Shaking it up on Tuesdays!

Standard

I have four things things to review – two movies: Captain America: Civil War and Crimson Peak (love me some Tom Hiddleston, you know), and two books: The Age of Shiva, and The Trials of Apollo, Book One: The Hidden Oracle – but I want to start shaking things up a little.

The thing is, I have a lot on my mind, and a lot of them have to do with the craft of writing and storytelling.

Over the past few months, there have been quite a few things revealed for movies, both upcoming and the past couple of years. Heck, the past several decades. Quite honestly the things that are coming out in response are, well, disgusting to me. I’m going to be addressing a few things. Consider it a rant, a bid for social justice, and overall equality for all here, but mainly for women.

As most people are aware, for the Doctor Strange movie to be released this upcoming fall, the Ancient One is played by a woman named Tilda Swinton. She’s white. Ghost in the Shell is receiving a live-action treament. Scarlett Johansson is playing the lead role of Motoko. The Ghostbusters movie has four female Ghostbusters instead of men.

And, finally, within the last month or so, it was revealed that someone high up in Marvel decided that the villain of Iron Man 3 needed to be male instead of the female the writers had come up with, and the decision was based from a toy-marketing stance.

What. The. Hell.

In thinking of the roles Scarlett and Tilda are playing, in hearing about the fan reaction to the female cast of Ghostbuster and in reading that article, I have to wonder just how we came to be so badly misogynstic. Yeah, the outcry for Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell is more accusing Hollywood of white-washing allegedly Asian roles and therefore making Hollywood racist in nature against Asians, never mind the Ghost in the Shell character is actually from, you know, Canada. Never mind, you know, that, with comic books, the storylines are constantly changing in order to accommodate a growing and diverse crowd of readers. No one has made a stink about Sam Wilson, a black guy, becoming Captain America – the role of Cap has been taken up by many over the decades, including his best friend, Bucky Barnes – nor about Jane Foster taking up the mantle of Thor (though there was a huge stink over her outfit as the Goddess of Thunder) or even the fact that Idris Elba played Heimdall in the Thor movies, Heimdall who, historically speaking, is the whitest of all white people. These are not horrible things in and of themselves. If anything, they’re wonderful developments on the part of Marvel for recognizing that they do have a diverse pool of readers. I love Idris as Heimdall. I love the idea of a black Captain America, and I certainly can get behind the idea of a female Thor capable of wielding the mighty Mjolnir as they do line up with how women were viewed in the past and with how many minorities serve their countries and do so with great honor and great pride. This is all very, very awesome for me.

What bothers me is the fan reaction to Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One and to Marvel’s claims that the Ancient One is more moniker and that, for the Doctor Strange movie, they’re going Celt over Chinese or Japanese. No one has seen this movie yet, and yet, for some reason, it’s hard to believe that someone of European descent could be considered an Ancient One. It’s even more disturbing to think that maybe the reaction isn’t only just because Tilda Swinton is white but a woman with the fans forgetting that, because it is a comic storyline, there is room for diversity. As a woman who has and is delving into the Ancient Norse religions and eventually into the Ancient Celtic religions, this is a bit of a serious issue for me. These are cultures who, before the spread of Christianity and the subjugation of women and minorities, treated women as equals. Odin sought out the advice of his wife Frigga and from Freya, both of whom were very wise and very powerful in magic. Their wisdom came from their intuition, from within themselves, and were things that had to be taught to Odin. And Freya herself was a mighty warrior. When they counseled him, Odin listened.

Now, I might be more inclined to agree that Hollywood is being racist towards Asians if the role of the Ancient One had gone to a white guy then tried to excuse it by saying “We’re going Celt here”. For Doctor Strange, we do not know the Ancient One’s journey to become the Ancient One. What if she had been taught by a Chinse Ancient One and had to take over the role due to some event we don’t know anything about? The answer: We don’t. The movie is in post-production, gearing up for a November release.

Even better is the knowledge that, because it is a comics storyline, that it is in a state of constant creation and re-creation makes the movie for Doctor Strange all the more appealing for me. Even more interesting is the notion that the Ancient One could be played by anyone, have any skin color, any gender, any religion, and any age. That is the overall joy behind comic books and the science-fiction and fantasy genres. Anyone can be anything. And, yes, I have absolutely no problems envisioning the Ancient One as any given heritage. I’m not familiar with the comics. I’m simply going by what I’ve seen of the previews for Doctor Strange, and I can see it as a long, arduous journey in which someone like Doctor Stephen Strange takes up the journey to learn magic from someone like the Ancient One, regardless of gender and ethnic heritage, and ultimately has to take up the mantle of the Ancient One due to some grand, epic battle in which the previous Ancient One is near death and passes the title on to the next person. It quite literally is the bread and butter of fantasy novels, and I love the idea behind it. I love it a lot. Maybe in the near future, for the comics, the Ancient One hails from Africa. Or maybe colonial America where he (or she) escaped from slavery. It’s the beauty of story-telling. When done right, anything goes.

