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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Taking a Page from the Fairy Tale Tradition

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Looking for fresh inspiration to jumpstart your writing? Look no further than Once Upon a Time . . .  ♦ 
As writers, we crave inspiration; it’s in our blood. Writers must write, that’s the rule, and when the work is going well, it seems that there are ideas for stories everywhere. However, there is this insidious thing called writers block—which does, in fact, exist—that can quickly suck you into an abyss of anxiety and frustration. So, what do you do when you’re lacking a spark? Where can you turn in order to revamp your creative energies and find new ideas? May I recommend looking to an art form that’s both ancient and continually changing, one that’s embedded in every culture but accessible to a reader from any background, a form that truly has something for everyone from every generation. Of course I’m talking about the fairy tale, and I don’t mean the Disneyfied versions.
    Now I know that you’re already familiar with fairy tales, given their place in our culture (and in our movies, television shows, and other entertainments), and you might even think that it’d be relatively easy to write one . . . but it can be harder than it looks. For one thing, fairy tales have a specific tone that usually avoids overly sentimental scenes and narratives (unless they’re French) in favor of an almost dispassionate telling of fantastic events, which can be a difficult balance to get right. Additionally, there’s no one kind of tale, even if we tend to lump them all together in one category in our minds—to name but a few, there are fables (which use animals/inanimate objects as main characters), etiological tales (which explain how the world works), moral tales (which contrast good and evil), pious tales (religious teachings), and frame narratives (sort of like a story within a story), all of which have their own unique characteristics and purposes. Fairy tales can actually be rather tricky to pull off, and when you see modern writers taking on the form—including such notables as Angela Carter, Lin Lan, Roald Dahl, and Anne Sexton—you can more easily see just how difficult the form can sometimes be.
    But, the good news is that you need not write fairy tales themselves to learn from them—in fact, no matter what kind of fiction you write, the fairy tale can offer inspiration to see your work in a new way and get you moving. So let’s look at a few key elements of fairy tales that can help you when you’re writing, along with some writing prompts you can use to get the creative juices flowing again.


1. Write to (and for) an audience 

Originally, fairy tales and folklores developed within and grew out of communities, spreading by word of mouth and passing down from generation to generation. This oral tradition was democratic and community-driven, since anyone could sit back and listen to a story around the campfire, as well as retell it to others (maybe putting a slightly different spin on the tale). Fairy tales were thus shaped by the community’s fears and common sense, reflecting different cultural notions of the place and time. This aspect of fairy tales changed somewhat in the early to mid-1800s, when Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairy tale collections (though not the first of their kind) marked a transition that moved fairy tales from the scattered oral tradition and into a more of the literary discourse. However, the tales still reflected the importance of cultural norms and fears in the telling, even as these became less community-driven and more commodified into universal “morals” that one could take away from the story.
    The takeaway for the fiction writer, then, is to recognize their community (or audience) when crafting a story. This might seem a simple concept, but what it means is to be engaged and aware of things happening right in your community, not just society at large. Listen to people. What are their fears? Why do they have them? What stories were they told growing up? And how did those stories affect them?

WP: Observe what’s happening in your community. Investigate the local news. Look for oddities. What’s famous in your hometown and how did it come to be? If you don’t know, make something up. Or, interview a family member, friend, or stranger about their childhood memories. If you have that one great-aunt that always pulls you aside by the arm to tell you an “in my day” story, soak that in and listen to what she or others have to say. What did they believe that might be different now or in other communities? Which things stick out to you? What were their fears? What did they love most to do? How did they see the world?
    Listen. Observe. Take notes. Then write a story or scene revolving around something that stood out to you from your research.


2. Be a Performer 

Along with the oral tradition comes the importance of writers reading their work aloud. There’s something special about hearing the story from the writer’s own voice; if done right, the storytelling experience shifts into something more personal as the audience can not only hear the story with voice inflections and at a certain pace, but they can also watch the writer’s body language and facial expressions, which gives more life to the story. Even more, reading your work aloud allows you to hear what’s actually there (not just what you think is there), what works in the piece and what doesn’t, and how it actually plays in front of an audience. Plus, readings are a good place to sell books, have good conversations about writing, and meet more of the community.

WP: Practice reading your work aloud. Sometimes you can catch mistakes easier that way. Also, take a piece of yours that’s stalled out and transform it into a brief performance piece. Focus on adding lines that could captivate an audience, whether through thoughtfulness, humor, or grotesque horror. Make sure you don’t have any awkward sentences that you stumble through. If they trip you up, they’ll trip the reader up. You could also take a page from poetry, which focuses on the sound of words, not just the meaning. Which words sound right for the piece? What do your ears desire to hear?


3. Remember to KISS 

No, this doesn’t refer to the prince coming along to wake up the damsel with a smooch; rather, this stands for “keep it simple stupid.” Fairy tales, especially those edited by the Grimms, have a clear, logical structure that’s easy to follow, putting a character into one predicament and then allowing that to play out. The takeaway? Don’t overload (and overburden) your story with too much backstory, context, or mythology . . . keep it focused and forward-moving. This isn’t to say your story should be bare bones and predictable, of course, but rather that it should not lose the reader along the way, nor waste any words doing so.
    Fairy tales usually start with a version of “once upon a time” where the protagonists are introduced, along with the setting, and then the conflict along with the antagonist. A problem or challenge is introduced which the main character(s) must succeed or fail in solving. Depending on whether they succeed or fail depends on the lesson at the end. One way writers can use this simple structure is to take their story (whether already written or not) and create an outline following fairy tale structure. This exercise can help you get organized and see your story from a different viewpoint. Perhaps this also will help you recognize any pitfalls in your plot while providing a fun break from the writing doldrums.

WP: Start with the typical “once upon a time” and explain the basics of who’s who, where, what’s happened to put the character into this situation, what conflicts or obstacles arise (by an antagonist, whatever or whomever that is), and then list all the actions (or counteractions) the protagonist must make to overcome these obstacles with or without the help of others. Finally, conclude with whether the protagonist succeeds or fails, and why they succeed or fail. Either way there needs to be a change involved, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s a moral, amoral or immoral one. Contrary to popular belief, not all fairy tales end with happy endings. (In fact, some are rather gruesome.)


4. Engage the Rule of Three 

What’s this Rule of Three? A secret spell? An ancient incantation? Actually, it refers to the fact that, in most fairy tales, things usually happen in patterns of three—three bears, three wishes, three chances to guess the name, and so on—a repetition that helps put the story into a particular rhythm and helps the reader recognize the pattern (and, especially, what it means when the pattern breaks). Overdone, the rule could seem predictable and boring, but if done right, a repeating motif can enhance the story and provide opportunities for unexpected turns. Also, this repetition, along with a straightforward structure, can make the tale easier to recall by the reader and easier to share with others.

WP: Pick an object/animal/feeling/action and connect it with your character, showing how it comes up three times throughout the story and in different ways while also holding things together, acting as dots to connect the story with, Or, pick an object that keeps coming up for the wrong reasons and gets in the way of your character’s quest.


