you're super into Winnie the Pooh or Disney Princesses.

As sad as I am that I'm never going to see for Western brands the same mad-lad chances that Japanese brands take, I can understand why. There's, at least on the surface, a different philosophy regarding how we interface with our favorite characters... though it's not all that different; we just don't talk about it.

Character loyalty is a huge thing no matter where in the world you are, but it's more readily observed in Japan as a phenomenon among fans. People have favorite characters, but also very specific ones from whom they draw feelings of strength. I think if we're at all into entertainment, we have that. For me, that's certain companions from Doctor Who, or Sailor Mercury from Sailor Moon, or Alex Drake from Ashes to Ashes. Characters whose stories resonate with me because they've been through what I'm going through, or who are the sort of person I want to be.

You'll see a lot of Japanese character merch lines including a subheading of "Together with [Character Name]." That's because a lot of these goods are meant to be a way to take a reminder of them with you. Keychains, jewelry, and housewares all fall under that heading.

I'll give you a personal example. When I get up onstage to do an interview, I get really nervous, no matter how many interviews I've done. My friend Stephanie had the idea of making me a bracelet with the quote "One hell of a bird" on it, going back to the Twelfth Doctor (one of my favorite characters in anything). Putting aside that his show of determination in Heaven Sent was leading toward some really nutty decisions... it was still a show of determination and of inner strength. I wear that bracelet now as a reminder of that.

I'm betting a lot of you have something similar.

Granted, I don't think the ability to buy a Pikachu casserole dish is necessarily some sort of lofty thing. (They're cute as heck, though.) But by playing it safe with logo shirts and action figures, I think a lot of Western merch makers are missing a trick. A lot of anime merch is absolutely ludicrous, but a lot of it also hits that sweet spot of wanting a beloved character at hand. I don't anticipate seeing that mentality taking a much greater hold anytime soon, but dang, I can dream.

In the meantime... imports are expensive.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Inconvenient Truth of the Sonic Redesign

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As most of you know, I work in the Crunchyroll newsroom. Sometimes news is ready and waiting for coverage, requiring all hands on deck to handle. Other times there's nothing, sending us after sales posts for My Hero Academia finger puppets. But I never complain about lack of news these days. See, last time I did, the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer dropped five seconds later. It was like watching the tediously slow curl of a finger of the monkey's paw.

You all remember that trailer. I wouldn't shut up about it. How Sonic looked like a cursed salaryman, with his man-teeth and man-hands and long long legs. Never mind that the little dialogue we got was kind of hinky. It was just weird and horrifying.

The uproar was so great that Detective Pikachu director Rob Letterman could only manage what amounted to "Wow, I'd hate for this to be my movie." In the end, Jeff Fowler walked his cryptid back, teased a February 14 release date... and yesterday we got a look at a much less nightmare fuel Sanic.

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Naturally, there are some quibbles because 

His arms should be bare instead of having blue fur, for instance. Or, he should have his one weird conjoined eye instead of two separate eyes with a blip of white fur in between them. Yes, those would all make his design more accurate to what it is now in the games, but dear God. If those are our only complaints about movie Sonic's look, we are blessed.

Overall, there's been a sigh of relief around the internet, along with big ups to fanartist-turned-official Sonic arter Tyson Hesse (who was brought in to lead the redesign process). Whatever other issues the movie may have, at least Sonic's first official big-screen starrer doesn't look like bad taxidermy. It's fortunate that the extra time was taken to make this happen. But it's also really, really important to note that none of this needed to happen. Like, ever.

I was talking with an animator friend about Sonic's first design right when it came out, and we came to essentially the same conclusion: he was designed by committee. Make the eyes realer. Make the mouth more human. He's an alien (in this timeline), it's okay for him to look weird. No, we can't just put literal gloves on him, that would be too weird. The end result was the monstrosity we first saw... which, in the face of Hesse's redesign, seems less and less real as the hours pass. It's sort of hard to believe that was ever an option someone committed to film.

The problem here is the assumption that no one at all in the process saw fit to say something or fix something. Because, like. I find that hard to believe. I find that impossible to believe. How could you, a CG artist who likely grew up playing these games, get handed this character model, and not take a lot of issue:

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The problem is, many people not in the industry assume that all it takes is one person to stand up valiantly and say, "Boss, this is shit. I know how to make it not be shit."And the boss will be aghast as the rest of the employees stand up and applaud, and then "God Bless America" will play and a little old lady will appear out of nowhere and give everyone a hug.

I don't need to have connections to the studio (and I don't have connections to the studio) to know that at least one animator will have voiced concerned. And they will have been ignored at best.

Also, no, I don't buy into the "they designed a shitty one first so we'd take to the real one no matter what" theory, because that would involve keeping a lot of people quiet... and we've already had leaks at least twice on this bad boy. If there were covert ops going down, that would have been leaked faster than concept art of Sonic chilling on a car.

Both of these assumptions — that no one involved knew better, or that there was a secret "correct design" in the wings — pull a comfy duvet over a truth fans aiming for the industry don't really want to hear: being a hardcore fan in an industry job doesn't mean you're going to get listened to.

