Full disclosure: I'm a bit of a closet nerd.
Around middle school, I figured out real quick that it wasn't "cool" to like science fiction or comic books. And god help you if you publicly declared your love of anime.
Of course, I loved all of those things, but I kept a lid on it. I went to a small school with only about 30 kids in my entire grade, so I never felt comfortable alienating myself over my entertainment choices. I was able to alienate myself just fine by doing dumb shit like wearing turtle necks beneath my basketball uniform, stressing out over getting straight A's, and passionately arguing against the Bush administration within a primarily Republican student population. But I wasn't going to add my devotion to Toonami and the graphic novel section of the Barnes & Noble to the list of reasons why no one ever asked me out on a date.
So I was a lonely nerd. I had a few friends who were more open about their geek-interests, but I could barely bring myself to admit even to them that I liked Dragon Ball Z too. I don't know why, I guess I'm fairly conformist in public, though in private I'm all about my own thing. It probably has something to do with being an introvert.
Anyway, all of this is only to say that while I have a pretty extensive comic book collection (not as much as I would like - you know, money), particularly manga, and I'm a HUGE Miyazaki nerd, and I love Star Wars, and video games. and action figures - I've never been to a comic book or science fiction convention.
I've always wanted to! But I always find out about them too late, typically the week after (I'm terrible at finding fun things to do, it's one of the biggest things I wish I could change about myself).
Thankfully, my husband is just the opposite, and when he heard about the North Carolina Comicon, he made sure I knew about it straight away. I bought tickets like 10 minutes after he told me.
So this past weekend we went to NC Comicon and had such a blast. It was like, FINALLY, I get to hang out in public with my people! We didn't cosplay, but I had a really good time checking out everyone else's costumes. They were awesome. Especially the kids who got into it with their entire family. That's my idea of heaven. I didn't take any pictures because I was too in the moment.
NC Comicon takes place in downtown Durham at the Marriott convention center and Carolina Theatre, which is a great location. We got lunch at the ramen noodle shop, Dashi, a block or two away (always delicious), and then spent the rest of the day listening to panels, buying comic books and nerd gear, and catching a movie at the ComiQuest Film Festival. Check out our haul:
I'm really excited to read that history of manga book. I just finished Bitch Planet, and it was really, really good. I'm definitely going to get the next volume. I'd never heard about it before, but while I was looking around at one booth, a woman walked by me and pointed at Bitch Planet on the table. I took her recommendation and bought it. Such a good choice. It's set in a future where the patriarchy has ever legal right to send "non-compliant" women an off-world penal colony, i.e., Bitch Planet. Seriously, if you consider yourself a non-compliant woman, you should check this comic out.
Meanwhile, my husband went a little crazy with the Conan mags.
My favorite panels? Definitely the fanfiction and vintage 80's toy talks. I have to admit, if I had one criticism of NC Comicon, it's that they could have used moderators for a lot of their panels, which weren't super professional. But the fanfiction and vintage toy talks were really great. I used to be a big reader and writer of fanfiction, and kind of outgrew it, but it was interesting to hear how it's developed over the past few years and what kind of issues the writers deal with these days. I might devote a post to that topic next week. The vintage toy talk hosted by Zack Smith of Indy Week was just plain fun. Took me right back to the days of playing at my babysitter's house with her sons and their He-Man action figures.
Anyway, I just wanted to say that this what I have been missing in my geekdom - community. I'm at an age (30!) where I just don't care what other people think of me anymore, or I care a lot less. The benefits of getting old, I guess.
I'd like to go to more conventions, probably more science fiction focused (just because I'm more into that genre than I'm into super heroes). And I'd like to keep going with my husband, because it was really fun to nerd out with him. We have different interests (he loves horror and weird tales, I'm into anime/manga and all kinds of science fiction), but there's enough of a crossover for us both to enjoy.
Have you ever been to a convention? Wasn't it amazing to get nerdy without feeling judged?
Confession: I am a sucker for a good couple to ship.
I am such a shipper, it's embarrassing. A lot of my favorite comic books, tv-shows, movies, etc. were more or less based on the fact that I shipped some obscure fictional couple. Let's list them, shall we? In approximate chronological order:
Batman and Catwoman (From the old Adam West series.) It's the earliest memory I have of wishing two characters would get together. I spent a lot of summers at my Grandparents' house watching old reruns of this show, hoping each episode would feature Catwoman (or Batgirl, who was equally awesome and had the sweet motorcycle).
