Writing Wednesdays: Orphans

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about orphans lately.

I don’t mean that in the literal sense. Though, come to think of it, there’s probably a lot to be said about orphans, and I’m writing my share – Maddie from Fall is an orphan, after all; so, too, is Willow, the protagonist of my back-burnered children’s book, Ten Witch Grave. There are a lot of orphans in literature, from Oliver Twist to Harry Potter. We seem to be drawn to them as characters. There’s probably a whole other blog post there. File it under Posts I’m Not Writing for now.

But that gives me a great segue into what I’m actually writing about: J.K. Rowling (as revealed on Pottermore) calls them orphans. My writing group calls them Stories You’re Not Writing (or Poems You’re Not Writing, or Plays You’re Not Writing, or…you get the idea). They are, simply put, the Very Good Ideas (and occasionally the horrifically bad ideas) that, sadly, have no place in whatever you’re actually creating. Because let’s face it: we all have good ideas. Even great ideas. Except, of course, when we don’t – but, for the most part, ideas are everywhere. They can be found in abundance. And the surfeit of ideas can be more of a problem than the absence of ideas.

In previous posts, I’ve used the machine analogy: your novel (or story, or even poem, in some cases) isn’t a simple thing. It’s a machine filled with many moving parts. You have to choose those parts well, and assemble them with the utmost care. As a rule, you can’t afford to waste your time and effort on useless frippery – or, worse, design and build mechanisms that actually interfere with the functioning of the whole device. You may also have heard of the concept of bandwidth. It’s mostly a computing term, referring to the amount of data you can transmit over a given connection at a given time. But human beings have bandwidth, too. Projects have bandwidth. You can only process so much information; you can only fit so much into a given work.

So this is something that anyone working on a creative project has to deal with. You have ideas. Many of them are Very Good Ideas. But even the best ideas may have to be ignored, or cut, or shouted down until they slink away, tail between their legs. You only have so much bandwidth. You only have so much time. And so, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes painfully, you force those Very Good Ideas out of your story. You create orphans. And those elements of your story will never see the light of day, except perhaps in author’s notes, or interviews, or blog posts like this one.

When I think of Fall‘s orphans, I think first of the two bits of Irish folklore that first inspired me. One of them is an old story (with a few different variations) that I’m not going to talk about just yet, as it may lead people to guess the outcome of the novel, and I’d hate to spoil it for anyone before I’ve finished writing it. The other, as I mentioned before, was a charm against the Good Folk that I have been unable to find again – but it went vaguely like this:

Today is Monday, tomorrow is Tuesday, the day after Wednesday. You folk who live in that hill over there, stay over there and don’t bother me.

I’m sure it was much more poetic in its original form (for that matter, it’s probably much more poetic in Irish Gaelic), but as I said, I can’t recall the exact wording and haven’t been able to find the charm again since I first heard it in a folklore class many years ago. But I was struck by the idea of wielding the natural order of things as a weapon against the Good Folk, of using logic and reason and nature against the illogical, the insane, the supernatural. It is not, perhaps, an entirely original concept – see the animated film version of The Flight of Dragons, or certain interpretations of Changeling: The Dreaming – but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

As I think on it now, there is, perhaps, still something of that dichotomy in Fall as it currently stands. Certainly the Fair don’t play by our rules, and their magic is not readily explained or explored through the scientific method. (Sidebar: Isaac Asimov wrote a terrific essay on magic, science, and Clarke’s Third Law in which he argued that, in fact, magic by definition is not bound by rules, where science is – appropriately enough, it’s in his fantasy collection Magic. I did not agree with the essay when I first read it. I’ve come around on the subject.) But they’re not creatures of madness and irrationality anymore. They would generally agree that today is Monday, tomorrow is Tuesday, the day after Wednesday. They would, in fact, point out that today is Wednesday and you’ve actually got it all wrong. The light of reason would not drive them out. It’s a wonderful idea. But there’s no place for it in the story I’m writing.

Actually, a lot of folklore has fallen by the wayside as I’ve streamlined the society of the Fair. As I was researching the book, I drove myself a bit crazy trying to catalog and codify all the fairies in European folklore, chasing down stories of shapeshifting witches and wise druids and talking cats and river monsters. This, too, I’ve discussed before. For a while there, it was enough to make me want to tear my hair out. Finally, for the sake of my sanity, I decided on two rules:

  1. I would only draw fairies from the folklore of Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, and the surrounding islands, with a particular focus on Ireland.
  2. I would only allow a particular species to join the ranks of the Fair if it filled a specific niche that no other species quite occupied.

With those rules in mind, I sketched out the following list in my notebook. This is taken verbatim.

  • The bòcans became true shapeshifters.
  • The coblynau retreated beneath the earth.
  • The daoine sidhe came to resemble humans.
  • The dullahans became night terrors.
  • The leannáin sidhe adapted to feed on human blood.
  • The murúcha retreated beneath the waves.
  • The spriggans became more like humans, but kept their strength and power to grow.
  • The fir liath became creatures of air.
  • The ferrishyn became diminutive sprites and formed bonds with dogs.
  • The leanaí na gcrann became creatures of the forests.
  • The sluagh na marbh survived by recruiting/preserving the dead. (also consuming?)

Obviously I’ve expanded on that since, and some of it has changed since I sketched out that basic list. But there’s the skeleton: twelve species, each with their own niches, their own parts to play. And it fits the basic ideas of my story well. The Fair are not their ancestors, the legendary Tuatha de Dannan. They can’t change their form on a whim (with the possible exception of the bòcans, but even they have their limits), they can’t move mountains with a whispered word. They are changed. Codified. Diminished.

I had to bid goodbye to so much in the process: trolls and kelpies and knockers, nixies and nucklavees. There are a lot of orphaned fairies out there, and I wouldn’t want to run into any of them on a dark and lonely night. But Fall is stronger for it. The world is more coherent, more defined. The machine is not yet running perfectly, but it’s running well.

Don’t be afraid to make orphans. If something isn’t working, cut it out. Be ruthless. Cut and rearrange and cut some more until it fits – even if you’re losing Very Good Ideas in the process. There will be other stories. Or there will be notes, or interviews, or anecdotes to be told with a small, rueful smile. You don’t have to cram everything and the kitchen sink into this story.

Advertisements

Writing Wednesdays: Write Now. RIGHT NOW!