5. Make Your Character Transform

In every fairy tale—and in the majority of fiction, too—the main character experiences a change in status. It’s a basic necessity for every story, but this can sometimes be forgotten, especially in the first few drafts. What is the character’s motivation that leads up to the end? What’s the character attempting to do, and why is it important for him or her? And, what does the reader make of the way the events play out, based on what we know of why the goal is important for the character? Protagonists need some sort of inner dilemma (along with the outer one) that they must either succeed or fail in overcoming, which can be easily seen in the best fairy tales: the main character is treated poorly by family, for example, or lives in poverty, or is taken for granted, and the magical or unusual event that takes place allows her to transcend that station in life. What lesson do you want to share with the world? What makes you passionate/angry/joyful? What’s the purpose in telling this story other than to quiet the Muse?

WP: Define your character’s inner and outer dilemma, then show the change they encounter, for the better or worse. Remember that your characters, whether human or not, are always human at heart.


6. Break it and Remake It 

There are rarely any new fairy tales out there, at least not those that faithfully follow the traditional mode; it’s much more common now to come upon fractured fairy tales, wherein a writer takes the original fairy tale and gives it a twist (or, takes the mold and breaks it to make something new). This can appeal to readers, because a story can be familiar but not predictable, and it can also help the writer if you’re stuck on ideas, as it allows you a familiar baseline from which to work as well as permission to play with the familiar.

WP: Take a fairy tale that you know (or find one that you don’t) and put a spin on it, either changing one of the outcomes, putting it in a different setting or time that would affect the decision-making, or reversing the roles of the characters, making the protagonist the antagonist and vice versa. Of course, many of these have been tried before, so try and develop one in a way that’s unique to your own interests. What if the stepmother was nice and Cinderella was a brat? What if the prince actually had a foot fetish? What if the story took place in Kansas during the Dust Bowl? Endless of possibilities. In the same way, you could take one of your own stories and try putting different twists on it. What if this happened, and how will that affect everything else? Play with the “what ifs” and see if you uncover something new or even better than the original.

Happy writing!
  • About the Author
    Lauren Bauman is a creative writing major, exploring what it means to live and breathe writing; however, she would not recommend inhaling paper or laptops. Her interests include stress-relieving activities and learning about random things to spark story ideas. She also enjoys traveling that requires a passport. Visit her online at Goats on a Roof.
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    A Helpful Code to Success

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    As digital publishing continues to boom, more writers and editors are learning the art (and benefits) of coding.  ♦ 
    The e-book is an incredible technology which has revolutionized publishing . . . though it can be an intimidating technology to work with for the uninitiated. This is something I learned firsthand, as I recently had the experience of coding a book into e-book format for the Miami University Press. Working with code seemed daunting at first, but once I learned the basics of the markup it was not only easy to grasp some of the more difficult concepts but even fun to play around with the text to gain a better understanding of how HTML and CSS work together. HTML and CSS, which make up the digital text and its aesthetic qualities, respectively, are two primary features of the EPUB format and the e-book. While some of the coding is a bit laborious, like having to put paragraph marks (denoted by <p>) around each section of text, most of the markup was interestingly tricky and delicate; once I sorted out the text sections and completed the major structural elements, I then had to decide which stylistic elements to include, such as line spacing, page breaks, and pagination/navigation. These elements were difficult to set, because the HTML needs to display consistently across e-book platforms from vendors such as Google Play or iBooks. When viewing the actual e-books in different platforms, it was easy to see unexpected mistakes or stylistic elements that needed to be fixed. This required an immense attention to detail and led to frustrations, constant trial and error, and having to figure out how to correct the issues.
        The primary goal when converting a text into e-book format is to ensure everything remains aesthetically similar to the print version, but when transferring from print to digital it’s quite possible to introduce errors which alter the reading experience. (In my own case, I introduced over forty errors into the text that needed to be fixed.) This then requires a decent amount of editing to ensure consistency . . . but, this provides great experience with the editing and proofing of literary work. This holistic nature of creating an eBook—being both an art and science, involving both design and an intimate knowledge of the text—may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s an invaluable skill set to have, one that can set you apart from other individuals when looking for that career path into the publishing industry.
        I found it fairly simple to learn how to code HTML, and there are many websites and books that offer guidance for the beginner. One website I worked with is Codeacademy, which I found helpful because it shows how to do different kinds of HTML and then shows, in real time, the effects of your changes, letting you practice code until you get it right before moving on to the next lesson. In terms of coding the text itself, I used a program called Calibre, a free downloadable e-book platform. Calibre allows the user to insert plain text, add design elements and styling via HTML and CSS right into the book, and then view the e-book design within its software. And while Calibre did insert some issues I had to deal with, and took a little while to become familiar with, it was fairly easy to work with overall.
        Another aspect of the process that I enjoyed—which was just as crucial to the project’s success as learning code—was working with a team. It took four of us working to mark-up the novella’s text and two others to edit the marked-up text; we created a style sheet and worked together to decide on design and layout choices that best suited the text. It was empowering to work with a larger group, and it proved vitally important when having to make corrections and sift through the text in search of errors, and even more so when finding ways to fix those errors.
        After learning (and enjoying) this newfound skill, I decided to research jobs in the field of coding or working with e-books, both of which I have an interest in. What I found is that, given the popularity of e-books and digital works, there are many opportunities out there for those with an interest and aptitude in digital writing, and even knowing minimal HTML or the like can give you an upper hand when applying for these. In fact, moving forward, most jobs in the literary world, whether it be publishing, marketing, or writing, will likely require some sort of knowledge of HTML and the way text is created and digitally displayed across platforms. The jobs I found on my search which asked for some knowledge of coding—via the popular job website Indeed.com—included titles such as Marketing Editor, Technical Writer, and E-Book Technician, among many others. But I’d also recommend searching specific company sites for these jobs, as most companies now, even those unaffiliated with fields of writing and publishing, have a tremendous need, and also positions, for “digital writers.”
        While coding and working with HTML and CSS may not be the easiest to learn—and, yes, can occasionally feel monotonous and annoying—it’s absolutely a worthwhile investment. I now have a skill that not everyone can say they have, one which gave me the opportunity to help see a new e-book into the world (and into readers’ hands). What's more, learning how to code not only gave me a new appreciation for electronic publishing and digital works, but it may help lead me, next, into the career of my choosing.
  • About the Author
    Kaleigh Talaganis is a senior at Miami University, pursuing a degree in Professional Writing and Business Legal Studies. She aspires to be an attorney, but would also enjoy editing or working with digital text. In her free time she enjoys spending time with friends and watching sports.
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    An Interview with Jamila Tiaira

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    The debut author of a new collection of poems discusses the inspiration behind her work and the decision to self-publish. ♦ 
    In today’s market, the question for a lot of young writers seems to be how to get a book published. Traditionally, there was one and only one way to go about it—the usual method of trying to find an agent, trying to find a publisher, seeing that path through to publication—though that model, in addition to being a long and arduous process, has always favored the novel over other traditionally underrepresented (and noncommercial) literary forms such as short story collections, novellas, and poetry collections. But with the rise of self-publishing over the last few years, the rules have been rewritten . . . and books which might’ve been a hard sell through the old model are now finding not just publication but receptive audiences.
        I recently had the privilege to sit down with the poet Jamila Tiaira to discuss the publication of her first book, Love is a Beautiful, Painful Story. Released in February 2016, the book is a collection of intensely personal poems written about Tiaira’s own relationship experiences . . . and a book that Tiaira chose to self-publish through the online platform Lulu. In this interview, the author talks with me about her life and writing from personal experience, putting the new collection together, and the process she experienced as both a first-time and a self-published author.

