Today’s Art (20th November 2016)

Today is the Transgender Day Of Remembrance. This is a day that is held every year to remember transgender people around the world who have died as a result of anti-transgender violence or hatred. This violence and hatred is worse in some parts of the world than others, but it’s still depressing that it happens anywhere in this day and age.

I know that I’ve probably said this before but, contrary to the impression that you might get from the modern media (on both the left and the right), there’s absolutely nothing “new” about transgender people.

This is a timeless and natural human variation, which has always existed and will always exist regardless of culture, religion, location, politics etc.. So, you’d think that the world would have got used to it by now.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Transgender Day Of Remembrance 2016" By C. A. Brown

“Transgender Day Of Remembrance 2016” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (20th November 2015)

Today is the Transgender Day Of Remembrance. This is a day held every year on the 20th November to remember transgender people around the world who have died as a result of prejudice and hatred.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Transgender Day Of Remembrance 2015" By C. A. Brown

“Transgender Day Of Remembrance 2015” By C. A. Brown

My Thoughts On Unfulfilled Romantic Sub-Plots In Fiction

2015 Artwork Unfulfilled romantic sub plots article

Although this is an article about writing and storytelling, I’m probably going to end up talking about TV shows and LGBT stuff for most of this article. There’s a good reason for this and I hope that it becomes obvious. But, I should probably point out now that this article will contain some SPOILERS for seasons three to five of “Supernatural”.

Anyway, a while before I wrote this article, I was randomly looking at online articles about an excellent American horror/fantasy TV show I’ve been watching on and off on DVD over the past couple of months called “Supernatural“.

If you’ve never seen this show before, it’s a series that is initially about two brothers (Sam and Dean) who travel around America and solve various scary paranormal mysteries. However, from about the third or fourth season onwards, it gradually becomes more of a fantasy/thriller series about Sam and Dean’s attempts to prevent the apocalypse from happening.

When I was reading articles about this show, I learnt that there’s actually an academic word for situations in stories where it’s clear that there isn’t a romantic relationship between two characters (who are the same sex) and, yet, the story also keeps dropping tantalising hints that there might be something between these two characters.

“Supernatural” is absolutely crammed with this kind of stuff, partially as a result of having several extremely attractive male characters in the main cast (eg: Sam, Castiel, and Dean ).

In fact, the show itself even contains a few knowing in-jokes about people who write romantic fan fiction about Sam and Dean, despite the fact that they’re supposed to be brothers in the TV show.

Then there’s the fact that one episode from season four revolves around Sam and Dean trying to catch a siren-like creature who plays on men’s desires in order to trick them into murdering people.

This siren often appears as various beautiful women throughout most of the episode, but when the siren appears to Dean – it takes the form of a slightly good-looking male FBI agent, instead of one of the many beautiful woman Dean often tries to chat up.

But, of course, when it’s revealed that this particular character is the siren – the siren quickly points out that it took this form because it knew that Dean secretly desired a better travelling companion than Sam and that – of course – nothing romantic was involved.

I’ve read some opinion articles on the internet which argue that these kinds of storylines are a bad thing. And, I can sort of understand why some people might think this – after all, these shows are trying to attract a LGBT audience, without actually including any proper LGBT content (lest it “offend” more narrow-minded members of the audience who are horrified by the idea that they might see a romantic storyline that they can’t connect with emotionally ).

It can also be said that these kinds of stories are, in their own way, inherently unsatisfying and disappointing.

I can also see the argument that most of the shows that include these storylines usually aren’t as coy when it comes to depicting straight romances (“Supernatural” certainly isn’t), so it’s kind of a double standard.

It also kind of plays into the old-fashioned idea that gay, lesbian and bi romances are too “shocking” to show, whereas straight romance is a perfectly “normal” thing.

But, on the other hand, there’s also something wonderful – in the literal sense of the word– about these types of stories. After all, they invite the audience to use their own imaginations – and, well, any romance that takes place in the audience’s imaginations is probably far more romantic than anything that actors could depict on a screen. Plus, unlike countless boring on-screen romances, these kinds of storylines give the romantic parts of the show a frisson of mystery and intrigue.

Most importantly, whilst these kinds of storylines might annoy some gay or lesbian members of the audience, they’re an absolute godsend to bi audiences.

Since there are hardly any bi characters on TV, even the subtlest hint that a character may have an interest in both men and women can be an extremely liberating and fascinating thing.

Not only that, I’d also argue that these kinds of storylines aren’t exactly an exclusively LGBT thing – I mean, just look at “The X-Files“. Throughout the entire show, there’s a – mostly – unfulfilled romantic tension between Mulder and Scully.