As a rule, I don’t like to dish out advice that I haven’t followed. Now, it’s true that we all make mistakes, and we all learn from them, and sometimes that makes for fantastic advice…but if you keep making those mistakes, if you keep failing to take your own advice, that kind of makes you a hypocrite. So I’ll say this up front: when it comes to everything I’m about to say, yeah, I kind of feel like a hypocrite. I don’t think I’m particularly wrong about any of it, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve fallen short of my own standards here.

The secret to writing is this: you have to keep doing it.

You have to do it when you’re nursing a hangover from that party you went to the night before. You have to do it when the cat spent an ungodly hour yowling at your door, destroying the eight glorious hours of sleep you’d planned for yourself. You have to do it when you were at the office until an hour that doesn’t bear thinking about. You have to do it when the black cloud of depression is upon you. You have to do it when it’s a beautiful sunny day and you just want to spend it lying in the grass and you can’t take your laptop because the glare is just awful. You have to do it when you’re staring down writer’s block. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. If you want to actually make something of yourself as a writer, you have to stand up, put on your big girl pants, and then sit back down again and actually write.

If you wait for inspiration to strike, you will be waiting until wolves devour the sun and moon, King Arthur returns from Avalon, and the whole grand host of the sidhe comes riding down from Tir na nOg. Oh, I’m sure that some writers live in a land of milk and honey, where unicorns hand-deliver brilliant ideas on golden platters, outlines and settings and characters hand-written by their muses and sealed with big, wet, sloppy kisses. But the vast majority of us know that our muses are fickle, arbitrary jerks. That nothing comes without a price, and that price is the blood, sweat and tears we pour into turning that thin glimmer of inspiration into something full and vital and real. Writer’s block is not something that merely afflicts us, that comes for a season and drifts away on its own – it’s a dragon to be fought with everything we have, to be hacked at again and again until it thinks better of bothering us and goes back to its cave. And inspiration is not something that descends from on high: it is an elusive quarry, a stealthy beast that must be tracked and hunted and flushed out again and again.

So you have to carve out time to do the work. You have to take it wherever you can find it. And, once you’ve found that time, you have to set down your schedule and stick to it. Writing is work, and like any other work, it requires planning, and discipline, and routine. A lot of writers I know try to get an hour or two in every day. That’s a worthy goal. It’s a goal I’ve fallen short of more often than I care to admit, but it’s what I’m trying for. I do tend to get more work done on the weekends, but I try to get in at least an hour with Fall each day. In the last week, I’ve actually been taking my computer with me on the train – I have a solid forty-minute train ride between home and work each day, so even after I factor in booting up and shutting down, that’s thirty minutes coming and going, or an hour altogether. I don’t have Internet access on the train, and my iPod blasts my Fall-themed playlist straight into my ears the whole way, so distractions are minimized. I have to keep an eye on which station I’m actually pulling into, but I can manage that and still get a fair amount of writing done.

Even if you can’t actually put pen to paper – or fingers to keys – for some reason, you can still do the work. People were creating stories long before we had the luxury of computers, or typewriters, or ballpoint pens, or even movable type. If you really want to feel bad about yourself and all your excuses for not writing, take a look at the backstory behind The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a memoir composed entirely inside the author’s head and dictated to the outside world one letter at a time. I mean, I was in the hospital recently, as some of you may recall. I didn’t have it nearly that bad. I wasn’t nearly that dedicated to the work, either. Even so, I did spend my time in the hospital running through Fall in my head, and by the time I got out, I had a new character who filled in a lot of the gaps in the story. That playlist I mentioned? Well, on top of the 40-minute train ride, I have a 20-minute walk between the station and my house, and a 10-minute walk between the other station and my office. I keep the playlist running and I do my best to think about the book. Even when you’re not writing, you can be laying the foundation.

This isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. You’re not going to bang out a novel in a single sitting. Neither am I. You have to keep chipping away at it. You have to build up your stamina, find a routine that works for you, and stick to it. If you’re not writing regularly, you’ll never be anything but a wannabe. I don’t want to be a wannabe. Do you?

If you like what you’ve just read, please consider donating to my summer pledge drive. If you can’t donate yourself, but you’d still like to help, please spread the word about the blog and about the pledge drive itself. The more readers and potential supporters I pick up, the better.

Fangirl Fridays: Katniss Everdeen, The Girl On Fire

Katniss Everdeen, as portrayed in the UK edition of The Hunger Games

Welcome to the third and final entry in Hunger Games Week on the blog. I’m sure you all saw this particular post coming – really, is it any surprise that my favorite female character is the trilogy‘s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen herself? After all the time we spend in her head, after everything we see her do, after everything she goes through, it’s hard not to feel a deep and abiding sympathy for her.

Of course, feeling sympathy for Katniss isn’t the same as liking her, and I know that a lot of people don’t – or, at least, they feel that she’s deeply flawed, particularly as the series goes on. To be honest, I agree: she is deeply flawed. She has a serious inferiority complex. She breaks down, here and there, under the pressure she faces, the weight that’s placed on her shoulders from the very beginning and only grows as time goes on. Her confused feelings for Gale and Peeta throw a seemingly inappropriate romantic subplot into the midst of a long, hard fight against an oppressive government and a desperate struggle to survive in a world gone to shit. Too often, she is caught up in the plans of others, in the great crashing waves of history, rather than acting on her own initiative and her own behalf.

And here’s what we’re all forgetting: Katniss Everdeen is a teenage girl.

She’s a teenage girl, for crying out loud! She’s allowed to be silly! She’s allowed to be distracted by boys! She’s allowed to fall short of the impossible goals that have been placed before her! For crying out loud: could you even survive all the crap she goes through? Because I know I couldn’t. I’ve folded in the face of a hell of a lot less. And yes, I’ve picked myself up again and yes, I’ve grown stronger, but I’m also something like a decade older than Katniss and I haven’t been through half the crap she has as of the start of the first book. So, yes, I forgive Katniss her flaws. I forgive her the occasional teenage girl moment. In point of fact, as with Rose Red, I love her not in spite of her flaws, but because of them.

Katniss Everdeen, as portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence: flawed, but not AS flawed.