    When did you start writing? 

    I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was younger I actually used to want to be an author, then I got interested in journalism in high school and stuck with that for much of my adulthood. But I would still do creative writing here and there.

    Tell me a little about your writing process. 

    With two kids, I do not set aside “time” to do much of anything . . .  Though I’ve tried to get back into writing creatively more (I write all day at work), so I try to make myself write an hour a day, but that doesn’t always happen. A lot of times, an idea, phrase or whatever will come to my mind, and I will find the nearest notepad and jot it down. (I also have several ideas/verses in my phone).

    When did you decide you wanted to write a book? How long did it take to finish? 

    I’ve had this collection of poems for quite some time, so in the summer of 2014, I decided why not compile them into a book? Some were written years ago, others were written recently. I can’t really say how long it took to finish, since a lot of the poems were already complete. I was just sitting on pieces of notebook paper.

    Did you have a purpose in writing this collection? What was it? 

    I just wanted to get my work out there. I know I’m not going to make millions, but at least I got my words and my feelings out there.

    Did you have your theme in mind as you were writing the poems, or did you discover it after looking through your collection? 

    For the most part I knew my book would focus on love and relationships. That’s what all my poems centered on.

    These poems about love are relatable and universal. Was that the intent, or are they personal stories? 

    Some of the poems are personal, but like you said love is universal. Love is something that I pray everyone has the opportunity to feel and have. The title touches on that. Love can be a beautiful thing if it’s with the right person. If not, it can be a painful experience. I’m sure every woman has been there . . . or will be there at some point.

    What made you decide to put such personal experiences out there? 

    There was no real reason why I chose to publish my personal experiences. I feel as though no matter what, women can relate. And as far as the poems being personal, the only person who knows which ones are truly about me and my own personal experiences is me.

    Why did you decide to self-publish?

    It was in the summer when I decided I wanted to get a book published. I sent out letter after letter to publishing companies. For one, getting an agent is fairly difficult, and I soon found out so is getting a company willing to publish you without an agent. So, after getting several rejection letters, I sent a letter to [Kareem Simpson from Bookmark Publishing] in Cincinnati who helped me through the entire process.

    What has your role been in the publishing process? You obviously wrote the book, but did you design the cover? Have you done your own marketing? 

    Lulu.com has templates for the cover, so I picked something basic. My goal was just to get my book out there and share my stories. [Simpson] from Bookmark Publishing edited it and sent it to me for final edits. I held my book release in February, and I have been in charge of my marketing . . . mainly through Facebook and word of mouth.

    Your book is available on Lulu.com. Can you tell me more about what this website is? 

    I had never heard of Lulu.com until I was told about it from Bookmark Publishing. He had already uploaded my work, and I took it over from there. For the most part, the website is fairly user friendly and fast when it comes to printing on demand. Lulu.com [also] networks with other e-book providers such as Amazon and Apple iBooks, so they distribute the e-books on those sites.
        I knew I wanted an e-book version; it was just a matter of when. I knew the hard copy version was obviously more important, so much of my focus was on that first.

    Some poets don’t publish e-books because the format doesn’t always support the layout of poems. Did you have that problem? 

    I have not seen that as a problem . . . yet. I am in the process of working on the e-book format, so we will see!

    What advice would you give to a young writer aspiring to publish? 

    Get used to hearing “no.” That doesn’t mean your work has no value. Keep pushing. And keep writing. Also, read! You can’t expect people to read your stuff if you don’t even read other works. It’s always good to see other writers’ styles, ideas etc.
  • About the Author
    Maci Alf is a senior at Miami University graduating in May. She has previously been published in Happy Captive Magazine and is the web designer for Diversity University, an online artistic magazine. Besides writing, Maci enjoys media work. She is currently the producer for the short film Limbo and is employed as a writer for WLWT Channel 5 News.
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    Monday, April 25, 2016

    Accio Audible: Harry Potter and Audiobooks

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    With its new partnership with Audible, the Harry Potter franchise sets its sights on fans' ears. ♦ 
    In today’s world of nonstop multitasking, it’s no wonder that audiobook production and sales are growing at an increasing rate. Nothing is easier than starting a task, queuing up one of your most beloved books, and simultaneously being productive and enjoying the sweet, sweet words of an author that you love being read to you by famous voice actors and, sometimes, even by the authors themselves. Given the rise of smartphones and other handheld devices, it should come as no surprise that audiobooks have enjoyed a similar spike in popularity as music streaming services and podacsts; in fact, audiobook sales have nearly doubled since 2011, as sites like Amazon’s subscription service Audible aim to provide the widest selection of books possible in a readily-accessible format.
         Some of the biggest contenders in the audiobook world—and constantly some of the most listened-to books—are the seven Harry Potter novels. Though their rise to the top of the audiobook charts, and their place as some of the most popular audiobooks on the market, has been a somewhat tumultuous journey.
        Audiobook versions of the Harry Potter series have been available since each book was released, with the last four installments of the series receiving simultaneous digital and physical release dates. Initially the audio series was available only in CD format and became available for digital download in 2005, when iTunes grabbed exclusive rights to the series. But that changed with the introduction of J. K. Rowling’s Pottermore site in 2011, a direct-to-consumers marketplace which served as the electronic hub for All Things Potter and offered digital-download audio versions of the books for use on smartphones and contemporary media technology.
        The reaction to Pottermore was enthusiastic and immediate, with Harry Potter fans given access to a different versions of the audiobooks across platforms and by region: the U.S. version is voiced by Jim Dale, who is recognizable for his narration of the Harry Potter videogames, while the U.K. version is voiced by famed comedian and actor Stephen Fry. And though there is debate over which version is better, and whose voice is more true to the character, what was clear from the start was that Harry Potter had the potential to be a powerhouse in the audiobook marketplace.



        Yet, even as fans rejoiced that the books were available through Pottermore, they quickly realized the very expensive nature of the audiobook. As of this writing, the complete collection of Harry Potter audiobooks for download still runs a cool $242.94. (This is in stark contrast to the price of the physical books, which is currently $49.99 for a paperback set of the series.) Even at this staggering price, the digital versions of the books were wildly successful . . . but many fans were simply unable to afford access.
        Enter Amazon’s groundbreaking audiobook streaming service Audible, which boasts over 180,000 titles to choose from as part of a monthly subscription service. In late 2015, the series was finally made available on the service, allowing fans the chance to listen to their favorite book in a much more affordable way than ever before. Now, fans are able to download their favorite Harry Potter book directly to their smartphone or tablet and listen to it as they please, rather than purchasing the complete digital file at a higher-than-comfortable price. 
        With the inclusion of the Harry Potter series in Audible’s collection comes an increasing legitimacy to the audiobook marketplace. Not that it was struggling before, but having such established and well-loved books have proven to multiply sales at a mind-blowing rate. Since the books were released on Audible and across other retailers including Apple’s iBooks and Google Play, there have been more Harry Potter books sold in three months than in an entire year sold exclusively through Pottermore. In addition, after just four months on Audible the Harry Potter series became the quickest ever to reach the milestone of one million downloads.
        The ease and convenience of apps like Audible have drawn people in and kept them as users, with benefits such as being able to keep books in your library and downloading multiple books at a time. As the audiobook becomes more and more accepted as a genuine form of literary entertainment, it’s a sure thing that a series like Harry Potter will remain at the top of the charts and help draw in new and old fans into a new way of experiencing their favorite stories.
  • About the Author
    Andrew Polack is a rising super senior at Miami University studying Creative Writing and Media & Culture. His hobbies include microwaving the majority of his food, wearing the same pants two days in a row, and live-tweeting his bathroom breaks. He aspires someday to make it big in Hollywood, but for now he'll settle for being mediocre in Ohio. Visit his travel blog and travel-themed Instagram.
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    Wednesday, April 20, 2016

