What I Got Myself Into

I’m sorry this took so long to post, but I underestimated just how potent post-Game Jam lag can be. There have also been some tech issues, so you can look at the previous sentence as a double entendre if you’d like.

In any case, I had my first Toronto Global Game Jam! Yay TGGJ 13!

I started off the day by appropriately enough finishing off Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, House Wives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form (which is an awesome book of historical and cultural perspectives as well as the seed to make you want to make more games) before making my way to George Brown College’s Game Design Centre.

There were many possible scenarios in my head as to how this was going to turn out. And I have to say that none of them actually happened. I registered as a Solo Jammer with the belief and understanding that I would have a chance to become part of a group. What I didn’t know, and what I should have realized in retrospect is that many people would be attending the Jam with their own pre-established groups.

I knew a few people at the Jam and I got to socialize a bit with them before the ultimate theme of the Game Jam was announced: which was the sound of a heart-beat. So after this really excellent theme idea was revealed, I found myself with two choices. The first was to actually Solo it and learn how to use Twine–a text-based choose-your-own-adventure video game maker–on the go while making an entirely new story from scratch, and the second was to find or make a group with whoever else was interested.

So I found a group of two other people: another writer and a graphic designer. We realized that we lacked a programmer or coder, so we decided to make a Board Game. There was a lot of brainstorming, debating and spirited arguing but together we managed to create some working game mechanics. I also kept using the quote from William Faulkner’s Banquet Speech that George R.R. Martin likes to bring out whenever he talks about character development, namely: “the human heart in conflict with itself.” This was an appropriate quotation on so many levels and one that helped me work with the Jam theme.

I don’t know. There was one point where the lack of sleep, food, and the concentration on game rules and content, began to intermix with Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game inside of my head. I started to realize or remember that games are rituals in which we interact with other people and a created reality: an experience. During those two days, we were all essentially working and manipulating cultural information to create an interactive art form: making some kind of new meaning: or add our own personal touch for others to experience in some way.

Or something like that. At least I didn’t start calling anybody Magister Ludi.

So our group finished the game dynamics and some of the background notes. My fellow writer was taking notes as I was throwing out various ideas. Unfortunately, he had to leave early and he didn’t come back on the last day. In his defence, he did say that I had this, ;P. Also, all printing shops in the immediate area were closed so even when it was just myself and the designer, we didn’t have an accessible way to make a material copy and I didn’t bring any supplies to make a crude prototype. In the end, I had to interpret my co-writer’s notes and charts and tried to make everything as simplified as possible for the designer and myself.

Then to top it all off, we and a good majority of the Jammers missed the deadline for uploading our games and writing files onto the Global Game Jam site. The rules were there, but they were surrounded by a lot of text and weren’t completely clear. I’ve heard that one of the organizers might be talking to the Global site about letting us upload our games, but I have yet to hear back about that. If this does happen, I will definitely give you all a link to the game on the site. If not, I will see what I can do about this.

I think some of the most fun I had at the Game Jam was when I could actually just work on the writing without feeling like I had to manage other aspects in addition to that. I am not technologically skilled and that was why I counted on being in a team to begin with so I could focus on the field that I was good at. But I did learn a lot and we completed what we set out to do.

We made a game.

I also got to socialize a fair amount. It is really something to be surrounded by a group of friendly introverts–volunteers and game-makers–working on their own thing, or sleeping, or drinking free Starbucks coffee and tea, and shooting each other with Nerf guns. I slept on a mat. Someone slept in my sleeping bag and then returned it to me. There was pizza.

And I also helped a new friend with his own game after both my teammates were gone. Talking with other game-makers (now I am getting a Hunger Games reference in addition to The Glass Bead Game, I’m sorry to mention), made me remember my own old attempts to create video games when I was much younger.

I was the kid that messed around with Mario Paint for animation purposes and had vague ideas to record the animations to make a continuous pixelated cartoon with my own music. I made Warcraft II scenarios. I also used Civilization II Fantastic Worlds’ editor to make my own icons and game scenarios. I won’t even go into the board games I’ve made as well: which I had much better skill in doing (inspired by Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, and The Addams Family Board Game and such). When I talked to people at the Jam about Super Mario Brothers, it occurred to me that I had started playing it in the late 80s, while many of them had played it much later on. I remember when it was all new. It can feel strange to realize that you are suddenly old.

You know, I had a really good time. And I learned some valuable lessons too. If I do plan to be in a group, I will either come with a friend or with a pre-made group to do food runs, stand in lines, and do shifts as we work or whatever we decide to do. The second possibility is that I will learn how to use Twine and come Solo so that I can work on an interactive short story challenge and pace myself: allowing myself time to socialize and relax into the writing process. It all depends. I could go either way.

So, if I were to summarize GGJ 13 into an appropriately creative sentence, I would end it and this post in the following manner:

“I’m sorry, but your princess: she is in another castle … with some coffee and a machine gun.” 🙂

P.S. It also occurs to me that we were all recorded by camera people and even interviewed once. So I might have a link to that as well. I might even go into more detail on our game. We shall see.

A Message from You to Me On An April Fool’s Day 2003

It was 2003. I read American Gods two years before and I wanted to read more. I was in my first year of my University’s Creative Writing Program and not too long before I’d finished my unpublished Read Between the Realities novel. Back in those days, Neil Gaiman was on his Blog a lot more and even answered a few questions of his choice sent to him by the many people that, well, pretty much asked him questions, or made various comments, or frankly just sent him cool things.

I sent him a few emails. I’d finished reading Neverwhere and the novel version of Stardust and I am pretty sure I read Smoke and Mirrors as well. Back then I wasn’t really reading comic books and I missed out on Sandman–some of his greatest work–until much later. I was very impressed with his writing. It was the first time I read such a wide variety of different stories that stitched so many awesome things together and made reality magical. I wanted to more or less know how to do that. All of that.

There was email that I sent him in particular that I would like to quote: because it was something really on my mind then.

In 2003, when I was about twenty-one I wrote the following:

Greetings, my name is Matthew and I am currently in my second year of York University in Thornhill, Ontario. I am almost taking a Creative Writing course in which I have discovered a major weakness of mine in terms of writing.

It is called description of setting. To put it simply, I have difficulty describing geography — be it a city, or a place of any kind that exists in the real world. I’m told though that research helps one around this problem.