Batman and Catwoman (Batman Returns). I was pretty young, but I still shipped them. No doubt the cartoonishness appealed to me.
Batman and Catwoman (From Batman the Animated Series - sensing a theme!) Ok enough, yes Batman is pretty hot, and when you add him to the equally hot Catwoman, it's pretty fucking awesome.
Gambit and Rogue (X-men) So doomed! So frustrating! Technically, I got into this pairing like most 90's kid did - through the animated series, but I thought this comic book illustration was en pointe. Rogue by herself was awesome (I want her powers), Gambit had an undeniable sex appeal, and then when you threw these two southerners together and added some reluctance on Rogue's part (cause, you know, she might kill him), it was pretty hot.
Conan and Jezmine (Conan the Adventurer) What can I say? Jezmine got to throw ninja stars. Who wouldn't love her? Conan was alright. This was shipping for lack of many other options (there were like, four characters in this show - tops).
Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood (Raiders of the Lost Ark!) There was no one more attractive than Harrison Ford in his prime. Plus, Marion was a bad ass, AND she got to wear a pretty white dress too. Talk about my ideal fictional avatar.
If we're going to talk Harrison Ford, then we have to mention Han Solo. I came around to Luke Skywalker later in life, but when I was a kid, Han and Leia were my jam (Star Wars).
Mulder and Scully (The X-Files) I was introduced to this show fairly late by the first movie, which has some pretty heavy shipping themes. Ironically, I think it was actually the X-Files where the term "shipper" comes from. That show had one of the earliest internet fan-bases, and those who hoped for a Mulder/Scully pairing were termed "relationshippers," or just "shippers" for short. The more you know.
Krycek and Marita (The X-Files). Cause I grew up and realized that it was more fun to be a bad guy. There was really not enough information on these characters, but I found that to be part of the appeal. You could make up some pretty epic fanfiction between those two, and set it in Russia!
There may have been others, but these were the couples I shipped the hardest, while other characters may have had fleeting, but unstained appeal. (Robin and Batgirl, for instance. I need more interaction!)
Then it kind of falls off for me. I don't know, maybe I grew up, and it got harder to care about the love lives of fictional characters. Or maybe there haven't been many good new ones in a long time. Most of the TV I see these days is strangely heartless, even cold. Everyone says we're in the "golden age" of television, but it's all so serious. I'm dying for a good romp with a decent couple that just refuses to get together.
Finally, if we're going to discuss shipping, then I feel obligated to mention Harry Potter, but personally, I never understood all the Harry Potter pairings. To me, those characters seem almost asexual, so I have no idea where the appeal of a Harry/Malfoy, Hermione/Snape, or Lupin/Tonks coupling comes from. But then again, I'm sure there are plenty of kids out there who wouldn't understand my love for Batman or Krycek. It's generational, I'm sure.
Who do you ship?
When I was a kid, I read a lot. I think that anyone who reads a lot eventually wants to start writing stories themselves. So on some nights, instead of reading, I'd sit in bed with a blank spiral bound notebook propped up on my knees, intending to write. Except, I mostly just stared at the page until it made me so mad, I'd throw it under my bed and go to sleep.
By age 18 or so, these experiences of writer's block made me think I didn't have what it took to be an author. I could write prose for sure, but coming up with the idea - that was the skill I lacked, and it seemed kind of essential.
What I didn't get was that staring at a blank page for an hour is hardly the best place to find story inspiration. At least, my brain doesn't work that way.
Here's how my brain does work:
When I was a kid, I used to spend literally hours shooting hoops in my driveway. I didn't even particularly like basketball, I just liked the way my mind would "float," so I could tell myself little stories in my head. It didn't take any thought to shoot the ball. I could just concentrate on the stories, which at that age were essentially fan fiction based on books I'd read or cartoons I'd watched on TV. Though this was back before fanfiction.net really existed, so I didn't even know that I was doing was called fan fiction.
A few years later, I replaced shooting baskets with sprinting up and down my parents' driveway Yes, it was weird. A few neighbors made comments, but I didn't really care. Physically, it felt great. I'd get my runner's high, and I'd also get to tell myself stories, which were now accompanied by music from my pre-ipod mp3 player, which was like having my own movie soundtrack. They were still fan fiction style stories, though.