    Why TV Isn’t Making Us Dumber

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    The problem with television isn't the medium itself but the way we choose to watch it.  ♦ 
    "Timmy is only three years old and already watching five episodes of Spongebob a day!”
       Welcome to the parental brag that will never happen.
       Instead, parents are far likelier to brag about their children’s successes with more highbrow, traditionally academic activities such as reading—an activity our society has always heralded as one of the noblest of intellectual pursuits—and, of course, there is some reasoning behind raising books above watching television. Reading is at its core an intellectually stimulating activity. It engages both the creative and analytical brains. It promotes thought, logic, and rationalism. It also inspires, delights, and confuses. Reading can simultaneously transport us to new, exciting realms and deeply ground us in what is true in our own lives. None of which has been traditionally, or at least automatically, associated with the rapid consumption of filmed entertainment.
       However, is the competition between books and television as simple as we make it out to be? Is there only ever negative cognitive functioning associated with the activity of watching television? Are books always more intellectually or literarily stimulating than television? The truth of the matter is that television, if engaged in a certain critical way, can provide just as much mental stimulation as books in certain areas typically associated with reading. Essentially, TV isn’t making us dumber. Or, at least, it doesn’t have to.
        Just as a book must be read in order to be understood, a television show can be read and understood on a literary level. The argument that television is making us dumber might be true to the extent that a viewer watches television passively and can certainly watch simply as a mindless form of entertainment, without thinking deeply about what is going on under the surface. However, that same person could instead choose to engage in the more subtle storytelling techniques of the show and thus create for themselves a more intellectually stimulating experience.
         At the core of both books and television shows is storytelling. As new generations continue to get hooked on Harry Potter books and the sitcom Friends alike, there must be some commonality between the two mediums that continues to drive readership and viewership. In short, both works tell stories which captivate us.
       There are many components to effective storytelling, including a compelling narrative, realistic characters, and universal themes. All of these aspects of story present themselves equally in quality novels and quality television shows. Thus, in order to fully experience and appreciate them, an audience engages in a similar literary level of reading (or can) in both mediums and the shared characteristics among these two types of story consumption make both equally valid literary pursuits.
        First off, both television and novels are character-driven mediums. In order for a work of fiction—whether for the screen or the page—to be successful, it must feature compelling characters. Interesting characters fascinate us, and we seek to understand them by asking intelligent questions about them. If Rory Gilmore is such a level-headed, intelligent person, then why does she allow herself to lose her virginity to the married Dean? Does Lady Macbeth act solely out of a desire for personal gain, or is she possessed by demonic spirits? These characters are complex and complicated, they have distinct personalities, yet they also act in ways which surprise or sometimes frustrate us. Effective characters make mistakes and thereby draw us into the drama of their lives.
        Seeking to understand these intricately-designed characters opens the door for us to better understand our own lives. Entertainment at its best serves as a metaphor for life. Every episode and every chapter immerses readers in the lives of fictional characters in a way that invites us not only to think about their lives but apply similar thinking to our own. Haven’t we all imagined ourselves living in the New Girl loft, putting ourselves in the same ridiculous situations and wondering how we would get out of them? Or waking up a giant beetle and dealing with the ensuing personal, professional, and familial complications? When the fictional circumstances of stories on both page and screen are grounded in truthful humanity, we the readers are invited into an experience that is both outwardly critical and personally reflective.
        Let me be clear: I am not advocating for the replacement of books with television. They are separate mediums for a reason; each can achieve heights the other cannot, therefore making both of their existences important to the artistic and intellectual world. However, their pursuits are not as mutually exclusive as we may make them seem.
  • About the Author
    Christian Corpora is a writer for screen, stage, and page. Currently a senior studying Creative Writing at Miami University, he regularly performs improv comedy with the team Sketched Out and is currently producing Sketchtastrophe: A Sketch Comedy Revue. His creative endeavors have fueled his passion for both filmed and live entertainment.
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    Lisa Tapp: Self-Publishing and Self-Promotion

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    The Ro Davis Mystery series author on her work and the (many) responsibilities of doing it yourself. ♦
    In an age where hundreds of thousands of novels are self-published every year, it’s an amazing feat when an author can actually stand out from the crowd without a big publisher backing them up. Recently, this feat was accomplished by none other than Louisville native Lisa Tapp, whose debut YA novel Finding Beth—a unique coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the original Jamestown settlement—has earned the author acclaim as well as an enthusiastic readership.
        Originally Tapp shopped the book around through the usual channels—i.e., literary agents and bigger houses—but when she found that traditional publishers didn’t look so fondly on her distinctive take on YA, she decided to set out on her own and publish the book herself. In this interview, Tapp discusses the inspiration behind both the book and the decision to self-publish, as well as what she’s learned throughout (and from) the process.

    So let’s start here: where did you get the inspiration for your first novel, Finding Beth

    There’s this group that I was in called Romance Writers of America, which is great because not only does it have something like 10,000 members, but it’s also one of the only groups that allows unpublished authors to join. But, I went to one of their national conferences in Washington, D.C., and while I was there I visited the Jamestown exhibit at the Smithsonian [Written in Bone] and I started thinking, and then the story kind of followed from there.

    Why did you decide to self-publish your work, and how did you get started with that process? 

    Well, when I first finished my first novel I tried to submit it to various agents, and I kind of got a crash course in publishing. I got my rejections back with lots of red ink and tried to rewrite a couple things that I submitted before setting on which novel I wanted to go out first. At that point self-publishing was just really becoming popular, and I realized that I didn’t want to go on with traditional publishing. I didn’t want to be confined by their edits or in what I could write. I feel like there’s a pretty narrow line for traditional publishing—it’s more about selling and not as an organic process in writing about what you want to write about—so I chose to go into self-publishing. Once I decided, before publishing, I had an editor who used to work for a major publishing house edit my book and I was thrilled with the final copy. It’s also great that with self-publishing my book has no shelf life because I can promote it as long as I would like.

    Why did you decide to print your book rather than just put out an e-book version? 

    Finding Beth is a young adult novel, and that age group still prefers to have a book in their hands, which I definitely understand. There is an e-book version, but I’ve sold more print copies through Amazon than e-books.

    What do you love the most about self-publishing over traditional publishing? 

    I think one of my favorite things is getting to avoid the gatekeepers. Publishers feel like they know exactly what people want, and what they want to read, but time and time again different books have proved that this is not always true. Self-publishing allows a more open relationship with the public [ . . . ] you feel more connected with your book and your readers.

    What was the biggest challenge you faced while self-publishing? Maybe an issue you wouldn’t have had if you had gone with a traditional publisher? 