In fact, if I have one complaint about Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, it’s this: the film version of Katniss doesn’t seem to have those moments. She’s almost too strong, too capable, too aloof, too stoic. We see her suffer, of course – physically, mentally, emotionally. We see her falter and fail. But where is the girl who forgot herself on stage with Caesar Flickerman, twirling and giggling in her dress and forgetting, just for a moment (and a moment she clearly regretted later), that she had been sent far from home to suffer and die to sate the Capitol’s bloodlust – that every last one of them had? Of course, not all of this can be placed on Lawrence’s shoulders: as I said on Monday, the movie doesn’t put us in Katniss’s head. We don’t hear her thoughts. We don’t see the doubts and insecurities she works so hard to keep hidden from view. And so Lawrence’s portrayal seems to fall short. I still think she embodies Katniss in many ways – but, if anything, she comes off as perhaps too strong. (It is, of course, not fair to blame Lawrence for the lack of giddiness in Katniss’s interview with Caesar Flickerman, either – the scene was clearly just not written to accommodate giddiness or gaiety. The writers and director chose to go in another direction. It’s not a bad direction, but I do feel something is lost.)

But I already reviewed the movie, so let’s get back to Katniss herself, particularly as she’s portrayed in the trilogy as a whole. You know, as I look back on my experience with the books, I can’t help but compare Katniss to other figures central to wars and revolutions and crises throughout history. George Washington springs to mind, of course. Thomas Jefferson, too. Abraham Lincoln. The Roman hero Cincinnatus. One might even draw certain parallels with Joan of Arc. We lionize these people. We make them larger than life. We tell grand, sweeping, epic stories about their deeds. But, in the end, they were simply people. They, too, had deep flaws. In some cases, a close historical reading reveals those flaws; in others, they are lost to time. But all of them, I promise you, were human.

The world will be watching. The world will always be watching.

Katniss Everdeen is much the same way. The generations that follow the revolution in Panem will undoubtedly lionize her, at least to some degree. Certainly they will paint her as a larger than life figure. The finer details of her life, of everything she experienced, of everything she suffered, will be washed away by the relentless tides of history. But we aren’t reading the future history of Panem. We aren’t reading a biography of Katniss Everdeen, the Girl On Fire, the Mockingjay, the fearless leader of the revolution. We aren’t even reading Katniss’s own memoirs – not really. We’re following her present. We’re living her life, moment by moment, as she faces impossible odds, suffers terrible losses, grapples with her own feelings and her own doubts. And that perspective is amazing. That perspective is precious. That is a perspective we so rarely see in actual history. Can you imagine what any historian would give to crack open Abraham Lincoln’s brain and see what he was actually thinking at any given time? Or Washington’s? Or good old Joan’s? In many cases, of course, we have memoirs, we have letters, we have records of conversations…but it’s not the same as actually getting into someone’s head, is it? Even the most impromptu conversation is full of spur-of-the-moment editing and self-censorship. Katniss doesn’t get to edit her thoughts and feelings…and, yes, she comes off just a little worse for it.

One of the film’s taglines is this: The world will be watching. It really will. In truth, Katniss is paraded before two worlds: her world of Panem, and our world that could one day change into something very much like it. To many of the readers of our world, she falls short. To the people of Panem, who cannot see her innermost thoughts, she is a hero, a symbol, something more than a mere girl – or, depending on their particular perspectives, a complete and utter enigma, particularly in light of her actions at the end of the war. Sitting outside of Katniss’s world, we privileged readers see into the very core of her experience. We know better. We know that she’s just a teenage girl.

Too often, we forget that bravery isn’t the absence of fear and doubt – it’s the ability to overcome it, or at least to live with it while you do what must be done. And heroism? We don’t get to define that for ourselves. Others will decide whether or not we’re heroic, and those of us who end up with that label may very well feel unworthy of it. We may be unworthy of it. But, in the end, we don’t get to make that call. Neither does Katniss. The Hunger Games and its sequels show us a heroine from her own perspective. In that, the books succeed brilliantly, and I can only hope that the movies ultimately do so as well. Because I don’t love Katniss Everdeen because she’s a hero – I love her because she’s a human being who does the best she can with what she’s handed, who tries to do whatever good she can in the time that she’s been given. She doesn’t always succeed. But she tries. And that’s what counts. That’s what ultimately leads her to play a central part in the creation of a new future for all of Panem.

So try not to be too harsh on poor Katniss, alright? She did her best. That’s all any of us can do.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Media Mondays: The Hunger Games

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Welcome to Hunger Games week on the blog. In honor of the film’s release, I’ll be posting about The Hunger Games and related matters in every major post this week – Media Mondays, Writing Wednesdays, and Fangirl Fridays. Today’s post is all about the movie itself – how it held up compared to the original book, how well it stands up on its own, and my assorted and sundry thoughts. For the first few paragraphs, I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but later on I’ll be discussing specific details.

For those of you who haven’t yet read the book, here’s a summary: Years from now, in the wake of climate shifts and major turmoil, North America has been reinvented as Panem, a highly stratified and oppressive society ruled from a city known simply as the Capitol. Nearly a century prior to the events of the book, the thirteen geographic districts that lie outside the Capitol rose up in rebellion. In the course of the war, District 13 was wiped off the map, and the Capitol successfully cracked down on all the rest. As punishment for the rebellion, the Capitol demands tributes from each district every year – one boy and one girl, selected at random (though others can volunteer to take their places) – who are taken into the Capitol itself for parades and pageantry before they are at last thrown into a vast arena where they must fight to the death in a massive televised event. The last tribute standing wins a lifetime of wealth and comfort, and their home district receives extra food and supplies for the following year. These are the Hunger Games.

The book – and its sequels – follow Katniss Everdeen, a teenage girl from District 12, which is chiefly responsible for Panem’s coal supplies. In the seventy-fourth year of the Hunger Games, Katniss’s sister Primrose is, by sheer chance, selected as tribute, and Katniss immediately volunteers to save Prim from the Games. What follows is quite possibly one of the harrowing young adult novels I’ve ever read, and a frightening and frequently heartbreaking portrayal of a dystopian future. The story and the world it inhabits are deepened by frequent references to Greco-Roman mythology and history: from the very concept of the tributes (which brings the legend of Theseus to mind) to the frequent use of Roman names, the influence of Roman culture on the nation of Panem (the name itself not only a corruption, presumably, of “Pan-America,” but also a sly reference to the Latin phrase panem et circenses, commonly translated today as “bread and circuses“) is crystal clear. The influence is even more pronounced in the world of the film – but I’ll get to that.

Seriously, Entertainment Weekly?