Years and years later, towards the end of graduate school, I started taking long walks around Lake Artemesia (a really beautiful park just outside of the University of Maryland campus), listening to my ipod, and as usual, telling myself stories. Except now, for whatever reason, they weren't fanfiction anymore. They were my own stories. Rough and amateur as hell, but at least they were my own ideas. I think this was around the time that I read George R. R. Martin's opinion of fan fiction, and I think that was the final push I needed to build my own worlds and characters. Normally, I get annoyed when authors get snobby or even belligerent about fan ficiton, but Martin's explanation made a lot of sense to me.
And it wasn't until then, on those long Lake Artemesia walks, that I also finally make the connection between coming up with stories and physical movement. I could tell stories, and I could come up with ideas, I just had to be moving around as I did it. Sitting and staring at a blank page or screen leaves my brain completely stale. It's like, if I stop moving, I stop thinking creatively. Funny enough, this quirk doesn't apply to analytical thinking or school work, where I do just fine sitting still, but if I want to tell myself a story, I have to get up and get moving.
So if you want to get over writer's block, trying taking a walk. Let your mind float a while and see where it takes you. It should be almost effortless. If you're thinking too hard, it won't work. Just take walk. Shoot some basketball. Go for a run. Take a swim. Whatever. Just don't stare at the void and expect it to give you anything in return.
Yes, it's true. I feel luke-warm for Harry Potter and his wizarding world at best. Which isn't to say it's a bad book series. It's fine. Please, feel free to enjoy them. But they never gave me the magic escapism that I think they provided for a lot of people.
Maybe it was because I was slightly too old when the books were first published. I read The Sorcerer's Stone in the 8th grade, and quickly read the next two, which were already out. But then I had to wait a long time for the 4th book, and by the 5th I was already getting a little old for stories about teenage wizards (and pretty sick of Harry's self-absorption). When the 6th and 7th books were published, I could tell I was only reading them to hear the end of the story, not because I was that interested in any of the characters or conflict. The long gaps between books also made it hard for me to keep track of characters. I wonder if I had started reading the series after it had been completed whether I would have been able to hold onto the thread of the story better than I did.
I think another issue was I never found a character to fully inhabit and experience the story. You'd think Hermione would be my girl, but her type-A, grade-driven personality is way too similar to mine. I see in Hermione the things I dislike about myself, so she's the last figure I want to escape into.
Harry was boring and rude. Ron was fine, if a bit goofy. And the rest of the cast were supporting players who get very little face-time, certainly not enough to develop them into characters that really interested me. Even poor Hagrid got the brush-off after the first three books as Rowling focused more on the Death Eaters conspiracy. Snape is the one exception. I'd much prefer to read the series from his POV, but it was hard to get too into his character when he was always being framed as Harry's nemesis.
I think Rowling's real genius was the world-building. The idea of a parallel wizard universe is a great concept and I can see why it appeals to so many people. But a good world with only basic character sketches works better for fanfiction or theme parks than it does as an story that stands on its own.
Just my opinion of course. Feel free to disagree.
Course, I also dislike Tolkien, so maybe my disinterest in Harry Potter has more to do with my issues with the fantasy genre in general.
One of the ways I've gotten through just about any extended boring or difficult experience is by silently telling stories to myself.
The first (and only) time I went to sleep-away camp, I dealt with homesickness by creating an absolutely vivid soap opera in my head featuring several of the camp counselors. It was intense.
On long runs in high school and college, I constructed a very long-lived scenario in which I lived in L.A. and shared a house with an aspiring rock guitarist. I was an up-and-coming cartoonist. The guitarist and I never got together in a romantic sense, but we threw really good parties and jam sessions that were attended by old farts like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, who envied our youth. That story-line went on until my first year of graduate school when it seemed I had finally exhausted every possible plot line that could be wrung from an admittedly thin scenario.
Then there were the Russian spy years, which were really unwritten X-Files fanfiction featuring Alex Krycek and Marita Covarubius. During commutes to and from work, I'd sit in the car and idly spin stories about those two. I created so much backstory for them. It was kind of awesome (and simultaneously very lame). But again, the story grew stale and I moved on to the next.