    Definitely marketing; I’m shy and it can be really uncomfortable because, when you sell your book, you feel like you’re selling yourself. With a traditional publisher you have a marketing team, but in the end your book is only going to sell if you believe in it and push it yourself. It’s something that I’ve been working on recently, and I’ve also taken some classes in marketing to try and improve

    Any advice for new or aspiring authors in regards to marketing their book? 

    First I would say to make an author site on Facebook and also try and get e-mails so that you can send out a newsletter. The latter is especially great because it lets potential readers that already like your work know when you publish new material. Overall, it’s a business, just like anything else, and the best advice I have is that you have to decide you’re going to put yourself out there and market your book and do it.

    What’s your writing schedule like, considering you’re juggling family, work, writing, and even the publishing aspects? 

    Especially right now, since at the moment I’m editing a new novel I’m going to send to the editor in two weeks and I’m writing another book I want to send to her in April, I’m extremely busy. I work as a nurse, so usually I’ll write at 3 in the morning or so before I go to work. It sounds crazy, but I love it because writing energizes me, so if I get up and write in the morning I’m jazzed to go to work. The publishing and marketing stuff I usually work on at night after work, because that stuff is more draining.

    Any final advice for aspiring authors? 

    I would just say that the only one who can truly tell you no is yourself. There’s always a way to get your story out if you really work for it. Other than that, I think people forget that writing is work, and you have to treat it like that. If you want to be a writer then the most important thing is to actually write.
  • About the Author
    Ellen Hancock is a Professional Writing major at Miami University where she writes for Miami Quarterly and plans events with Miami Activities and Programming (MAP). She is currently a junior and is planning to attend law school in the near future.
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    Monday, April 18, 2016

    Reviewing the Valhalla Trilogy by Ari Bach

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    Violent, risk-taking, and rule-breaking, Ari Bach's Valhalla trilogy isn't your usual sci-fi series.  ♦ 
    When I first discovered the Valhalla trilogy by Ari Bach, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I’d followed a blog on Tumblr called Facts I Just Made Up because I’d thought it was entertaining, but I hadn’t expected to see promotional posts for the blogrunner’s book, Valhalla. I briefly checked it out and wasn’t terribly interested. Sci-fi/Horror? It wasn’t really a genre I read often. It looked interesting, sure, but did I really want to spend the money and time reading it?
        Then the second book, Ragnarök, came out, and there started to be even more posts about the series, including one that talked about how the protagonist was a lesbian. My interest skyrocketed; an LGBTQ protagonist made all the difference, and I later discovered that there was a nonbinary trans character as well. Suddenly it wasn’t just any old sci-fi book anymore, nor did it seem to be the kind of LGBTQ story that makes up much of the genre—that is, the “coming out and acceptance” story. It’s LGBTQ genre fiction, which there is not enough of. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to get the books right away, which worked out fine; I waited to get the books until the third and final of the series, Gudsriki, came out in October, 2015, so I could binge-read the entire trilogy all at once.
        The Valhalla trilogy is unlike any other book series I’ve ever read, and certainly none of the science fiction I’ve read really matches up to it. These are without a doubt the most violent and graphic books I’ve ever read, and on some level, the kind of story you might expect to have a straight male protagonist who then goes on to beat all the odds and get the girl in the end and live happily ever after. Except, it’s not. It’s really not. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact opposite. Instead, Valhalla is a story that follows a young woman named Violet McRae, who is considered too violent for society in the year 2230. In the first fifteen pages of the book Violet sees her parents murdered and then kills the three men responsible, and the violence only escalates from there; Violet is recruited by an organization called Valhalla, a kind of secret paramilitary group made up of outcasts (like her) who are considered throwbacks to an earlier, more barbaric time in human history, and in whose service Violet gets to kill people for a living with a specialized insect-knife that’s made out of her sternum and lives in her chest. (NOTE: From this point on, my review will contain a number of minor and major spoilers, so proceed at your own risk.)      
        To put it bluntly, Valhalla is a fucked up series about fucked up people, and things just get more fucked up as you go. However, that’s not always a bad thing. The characters are not just assholes, or just x or just y; they’re multifaceted and incredibly interesting. There was one character who, at the beginning of the first book, I loved and adored, thought he was hilarious and great, but by the end of the series I resented him and thought his death (I said there would be spoilers) completely deserved. Something I noticed, especially as I was reading the second book, is that you sometimes forget that the characters are terrible people. Their job as part of Valhalla is to keep the world safe from a variety of threats, but just because they have a worthy goal doesn’t mean they’re good people, and the books do a really good job of walking (and sometimes blurring) the fine line between moral behavior and what is considered unacceptable.
        The background world that the Valhalla trilogy takes places in is fascinating, set in a future where the world is no longer run by governments as we know them today but is instead divided between two corporations, GAUNE and UNEGA. GAUNE owns the Americas and UKI (United Kingdom Incorporated) while UNEGA owns essentially everything else, save the oceans, which belong to by a group of modified fish-people called Cetaceans. This future is not considered dystopian in the way that The Hunger Games or The Giver are dystopian, but there are certainly aspects of the story that have an element of dystopia. Religion has been banned due to religious wars, and the violent militarization of religion—specifically a pretty clear Christian/Muslim divide that’s all the more unsettling for the reader considering what’s going on in our world right now—is a recurring theme throughout the trilogy, especially in the third book. The government also owns all the gangs, so even crime is in part orchestrated by these “corporate governments.” It’s creepy when you break it down, but the disasters that occur in the book are not brought about by trying to overthrow these corporations. As dystopian as the setting may seem, Valhalla is not “dystopian fiction.” It borrows from the genre in order to look at our own world and, even more, to examine the darker parts of human nature.
        Some of the most traumatic moments of violence depicted in the books—which might keep some readers away from the series—are two instances of an attempted sexual assault. The first one is more mentioned than shown, which is probably the more tactful way to go about it, and in this instance the would-be attackers, all men, are murdered for the attempt, but the other instance is something you see happen on the page, though it doesn’t go overly far. (There is also reference made to sexual assault that happened to a character as a child.) While it is made clear that rape is a crime for which the death sentence is the best option, I was nevertheless left wondering, Why include those scenes of sexual violence in the first place? The scenes are for the most part handled well, or at least as well as they could be, and the final verdict will be up to the individual reader, but the subject matter is nevertheless difficult to get through, and something a reader ought to know about going in.
        So, given everything I’ve just said about the level of graphic violence in the trilogy, you might now be asking yourself: Why on earth would I want to read something so messed up?
        To which I would answer: There’s much more to Valhalla than mindless violence.
       For one, Valhalla is, in spots, a very funny series. Even in the darkest of storylines, I would sometimes find myself startled into a laugh by the excellently witty prose and surprising humor, which are both so well-placed and well-paced that they don’t detract from the darkness of the story, though they help keep the graphic content from being overwhelming.
        Just as surprising are the complex characterizations throughout; as I said before, this seems like the kind of story where the hero gets the girl and lives happily ever after, like we’ve seen a million times before, but instead of following the usual clichés, Bach gives us characters who feel as complicated and unpredictable as real people. Violet’s love interest in the trilogy is her teammate Vibeke, and their relationship isn’t exactly classic romance. For example, Violet and Vibeke don’t last (there’s one more spoiler), and the relationship between the two is neither the beginning nor end of Vibeke’s love life; she has a romantic history, like all of us (before Violet, Vibeke is with a woman named Mishka) and even after Violet there’s a woman named Nel. Not all of these are good, healthy, relationships or even real relationships—one of them is faked as part of a mission—because, again, every person in the series is incredibly fucked up; Violet herself is not exactly a good person, and she’s the protagonist of the first two books. But this is a strength of the books: the characters feel real, not like proscribed types.
        Though this brings me to my last point, and one of my biggest reservations in the series: all four lesbian characters die (the one nonbinary trans character, however, doesn’t) and, as a result, the big question that’s been plaguing me ever since I finished the series was whether this falls directly into the “bury your gays” trope. If you aren’t familiar with the trope, it’s essentially the clichéd notion, overused in fiction, that a gay couple cannot be happy and, as a result, one or both with meet an unfortunate end (i.e., die). Admittedly, in Valhalla, anyone can die (and most everyone does), which could lead you to say that this isn’t the “bury your gays” trope being employed … but it’s nevertheless a very fine line. The end of Gudsriki, the final book of the trilogy, has the Earth flooding, and everyone but the fish people perish. However, Nel and Vibeke die because of other circumstances, and as much as it may sound strange, their death, for them, is a sort of happy ending. It feels earned in an interesting way, and doesn’t feel like the too-easy “bury your gays” trope, both because ninety percent of the world’s population dies and, in the end, the lesbian couple is together, a weird sort of bittersweet happy ending.
        In the final analysis, I’m not going to argue that you should run to Amazon or Barnes & Noble to buy these books; I’m certainly aware that this series is not for everyone, and I included the warnings I did for a reason. But if the criteria of LGBTQ genre fiction, graphic violence, and witty writing are something you might be interested in, take a shot at it.
  • About the Author
    Thomas Gurinskas is a Creative and Professional Writing double major at Miami University. He’s not sure when he’s going to graduate, but it’s not going to be on time. He likes to live-snap the books he’s reading for his friends on Snapchat to see. Sometimes, if he deems the comments witty enough, he posts the snaps to his blog. Follow his reviews online here.
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    The Return of Print: How "Visual Writing" Reclaims the Page