Now here is my question (I’ll put some asterixes around them to emphasize its importance):

*(1) When researching a place of any kind in real life, where would one, as a beginning writer, even begin?

I would appreciate an answer to this very much — it is somewhat of a perplexion to me because lack of setting description really adds less depth to my stories. Thank you.

There were so many things wrong with how I phrased this email. It was painfully awkward. I mean, how can one “almost” take a Creative Writing course? I mean, I was either taking it or not. Did I mean that I was accepted into the Program then? That I was still waiting? I don’t think my thirty year old self will ever know and my twenty-one year old self took the secret with him into time. I do know that I was sure I had other questions, but I must have forgotten to write them down after Number One.

But aside from my awkward sentences, I was so lost. Yet I wasn’t lost enough to realize that something was, at the time, lacking with regards to my writing. I reconciled myself to the fact that Neil was more likely than not busy and that my emails would, like many others, would never be answered.

And then, one day, I opened up his website to skim through his entries. It was Tuesday April 1, 2003, April Fool’s Day. I’m not sure whether it was me, or my first girlfriend that found out about this. It has been a long time. But whatever was the case, on that day ten years ago now, I found a familiar question on the page with this reply:

The easiest thing is to go there, and take a notebook, and jot down things that strike you. Tape recorders, if you can conquer the embarassment of talking to yourself in a public place, can be terrific for that. And note the things that make you feel something. Sometimes one detail will stick with you. Write it down, or remember it.

Then, if you want colour and background, use it, and don’t dwell on it. A sodden teddy bear, face down in the grass, in the little section of a cemetery called BABYLAND may be all you ever need to mention…

You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree look like. Tell them what makes this one different.

Find authors you like and see how they do it. They’ll all do it differently, but you can still learn.

In retrospect, I wonder why I didn’t ask myself if this was some magnificent kind of April Fool’s joke. But if I did, and if it was, it was a benevolent joke created by the universe and one of a delight I can’t, to this day, begin to put into words. It was some of the most valuable advice from a person who’s writing I admired and was crucial to my development.

My favourite living author essentially replied to something that I wrote to him. I can’t remember how happy I was, but I must have been ecstatic. I felt special. Granted, it took me many years and trials to take this advice to heart and just write about the strange things that stood out at me. I’d already gotten the talking to myself in public part down-pat ages before this, but I never really touched a tape-recorder again. But Neil was right. I could still learn, and in my way I did.

I could end this story right here and it would be awesome. But it didn’t end there.

At the time that Neil had written me and countless others back on his Blog, he had been working on another novel for quite some time. In 2005 it came out.

It was September or so, and I was burned-out from school and a very unpleasant summer. It seems that a lot of painfully life-changing events have happened to me in the summertime. You know how they say that people have mid-life crises? Well, I can tell you that I have had many-life crises of the psychological kind. A lot of it is a blur now, save a few details, but I do remember Anansi Boys.

I wanted something like American Gods, but just as Neil warned, it wasn’t going to be like that. All of his stories, with a few commonalities, are still all different genders and beasts in themselves. Nevertheless, this story sucked me in. I was reading it non-stop in my house. And then, I came across something.

It was on page 21 of my hardcover edition, at the beginning of Chapter Two where the protagonist Fat Charlie is trying to get to a funeral. It read:

“He ran through Babyland, where multicolored windmills and sodden blue and pink teddy bears joined the artificial flowers on the Florida turf. A mouldering Winnie the Pooh stared up wanly at the blue sky.”

File:Babyland Crittenden Memorial Park Cemetery Marion AR 008.jpg

I read this passage again. And then again. And one more time for good measure. I went online and found the copy of Neil’s reply to my question that my former girlfriend had sent to me a year ago. And even though Winnie the Pooh was staring up at the sky instead of the ground, I felt then what Lucifer must have felt like in Sandman towards the end of the series where he watches a sunset and gives God His due, but far less grudging.

Actually I recall growling something along the lines of, “You magnificent bastard,” and grinning like a maniac.

That day, in what was a very unpleasant year, I got something special. I received a gift. For a few moments, I had a little bit of insight into a writer that I really respected and who shared a little bit of a wink with me. The original post link can be found here if you are interested. I’m actually surprised I never really talked about this, except with a select few people. Maybe, in retrospect, I never particularly had a space to do so.

It’s been ten years since I was that twenty-one year old boy and even though I have never physically met Neil Gaiman–and it grows less likely that I will–for that one moment, from 2003 and 2005 something unique was shared with me, and I’d not give it up for the world.

Global Game Jams, Big Vikings, Full-On Support, ScrewAttacks and Other Battles

So here is a long overdue update about what has been going on in my own life.

I entered and got accepted into the Global Game Jam in Toronto. This is a 48-hour event in which I and a group of programmers and other artists meet–for the first time–and create a video game together. My profile can be found right here on the site. I’m both anxious and really excited about what what is that my collaborators and I are going to create.

This is my first Game Jam and in fact my first official time helping to create a video game at all. I got accepted into this not too long ago and I thought I should mention this here. Part of the challenge will be the fact that whatever we make will be determined by a theme already created by the Global Game Jam. Of course, we don’t know what this theme is yet: just as most of us, I imagine, don’t know who we will even be working with.

In the end, while I have a few ideas already with regards to story and game-play, whether or not these will happen depends on the theme and what my team will want to be. That’s what I’m going to be doing this coming Friday the 25th all the way until Sunday the 27th. Whatever happens, I really look forward to this.

Now, the second thing of note that I want to mention is that my friend and collaborator Angela O’Hara has gotten a job at Big Viking Games as a video game artist.

I’m excited for Angela because she has essentially fulfilled one of her greatest dreams and can share her wonderful talent in a medium that she loves. It is not every day that someone gets a job doing something that they actually love: their dream job. When you have the opportunity, please check out Angela’s work and look out for her new video game design work as well. You will not be disappointed.

I’ve also gotten a lot of “Likes” and Follows this past while and I would, as always, like to thank everyone for continuing to follow this Blog. I always want to add some new content and vary things up a bit in order to keep things interesting. I don’t know if that is what actually happens, mind you, but I really like being able to express of the ideas I have in the way that I usually do.