I have to admit that I was extremely nervous when the film was first announced, and more so when I saw the initial photos of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen – heavily airbrushed and altered, until Lawrence was barely recognizable as herself, let alone poor, unfortunate Katniss – published in Entertainment Weekly. The various subsequent interviews with the cast and crew, coupled with the initial trailers, laid many of those fears to rest. The first few minutes of the film destroyed those fears completely. Jennifer Lawrence embodies Katniss, and the rest of the cast is at least serviceable, if not always superb. (Young Amandla Stenberg is the perfect Rue. Liam Hemsworth is a great Gale, even if we don’t see much of him and the brief glimpses we do get are somewhat overwrought. Elizabeth Banks feels a bit underused as Effie Trinket. And if I keep going, I’ll be at this all day.) District 12 and the Capitol are captured vividly. The film hits many of the major points of the book, and in some places, surpasses it.

That said, it is very, very difficult for a film to capture a novel in its entirety – between limited budgets, limited running times, and the need to draw in and entertain complete newcomers as well as existing fans, the transition from page to screen can be very rough indeed. The Hunger Games does show some signs of this strain. The core of my concerns with the film can be summed up in Mightygodking‘s one-sentence review. The book benefits from the fact that it’s written in the first person. We remain firmly ensconced in Katniss’s head. We see what she’s thinking at all times. The film doesn’t give us that internal monologue, and so, at times, Katniss is inscrutable, and her poor acting and awkward moments come off as failures on Jennifer Lawrence’s part when – in fact – she stays completely true to the character.

As a fan of the books, I enjoyed the film immensely, but I must also concede that it’s an incomplete adaptation in places, and my knowledge of the book may be filling in some serious gaps in the story as conveyed in the movie. I would still recommend the film to viewers who have not yet read the original books – but I would also heartily recommend that they read the books as soon as possible.

Okay. That's more like it.

Let’s look at a few of the specifics. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW.

First, let’s look at one of the central elements of the books: the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta Mellark (her fellow District 12 tribute) and Gale Hawthorne (Katniss’s best friend and partner in hunting and gathering outside District 12’s boundary). Other reviewers have noted that these relationships fall a bit flat and feel a bit hollow, and I have to concede the point – with a caveat: the fact of the matter is that this love triangle isn’t really developed in the first book. It takes Katniss a long time to come to terms with her feelings for both young men – to recognize that she has those feelings at all. In the first book, she is driven first by her need to survive the Games and return to her family; later, she develops some sympathy toward Peeta, and when the organizers of the Games announce a change in the rules which will allow them both to survive, she becomes determined to save his life as well. While it’s virtually impossible not to read between the lines and take note of Katniss’s growing romantic feelings toward Peeta, they’re really not a huge part of the events of The Hunger Games itself. And, frankly, while the love triangle is certainly important, it’s not really the main thrust of any of the books.

The movie makes some missteps here. First, and most notably, a lot of weight is placed on the love triangle, and it doesn’t come off well. Every time Katniss grows close to Peeta, we flash back to District 12, where Gale is staring moodily at the television, watching them getting cozy in the midst of the Games. The audience at the showing I attended laughed every time this happened, no matter what else was going on or what had just occurred. It caused some serious mood dissonance and really took me out of the world of the film.

Second, as I noted earlier, we don’t really get to see into Katniss’s head here. Jennifer Lawrence is playing the character as she was in the books. Fans of the books will undoubtedly pick up on this. Newcomers will not. They’ll see a Katniss who’s acting awkward and cold and strange for no apparent reason. The film does not convey her inner conflict, her true feelings, her innermost thoughts at all. And in that, it fails, and the failure is most notable whenever the love triangle comes into play.

Katniss’s relationship with Peeta – and the way that relationship develops over the course of the Games, and more importantly the things Katniss does to promote that relationship to the Games’ audience – is a vitally important plot point. It had to be included, one way or another. But by shoehorning in Gale’s reactions, by failing to show us what’s actually going on, the film fell short. It was a pretty damn great literal adaptation, but we needed more than a literal adaptation. We needed to see the spirit of the books captured on film. And the movie hasn’t done that – not entirely.

The greatest failure of the movie, however, is this: it fails to convey just how dire the situation in Panem is, and what precisely the Games mean. The movie doesn’t explain that the districts, through their tributes, are literally competing for their survival (or at least a better chance at survival in the coming year) – the true reason for the name “Hunger Games”. The movie spends so much time in the Capitol, with all its garish colors and ostentatious glory, that we don’t even really see how bad the situation in District 12 is, let alone the situation in the rest of Panem. The film shows us the Capitol’s pageantry and cruelty in spades, but it doesn’t go far enough. The moments and the conversations that lay out the history and the present status of Panem simply aren’t there.

Rue, played by Amandla Stenberg - honestly one of the best parts of the film.

That said, there were some absolutely fantastic moments in the film. The death of the youngest tribute, Rue, who had by that time teamed up with Katniss in the arena, is particularly moving. I have to confess that I didn’t really cry at that scene when I read it in the original book. I got a little sniffly, but for some reason my imagination failed to capture the full poignancy of the scene. When it happened in the movie, I broke down sobbing. When, in the movie, the image of Rue lying in a meadow, dead and covered in the flowers Katniss has gathered, prompted open rebellion in District 11 (Rue’s home district, and Panem’s agricultural center), I just started crying even harder. This is a scene we don’t see in the book – District 11 doesn’t rebel at Rue’s death, at least not right away. Instead, they send Katniss a gift (something that sponsors outside the arena can do, but at great cost): a loaf of bread that she recognizes as coming from District 11 because of an earlier, seemingly irrelevant scene in the book. Because that scene, too, was removed from the movie, the riot is a far more effective turn of events…and, honestly, it heightens Katniss’s isolation from her world. She has no idea what she’s done, what effect her actions have had. She doesn’t realize that she is the tipping point for a possible revolution, that Panem’s President and the people who run her society are genuinely afraid of her. And that’s precisely as it should be.

And, while we lose Katniss’s voice, we gain new and truly fascinating perspectives. In a significant subplot, we follow Seneca Crane, the man in charge of the Hunger Games, as he discusses them, organizes them, alters them, and deals with the demands of his audience as well as the demands of those in power, personified in Panem’s President Snow. At the end, Seneca fails to contain the force he has unleashed. He has failed to counter Katniss’s final gambit, the move that breaks the Games themselves. And at the very end of his story, we see him escorted into a room, locked in, and left alone with a dish full of poisonous berries. It’s a perfect moment. It recalls the death of Socrates, and thus, a moment that was only mentioned in passing in the books – and not even in The Hunger Games itself – is given new weight and tied in perfectly with Panem’s Greco-Roman-themed society.