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    E-readers have shown off some impressive bells and whistles. Now it's print's turn to show what physical can do that electronic can't.  ♦ 
    E-readers have become a large part of the contemporary reading experience ever since Amazon released the Kindle in 2007. A recent Pew Research study found that the ownership of e-readers has risen since 2012 and that, as of 2014, 50 percent of American adults owned some type of reading device. Many had begun predicting the fallout and eventual death of print publishing based on the rise in e-readership, but while it’s true that millions of books are still being published electronically every year, thanks in part to Kindle Direct Publishing, sales of e-books have actually begun to decrease, save for the adult erotica genre.
        With this decline in e-book sales has come an increase for the printed adult paperback, hardcover, young adult, and religious categories. In 2015, bookstore sales rose by 2.5%, which was the first increase since 2007. The number of bookstores is going up as well, and indie bookstores have been especially successful.
        There are many reasons why there has been an upswing in the sales of printed works, and one of those is that some publishing houses have been reinvesting in what print and the physical form is capable of. One such publishing house is London’s Visual Editions, which describes their impeccably-designed books “visual writing”: “Visual elements can come in all shapes and guises: they could be crossed out words, or photographs, or die-cuts, or blank pages, or better yet something we haven’t seen. The main thing is that the visuals aren’t gimmicky, decorative or extraneous, they are key to the story they are telling. And without them, that story would be something altogether different.” Visual Editions exclusively publishes books that employ some type of visual rhetoric, and as their editors have noted, “There is a rich literary heritage for this kind of writing and this very much forms the basis for what we’re setting out to do.”
        This concept of “visual writing” is nothing new; author Marc Saporta published Composition no 1: roman in 1962, which was a book in a box that came with 150 loose-leaf pages, each with a section of the story. The instructions asked the reader to shuffle the pages and read the story in that order. Visual Editions published a new edition of Saporta’s novel in 2011.
        Many other authors have experimented with their own ideas of creating novels that have certain visual or interactive aspects that cannot be replicated on an e-reader or tablet. They are not necessarily attempting to combat the electronic reading experience but rather are drawn to a rich form of art that allows authors to express themselves through some alternative forms of publishing.
        Some of these other books include Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer took the book The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz and used die-cut techniques to quite literally cut out a new story by carving out the words he did not need. Now, the new story that emerged could be written and published electronically, but then a reader would not have the experience of seeing the disfigured pages and trying to read the words whittled from another novel.
    Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer
        Another popular example is S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. This experience of visual writing begins with the packaging of this work, which resembles the look of an old book called Ship of Theseus. The pages are comprised of typed words and a written story, which is Ship of Theseus proper, but the margins contain a second level of story via handwritten notes between two people passing the book back and forth. In order to understand the entire journey, one must read all of these notes, which are written in two distinctive handwritings as well as different colors to signify writing on different days. There are also postcards, letters, maps, and other memorabilia and hints scattered throughout the pages, which must be read and then reinserted in-between the same pages. Everything is placed just so in order to ensure a reader “discovers” a clue exactly when he or she was supposed to. The authors sought to create a very immersive experience.
        The list of alternative forms of print publishing goes on, and it’s not only fictional novels that are experimenting with visual writing. A company in Croatia has published several books that contain their annual reports and other business materials, but these glow in the dark. Another German design firm has printed a cookbook on pages made of pasta that can later be baked into a lasagna. And, of course, McSweeney’s is an American magazine that is printed in a new format with each publication.
        Readers have found visual novels to be works of art in more ways than just the writing. These books turn reading into an even more interactive and engaging experience. And what this underscores is that reading in print is about more than just the presentation of the words on a page; the physical, tactile, and spatial nature of reading in print is part of the experience. Readers who have stood by the printed word amidst the wave of e-reading have long expressed their fondness for a physical book to hold and have a capability of writing in it. They like to save their place by folding over the corner, put notes in the margins, and even smell a brand new novel. Visual writing simply takes those actions a step further by enhancing the interactive experience that books already offer. Miami student and avid reader Alison Block said, “You form a personal connection with a book . . . A Kindle, no matter how many books you read on it, you could just throw it away because those books are immaterial.”
        When asked about visual writing, Block said, “Those (books) are interesting. [They’re] so different from what’s been thought of as the novel for the past 400 years. I like . . . these people experimenting with art.” Ms. Block is not the only one excited to see what the physical book is capable of. Print publishing is far from over, and many readers are eager to see what authors try next as they explore this art of visual writing.
  • About the Author
    Ashley Frahm is a junior in the Professional Writing major and Sociology minor at Miami University. She participates on the varsity track and field team, as well as in Cru, a.k.a. Campus Crusade for Christ. When she can find the time, she loves to relax by reading, hammocking, or watching Netflix. Mostly the latter.
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    Too Much of a Good Thing