Likewise, in what I’ve seen of a show called “The West Wing“, there’s a long-running unfulfilled romance between at least two of the straight characters (eg: Josh and Donna).

In a way, these kinds of storylines are “fan service” done right. There’s plenty of romantic content for members of the audience who enjoy it, but the romantic aspects of the show don’t get in the way of the actual story itself. If you aren’t interested in the romantic parts of the show, then they’re subtle enough to be easily ignored. But if you are interested in them, then they’re still very noticeable.

I guess that the trick to including these kinds of romantic subtexts in a story is to apply them in a more equal way. In other words, if you’re going to include unfulfilled LGBT romance, then include unfulfilled straight romance too. If you’re going to explicitly show straight romance, then do the same for LGBT romance too. Or, even better, actually include a few openly bi characters in your story.

But, at the same time, there’s often only usually room for one or two romantic sub-plots in a story – so, there shouldn’t really be any “rules” here. Just go for whatever works best in the context of your story.

——-

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of…. Spy Fiction

2014 Artwork Joy Of Spy Fiction sketch

Whilst I haven’t really read that many spy-themed novels (I can only think of about four or five off of the top of my head), I’ve read more than my fair share of detective and thriller novels and the spy novels that I’ve read aren’t too different from these in terms of plot, plot structure and atmosphere.

So, why am I writing about spy fiction in particular today?

Well, it’s because I love the genre when I see it in other formats – I love TV shows like “Bugs”, “Alias” and “Burn Notice”. I also quite like the “James Bond” movies, even though I absolutely hate playing computer and video games that revolve around sneaking around places. In fact, the only spy-themed video game that I actually like is “Goldeneye” for the Nintendo 64.

So, although I have a relatively limited experience of this genre, why is the spy genre so awesome?

Well, I can think of at least three reasons – the first one is that it gives us a fascinating (albeit fictionalised) glimpse into a world that is, by definition, hidden from us most of the time.

People are, by our very nature, curious and spy fiction can help us feel that our curiosity about the things that our governments do in secret has been satisfied. Of course, when details of what spies actually do are leaked to the media (like with Edward Snowden’s shocking revelations last year), it’s usually nowhere near as glamourous as spy fiction makes it out to be.

In fact, far from being glamourous, it’s usually slightly creepy and dystopic. I mean, the idea that faceless officials can be snooping on everyone’s personal data for no reason whatsoever is straight out of a George Orwell novel. So, shouldn’t this mean that spy fiction is inherently dishonest and – dare I say it – even a form of pro-Government propaganda? Possibly, but I’d argue otherwise.

Spy fiction gives us the comforting illusion that spies are actually principled people who use their skills and resources purely to stop nefarious criminal and/or terrorist plots and not to snoop on everyone’s e-mails, nude photos, phone records etc.. just because they can. Call me naive but, for the sake of my sanity, I prefer to think about the illusion rather than the reality.

In fact, whilst spy fiction might show governmental agents in a mostly positive way, I’d argue that this is more of a psychological coping mechanism for writers and readers who live in a dystopic world than anything to do with propaganda.

Secondly, spy fiction is a genre of fiction that relies entirely on intellect and resourcefulness. Although spy-themed TV shows, novels etc… might feature the occasional car chase, gunfight etc.. it isn’t really as much of a macho genre as the “James Bond” movies might make it out to be.

After all, the whole point of a spy is someone who can do things in secret in a way that the bad guys won’t notice. In other words, a good spy story is actually a story about a battle of intellects between the good guys and the bad guys. So, if you’re slightly nerdy in any way – then you’ll probably relish the chance to see someone solve problems using their brain rather than their fists.

If action movies are uplifting power fantasies for people who like to think of themselves as “tough”, then spy stories are uplifting power fantasies for people who like to think of themselves as “intelligent”.

Finally (and sorry for shoehorning yet another LGBT metaphor into one of these “the joy of…” articles), spy fiction can also be a very cathartic genre if you are LGBT in any way.

Why? Well, because it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ve had to spend at least part of your life hiding who you are from everyone around you (and you possibly still do). You’ve probably had to assume a “cover identity” as a straight person, a non-transgender person etc… in order to survive socially.

And, yes, this is nowhere near as glamourous as the secret identities that spies assume in spy fiction might seem to the uninformed reader. In fact, it can be terrifying and downright soul-destroying. So, seeing stories where this kind of thing is presented as “heroic” and “dramatic” can be incredibly comforting.

———

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Body Horror

2014 Artwork Joy Of Body Horror sketch

Well, since I can’t think of any good advice about writing or art today, I thought that I’d write about one of my favourite horror sub-genres and why it is such a divinely beautiful type of fiction.