There is one totally off-topic, but awesome thing that I do want to address and it is with regards to ScrewAttack’s Death Battle series. It is an excellent pairing of entirely different popular cultural and geek fictional characters: to determine which one would win in a battle to the death. It is that simple. These pairings are all enjoyable with Ben Singer and Chad James’ running commentary and Jordan Lange’s excellent animation. The first two give you a breakdown of what each combatant is capable of, and then a battle “postmortem” while Lange animates the entire fight: usually with 16-bit sprites, but sometimes with much more complex designs.

I will admit that I didn’t quite agree with the result of Batman Vs. Spiderman, but I really liked and agreed with the new and long-talked Dragon Z Star Goku Vs. DC’s Superman Death Battle. They are all things that my friends and I thought about for ages and it is really awesome to see it all animated.

You can even go on ScrewAttack’s Youtube channel or Death Battle’s Facebook page to suggest Death Battles of your own: which apparently ScrewAttack actually looks at. I have suggested the following verses matches:

Emperor Palpatine Verses the Dark Lord Sauron. Alan Moore’s V Verses The Joker. And Superman Verses …

The Doctor.


I am that much of a geek and if any else wants to also vote on these, particularly … the latter two fight ideas I really wouldn’t mind. 😉

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this smaller post, update, and geeking. Let the battles continue.

File:Kampf der untergehenden Götter by F. W. Heine.jpg

When You Reach *That* Point

Have you ever had a really good story idea and just realized that you were not at that level where you can write it out properly?

I have. Many times. In fact, I’m facing something like this right now.

I suppose it’s rather like coming to a level in Legend of Zelda or Metroid where you discover a new chamber or the location of an item but you can’t get at it yet because you haven’t gotten the right tools. Of course, I would make this thought analogous to video games, but another way of looking at it is that you reach a point in your development–at least with regards to one project–where you find a block that you need to somehow get around or realize is a part of what you seek.

There are several different ways to deal with this conceptual challenge. First off, you can research it. You can research the hell out of it. This research can come from books, or the Web, but it can also come from talking with the appropriate people and even doing some journeying.

It can also take some time. I have probably said before that different stories have different requirements. Some stories need a little bit of work, and others have to start as notes, and then a variety of rough drafts until finally you get something that you are looking for. Each draft, even the notes that precede it, is a prototype and each builds the foundation for what you want.

I also find a few other issues to consider with regards to this challenge. The first is dealing with the fear that your idea will be taken by someone who is more versed in it if you don’t use it first. This sounds really irrational, but that fear can be there. The second issue is energy in the form of enthusiasm.

Both issues can be very interrelated. In fact, I don’t really have any easy answers to dealing with them. I suppose all I can say is that after you do the work, you need to find something new to work on, something doable, some small part to do–piece by piece–each day so that the task remains doable in your mind. As for the fear, I suppose I can tell you that no one will quite write something the same way that you will. And they won’t. No one can write like you.

You will also find that ideas can change depending on your creative circumstance and if they don’t work in one context, they can be adapted to another. It might also help to realize that no idea that you ever make is truly original, that you borrow it from someone or somewhere else, but it is how you execute it and how your “accent” or evolving style affects it that is ultimately you.

This post may seem more haphazard than the ones that I usually make and maybe more theoretical. In a lot of ways, it is my attempt to make a conceptual or mental framework for a challenge that I have been dealing with: an attempt to help me focus on a project or two. But at the very least knowing your own limits is very important so that you can either work with them–and perhaps see the block as another angle of a usable idea (I have a friend who liked to always use the infamous quote, “Think fourth-dimensionally” in role-playing)–or know them so that you can potentially surpass them.

I will finish this off, however, by saying this. When all else fails: when research, accepting that you will change an idea by working it, focusing on the doable parts of the project and eventually moving on to the more complex stuff fails then I believe that this–and the subject of this entire post–is all about your own mindset and the need to challenge it enough to simply write down what is in your head: no matter how rough it may be at first. Once you do that, the rest of it will follow, or you simply move on: having learned something.

Whatever that is. 😉

Sea Shells, See Shells by the Sea Shore: A Review of C. Anthony Martignetti’s Lunatic Heroes

I have been looking forward to reading C. Anthony Martignetti’s Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections for some time, and now that I have finished reading it, I find I have a lot of different things to say. In fact, what I think I’m going to do is the following.

I am going to write two sections to this review. The first will be an attempt at a more literary perspective of Lunatic Heroes, while the second will deal with my own personal reactions to the stories themselves. Before I go on, however, I just want to say that I will be referring to Anthony by his first name due to the way that I was introduced to him. I will elaborate on that later, but I just want to say that it would feel weird after reading about him and his own work to call him anything else. It’s the not first time I have done this with an author and it probably won’t be the last.

Lunatia heros is a species of Northern moon-snail that likes to live close to the shoreline of bodies of water. They are large gastropods that like to eat clams and other snails: including members of their own species. They consume their prey by drilling holes in their shells, releasing digestive enzymes, and sucking out the partially digested contents of their victims from within those shells. In fact, the only thing left of their fellow snails are these empty shells. According to Wikipedia, these moon snails hunt other mollusks down by searching for those that bury themselves in the sand of the shoreline.

Of all the titles Anthony could have given his work, Lunatic Heroes is by far the most apt. This book is essentially a collection of fifteen short stories or, technically written recollections, of some of the major events in Anthony’s life. Even though the book itself is categorized as a memoir, which it is, each narrative is both interrelated and self-contained.

At least twelve of these stories deal with Anthony’s childhood with his Italian-American family in Boston, while the remaining three focus on Anthony as a developing independent adult all the way to contemporary times. I don’t want to make too much of a generalization, but each story is about the insanity of the human condition. After all, the word lunatic is derived from the Latin word Luna and it was once thought that someone suffering from madness was “moon-touched,” while at the same time the moon itself has always been associated with the other world of the night, creativity and intuition.

In this, the metaphor of Lunatic Heroes functions in a few different ways. On one hand, most of Anthony’s stories are about the dysfunctional elements of his own family and his 1950s childhood: about the way each character would attempt to devour Anthony’s extremely introverted essence, digging under the sand where his self hid in order to successfully–or unsuccessfully–get at it.