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    Publishing's continual repackaging of the Last Big Hit may cater to demand, but it keeps the industry from moving forward. ♦ 
    Imagine walking into a bookstore and glancing along the shelves. In your mind’s eye, you might see a diversity of books of all shapes, sizes, and subjects…but now imagine that you’ve walked onto a particular aisle, for one genre or another, and try to visualize what you’d see. Very likely, you’d notice that many of the covers have a similar feel, and a closer inspection of the back jacket you might reveal that these books also have similar themes and ideas, similar types of heroes and conflicts and settings. Do you ever find yourself wondering why this is? Do you ever feel irritated to be surrounded by virtually the same books every season, just in slightly different packaging? This is because, whenever a book becomes a major success in the literary world and among readers, there is a tendency for bandwagoners to come out of the woodwork, and almost immediately publishers are on the hunt for any almost-kinda-like-it story they can find to turn a quick buck off a hot trend.
        History repeats itself, and so do breakout stories. One great example of this is the rise in the paranormal romance genre. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight hit the shelves in 2005, and soon thereafter the book became a staple on most teens’ and young adult girls’ bookshelves, and even more paranormal romance books began to spring up. Love stories consisting of vampires, werewolves, humans, and their romantic relations quickly became a majority of YA books coming out. The popularity of this idea spread quickly and widely, even transcending just the book industry and making its way into movies and television with shows like The Vampires Diaries and True Blood, which came out just in time to ride the moneymaking wave that was paranormal romance. Paranormal romance is still in the marketplace today—and, as of this writing, still has an entire section devoted to it at your local bookstore—but the genre seems to be slowly fading out.
        The rule is “nothing golden can ever stay”—every genre and subgenre sees the end to its reign at some point. They can be recycled years later, perhaps, but their popularity can never stay at the top the entire time … but, when writers and publishers bandwagon onto a genre or subgenre, suddenly the marketplace becomes oversaturated. Readers become tired of reading similar books that maybe they once could not get enough of. This boredom calls for the rise in a new genre which will, inevitably, see the same rise and fall.
        Following paranormal romance, for example, the next big genre to hit the shelves was (and still is) dystopia, where futuristic worlds and dysfunctional societies became the newest book “fad.” The breakaway moment for this genre was when Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games came out in 2008. Her book brought to life the story of the future of our world, creating a society that was intricate and so different from the one we live in today. The dictatorial government and the chaos that emerges from the oppression intrigued many readers, as did the chance to root for an everyperson battling the system in the form of Katniss Everdeen. Quickly, though, many books contained dictatorships in a future world where a hero or heroine breaks away from the norm and starts a rebellion, following the same basic mold, including books like Divergent, Matched, and The Maze Runner. The literary world was not only flooded with these books, all following the same genre and basic story, but with sequels and entire trilogies from that genre hammering the market. The Hunger Games came out in 2008, and in 2016 dystopian books are still everywhere…but how much longer will it be before publishing’s tendency to glut the market has made everything that was once innovative and interesting about the genre completely watered-down and predictable?
        Admittedly, part of publishing’s strategy has to do with reader demand; some people love one book so much they will blow through any book with a resemblance. But, on the other side of things, many readers find it frustrating when it seems like no story is fresh and exciting. So why does the industry take a good thing and essentially “ruin” it? The most logical reason would be money. It seems that publishing follows the idea of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” and if publishers put out a book that is a wide success, they are most likely going to keep publishing books of a similar type to keep up the good revenues. Instead of being adventurous, they choose to go with what they know will sell. This is an understandable business technique, of course, and once the genre receives less attention, they will move on to the next safe bet and go where the money is sure to follow.
        But, as well as this works as a business model in the short term, in the longer term publishing should move away from these sales tactics. You will not have people complaining about how annoying some types of books are, or entire genres of books, because they will not be swamped in them. A wider spread in the types of books published, and the types of risks publishers are willing to take, will promote more diversity and constant new or interestingly reworked ideas. The last thing an author wants is for their books to be lumped into a genre that people are sick and tired of reading, or even hearing discussed. So here’s my call to the publishing world: keep publishing good books, but please stop publishing too much of a good thing.
  • About the Author
    Kenzie Delaney is a sophomore English Professional Writing major at Miami University. Her favorite hobby is curling up with her cat, some tea, and a good book. She is hoping to contribute to the publishing industry after graduation.
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    Wednesday, April 13, 2016

    When Adaptation Goes Horribly Wrong

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    How Jane Austen’s many filmic interpretations might actually be damaging the originals. ♦ 
    Jane Austen is a classic novelist whose books have stood the test of time and proven relatable for each new generation of readers . . . and moviegoers. For decades, the film industry has found new ways to tell the classic stories written by Austen for seasoned fans and newcomers alike. These movies range in adaptation from those that stay true to the story and time period, such as 2005’s Pride & Prejudice starring Kiera Knightly, to loose modern interpretations such as 1995’s Clueless with Alicia Silverstone. Many of these contemporary retellings have become cult classics by taking Austen’s stories and sharing them in new ways. But, despite being instant hits, are these films changing the message and value of the original text? Are these films still Jane Austen at all?
        Here’s an example: recently a film titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released (based on the mash-up parody by Seth Grahame-Smith) which followed the original plotline of Austen’s novel, up to a point, but catered to a new audience through incorporating the idea of zombies and zombie hunters. Although it was not a flop in the box office, the film was unable to portray the intended intimacy and message as provided by Austen all those years ago (given, of course, all the zombies). But do adaptations such as this one prompt viewers to seek more information about the original source? Adding a new spin to a classic tale such as Pride & Prejudice offers the opportunity, at least, to open up a new audience for Austen, such as those interested in sci-fi or fantasy genres. But it seems unlikely that this potential new audience will rush right out to the classics section of the bookstore to search out more Jane Austen, in spite of the fact that Austen’s name and association are right up front.
        Ironically, in the case of some of the more famous (and faithful) movie adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, there’s a good chance that the moviegoing audience didn’t realize that Austen was the source at all. Films such as Clueless and Bridget Jones’ Diary take the main idea of the Austen’s stories and use it to tell their own story. For example, Clueless is based off of Emma. It tells the story of a girl who is so concerned with the well-being of others that she forgets to think of the well-being of herself. This film, which is considered a cult classic, almost directly mirrors the story line of Austen’s novel; however, this is not necessarily a known aspect of the story. With the exception of those few Austen fans, and general movie buffs, many people who bought their ticket to the move may not have realized that Clueless is actually based on another story. This has the ramifications of people not realizing and understanding the classic storyline, and why it is so important (or that’s they might enjoy more buy visiting their local bookstore). Austen’s novels are timeless pieces; they tell a story that anyone can relate to at any time. But by telling the story in a contemporary context, without overtly acknowledging the source, it can change the way the story is told and received.
        In other words, although these movies are creative ways for Austen’s stories to be told in a new light, it seems as though they are slowly erasing, and rewriting, the meaning behind Austen’s original words.
        It is important to understand that, although a text might need updating, it doesn’t always need changed. Today, though, there are many film adaptations of classic novels that are changing the way we view a story. As a fan of Jane Austen, I believe that it is important for the story to be told in its truest nature. Austen’s work has stood the test of time for over one hundred years for a reason. Her novels, in their purest form, are true pieces of art. In comparison, these movies and films being created in the name of Austen’s novels, those that aren’t replicas of the story, seem to be mass-produced pieces that aren’t made to stay. These films benefit from Austen, for sure, but it’s unclear that Austen or her readers always benefit from the films.
        It is time that we as a generation begin to understand the importance of classic novels, the meaning behind them, and what they can teach us. They’re much too meaningful to be reduced to a fun way to kill two hours at your local multiplex.
  • About the Author
    Abbey Sanderson is a student at Miami University studying Public Relations and Professional Writing. She is working to become a member of the Publishing Industry as a public relations specialist for novels and novelists. In her spare time, Abbey enjoys working with her sorority’s philanthropy and traveling abroad.
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    Monday, April 11, 2016