I am, of course, talking about body horror. This essay might get a little bit philosophical and introspective, but I hope that it is interesting nonetheless.

If you’re a fan of the horror genre, then you’ve probably heard of “body horror” before – but, if you haven’t, then I should probably explain it briefly. As the name suggests, traditional “body horror” stories revolve around strange things happening to either the main character’s body or the bodies of other characters.

For example, traditional “body horror” stories can involve things like someone mysteriously growing an extra arm or someone slowly mutating into an alien creature etc…

However, I’d argue that “body horror” also includes stories where the main character’s body remains intact, but they discover something “strange” about themselves.

A good example of this would be in a TV show like “Battlestar Galactica“, where several of the human characters suddenly learn that they are actually cylons (a race of human-like robots that the humans are at war with) and they have to come to terms with this fact.

Not only is body horror one of the most theatrical and surreal types of horror fiction, but it is also one of the most introspective types of horror fiction too.

Whilst most other types of horror fiction focus on the main character encountering terrifying and strange things in the outside world, body horror places all of that strangeness firmly within the main character.

In other words, body horror stories are essentially stories about self-discovery, self-loathing and/or self-knowledge.

Often, in body horror stories, there is a strong contrast between the “normal” main character and the “unusual” thing that they discover that they actually are.

Usually, this contrast is intended to scare and unsettle the “ordinary” members of the audience. But, if you’re someone who is already slightly “interesting”, then “body horror” stories can take on a very different – and much more cathartic and educational – tone.

Why?

If – for example – you’re LGBT, then you’ve probably had a moment in the earlier parts of your life when you’ve suddenly realised that you’re slightly different to all or most of the people that you know. Maybe you were lucky enough to fully understand it at the time or to discover all (or part) of it gradually, but maybe you weren’t.

Maybe the first signs of who you are suddenly seemed to come out of the blue, like a dramatic plot twist – leaving you reeling with puzzled incomprehension at yourself and with no-one to explain it to you.

And, emotionally, an experience like this can be very similar to a “body horror” story. After all, in that moment, you’ve seemingly gone from someone you saw as “ordinary” to being someone you (depending on how liberal your surroundings were when you were younger) might see as “strange” or “unusual”.

Of course, this can also be true for any other form of sudden self-discovery too. But, regardless of what it is, reading body horror stories or watching body horror movies can be a wonderfully cathartic experience.

After all, seeing someone else going through something emotionally similar to what you’re going through (or have gone through) can help you feel less alone in the world.

Not only that, “body horror” stories can also be wonderfully educational in a strange way too. Seeing how fictional characters react to strange things happening to them can help you think about how you should react to it. Stories where the main character finds a way to draw strength from their strangeness, can help you to draw strength from your own “strangeness”.

And, even stories where the main character finds a way to hide their “strangeness” can give you a few pointers about how to hide your own “strangeness” if you fear that it won’t be accepted by the people around you. Yes, this isn’t ideal – but if you’re in an enviroment where you feel that your “strangeness” is unlikely to be accepted, then it can be a matter of emotional and social survival at the very least.

It should be obvious, but don’t take any pointers from “body” stories where either the main character’s “strangeness” turns out to be fatal (in any way) or where the main character somehow manages to return to “normal”. As for the first one, the world needs more interesting people like you (seriously, it’d be hell on earth if everyone was *ugh* “normal”) and, as for the second one, you are what you are – trying to turn yourself into something you’re not in order to “fit in” will just bring you nothing but misery.

I guess that what I’m trying to say here is that body horror is such a wonderful genre because it can take on a totally different meaning depending on the type of person you are.

If you’re a “normal” person, then it is just a wonderfully unsettling type of horror fiction – but if you aren’t a “normal” person, then it can be a beautiful – and almost spiritual– genre of fiction.

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (20th November 2014)

The Transgender Day Of Remembrance is a day that is held around the 20th November every year in order to remember transgender people who have died due to hate crimes.

Depressingly, there is a new list of names every year. A new list of people who were killed for nothing more than just being themselves. In 2014, no less.

Transgender people have existed for as long as any other type of people- although how and/or whether we can express who we are has varied greatly throughout different cultures throughout history. You would think that it would be a total non-issue these days.

I’m not that good at expressing my gender in real life (for all sorts of reasons ) and, at most, I tend to look slightly androgynous and use androgynous initals rather than my birth name whenever I can. But many other transgender people across the world do express themseleves fully and they should be able to do so without fear (like anyone else).