In conclusion, I would recommend the film. I don’t think it’s completely impossible for a newcomer to follow: to the contrary, I think a newcomer could follow it quite well. The changes from the book are largely necessary, and serve to streamline the story. It’s a good movie, any way you slice it. Hopefully it will bring a lot of new fans to the books. And, as I said, as one of the series’ existing fans, I loved the movie. It brought many of the book’s most compelling moments to life, and it offered some very nice bonuses to loyal fans. But it wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t complete. See the movie – but make sure you read the books. Trust me. They’re worth it.

Writing Wednesdays: Modern Mythology

Looking back, I’m amazed to see how my first novel, Fall, has changed and grown. As I’ve said before, I started with a rudimentary premise: I wanted to write a queer supernatural romance, a fairy tale in which people at least a little like me were not only represented but celebrated. I joke about “Twilight for lesbians,” but in truth, that’s not far off my original intent. Though I also wanted to incorporate some ideas from an Irish folktale that had fired my imagination, my original focus was almost entirely on the star-crossed lovers at the center of my tale. Though that folktale is still key to my tale, and the central characters remain, under new and different names – Bree was, I think, originally Siobhan; her sister Kira was originally Aisling; their mother, Queen Deirdre, went through half a dozen names; I’ve quite forgotten what I originally called Maddie – these elements are now the seeds from which a great big plot has grown. My story now is about a fading people clinging to the past, and what happens when that past strikes them full in the face and forces them to change their ways. It’s a murder mystery, to an extent, and a story of conspiracy and deceit, and should I be given the opportunity to write the intended sequels, the beginning of a grand quest. It is still a tale of love, of course: the love between Bree and Maddie, the bonds of friendship they form with others, the sometimes misguided love of family. But if it all comes off as I hope it will, Fall will have a taste of the epic. In the best tradition of urban fantasy, it will offer up a modern mythology.

To create that mythology, of course, I’ve delved deeply into the past. I’ve wrestled with Celtic mythology and European folklore and worldwide fairy lore. I’ve made countless lists, filled a notebook or two with mad scratchings, stayed up late in a fever trying to figure out what must be included and what should be dismissed. I have cut and sculpted and pounded pieces into place, slowly building a coherent myth, a coherent world. You can drive yourself mad with research, and I might have come close once or twice. And you can drive yourself mad trying to make sense of the senseless.

I am reminded vividly of something I heard in an Irish folklore class, many years ago. We were discussing chants and charms against the Good Folk, and my professor cited one particular chant that really caught my fancy. I forget how it goes exactly, and have been unable to find it since, but it went something like this: “Today is Monday, tomorrow is Tuesday, the day after Wednesday. You folk who live in the hill over there, stay in the hill and leave me be.” There is a recurring theme in folklore that fairies somehow disrupt the natural order – sometimes deliberately, sometimes just by existing. Time flows strangely around them. Things fall apart. And so it makes sense that such chaotic creatures could be neutralized through cold, relentless logic, by the ritual recitation of the order of things. Today is Monday. Tomorrow is Tuesday. The day after Wednesday.

When I was first thinking of writing of fairies, and in the urban fantasy genre to boot, I had the amusing notion that one of my characters might recite the stops on the Red Line to hold their enemies at bay: Davis, Porter, Harvard, Central, Kendall, Charles, Park Street and so on. Alas, that is not the story I’m writing, and I don’t know now if my characters will even be going into Boston, though the book is set in Massachusetts. An idea for another tale, perhaps. (Truth be told, anyone who’s had to live with the vagaries of the T, as I have, know that it’s hardly a paragon of order to begin with.)

I’ve wandered away from my point, which is this: you think fairies are chaotic? Try researching fairy lore. You’ll find a dozen names for the same thing. You’ll find creatures that just don’t make any damn sense. You’ll find ridiculous degrees of specificity in one area and horrifying vagueness in another. Modern fairy stories are so very versatile because you can twist the folklore into just about any shape you like. It’s as delightful as it is frustrating.

Case in point: the cold iron conundrum. You would not believe the time I have spent on this one problem. In the world of Fall, iron neutralizes fairy magic, and fairies find it generally unpleasant. Without going into details, this simple fact is the key to a number of vital plot developments. Now here’s the problem: iron is everywhere. It’s in our food. Our water. The air we breathe. Most of the metals we use. It makes up a third of our planet.

Those of you who know something of fairy lore may be wondering why I don’t limit myself specifically to cold iron. Though some stories and role-playing games (I’m looking at you, Changeling: The Dreaming) have claimed that cold iron refers to some specific method of manufacture, such as beating iron into shape over a mild heat source, the truth is that cold iron is nothing more than a poetic turn of phrase. It’s like saying “hot lead” when you’re talking about bullets, or “cold steel” when you’re talking about a sword. This was simply understood in the original tales, and it feels cheap to try and narrow the definition now. Your next question might be this: why not pure iron? Because there’s no such thing. Iron ore pretty much always includes impurities that can’t simply be removed. Even steel is basically iron with a bit of carbon added in, and there is iron out there tainted with enough carbon that it might well qualify as steel already. So if ANY iron is ANY good at all against fairies, then impure iron must necessarily count. All iron is cold iron; all iron is pure enough to affect the fairies.

Every author who writes about fairies must find their own way to deal with this problem. In Holly Black‘s Modern Faerie Tales, iron irritates and even hurts fairies – even the iron in, say, an average car – but their magics can offer them some protection. In Seanan McGuire‘s October Daye novels, iron is never really defined to any specific degree. In Charlaine Harris‘s Sookie Stackhouse books, fairies actually wear some kind of protective skin covering to shield them from the iron in the world around them. And some authors simply drop the iron thing altogether, but for various reasons, that was not an option for me.

I probably spent far more time on this than I should have. For a while, I thought perhaps that only iron directly touched by humans would pose a problem – hand-forged weapons, or items made of iron or iron alloys that saw frequent use by mortals. That worked in some ways and posed even more plot problems in others. In a period of utter desperation, I considered replacements for iron – silver, various woods, various herbs – but none of them quite offered what I wanted. In the end, I fell back on the central theme of my story: change or die. And that answered a hell of a lot of questions.