As for the change of the Iron Man 3 villain from female to male, again, what the hell? Some of the best villains have been women. I love Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty and Ursula from the Little Mermaid. Yes, they were called witches and cast in a bad light for their powers and their genders, but it only demonstrates that women are not immune to cravings for power and dominance. Those are not traits of men. They are traits of humans.

So I’m going to say it. The outcries over Doctor Strange, Ghost in the Shell, and the new Ghostbusters has more to do with a degrading view on women than it does anything else. I’ve not read every manga out there, I’ve not watched every anime, but I know that many characters are made more “white” than they are Asian. Eiri “Yuki” Uesugi from GravitationĀ  looks more American than he does Japanese, he was written that way by his creator. He was given a very angsty background – the bullying of other children due to his appearance. Edge Maverick from Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope has blond hair and GREEN eyes. Not all Japanese characters are, in fact, Japanse. That isn’t to say all Japanese characters are white – they most certainly are not – but the outrage over certain roles being played by certain actors is its own form of hypocrisy. After all, if the Ancient One had been cast as an Asian, if Motoko had been cast as an Asian, Hollywood would be accused of typecasting the Asian people instead of venerating them. So I’ll now simplify this: Either watch the movies with the female leads and changes to the storylines or don’t. That is entirely up to you.

I will note this: George Takei as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange would be an interesting thing to see, too. However, I will still reserve judgment on Tilda Swinton until I have actually, you know, watched the movie itself and have seen how things played out because, well, I don’t know what the writers have come up with . The same will be true for the new Ghostbusters movie. I can’t say about Ghost in the Shell – I never actually watched the first movie or the anime series that followed.

In the meantime, let’s actually look at what’s going on here. Are these reactions really truly because Hollywood is being racist towards Asians or is it because the fans are being prejudiced against women in general? Because I have a feeling if Lucy Liu had been cast as the Ancient One, there still would be an outcry. The fan reaction to the new Ghostbusters movie indicates as much to me.

Now for the usual Tuesday fare:
What I’m Currently Reading
The Age of Shiva by James Lovegrove
I Bring the Fire, Part 1: Wolves (A Loki Series) by C. Gockel
Northern Magic: Rune Mysteries and Shamanism by Edred Thorsson
The Rites of Odin by Ed Fitch
The Trials of Apollo, Book One: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

Coming up for Book Review Tuesdays:
Captain America: Civil War
The Age of Shiva by James Lovegrove
Crimson Peak (movie)
The Trials of Apollo, Book One: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

I’ve recently purchased The Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove and am considering The Age of Ra. I may hold off until I can read Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. I’ve had that one for a couple of years now. Perhaps I should pick it up and read it. After this, Tuesdays will be dedicated to villains and super villains, my own and those of others.

Up tomorrow: Words of Wisdom – Writing Tip Wednesdays

Book Review Tuesday/What I’m Currently Reading

Standard

No reviews. I’ve been holding off on reading The Age of Shiva, lest I find myself into another all night reading marathon just to see how it ends. I want to savor this story! I love Lovegrove’s style and what he’s done so far with the pantheons I have encountered in his works. Mostly. But then that’s just due to different interpretations of events. I Bring the Fire requires some time as well.

What I’m Currently Reading
The Age of Shiva by James Lovegrove
I Bring the Fire, Part 1: Wolves (A Loki Series) by C. Gockel
Northern Magic: Rune Mysteries and Shamanism by Edred Thorsson
The Rites of Odin by Ed Fitch

For personal reasons, I’ll be re-reading over various chapters of Northern Magic and will try to incorporate some of the techniques into some of my future writings when creating a magical system.

And that’s it for today. Have a good Tuesday!

Moving Forward Monday

Standard

I swear I am trying to make some sort of comeback here. I really am.

Anyway, there is no addition to the title today. Life has been a bit crappy, I’ve struggled with some personal issues (and am still struggling, to be perfectly honest here, but I’m overcoming them one day at a time), and I’m just ready to keep moving forward. Regressing just isn’t an option.