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Any of us in this sort of situation has that aspiration to some degree: when we get in that studio, we will fix everything. If we're given a stupid job, we will push back and fix it. Sometimes? That might work for some. Hell, I'm sure mountains have been moved by a couple of people. But the fact of the matter is, a hot mess of an unfaithfully-produced adaptation is rarely a conspiracy or a matter of no one caring.

Think of actors you love turning in bad performances. At the end of the day, the director and editor pick the takes. The perfect take could still be lying on the cutting room floor. You've probably seen Blu-ray extras and wondered why a perfect, fully explanatory scene got snipped when it could have turned the whole picture around. It wasn't because no one involved thought fit to. It's because the person in charge didn't.

Believing no one cared or that this was a plan all along glosses over the fear that our knowledge and love of something won't matter when we get to where we want to go. And to be clear, I'm not saying it doesn't matter. If you are ever in a position to bring art and inspiration to something, shoot your shot. Attempting it takes your chances up from zero, and you can at least say you tried.

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I have written articles about shows and stories I love with all my heart... but I was not allowed to write them the way I wanted to. (For what it's worth, it was a one-off gig, so you don't need to worry that I might be talking about a current employer.) I watched a concept I was proud of, that I thought would bring understanding of my favorite things on earth to a wider audience, get picked clean of all by the most marketable and plasticine of adjectives. I received a list of adjectives I was permitted to use, none of which benefited me in any way.

I wrote the damn articles. I wrote within the ridiculous confines I'd been given. Because unfortunately, the people I was answering to were the license holders for the very thing I was so excited to write about. I did what I could, but I could have done more. The articles I ended up with were serviceable. I got paid for them, and I hated them. My knowledge and fandom had not benefited me in any way; I was still beholden to someone above me.

So, no. It wasn't a conspiracy. And it wasn't a room full of fools with no one speaking up. Neither is logical. It was a thing that happens. And this just happened to be that once in a blue moon when it was corrected.

Does that mean your love and fandom will never serve you in a professional career? That you will always get steamrolled even when interfacing with what you love? Doubtful. As I said, there will be times when you can do good. But only if you're prepared for the times when it's not up to you.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Why Are Americans So Obsessed with Halloween?

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Tomorrow is, of course, Halloween — a day that a lot of people (including myself) have been looking forward to for at least a month, potentially since August, and highly likely since Halloween 2018. I don't have any plans in place just yet, but I know I'll likely gravitate somewhere where there's scary movies and candy.

Most people who live near me would be of a similar mindset, if not more so. But friends overseas... not so much. Friends of mine have questioned the American obsession with Halloween, and I know there's a pretty strong distaste abroad for just how hard we go on it. Or in fact going with it at all.

In a way, I guess I get it. It's relatively recently in the grand scheme of things that rolling out the month-long red carpet for the holiday has been a thing... or, more accurately, that the people who've been doing so have had a chance to meet each other online and spread their spooky vibe. But even without that, we've had a bit of an October-is-for-Halloween leaning for a bit now. Scary movies, the Great Pumpkin, Rocky Horror, haunted houses, and yard decorations aren't limited to one night.

So. Why?

I can't speak for everyone, but from where I'm standing, it's because of what we here in the U.S. don't have.

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Something that really hit me hard about England when I first visited more than a decade ago was how much old stuff there was... or rather, how casually "old" things were treated. Cities, streets, and even individual buildings can be a casual mix of things built last year and things built in 1200 AD. For someone living in a colonial/immigrant-based American society, that's wild. That alone isn't it, though: it's the jumping-off point.

There are a lot of ways I could lay this out long-form, but the short version is this — unless we're talking about one of the 5 million or so Native Americans whose ancestors crossed the Bering Strait literally 15,000 years ago, we have little to no history here. 400 years isn't much at all; and for many families we're looking at 100-200 years max.

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The concept of "American folklore" is young and still evolving. We have Sleepy Hollow and then stories farmers told to explain missing cows. No millennia-old demons living in underground rooms, no kings buried under car parks. The darker, weirder parts of history are less accessible to us because we don't live among those sorts of things here.

Autumn is a very liminal time. The days are getting shorter, the air is getting cooler; and even if you don't buy into anything spiritual or arcane, there is a feeling to it that gets you in a weird way. It's no wonder old stories talk about the "veil between worlds" being thinnest right now; that's a great way to describe the vibe.

This is the closest we're ever going to get to walking the halls of a castle built 1000 years ago without traveling. This time of year is all we've got when it comes to reproducing that vibe we don't have yet because we are an upstart kid in the grand scheme of things. Naturally we are going to roll around in it like a great big pile of leaves.

And if there's an excuse to thread it out through the month, as soon as the leaves start turning and the sun sets sooner, then why not?

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Every human, I believe, craves an opportunity deep down to interface with that nightmarish darkness. It's why fairy tales and folktales are the way they are. It's why we listen to that ghost story even if we don't believe in ghosts. The human condition is weird and wonderful and creepy and mysterious around the edges, and it's appealing to dive into these moments that let us explore those edges safely. That's true across the board, no matter where you're from, no matter who your parents were.

The short answer, then? Americans are obsessed with Halloween because we don't have a welcoming, appealing darkness etched into our DNA the way the British Isles do. We only have a little time each year, when the veil is thinnest, to play there. So we're going to go nuts.

That's my answer, anyway.

Happy Halloween.

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