How would creatures totally vulnerable to iron survive in a world filled with it? They wouldn’t. Not without adapting. I soon decided that some fairies were invulnerable to iron – though they had other vulnerabilities to make up for it – and, further, they possessed certain magics that could make iron and iron alloys safe for the others to use. Further, they had been able to lay enchantments upon various factories, ensuring that mass produced items made of iron or iron alloys would also be safe. At the same time, the other fairies had built up a certain resistance to the iron in the world around them, in their food, in their water, and so forth. I had already decided that their powers had diminished somewhat over the centuries, and it made sense that the iron all around them might be the cause. Their resistance could be overcome, of course, but it would take more than trace amounts of iron to do it. I’m not sure it’s a perfect solution, but for now, it works for the story I’m trying to tell.

That core concept, change or die, also helped me cut through the confusing mass of fairies found throughout European folklore and determine which specific fairies would have a place in my story. I realized that each distinct type of fairy would have adapted to the world in different ways. There were fairies who hid themselves beneath the waves or in the depths of the forests. There were fairies who learned to resist and even manipulate iron, though at a steep price. There were fairies who looked like humans and fairies who could look like almost anything at all. If I could find a niche for them, they were in. And if there were other similar creatures out there with completely different names, well, it was bound to happen. (I also ended up limiting myself primarily to the lore of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, and the various surrounding islands. That narrowed things down considerably.)

So I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and hopefully it’ll lead to a richer, more compelling world. That said, there’s a cautionary tale here. Research is great. You want your story to feel authentic. If you’re setting your tale in a real place, or using real people or things, you certainly don’t want to get any major details wrong. And if you’re drawing on existing mythology, you definitely want to tell a story that could fit vaguely in with your sources. But don’t get carried away. There comes a time when you have to put down the books, stop writing notes, and take the reins once more. The fact of the matter is that you can get away with taking creative licenses. This is your story we’re talking about. Your world. Don’t be afraid to put the books down and make a stand.

The truth is that I’m a bibliophile by nature, and more than a little obsessive at times, and research was shaping up into a pretty major pitfall. I needed to take some time to figure out the finer details of my world, but honestly? I could have spent a lot of that time writing Fall. So, while all those old, dusty books are still waiting for me on my shelf, or by my bed, or at my local library, and I’ll doubtless consult them again, I’ve set them aside for now. I have my notes, I have my story, and I have my world. I’ve spent quite enough time with the folklore and mythology of ages past. It’s time to get back to writing my own.

Writing Wednesdays: Characters Are People Too

It’s something of a chestnut among writers: someone mentions that their characters have done something of their own accord, entirely against the writer’s will, and all the other writers in the room smile and laugh knowingly, eyes twinkling in amused sympathy. Oh, to be sure, there are writers who do not focus on characterization, and perhaps they don’t face quite the same problem, but most of us know all too well that you can create all the people you like and not one of them will do precisely what you expect.

Since this is the first post discussing my novel, I should go a bit into its origins. When I started writing Fall, the characters (and the basic relationships between them) were all I had. I had recently read Twilight and its sequels, thanks to my friend Katie (who knew full well what she was getting me into, but somehow our friendship has survived both that blatant trolling attempt and the terrible crushing sadness I experienced after she got me to read His Dark Materials), and after finishing the books, I was struck by two main thoughts. First, I was absolutely certain that I could write something better. Twilight is a tremendous ego boost to most writers for that reason. It’s also a cautionary tale: you can come up with a couple interesting characters and one or two intriguing notions, but you’ve got to keep going and not just pad that wheat out with a whole bunch of chaff.

But my rants on Twilight can wait. Returning to the point, my second thought was this: …where the hell are all the gay people?

It is, perhaps, not terribly surprising that a Mormon Brigham Young University graduate wrote a young adult romance novel with absolutely no hint of alternate sexuality or gender identities whatsoever. Given the state of our society, in fact, it is not terribly surprising that there is a general dearth of GLBT characters (particularly main characters) in the supernatural romance genre. Happily, there are novels that include such characters (I admit that I have not yet had the opportunity to read too many modern fantasy novels with openly GLBT protagonists, let alone supernatural romance, but Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales and Seanan McGuire’s October Daye novels both feature some great gay or bi characters), but there’s a lot of work to be done, and I want to be one of the people doing that work. I want to write stories that speak to a wider range of readers, and I want to offer even the so-called mainstream perspectives they don’t often get to see.

Thus, Fall was born. In the beginning, I had only a basic sketch: inspired by the aforementioned Holly Black and Seanan McGuire, as well as my interest in Irish folklore and mythology and various other fondly remembered fairy tales of my youth and adolescence, I was going to write a queer supernatural romance revolving around modern fairies living in America. I didn’t want to tell another ‘hapless human falls in love with mysterious supernatural paramour’ story, so I decided my main character, Bree, would be the younger daughter of the Winter Queen, already ensconced in fairy society but eager to escape the machinations of the court and find something more meaningful. Her love interest, Maddie, would be a mysterious new arrival in town who appeared to pose a significant threat to the society of the fae, and Bree would have to find a way to protect her from trigger-happy knights, paranoid nobles, and the schemes of the Winter Queen and heir apparent while she figured out what Maddie’s deal was and what they were to one another.

I wrote out a chapter or two of this novel, and soon hit upon a problem: pure supernatural romance tends to be really boring. I actually can’t think of a single romance novel that deals exclusively with romance without incorporating other elements: Pride and Prejudice deals chiefly with Elizabeth Bennet’s relationship with Mr. Darcy, and with the various romantic trials of their friends and family, but it also shows how Elizabeth cares for and protects her family in so many ways before finally finding and accepting love herself, and how Elizabeth’s stubbornness both helps and hinders her. I already had something of a broader plot brewing in the form of Maddie’s mysterious past, but I soon realized that wasn’t enough. More importantly, it wasn’t the story I wanted to write. I really wanted to explore the society of the fae, their origins and history, their reasons for coming to America and the impact that had. I wanted to tell a story of change and growth, not just in Bree’s life, but in fae society at large.