On the other hand, Anthony’s narratives also take many of these same characters and portray their other more relatable sides. It is no coincidence, after all, that the heroes of ancient literature–for all of their deplorable moral behaviour by contemporary standards–still possessed a spark of divinity and managed to perform great deeds. In a fiercely passionate and witty voice tempered with a nostalgic unsentimentality not unlike that of Will Eisner, Anthony manages to show that these characters from his own life aren’t always monsters, but are very fallible human beings with some moments of relation, levity, and downright comedy: even and especially in some of the worst situations that he depicts.

What drew me in as a reader were the very mutable archetypes that Anthony managed to identify in his life: specifically with regards to how they transferred and inter-lapped throughout each story that he gathers together into a strange whole. Sometimes each narrative doesn’t always fit in a straight-line–which is more than fair given how a life of human interactions is generally never shaped that way–and he occasionally repeats a sentence from a previous story. But the archetypes really drew me in. Certainly, the whole Scylla and Charybdis parallel childhood dilemma in “Force Fed” was made very uncomfortably clear, just as the figure of a Far Eastern form of enlightenment and a symbolic place of personal transformation is within “Swamp.”

So thus ends the very brief and relatively spoiler free part of my review. Now I am going to talk about my personal reaction to Lunatic Heroes. I will say that I particularly related to “Force Fed.” When I was a boy, I was a very fussy eater and after I started to lose weight at twelve, my family thought that I had some kind of eating disorder. I didn’t really see a problem: in that when I stopped feeling hungry, I simply stopped eating. I was also lactose intolerant and I didn’t know that until my doctor and a slough of very uncomfortable and embarrassing tests happened. I lost a lot of weight from simply no longer eating dairy and then having a growth spurt. It also didn’t help that I was a very nervous child and my stomach suffered for it. But I could definitely relate to Anthony’s account of being made to feel like there was something wrong with you just because you simply weren’t hungry enough by the standards of others or the fact that you didn’t want to become sick.

I could definitely relate to the moments of introversion and hyper-sensitivity from Anthony’s depiction of his childhood self and that paradoxical need to have your parents always in your life, but at the same time that need to keep that bubble of personal space around you from being violated by the rest of the world: sometimes in vain. That is why I particularly related to–and if anyone knows me and is reading this they will be laughing by now–the last story “Hate.”

I admit that I was actually concerned when Anthony ended his memoir with a story entitled “Hate,” but it made sense. The thing is, Anthony is a psychotherapist and there are some things he talks about throughout the entire book–mindfulness, being in your head and needing to be in your body–that is very reminiscent of what my own therapist has been telling me for quite some years now. In “Hate,” Anthony even mentions how he still has snap judgments and immediate–and sometimes unfavourable–superficial impressions of people. They can bring up various associations his life: not all of them pleasant. But he also mentions how by realizing that these same people have pain and loss in their lives, it makes them relatable as human beings. It is still a lesson I have to keep reminding myself of during some of my more misanthropic world-obliterating moments of glee.

I also totally understand where Anthony is coming from in “The Head,” when he writes about the darkness and anger that he is feeling in himself even while he is with his wife and dog at a peaceful retreat: the knowledge of this fact that just made him feel worse until he has one moment of mindfulness. I think Anthony really hit home for me that you can mentally and emotionally awaken many times in life: and for different reasons. In that, “Swamp” and the events with regards to the freak show in “Carnival” really come to the fore. In addition, the story “Nonno” made me really miss my own Zaidy while I can more than sympathize with the need to belong and centre yourself and finding a place like “Harvard Square” home.

I am almost finished this strange review. But to make it even stranger, I want to write down some very notable lines, or moments of text that just made this entire book for me:

Anthony writes about longing: “But this time I felt the ache you get when longing for something you don’t think you have, coupled by the fear that you’d blow it if you did” (107).

He also describes the process of maturity, stating, “I was pulling off the heist of the decade, stealing the truth about myself from every encounter” (108-109).

Finally, there is this: “I imagined eventually befriending the Devil and getting promoted to demon status, sharing the power of evil and control over an infinite number of she-devils who would hungrily do my bidding” (129).

These are just such universal impulses and feelings, and as a writer I kind of wish I had been the one to express myself in such a way. The metaphor of the Lunatic Heroes is even more ingenious because in addition to moon snails being predators, Lunatia heros always leaves perfectly preserved husks from all of its feedings. Think about that for a few moments: even though the snail is gone, like the imprint of a lost self or Virginia Woolf’s spot on a wall, its shell–the testament to its existence–is left unearthed in the sand. It’s left there for others to find and see and marvel in the patterns that they created. In other words, we are the predators and the prey of our selves, but by simply living we take the selves of others with us, and we leave a testament to their existence. It is an excellent extended metaphor for a writer, the act of writing, literature itself and the state of being human.

Now I am finally going to tell you the reason why I refer to Anthony by his first name in this review. Through reading Anthony’s book, I feel like I know him a little more. But that is only part of it. The rest of the reason has to do with how I discovered him.

It was mainly by accident. I was searching for Amanda Palmer’s Blog and I came across her entries about Anthony and just some of what he means to her. I will let you read that entry should you so wish. But what I will say is that Amanda wrote the “Introduction” to Anthony’s book and she said something that really got to me.

Amanda wrote the following, “I had a small glimpse into the act of writing as a direct escape from pain. For the first time, I experienced the physical truth of what it felt like to dwell in the act of creation as the only viable escape from an unbearable, unfaceable reality” (ix). I read this statement and I took a look at myself. I took a look at my notebooks around me in my room. And then I looked at the one hundred or so posts I’ve made on this very Blog. I took a look at what I try to do every single day now and I thought…

Yes. Just … yes.

Amanda also went on to talk about how she and Anthony delve into the uncomfortable, and awkward, and painful moments of clarity that is life. And you will find that and more in exquisite detail if you read this book.

Now I am going to end off now by doing something even stranger. I am going to give Lunatic Heroes a four out of five.

And here is why.

After reading “The Introduction” and Anthony’s “Acknowledgments,” and just hearing about him and some of his life from Amanda’s Blog, I wanted to know … more. Even though the way he describes his childhood, sometimes blatantly and sometimes tinged with hazy mythical half-memories is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Violent Cases, I want to know about the rest of it: the adolescent rebellion you see forming in the latter stories, what happened in the rest of his travels, what his other fights were about, and more about his exposure to other philosophies and other relationships.