One thing about the struggles with the personal issues, with the hints and vague teasings of what could be in store for me in the future, is that a very deeply personal and profound question keeps coming up, one of which I have some very basic and yet vague answers for but no answers at the same time.

What do I want to do with my life/What do I want from life?

The simple answers are, in fact, quite simple. I want to become a mother and I want to be a writer. The one will be challenging, and the other is already challenging. (I like the facebook meme that says writing is like giving yourself homework; if one wants glamourous, throw glitter at the computer screen.) I love writing. I know, when it finally happens, I will at least be a very interesting and very compassionate and loving mother. I can’t I’ll be the greatest mother in the world, but I know I will be doing my best.

So what else is there, right? What more could I possibly want from this life? Spiritual enlightenment is one, and that’s another thing I’m striving for in my life.

All of it comes down to interacting with others. I like interacting with other people, and interacting with other people, be it online or in real life, offers a great deal of insight into things like character creation and how people interact with the following: other people, technlogy, and the environment. Or, as my high school short stories teacher taught it, the conflicts of man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself, and, now, man vs. technology. Yes, I am working to where I do not need steady employment in order to survive, to where I can not only survive on my writing earnings but thrive as well. It’s hard work, it’s frustrating work, being a writer, but it is something I truly love. I can’t imagine not writing. Even if I had no aspirations to be a published author of original fiction, I would still be writing. It’d be fanfiction, of course, but I would still be writing.

The questions truly do not need an immediate response, but they do require some serious thought on my part. I’ve had dreams of opening my own restaurant, bakery, ice cream shop, candy shop, bookstore, and so on. Basically, something small as an outlet for my creativity or as a way to help others. As a writer, I know I can (and will) tackle many social justice issues so being a social justice warrior is a no brainer. It’s the desire to do achieve that’s burning through me, and never before has it burned quite like this within my soul.

Like I said, I don’t need to answer these questions right away. I already know that, no matter, whatever comes my way, I will survive it. It’s assured within me.

I will have an amazing and awesome life. It’ll be filled with ups and downs, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Moving Forward Monday – A Petition Signed and Thoughts on Publishing

Standard

Yesterday, through three of my writer friends, a petition appeared on Facebook, and it’s directed at Amazon and one of their return policies. The policy in question allows ebook readers to return ebooks at any given time for whatever reason. The ebooks are usually only at 15% read by the time they’ve been “returned” and thus the money does not reach the author. While this doesn’t affect the traditionally published author as much* as the independent author, this is still a very unsavory practice on the part of the reader.

And how is that, one might ask. If one isn’t satisfied with the story, shouldn’t we be allowed to return it at our leisure? Well, I answer this, albeit quite haltingly, yes. You should be allowed to read the book. At the same time, you should have already known that in advance. Nearly every single book I have ever encountered has a blurb on the back. Traditionally, that’s what has been used to ensnare readers for who knows how long at this point. If the blurb wasn’t enough to catch you, you simply put the book back on the shelf and continued browsing. Ebooks also have blurbs. Through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, readers also have the option to read a sample of the story. This is a great tool to utilize when it comes to deciding whether or not you want to purchase this story. Yeah, you might not get the whole story, but then you’re not meant to get the whole story. If that tidbit wasn’t enough to get you to buy the book in the first place, well, clearly the book wasn’t as interesting as the blurb made it out to be.

But what if $1.99 is just too much for an ebook?

Okay, let’s just stop right there. If the price is a bit much for you after you’ve made the purchase, then perhaps it should have been the deterrent in the first place. I get it. Believe me, I do. There isn’t a lot of cost involved when it comes to publishing an ebook. I’d be hesitant to purchase something for $5.99 when it comes to ebooks, but, as an independent author, I completely get the reasons for why the prices are so high. This isn’t about the lack of physical materials for an ebook. This is about the number of houirs and days and months an author has spent, agonizing over the story. This is about the costs an author incurs for editing, for cover art, and for promoting the story in the first place. Yeah, authors can go to sites like fiverr and get a cheap cover for as little as $5, but there’s a risk involved because not every artist out there should be out there, doing cover art. There is truth in that old adage: You get what you pay for. Now, I’m lucky in that respect in that my sister is doing my cover art for me for free. That doesn’t mean I like that she’s doing the work she’s been doing for me for free. I would love to be able to pay her a commission for each piece she’s done for me. Like me, she’s struggling to make ends meet, despite having had the same job since she was sixteen. And I personally feel that my time is worth more than $.99 for an ebook.