This one was much more original, but no less absurd, featuring hockey playing women who were beautiful enough to be models/ice girls, and hockey players that suspiciously looked a lot like Alex Semin (see above). The Semin character really wanted to dance in the Bolshoi ballet, but he was just too darn good at hockey. He and the hockey playing model were roommates in Russia (I have no idea why that's been a reoccurring theme in my stories). She learned the language, and became a translator for the team. She was fun, maybe a little casual about life goals and drugs, but world-traveled, and above all obsessed with hockey. Eventually she worked her way up into the management of the hockey team and others, etc. etc. etc.
It just went on and on. It was a really excellent story...to tell myself . I doubt it would translate to an external audience, particularly those who may not be familiar with the dark and zany charms of Alex Semin. That story-line only stopped fairly recently when I started writing more stories down (completely different from these ones I've listed) and the exhaustion from trying to work on so many projects helped me sleep just fine without these silly epics to lull me.
A friend of mine recently mentioned that she got to sleep each night by telling herself stories, and I was surprised. It's not just me that does this? Does everyone do this? Telling yourself goofy stories is not a topic that comes up a lot in conversation, so I just assumed I was weird.
I don't know what I'd think about if I wasn't thinking about stories in one form or another, ridiculous and cheesy as they are. I think my brain would be much quieter, which is one of the reasons I've always been a little suspicious of meditation. I mean, are you aiming to make the brain shut up and the stories go away? That sounds terrible.
Do you tell yourself stories?
p.s. I've never even remotely considered writing any of these silly (bad) stories down, because they all break a very important rule: never include yourself in the story. Not even tangentially. The reader can tell right away when the author is masquerading as one of the beautiful, talented characters. It's fun to imagine yourself that way sometimes, or to inhabit a character in your imagination, but no one wants to hear about it. Trust me, I slush read, and it ain't pretty when it happens.
Well kids, I did it. I submitted a short story to a science fiction magazine. My first submission! Now I see that the process wasn’t too awful, I’m wondering why I didn’t just go ahead and do it before. Why had I put that off for so long? The editing only took a few mornings of my writing time (though it did help that it was practically flash fiction and only ~1500 words). I learned how to use standard manuscript format. Again, not difficult, and now I have a template I can use. And the cover letter was quick and painless. Now that it’s written, I can adapt it for any subsequent submission (just as you do for real job applications). I’m really happy that I submitted, regardless of the rejection letter that is sure to follow.
Of course, now I’m totally obsessed with hitting refresh on the electronic submission form, watching my number in the slush pile queue slowly descend. It reminds me a lot of checking for fanfiction reviews, back in the day. Clicking again and again, getting so excited when the number of reviews shifted from 0 to 1, and then the disappointment that followed from getting responses like, “I didn’t understand this,” or “More please!”
Did you ever read or write fanfiction? I went through phases where I read a lot of fanfiction and eventually I would get so annoyed at the amount of time I spent looking for the story I wanted to read that I would just end up writing it myself. Really awful stuff. But then again, most fanfiction is pretty lousy. There were some rare exceptions, but as far as I can tell, they’re almost all lost now to the purge.
Eventually, I got to the point where I couldn’t read fanfiction anymore. I just got too old for it or I lost interest in the comic or show on which it was based. And then I stopped writing fanfiction altogether after I heard George R.R. Martin’s opinion on the matter:
"Write every day, even if it is only a page or two. The more you write, the better you’ll get. But don’t write in my universe, or Tolkien’s, or the Marvel universe, or the Star Trek universe, or any other borrowed background. Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out. If you don’t exercise those “literary muscles,” you’ll never develop them."
I think that’s very true. Fanfiction is good when you’re young and haven’t learned all the skills you’ll need to write new stories; original from top to bottom. But eventually you have to learn how to develop your own characters and settings. You can’t piggy-back on someone else’s ideas forever.
I’ll never condemn fanfiction. I had too much fun with some of it to say that it was worthless reading and writing material. It’s a good place to practice. But it can’t replace the struggle of writing your own stories. (One caveat: fanfiction is fine...as long as you're not making money off other people's ideas.)
Did you write fanfiction? Or were you original from the start? It’s taken me literally fifteen years to begin submitting my own work. I’ve always been a bit on the slow slide.
Update: As expected, story rejected. On to the next journal.
Writer, editor, scientist.