When it comes down to it, I want to see more. And as one lunatic hero to another, Anthony, I sincerely hope to.

The Magic Killer Formula

I’ve learned that there is one thing that can kill magic.

You might think a few things to yourself at this point. First of all, what do I even mean by magic? When I talk about magic, I am talking about wonder. I’m talking about imagination and a variety of human emotional responses to that practically limitless power.

So with that working definition in mind, how can something like magic get destroyed? After all, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. But that’s just it: I’m not talking about something that can be completely obliterated: if such a thing is even possible.

Magic as I see it can’t be destroyed, but it can be killed. It can die and leave a corpse of some sort behind: an empty pattern or a shadow of what it once was.

But what can kill something like magic?

You might think it would be reality. Reality is gravity, social structure, obligation, physical health, and consequences for any action taken or not. Yet that isn’t enough. In fact, magic can complement and even thrive in such an environment: accentuating and making art from the mundane. It can even make you see reality in a whole other way if you let it, or empathize with what you see and feel.

No. Reality by itself can’t kill magic.

However, try injecting an amount of irony into magic. I don’t mean a little bit of it: that just adds some cleverness and some poetic justice to the flavour if you are good enough. Now, try adding a lot of irony to the magic on your Petri dish: to the point where it even needs one. Usually this is a particular substance distilled from reality and it is like an anaesthetic: capable of creating enough emotional detachment to remove any hint of sensation.

How about a little irony, Scarecrow?

All joking aside, the irony at that point is still small because it is a distillation, but it worms its way into magic’s heart: into the core of it. Very slowly, but surely you will get to the point where the organism mutates. It starts to shrink and shape into a more definite shape: like the aforementioned Petri dish or other container. If you didn’t put too much irony into the mixture, then it still has a chance. It can look at itself and laugh at what it sees. It subverts itself but still has the potential to expand out again and become stronger for it: more multi-layered. Parody is still magic and if you can keep it at a point where the irony allows for comedy and reflection as well as a certain levelheadedness, then it’s all still good. After all, a little bit of cyanide or Iocane powder over time supposedly builds some resistance to such within a subject.

It’s when the cynicism in the cyanide develops that you have to watch out. At first, it all seems very well and good. The mixture you’ve made seems even more clever, even more biting, even more … cold. And then, even when it goes out of control it is so incredibly casual and smarmy that you don’t even see that anything is wrong.

The fact that it breaks things down, and takes things apart isn’t in itself bad. There are plenty of essential acids that do the same thing. However, it never stops and it rarely stays in its container if you keep feeding it. Pretty soon it begins to roll its eyes at anything it can find. It likes to “make fun” of any kind of enthusiasm, any form of passion, any vitality or life that it can find. The reason I put “making fun” in quotation marks is that this form of cynicism–the corrupted remnants of magic–doesn’t even remember what fun actually is, never mind the fact that it no longer has the capacity to make it.

It reaches a point where nothing is good enough for it anymore. It calcifies and stratifies into something with a hard outer shell and, pretty soon, even the most valid forms of expression or emotion are worth nothing more to it than objects of derision. Think about that for a few moments: a valid emotion as a human being means nothing–not even spit and garbage–to this form of cynicism that calls itself “sophistication.”

However, “sophistication” has a secret. Behind its calcified armour and its twisted barbs is the place where its heart used to be: a brittle core. You might think it is empty now, but that isn’t true. Instead, at the core of what this irony-infected magic has become is shallowness, immaturity, and above all else: fear.

Late-stage cynicism or sophistication need not be a terminal condition however. Take just a tincture, a small drop really, of a really strange natural marvel (which even now I hesitate to call an antidote) known as hope and you will see results of some kind. Of course, it might be too late and if you don’t add enough hope, the substance will only invert into its own hole and it will not really come back from that. In fact, it will pretty much die.

But–but–if you mix hope with wonder, enthusiasm, and general interest, then perhaps those barbs will soften, the carapace will begin to fall away, the mass of it will expand again, its temperature will rise, and it will be more malleable, more … open to suggestion. Of, if you’d like, dead magic is just like some kinds of dry flowers I once saw. If you submerge them in clear water, they will at first sink and then rise to the surface again as whole and vital as they once were.

Also, and more than coincidentally, the magic resulting from this form of rejuvenation is reported to be exquisite, if not outright extraordinary.

And Then One Day I Got a Reality Blog Award

So it seems that I have been nominated for the Reality Blog Award.


I have to say that I did not see this coming: being that the only reality that I have ever really written about here on Mythic Bios has pretty much been my own. But I am really glad that hillbillyzen13 has nominated me, and believes in the writing and whatever else I’m doing here enough to do so. And let’s face it: as a writer and as a person, I love getting attention.

So, here are the logistics of the meme:

1.) Visit the blog of the person who nominated you, thank them, and acknowledge them on *your* blog.

2.) Answer the five questions listed below and nominate up to 20 bloggers whom you feel deserve recognition.  Visit their blog to let them know.

3.) Cut and paste the award to your wall.

So now, to business:

If you could change one thing, what would you change?

I would create a meritocratic society: where people are acknowledged and supported for their talents and their craft. My society would put education and the arts ahead of everything else save universal health-care and the training of medical professionals of the physical and psychological fields. At the same time, the people who make the day-to-day sanitary and nutritional functioning of society possible would be publicly honoured and assisted. The arts and the sciences would be combined again. And most of all, I would eliminate jealousy. Permanently.

So now that my foray into utopia and idealism is done for the moment, what is the next question?

If you could repeat an age, what would it be?

Oh dear. I would say … twenty. I think this is about biological age. I severely underestimated my intelligence and my appearance at that age. I was a very good looking and creative young man and if I knew then what I know now … well, let’s face it …

I’d probably would have done exactly as I did in the last time-line: waited to mature more. So, my vain streak aside … :p

What one thing really scares you?

Being stuck awkwardly–and painfully–on the outside. Essentially, finding myself in a social situation where I’m the last one to be chosen, or I don’t know how I am going to quite navigate my way to getting into a group. From being the odd child out in Musical Chairs, to needing to choose a partner, and even make connections with people that can help me in the outside world and possibly realize my potential. Going outside myself and my comfort zone is scary: with that spectre of rejection, humiliation or being outright ignored always hovering over me. That said, it is something that I have gotten better at dealing with somewhat.