I’ll put it to my fellow readers a different way, going by a different perspective. If you’re a server in a restaurant like Applebee’s or Chili’s or Ihop, chances are you’re earning a measly $2.13 an hour as a paid wage. And you won’t even be seeing the money on a paycheck because everything on there is going for taxes. So you’re very reliant on the tips you’re earning. On average, people should be leaving you around 20% of the total on the table so you can make ends meet. For example, if the meal comes to $25, your patron should be leaving you $5. It isn’t much, but that’s what they should be leaving you. Instead, they leave you fifty cents. Doesn’t matter how many times you corrected the order, tried to get it right, doesn’t matter how many refills you gave them, doesn’t matter if they’re the only ones in the restaurant at the time, they basically got work done for them for darn near free. You worked for free. What’s worse is if you work for a place that requires the servers to tip out to the bussers and dishwashers, maybe even the cooks and hosts/hostesses because they’re allowed to underpay due to the tipping system in place, and everything at the end of the day has to somehow reach whatever the actual minimum wage is for the state.

Now, if you’re not willing to work for free, why would you expect an author, who is charging a certain amount for a book for the same reasons why you’re not working for free, to do the same? One of my writer friends likened it to returning 85% of a coffee. You’re not going to get a full refund on that coffee. Rather, if you’re lucky and the manager of the place decides that, yes, the coffee was not up to standard, you’ll get a freshly made cup of coffee and a promise for things to be corrected. Trust me, I have faced many customers, as a server and as a cashier in fast food, convenient store, and retail settings. I hate it when people have a bad experience on my watch or when something isn’t made right, and I do what I can to fix it. And it isn’t always complaining just to complain and get free food (which, yes, I have seen people do, and, yes, that does disgust me just as much), it’s genuine complaints. Food made wrong, food too cold, food overcooked, and so on.

Which brings me to the other reason why I’m against Amazon’s currenty policy of return an ebook whenever a person wants. Every place in existence has policies in place to prevent customer abuse of the refunds and exchanges. As much as they claim they want happy customers, they also don’t want to lose their profits, which makes sense. You can’t pay the bills if you don’t have any money.

Amazon has no such policy in place, and it’s actually quite baffling. People are paying for books then returning them at around the 15% read mark. Doesn’t matter when the book was purchased. The refund is given automatically, and that’s to the detriment of the author. Authors see about 70% royalties on Amazon, depending on how they’ve set themselves up. Getting a profit on a book done through CreateSpace is, quite honestly, more difficult than that of an ebook.

What makes the ebook refund policy even more baffling is the reasons why some are giving for returning the ebook in question ($1.99 is too much) and the fact that a person can read any and all ebooks on Amazon for free with a paid subscription to Kindle Unlimited. I don’t know if that’s part of Amazon Prime or is by itself, but the fact remains it’s there. Truth be told, I see no reasons for this type of behavior to be playing itself out. Either buy the book and read it or don’t buy the book. No one wants to be out $2, but then no one wants to work for free, either.

And that’s how I see it. As an author, I don’t want to work for free. I don’t like having to work for others, but I also admit that it helps me in the long run as well. If I had wanted to keep publishing for free, I wouldn’t have made the progression from writing fanfiction all the time to original material. In this respect, I feel that the tradtitionally published author has it easier than the independent author but only marginally so. The return of an ebook isn’t necessarily going to affect how much the traditionally published author is paid – this is because the traditionally published author has received an advance of some kind, and the advance itself is a loan. With that in mind, the loan itself must be paid off before the author starts to see any royalties. This only starts to become adverse for the traditionally published author after the advance has paid for itself.

This petition has also given me some food for thought. How much longer do I want to keep going as an independent author? Could I become some sort of hybrid author, one that publishes certain things as an independent but others through a traditional publishing house? I like to think so. I mean, I’d already had plans to eventually approach a major publishing house with a series idea.

It is something for me to consider for myself. In the meantime, I encourage readers to stop and think about their actions first before deciding on the purchase of an ebook. Read the blurb. Read the sample. Weigh NOW if the price is a bit too much for you to handle at this point. It is your hard earned money so decide wisely. But don’t buy now, regret the decision six months later when you might need that $2 or $3 for something else, then return it. The author in question is counting on that $2. Maybe it’s just to buy a cheeseburger from somewhere or a few packages of ramen or to even go to a bill of some sort, but they’re counting on it all the same.