    Behind Our Masks: The Questions Superheroes Ask of Us

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    For over eighty years, the superhero genre has helped reveal our own secret identities. ♦ 
    It’s no secret that America loves superheroes. Our highest grossing movies, our most popular TV shows, and even our video games are often a reflection of this adoration for men and women with supernatural abilities and talents. Why is that? What’s so fascinating about a grown man dressing up in tights and wearing a hat with bat ears going out and beating muggers half to death with his bare hands? Why do we revel in the idea of a Superman instead of revile it? Perhaps it’s because superheroes are, in a way, a blank canvas for us to paint ourselves onto. Beneath the mask, the hero can be anyone (well, usually a white male, though maybe recent heroes like Miles Morales and Kamala Khan signal a change in the demographic), and this idea allows us to identify with superheroes in a very intimate and psychological way. If you ask someone that you’ve never met, “If you could have one or two super powers, what would they be and why?” either they have an answer or it won’t take long for them to think of one. Superheroes are an artful and compelling way for us to extend ourselves beyond our limitations, to imagine a better now and a bright future.
        It’s because of this ability to identify that comic book characters function so well as an analysis of our own identity, both as individuals and as Americans. Comic book characters are the perfect template for us to ask questions of ourselves, each a new and problematic variation of the question we all have for ourselves, “Who am I?” Comic book heroes and villains allow us to inquire into who we are through powerful narratives of individuals who fight for something greater than themselves. What’s so powerful about these characters is the variation in questions that we ask when faced with the different symbols and masks of these mild-mannered journalists, billionaires, and scientists.
        Batman is my favorite superhero for a reason; it’s because of the character’s ability to inspire certain questions within us, especially dealing with loss. The story of Batman is a tragic one, and
    Artist: Dave Mazzucchelli
    for all of his accomplishments and victories, he is still very much the little boy that watched his parents get gunned down in Crime Alley, kneeling, forever broken, next to their fallen forms. Batman’s city inevitably matches this mentality within the Caped Crusader. No matter how hard Batman tries, there is always crime in Gotham City, just as there is always that brokenness within Bruce Wayne. The questions that Batman asks of us are as numerous as they are challenging. First and foremost, however, the story of Batman presents itself to me as the question of how we deal with loss. Within the context of Bruce’s story, however, this question may be better phrased as, “What does it look like to never let go of grief?” This is ultimately what Batman shows us. No matter how much he fights, no matter how many Robins he trains, or how many victims he saves from the Joker’s death traps, he is still very much the boy that misses his parents. This grief is what fuels him to fight injustice, but it’s also what holds him back from ever moving on. In fact, in many iterations of Batman, we see a character unwilling to move on from that grief.
        In Frank Miller’s iconic The Dark Knight Returns, we see a Batman that has been out of the game for ten years, and now attempts to make the titular return to his crime-fighting ways. To find the Batman, the part of himself that he thought he had discarded, Bruce must cloak himself once again in the memories of that night when he lost everything. He surrounds himself with his pain and grief, and they once again become his weapons against evil. While painfully compelling, this movement within Bruce is also a cautionary tale to the reader. Batman shows us what it’s like to never let go, to never move on from the dark places in our lives. Batman forces us to ask ourselves, if we are so willing, “What injustices, what tragedies do I refuse to let go of?” Are there any parts of our lives that, while being detrimental to us, are so formative that they are almost comforting? I know, personally, that keeping the sadness within me was at some points far more comfortable than letting it go. Is this because we are all spiritual masochists like the Dark Knight? Or is it because, having moved on from our grief, we have trouble finding out who we are? If the dark times in our lives don’t define us, what does? Who am I, if I’m not a product of what has happened to me?
        Those are exactly the sort of questions that a very different hero raises within us. If Batman is the night, then Superman is the day. He derives his powers from sunlight, and Superman is often synonymous with flying through a clear blue sky, overlooking Metropolis, keeping a watchful eye out for disaster. Superman is a hero of near limitless potential. His powers are seldom concretely defined, with writers often preferring to make him as strong as he needs to be for the situation at hand. It isn’t the amount of strength that Superman possesses that makes him so compelling, though, but that he always has enough strength to overcome the challenges he faces. I often was reluctant to identify with Superman when I was younger, seeing him as lame or overpowered. Why would I ever read a comic about a superhero that can do everything? Where’s the struggle? Where’s the conflict? There can’t be a satisfying victory without something to overcome, and this is where Superman loses so many viewers, readers, and fans.
    Artist: Curt Swan
       When we do this, however, we are asking the wrong questions of Superman. If we want to read about a hero consistently taking a beating, we should look more in the direction of Daredevil. Superman was never about the enemies he faces, because he always wins anyway. His ability to beat the odds, to overcome obstacles, is what makes him so fascinating to begin with. Superman asks of us very different kinds of questions, as he is more god than man. When reading Superman, I often find myself asking, “Am I living up to my full potential? What would I do with all that power?”
        We would all like to picture ourselves as Superman, for two distinct reasons. Firstly, imagining ourselves as wildly powerful, with the ability to make real lasting change upon the world, is an extremely compelling notion. Who wouldn’t want that kind of power, if only just to fly around the world for a few days of vacation? Sure, Superman has a weakness, but the beauty of Kryptonite is that Superman can spot it from a mile away and knows how to deal with it. So often in our lives we feel weighed down by unseen forces, like we are failing for unknown reasons. Being able to know what is impeding us, and knowing the confines and definitions of our weaknesses, could help us to overcome those same weaknesses.
        We’re also drawn to the Man of Steel because of his uniqueness, which, ironically, often isolates him. How many of us feel like we’re different than others in ways we can’t quite explain? After all, Superman looks like a human, he acts like a human, but that doesn’t mean he’s one of us. Many of us often feel like Clark Kent without the benefit of Superman. We feel like we haven’t discovered what makes us super, we don’t know the extent of our secret identity. We feel that we could be so much better than we are right now, but we just don’t know our own powers. Superman is so enduring within American pop culture because he shows us that there are answers to those questions, even if we don’t know what they are yet.
        This idea, that superheroes uniquely allow us to ask questions of ourselves, isn’t limited to the World’s Finest. It can work for any superhero. Spider-man asks us, “What kind of responsibilities does someone with power have?” Green Lantern: “What do I do when I’m afraid?” Honestly, this process can work for any character in fiction, or even real people, if we look at them the right way, but superheroes are much easier to do this with because they are intentionally equipped to answer these questions. They were created with these questions in mind. While I have my own answers to many of these questions, I’m not going to put them here. These heroes can be looked at and adapted in so many different ways, and this allows every person who reads about them to ask different things of themselves, and develop different answers to the questions they find in these characters,
         There’s also a lot of punching. No other method of self-discovery has so much punching.
  • About the Author
    Tom Mullenix is a 15th-level writer (out of 100), a 4th-level copywriter, and a 6th-level warlock. He’s currently studying Creative Writing and Philosophy at Miami University and will use any excuse to write about comic book characters or wizards. Any excuse. Visit him online at tommullenix.com.
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