What is one dream that you have not completed, and do you think you’ll be able to complete it?

I want to get to the point where I can become a professional writer and support myself, improve myself and gain some modest recognition from my craft. Mainly, I just want to make something that I can leave the world: something of meaning that will have everything else–including the process of it all–totally worth it. Do I think I will complete it? Well, it is entirely possible but I for one am going to keep pursuing it in my own way. Slow and steady spider steps.

If you could be someone else for one day, who would it be?

Honestly–and this is the difference between the younger and now current incarnation of me–I just want to be me. Only better: more wise, less anxious, more confident, more independent, more in my body and with a balance of different passions and relationships. Just … more. And I don’t want it merely for one day. Rather, I want it for the rest of my life.

All right. Now, here is the most difficult and interesting part of the Award process. I get to make some nominations as well. There are so many of you and you are all awesome. Here are my list of nominees. I hope that you like and appreciate them as much as I do.

Through the looking glass she tumbles

Peanut Butter Macramé

Zombie Zak

Pretty and Putrid

Mandy DeGeit

Larry Atchley Jr.

Impressions of a Princess

Ad Astra Per Aspera


Unbound Boxes Limping Gods

ghosty net

What’s Your Tag?


The Comic Book Lounge and Gallery

Mythaxis Magazine

All right, so now that I’ve nominated you all, remember to nominate other people as well. We all need the inspiration and the support. Keep Blogging my friends, and get ready for some more content next time.

Still Trying to Go Beyond Myth and Legend, Novels and Short Stories

It was in 2002 that I wrote my first complete “adult” novel. I put the word “adult” in quotation marks specifically because I was twenty years old at the time and I barely had any living experience. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that I had no living experience at all.

What I did have, however, was the opportunity to absorb a lot of academic experience. I had always been a pretty good student (in fact, I thought it would be the most sensible thing to do with my whole life) and I believed that University would just expand on my knowledge. And it did. I learned many more obscure ancient Greek and Latin roots of words, some mythology, and even more philosophy. To be honest, I had been learning of these elements back in Grade Twelve and the now-lost Canadian Grade OAC (or Grade 13 for those who might not be familiar with it).

Read Between the Realities: Beyond Myth and Legend was essentially a bildungsroman–or a “coming of age”–novel of 136 double-spaced computer pages. This was the point in my development as a writer where things began to really change for me.

Now, I’ve discussed a little of the background behind this novel’s creation, but there are a few more specific things I have to mention. Before this point, I had mostly been working with purely the fantasy genre: in as much of a way as someone at my skill level and knowledge at the time could. In fact, even in my first year of Undergrad I was still working on my fantasy series Deceptions of Nevermore before the change began.

First of all, I’d heard of York’s Creative Writing Program. It was–and as far as I know is–a program where you had to submit a portfolio of poetry and prose in order to be selected for a small number of spots. The Program also discouraged, if not outright rejected genre writing in its courses and, instead, wanted to focus on “realistic fiction.” Now, I was very interested in developing my writing skills in those days and I could only apply in my second year. But that was only part of what helped to create my novel.

The second crucial element in the creation of Read Between the Realities was my discovery of a book called American Gods made by a man named Neil Gaiman. That book, which only in retrospect I realize was Neil Gaiman’s own transition from the format of comic book script writing into solo novel writing, changed things for me in a very big, very real way.

I realized that there were things beyond the confines of genre as I understood it. Then I remembered the film Finding Forrester and how I wanted to write “the great 21st century novel.” So I did something new. Before I even entered the Creative Writing Program, I decided to create my first experimental “adult” novel: a great Canadian novel and all of the grandiosity I still haven’t quite grown out of even in my very early 30s of now.

In Read Between the Realities, I created a pastiche of different stories and attempted to sew them together into an open-ended patchwork reality where you could interpret the novel almost any which way you’d like. I worked on this sucker for a long, long time. I worked on it at home, in parks, on mall benches, at friends’ houses, during sleepovers, when I visited my girlfriend at the time or when she visited me, and even when I moved with my parents to our new house then. Some more marked developments in this novel was how I actually actively incorporated many of my own experiences and thoughts into the work. This was partially influenced by my interest or obsession with philosophy, but also from insights I was having from life.

I was really bad at explaining what my novel was about and I firmly believed that the only way someone could understand it is if they read the damn thing. It also didn’t help that I had the paradigm-shifting magic concept of Mage: The Ascension on my brain too, and I delved into that voraciously.

My book was essentially a story about different realities inter-lapping and how personalized they are. It was about a writer and his relationship issues with his life, a fragmented being seeking something for a demanding master in a labyrinthine subconscious world of ruin, a viciously sadistic monster hunting this being down, and two people on an Internet chat room who bickered all the time. The writer and the two chat room people both believed they were making the story, while the seeker and monster both thought they were living a reality. And none of it was real. And all of it was real.

Of course it all combined, or exploded together–because I always loved epic moments of spectacle–and I played at being profound. Yes, it was a meta-narrative: complete with the characters knowing they are characters or finding out they are and all that fun stuff.

Ten years ago, I thought it was the best thing I had ever written in my whole life, and I actually feared that I could never surpass it. Ever.

Years later after showing it to some friends, I found out that I could indeed “surpass” it. A lot of my characters were two-dimensional archetypes, I didn’t write female characters well, I certainly couldn’t write sex scenes worth a damn then, and I rambled: a lot. And when I tried to simulate experiences I never learned about or experiences I never had, it just fell flat. Also, I wrote combat and adventures as if they were video game levels: though that in itself makes sense given my interests then and now. So yes, I can safely say that I have done better since then, though …

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I actually haven’t really written any, at least official, novel-length works in a very long time. They take a lot of commitment and unique formulas to keep up. I also can’t just write anywhere at anytime anymore. Part of this is that I realized I had more of a life beyond my craft, but I also find that novels can be trapping. They can really take your time and energy. They always get on your mind all the time.