So the novel went back to the drawing board. I did some work on another project in the meantime, but I also spent a lot of time doing research and figuring out the story I wanted to tell. Which brings me back to my point about characters: because Bree and Maddie didn’t just go quietly into the closet at the back of my mind and wait patiently for me to write their story. Something happened while I was building the foundation of their world. By the time I was ready to start writing Fall again, the two of them were connected in ways that surprised even me, and they were ready to run at each other full tilt. I wrote Chapter 1 in a rush, introduced the pair of them, and before I knew it, they were flirting madly, despite Bree’s uncertainty about her own sexuality and despite my own efforts to rein them in.

And it worked. I could have forced them apart, made their conversation more casual, but…it worked far too well on the page. And their sudden, profound feelings for one another explained some of Bree’s actions in later chapters, most especially her willingness to risk her strained relationships with her family, her social standing, and possibly her very life in order to protect someone she barely knew. I realized, suddenly, that some kind of destiny was in play here: that they may not have been fated for one another (though, of course, as the writer, I fully intended to pull them together), but the potential of their relationship was so powerful that it would change everything around them. Once I understood that Bree was dealing not just with a new and unexpected relationship but with the stirrings of destiny, I began to understand how I should flesh out her character. As Bree’s story became more complex, so, of course, did Maddie’s, and soon the two of them were complementing each other nicely.

Bree’s sister, Kira, also went through some unexpected changes. I had initially thought of her as a sort of femme fatale, seducing and using and discarding hapless mortals without a thought. Then I gave a good deal of thought to making her the outright villain of the piece. I briefly considered making her outright emotionally abusive toward Bree. She was immature, power-hungry, grasping and cruel. But when my writing group rightly pointed out that she was far, far older than Bree, and her immaturity was surprising – that, in fact, she might see herself as a surrogate mother to Bree – Kira truly clicked in my head, and soon she, too, was transforming into something I never expected. As written now, she is emotionally manipulative, but not abusive. Her cruelty has shifted to a sort of cluelessness; in many ways, her mentality is simply alien, and she truly doesn’t understand why her actions sometimes upset Bree or why she can’t simply enchant mortals as she will. As I saw Kira less as Bree’s enemy and more as a big sister and surrogate mother trying her best to protect Bree and mold her into someone who can survive and thrive in fae society, the whole shape of the plot began to change. I won’t say whether or not Kira is still the villain. But I will say that her reasons for doing the things she does are now much more complex.

These are just a few examples of the impact your characters can have on your story. In the case of Fall, their evolving personalities and their sometimes surprising choices changed the story drastically. I am hardly the first writer to experience this: certainly a few of the other members of my writing group have seen their stories shift unexpectedly, and I have fond memories of an essay written by Jane Yolen in which she remarked upon whole groups of characters turning up uninvited and insisting upon a place in your story. It doesn’t matter whether or not you meant to write about elves (the example from Yolen’s essay, if I remember correctly) or kings or dragons or aliens…sometimes they just show up, and refuse to leave you alone until you’ve worked out what they’re doing there.

As a writer, you should embrace these moments. To be sure, you cannot spill everything you’ve thought of onto the page. If you try to shove every notion you may have into your book, up to and including dragons, kings, elves, aliens, cloned Tyrannosaurus Rexes (Tyrannosauri Rex?), and possessed fully-automated kitchen sinks, you will end up with a mess. You must know when to begin paring things down and, as the saying goes, killing your darlings. But your characters are people too. They are born of your experience, your personality, sometimes even parts of your history, but they are in a sense your children: once you create them, they have minds and wills of their own. Sometimes they’ll surprise you, and sometimes those surprises will be the most amazing things you’ve ever seen. Listen to what they’re telling you. Embrace their individuality. Your writing will be better for it.

New and Used

Recently I talked a little bit about piracy. That post caused a little more controversy among my friends than I was expecting, but my friend Maverynthia had some particularly interesting thoughts on suggestion #5 on my list, and I thought the issue deserved its own post. In fact, it’s such a complicated issue that it deserves two posts, from two totally different people. (I’m a little bit country. She’s a little bit rock and roll. Or something.) I really didn’t want to try and speak for Maverynthia on this issue, so I asked her if she’d be willing to post about her own thoughts on the matter, and then we’d activate our Wonder Twin powers and link across the Internet.

She agreed, and her piece is here.

(Yes, I did just reference both Donny & Marie and the Wonder Twins, two things which no one under the age of 25 is probably aware of. Or most people under 30. Or 35. I am not cooler than you. I am a dork.)

So here’s the thing: I have bought a ton of used books. In fact, I regularly scour the used book shelves at my favorite bookstore, searching for out of print tomes (especially Changeling: The Dreaming sourcebooks). I’ve also bought plenty of used board games, video games, even a few DVDs and albums and so forth. And I don’t like it when anything is missing. Not pages, nor game pieces, nor poster maps. True story: I once bought a copy of the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer that was missing its poster map, a small fact the seller had failed to mention. That was the one and only time I left negative feedback for an online seller.

Further, as a writer, I don’t mind the idea of people buying used copies of my books, when or if said books are ever published. I would like to make a living off of my craft, but I would also like people to read what I wrote. To appreciate it. To enjoy it. To end up with well-loved copies scarred only by the years of reading and reading, of loaning the text out to good friends and getting it back, of taking the book on plane rides and subway rides and cloned T-Rex rides. (I don’t know why you’re reading on the back of a freaking Tyrannosaurus Rex, but bless your heart.) I have faith in any fans I manage to attract. I know plenty of them will buy my books hot off the presses. And, someday, they may sell those books off to others, or give them, or lend them and end up moving away before they can reclaim them, and all of that is fine.

That said…we do not live in the United Federation of Planets. Our society is based upon the pursuit, acquisition, and trade of some kind of resource. At this moment in time, we have a bunch of fiat currencies that honestly don’t make a whole lot of sense when you really look at them (unless you’re an economist, and I don’t know why you’re an economist while you’re riding on the back of a freaking Tyrannosaurus Rex, but bless your heart), but people tend to need that money to survive regardless.

And here is the problem with used books, games, DVDs, whatever: unless you’re somehow buying them from the original producer/seller, they don’t see one red cent of the money you’ve paid.