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Transgender Day Of Remembrance 2014" By C. A. Brown

“Transgender Day Of Remembrance 2014” By C. A. Brown

The Joy Of… LGBT Fiction

The book in this little drawing is "Drawing Blood" by Poppy Z. Brite - it's one of the best horror/cyberpunk/romance novels that I've ever read.

The book in this little drawing is “Drawing Blood” by Poppy Z. Brite – it’s one of the best horror/cyberpunk/romance novels that I’ve ever read.

Before I begin, I should probably point out that because this isn’t a primarily LGBT-themed blog, I’ll try to avoid using too much in the way of LGBT-related jargon in this article. Likewise, I’ll also try to make sure that this article doesn’t end up being too political either.

Still, if you’ve somehow never heard the acronym “LGBT” before – then it stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender” and is a general acronym for people who fit into one or more of these groups. Hopefully this will be the only piece of jargon that I’ll use here.

I should also point out that, in this article, I’ll also be defining “LGBT fiction” as “fiction that primarily features LGBT characters and/or subject matter” (rather than as “fiction written by LGBT authors”). This is mainly because I think that all genres should be open to all writers – regardless of who they are and/or who they love.

It is also because at least some of the earliest LGBT fiction that I ever read was written by non-LGBT authors (eg: “Breakfast on Pluto” by Patrick McCabe) and because I’ve also read some brilliant comics featuring LGBT characters (eg: Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics) that were written by non-LGBT authors too.

Likewise, I’ve read some excellent stories about non-LGBT characters that were written by LGBT authors (eg: Clive Barker’s “The Hellbound Heart” etc..).

Anyway, why is LGBT fiction such a wonderful genre?

Well, for starters, it’s a wonderful genre if (like me) you’re LGBT in any way because it provides an imaginative space where, most of the time, it’s ok to be who you actually are. It’s like a little safe haven of freedom in a confusing and sometimes dystopic and/or alienating culture. This exact feeling is kind of hard to describe to non-LGBT audiences, but it’s kind of like finally reading something that was actually written for you.

LGBT fiction can also be educational in it’s own strange way too. If you grew up in an area or a time where good information about LGBT topics was hard to find (or it could be found, but you didn’t know where to look ) and/or if you had (or have to) keep who you are hidden from the world and/or yourself in any way, then reading LGBT fiction can be a vital way to learn more about who you are and to make sense of your own experiences of the world.

Just don’t make the mistake that I did and start out by reading old LGBT fiction from the 1950s-80s by famous authors (with the rationale that it’d pass under the radar, since I could just claim that it was “highbrow literature” if anyone asked about it). Old LGBT fiction is interesting from a historical perspective, but most of it can be a bit… well.. outdated.

Likewise, some genres only really made sense to me after I read their LGBT equivalents. I mean, until a few years ago, I was quite cynical about romantic sub-plots in both movies and novels. I just found them to be annoying and unnecessary, without quite knowing why.

But once I’d read a few romantic stories/sub-plots which weren’t just about “the guy trying to get the girl” and, instead, were about every other variation of the theme (eg: “the girl trying to get the guy”, “the guy trying to get the guy” and “the girl trying to get the girl”) – then the whole romance genre (and romantic sub-plots too) suddenly made a lot more sense to me.

In addition to all of this, most of the mainstream media is primarily aimed at a non-LGBT audience (because, numerically speaking, this group makes up the majority of the audience and the mainstream media is only really concerned about making money), so LGBT fiction and comics provide stories that are much more relevant to LGBT audiences than most of the stuff in the mainstream does.

This isn’t to say that LGBT people find all mainstream movies/novels/films/ games etc… “irrelevant” or vice versa, but sometimes it’s nice to read stories where the characters have similar thoughts, feelings and/or lives to you. And, of course, where the inevitable romantic sub-plots actually make sense on an emotional level.

But what about non-LGBT audiences? Why should they be interested in LGBT fiction?

Well, that’s a good question. And I guess that the answer to it is probably the same as the reason why LGBT people often like many stories aimed at a straight and/or non-transgender audience – because they’re good stories. Because they have interesting characters, because they have well-written plots and/or because they’re set somewhere interesting.

At the end of the day, the only real thing that separates LGBT fiction from other types of fiction are the romances in it and perhaps some of the characters’ backstories (since many LGBT people have had to hide who they are for at least part of their lives and/or have had to deal with crap from other people for being LGBT).

Apart from this, LGBT stories are just stories like any other – they have drama, relationships, action, adventure, comedy, horror, mysteries, plot twists etc…

So, in short, you might be missing out on some brilliant stories and fascinating characters if you ignore LGBT fiction.

——–

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