Short stories are explorations into more tightly-knit, self-contained worlds. You can spend less time on these than on a novel, though they take their own toll given that you really need to focus on tying them up all neat-like. On the other hand, sometimes I find short stories to be like little tidbits–even the more complex “four-course meal ones” that some of my friends like to call them–and not as satisfying as the meaty feel of an entire world in a novel. That is, of course, when the short story ideas aren’t overwhelming your bodily and mental limitations to write them all out.

So sometimes, despite my best intentions, I have found myself writing novel-length works because the ideas behind them are either too similar to be placed in anything other than an overarching structure, or they just too big to contain in one short story. And for now, that is all I will say for the others that came after Read Between the Realities.

What is notable about my twenty-year old writer’s novel was that this was about the point when I was also consciously playing with mythology and archetypes in addition to ideas and philosophies. I attempted to combine academics and creation together. I also very reluctantly put more of myself into the work, and–like I said–I went into meta-narrative and irony: which for someone who had just done generic well-meaning fantasy novels before was a big step. And Joss Whedon taught me to be more flippant and referential about popular culture and life too.

I would never have admitted that I created a coming of age novel. I always wanted to make other worlds and other people to get away from the ones I was experiencing–or not experiencing–but I can admit that this was what it was. And for something based on a whole lot of theoretical knowledge, incomplete understanding, video game and pop culture influences and a small if not sheltered, somewhat self-repressed and stagnant amount of personal growth at the time, I did pretty well. It was like building a small Star Gate from the scrap-metal in one’s basement. It did what it was designed to do.

Read Between Realities was made at a time where I went as far as I could go with what I had then–with what I was then–and now, whatever else, I know that I have and definitely can go farther.

Looking Outward

Credit: Beth Ann Dowler, the photographer of this image.

The Rise of a Geek or How Video Games Made Me Want to Write Novels

I wrote my first novel in Grade Ten.

In high school, I carried around a clipboard with a manuscript’s worth of lined paper in my backpack along with a book. I would sit in the front entranceway of Thornhill Secondary, outside the door of a class,  in the cafeteria, in the quad, on one of the chairs in my Drama class, and in classrooms before class began scrawling onto that paper with a black or blue pen.

Almost everyday, someone would see me sitting there: in my strange clothes that I mostly wore because my Mom got them and I had to wear something, my Blue Jay baseball cap to keep me hidden from people, blue jeans (because I was bullied over wearing sweatpants in Grade Nine), and my backpack with its many compartments and my handy-dandy pencil case with all my utilities: colour pencil crayons, pencils, pens, erasers … all of that fun stuff. I even had an Art Kit back when I fancied myself a graphic artist: a large bag with an ink pen that I loved, various sized pencils, a grey puddy eraser and a sketch book.

And yes, I did draw characters from my novel.

My novel was called Order and Chaos. It was seventy-five computer pages long with a glossary at the end. It was about a man named Derem who was born in the future after humankind colonized a new Galaxy and created a brand new Empire. There was a war between the human scientists and mages: and the mages lost … their territory disintegrating into an unstable vortex of space known as the Xarion Region. It was thought that magic had died out, as it had once before back on Earth millennia ago, but there were survivors and people still born with the gift.

My world was ruled by a secular humanist technocracy (which my younger self would have loved to have the words for) that was the Empire: composed of different noble Houses that each had a particular division of labour. This same Empire also made the acquaintance of other alien species who stayed out of the whole conflict, and they have differing relations with them.

Derem was a young man who discovered that he was a mage and a Chronomancer: someone who could manipulate time itself. There was an evil villain named Jagan D’Karos, leader of House D’Karos, that wanted to take over the Empire from House T’Jal: that was dying out. D’Karos was a borderline madman who secretly wanted to rediscover magic in order to essentially dominate existence and there was a rebellion against him, and all that lovely stuff.

There were supposed to be two more books. I created outlines for all of them and tried to fill them out. Book One was the only one that truly lived in its way. I also recall holding the entire stack of paper together with one multi-layered bad-ass paperclip. Yeah. Pretty much.

I know for a fact that people noticed me in my school and when I worked on it at summer camp. In many ways, it was my constant companion in addition to the books I read. I wanted to be the next Tolkien obviously. I also wanted to look busy and to focus all of my imagination in a world of my own creation that no one else could really see as of yet.

I had my influences: the Dune II video game my friends were so interested in and which inspired our own role-playing games, Final Fantasy VI (which I knew as III) where magic was a terrifying lost weapon that even helped make Magitek Armour and where there were Espers and epic moments, and I was probably also influenced by Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms.

But essentially, I was inspired to write my first novel by video games.

I would have once been ashamed to admit that: that video games are just for fun and are not real literature. Of course, by the same token, I was all like “screw real literature,” this is is what really does it for me. Basically, I just wanted to tell a story and Final Fantasy VI and Dune II pushed me to do it. They pushed me to go beyond my limits and keep working on something: something beyond me, but was still a part of me.

They influenced me in other ways. I went from the Dune game to reading Frank Herbert’s books and–in addition to Star Wars–got really interested in human political machinations and manipulations. Final Fantasy VI on the other hand showed me the majestic beauty of soundtracks, the utter diabolical power of evil, story lines, character development from a seemingly simplistic 16-bit sprite model, a great depth of humanity, and a variety of different ways to interact with things.

It was not the last time games would influence me to that extent either. As I went up through the Grades, and people watched me–as I would learn directly later–I discovered Chrono Trigger and really changed. Order and Chaos was, to put it charitably, a novella in length. Deceptions of Nevermore was even longer: though it was supposed to be a Trilogy that didn’t survive past the first book. And the title may have been influenced by Secret of Evermore: that I never actually played.

That one was a story that took place in a high school: in a small town called Eldara. There was a great evil buried before the founding of the town and the last survivors of a civilization of virtually immortal mages try to keep it from awakening. But there is one mage that wants to wake it up. Centuries later, a girl named Rachel stumbles onto all of this with her Wicca friend Chara, a borderline obnoxious half-demon named Karnak and so on. I also admit that Joss Whedon’s Buffy played a large role in the development of this story.

I also recall there being a story I called The Epic Project with the working title Revelation’s Saga. I vaguely recall working on it after Order and Chaos but before Deceptions of Nevermore. In any case, it was a post-apocalyptic world where an empire called The First Technocracy cloned and resurrected different species of magic-using creatures called Psytans as slave-labour. As the First Technocracy fell and became the Second, many lands had free Psytans or some that actually tried to coexist with humankind. The term Psytan was a blanket bastardized term that defined dryads, goblins, elves, and other creatures as an entire species. They were cloned from something older and I made a whole world with different cultures.