Now. I firmly believe that, once you buy something, you own it, and you should be able to do what you will with it. That includes selling it. A lot of corporations don’t like that. That’s why they’ve pushed to move from a system of absolute ownership to a system where somehow they’re just renting you some kind of limited-use license, and thank heavens they haven’t entirely succeeded on that front. That’s why music companies have historically tried to crack down on used record stores, and thankfully lost that battle as well. And that’s why you now see things like EA’s Project Ten Dollar. That’s why you see companies including one-time codes that cannot be used again by future owners of a given game or software product, codes that open up the full functionality of the program or unlock premium content or otherwise make new copies more desirable. That’s why you see all kinds of companies selling DLC: new missions, new characters, new ‘skins’ for existing characters, and so on.

There are bad ways to go about this (anything that restricts the full functionality of a basic game – including multiplayer options – to new copies, for example) and…not so bad ways to go about this, at least in my view. I actually think EA’s current system is a damn sight better than restrictive, intrusive DRM or planned obsolescence: with Mass Effect 2, you can buy the game used, and all the basic plot points and missions and characters are there, but you can only get bonus content by paying a small fee. Because new copies of Mass Effect 2 come with a single-use code that allows you access to the Cerberus Network, and it’s unlikely that you’ll find an unused code card in a used copy.

I don’t think this is a perfect method, of course – for example, the Cerberus Network is also the only way to buy (and, even more importantly, verify) paid DLC, so you’re basically paying a fee to get a few free items and go shopping for more stuff. It’s kind of like most theme parks. Also, you can’t use any of your lovely DLC, paid or otherwise, unless you have an Internet connection, allowing the game to check in with the Cerberus Network and confirm your membership. This is annoying. I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I’m on a long series of flights (as I was during my trip to New Orleans last year), or on the back of a cloned Tyrannosaurus Rex, I like to bring my laptop with me, and sometimes I like to play a game. My access to the Internet may be restricted or nonexistent during that time. So I can play the basic version of Mass Effect, but I can’t play Lair of the Shadow Broker or Overlord or Arrival. I can’t have Kasumi or Zaeed around. I don’t really get why the DLC I’ve already downloaded can’t just…play, or why the game can’t give me, say, a seven-day grace period from the last Cerberus Network check-in before it goes, whoops, no DLC for you.

But I digress. The point is, something like Project Ten Dollar – which gives new customers free access to premium content, and gives those who buy used products the ability to buy in for a small fee – is a workable solution. An annoying solution, but better than some of the alternatives.

And I definitely don’t mind paid DLC. Alan Wake‘s DLC actually extends the story to an extent, for example, offering mini-sequels to keep the fans sated while the team considered a sequel. (Which is not, sadly, American Nightmare. But I have faith that a proper Alan Wake 2 is coming.) Mass Effect 2’s DLC consists mainly of cosmetic items or storylines that don’t have much to do with the main arc, with the exception of Arrival.

But oh…let’s talk about those exceptions, shall we? Because that’s another boundary that game companies just shouldn’t cross, in my view. Arrival actually sets up the plot for Mass Effect 3. Without going into spoiler territory, it is vital to understanding the backstory of the third game. And it is paid DLC. Cerberus Network members don’t get it for free. Non-members definitely don’t. The ending of Mass Effect 2 sans DLC is acceptable, but Arrival completes the arc.

Do not freaking sell me an incomplete product.

Even if you use premium content or DLC to make a buck off of people who are buying your games used, you should still give them the complete story. Holding something that vital back wrecks the experience. It’s like the novelizations of Red Riding Hood that withheld the conclusion and directed readers to a web page that only went up after the film was out. It’s obnoxious. It’s rude.

And to an extent, yes, the Alan Wake DLC also bridges the gap between the first game and its potential sequel, but without going into spoiler territory, I don’t think those episodes are vital to understanding Alan’s journey as a whole. They’re side treks. They both kind of begin and end the same way. I enjoyed them, much as I enjoy the odd standalone episode of Buffy, but felt like I would have gotten along fine without them. Arrival is a different animal.

Look. I personally believe that creators and producers should back off, accept that some people are going to buy used products, and just try to make products compelling enough that the fans will want to buy them used. The first nine or ten Dresden Files novels on my shelf? Used. I got them all from a friend. Every last subsequent novel was bought new. Used books created a loyal customer. Used games can have the same effect.

But I also want my favorite companies to have the resources to keep making games. I don’t really think used products stand in the way of that, but I can understand the need to keep making money off those products, one way or another. I don’t like it, but it’s going to happen. And if it’s going to happen, I would rather drive those companies in the direction of non-draconian measures. Don’t lock out multiplayer or key features of the game. Don’t hold back essential elements of the story. Do offer enhancements to the user experience. Carrot, people, not stick.

Of course, there’s another option as well: digital distribution. For the most part, when a customer buys something through Steam, iTunes, or any other digital download service, they accept that they will be unable to transfer that item to any other customers. (Though, interesting, there is a company called ReDigi that claims to be dealing legitimately in the resale of music files from services like iTunes – naturally they have already been challenged by the RIAA) There is little to no legitimate aftermarket for digital downloads. I can’t sell you the copy of Portal 2 I bought on Steam. Nor can I sell you the Taylor Swift album I bought on iTunes, the Leverage or Mad Men episodes I bought on the Zune Marketplace on XBox LIVE, or any books I might have bought through my Kindle app. Is that fair? Maybe not. Maybe it would be only right to offer transferable licenses on all of these items. But the corporations involved have no motivation to do so. And since digital distribution reduces or eliminates the costs involved in publishing, packaging and shipping, I think it’s fair to say it’s the way of the future…which means we may lose the aftermarket either way.

There are two principal facts in play here: first, from a corporate perspective, money is all-important. Corporations are going to tend toward practices that make them money. While they cannot afford to alienate their customer base completely, they’re going to do anything and everything they can to earn as much profit as possible. All we can hope to do is drive them toward compromises.

From a moral perspective, I think it’s vitally important to support the things I love, and encourage the creators to go on and make more things. That doesn’t mean I never buy used products, but it does mean I try to buy new when I can. If I want to save money, that may mean waiting until it goes on sale, or comes out in a cheaper format, but either way, I want to try and make sure something gets back to the original creators. To me, used products are more like samples of a given creator’s body of work. Once I’m sure I love it, I shift to new. And that’s a practice I’d encourage all around, really. But that’s me.

I should acknowledge that, yes, Jerry Holkins over at Penny Arcade recently posted on this subject as well, and Mike Krahulik talked about it on Twitter. I’d been planning something like this before I saw that, but given the timing, and the fact that one of the pieces I’ll be citing in this post was linked from that one, it’s only fair to point that out.