How the humans treated the Psytans reflected a lot on the different cultures. I remember the Sor’cerin Imperium: where women ruled because I reasoned that more women than men would be magic-users and thus have more power. Psytans there would be fellow Bond-Mates to the sorceresses and the Empress. Whereas the Technocracy was more or less equal in that they wanted to mechanize and control all life.

I was definitely influenced by X-Men, and Final Fantasy–especially since my main character was a young woman named Amnah–but also … Pokemon. All right, that last revelation was a little more reluctant on my part even now, but back then I had a whole system figured out. This book went on for hundreds of lined pages. It was my first insanely long novel. I remember working on it everywhere and I mean everywhere … even in some places I no longer go to.

Like I said, I felt a combination of shame and defiance for video game inspiration with my first novels but they helped me make all of this. They helped me deal with the realities of high school and adolescence. You know, once I showed an excerpt of my Epic Project to the Del Rey Writer’s Workshop when it was a free online community. One person said I should have made it a children’s story and I got really offended by that. But looking back, I was essentially a young adult writing young adult stories. They may not have been very good, but they were mine and the product of my time.

For a while, like some people, I thought that our time had nothing more to say. But what I like right now is that everything from our childhood and onward has a meaning and isn’t as fragmented or diluted as others might claim. I do read classical literature now, but I also read comics and sometimes I even play video games. It has changed and it is still changing me to this very day. It’s also clear that there were and are many more people like me to this regard: upraising the things we love and even when we make fun of them, still see them and make them beautiful.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That said, I’m still working on fulfilling that prophecy from my last Yearbook:

High School

I Wish You Help, Doing It Yourself, Insight, and a Happy New Year

I was going to put an entirely different post up here at the time that is now yesterday. At the beginning of 2012, this Blog was just an idea: if even that.

For quite a few people, 2012 meant the End which, in various ways, it was.

At least, it was for me.

It was the end of my time at School, my apartment on campus, and living in downtown Toronto. It also saw the finish of two longstanding Projects of mine that hovered over my head for the longest time. I might have even gotten rid of some bad habits along the way as well.

But more than any of this: this year was the end of another old life. I’ll have plenty of time to be melancholy about it, but mostly–right now–I feel like it just is.

I’ve thought about some things that have occurred this past year. I will say that my Writer’s Blog has exceeded my expectations. Most of the time, this is a good thing. I try to make my writing clear, accessible, and relatable. I also attempt to make sure that I know what I am talking about or, at very least, contain my writing to knowledge that I already have. For the most part, I feel that I am accomplishing a lot of these goals. However, sometimes I catch myself becoming very wordy, talking about things I don’t fully understand, or trying to mash things together in a way that just … gets awkward and doesn’t completely work.

I’m looking at you, Clouds and Mirrors. This article, which was more of a fan reaction made right after watching the Dr. Who Episode than a well thought-out and analytical review, had its heart in the right place and some interesting creative parallels but it never sorted its identity out. It took me a long time to write it and I wasn’t completely satisfied with what I made, or really what I did. The fact is: it took longer than I expected and there were many times I almost didn’t finish it.

To be perfectly honest, I almost deleted my “Clouds and Mirrors” article until I realized that the reality of this Blog has changed from when I first made it. Gone are the days where I could post something and few people would barely give any input. I know that the article itself has received quite a few “Likes” and it still gets more than a few Views as well: which may or may not be because of the pictures I embedded into it.

One reason it stays here is because others appreciate it and got something out of the piece. But the other reason I am leaving it is because, like I said, the heart was in the right place. When I see something I like, like any creator or geek, I want to possess it. I want to take its essence, and make it my own. There is this impulse to put something like it in my own words and way, and display my joy out of experiencing it. Perhaps by writing this, I wanted to have some part–some unique kind of relationship with it–as well: even if it was something that I didn’t entirely have full knowledge of.

So it stays.

In this New Year, I do hope to keep to my original promise and post things on here and elsewhere that are more than reviews. Don’t misunderstand: there will still be reviews, but I have some other plans as well …

But getting back to the subject of this passing year, I would like to reflect a bit on some of the things I’ve learned.

The obligatory Animaniacs Wheel of Morality reference aside, 2012 taught me two clear lessons. The first is that this is the time to start pursuing what I need to do. This is the point where I need to hone my writing and expand my network of contacts. May 10, 2012 was when Mythic Bios went from being a series of yearly private notebooks to a public online Journal: where “Oh I should make a Blog, but ..” became, “Here it is and I can now begin using it to my advantage.” Sometimes it is an intimating thought: that what I write on my Blog gains a greater amount of scrutiny and feedback now, but it also makes me feel like I am doing something important and it is good practice if I want to keep writing and doing something with that craft.

The second lesson though, has taken much longer to learn. In fact, I would say that 2012 needed the help of the years that came before to hammer the point home for me. And it is this: you cannot depend on other people to get what you want. The only person you can truly depend on to get what you want is yourself. Other people can help you get to the places where you want to go. They can offer support in physical and emotional ways. If it is given to you, you should value it because those who give you this aid are taking time and resources away from their own lives and labour to help or recognize you. Freshly Pressed, for instance, took the time and consideration to look at and feature my Funnies article.

This helped my Blog a lot. There are many of you that found me because the above article was featured. But I didn’t expect it and I know that it is not a given. I just continue to do my thing and take constructive suggestions along the way when they are offered. Ultimately, my writing and the other aspects of my life depend solely on me: and it is one thing to know that intellectually, but a whole other thing to feel it on an emotional level. It has been a very sorely needed perspective that may help me in all of my endeavours and interactions.

But now, it is 2013. I feel like I am leaving a lot of things out, but I do remember one thing. I can’t expect you to keep Following me or being there for me, but thank you for doing so regardless. Thank you for Linking me to other places. Thank you for Following me here. And thank you for Liking me.

So in the end, like everyone else, The End of 2012 has just been the beginning. As I have said before, you are all awesome and I hope that you will stay–and even come along–as I continue to take this space I’ve made to other places.

Take care and have an excellent New Year everyone.