Weighty Topics And No Excuses

I don’t know about you, I love me some podcasts. There are some great sport related ones that I follow, and others that are completely unrelated. An excellent example of the latter is “Writing Excuses” which from my perspective is a “Brandon Sanderson and friends” kind of deal. I learned of this podcast quite recently (as in sometime in 2018. You’ll have to excuse me, at my age one starts to forget details), and for the most part, I really enjoy it. It’s kind of short (which is the point really) and focuses on a specific writing related topic in each episode. It’s also ordered by seasons and episodes, which I find fun, and while I’d never recommend to take any podcast as a bible, one thing this one offers is some perspective. Out of what the team has to offer, I may or may not take advice, but even if I disagree with some things (and I do), I still enjoy the contrast, even if only as a test to my current held position. You should definitely check it out if you’re interesting in the topic of writing at all.
Having said that, I listened to the episode “How To Handle Weighty Topics” from Sunday, August 12th, 2018 on my way to work and it (as it often does) made me think. I’m not necessarily challenging anything said on the podcast, or saying “you’re wrong”. I merely offer my thoughts on the topic.
As the topic of weighty topics is… weighty… I’d like to break it down a little (well, more than a little). First, what did they mean by weighty? My understanding is – At any time one writes about a person or persons who are not of his “group” (we’ll get to that), or something that is outside of his existence which is of sensitivity to one or more groups, the topic becomes weighty. Of course I could be misunderstanding, but that – in itself – doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
With the above assumption in mind, let’s start touching the weighty topics.
One of the best questions asked during the podcast was “Why is it so important for the writer?” and I think that this is the fundamental question each of us should ask ourselves before embarking on the project. Are we writing about racism because we want to “be cool”? or perhaps because we “have a message”? Are we writing about racism, or is what we write racist (or can be perceived as such)? mind you, this applies to most all isms. Is one of our characters racist? “just a little”? Outright obnoxious, racist, pig? and if so, what does that mean for our story? Do we write that character in “to have a racist character”? There are a lot of “whys”  we should ask ourselves before even going into a weighty topic (more on that later).
For me, the decision is made based on one question – Does it  serve the story in any meaningful way? whether it’s the plot, character or settings. If the answer is yes – you will see some ism in my book. If not, I’m not even going there.
Another question that really interests me, and I’m hoping some of you may want to give me possible answers (I’m really asking) is, do we really need to address the isms every time? What I mean is this – If I’d elect to write a story featuring, say… a gay person. If I illustrate the discrimination and suffering that person may experience, I may be misrepresenting it, or perhaps worse, over simplifying it. If I tell a story, in which a character just happens to be gay, why does he have to be gay? (and excuse the usage of male, that’s just my habit). How does the character, being gay, contribute to the story, other than to be a “hey, I included a gay person in my story” (Do we really have to choose a “pet minority”?). And If I chose one group, or three, and not others…
What I’m trying to say is, inclusiveness is fun, and I go back to that question – does it serve the story in a meaningful way? if so, why the hell not. As a reasonably new writer, I tend to write more of what I know, and I do not know enough yet to pretend to get in the head of some groups. I feel that, until I’ve spoken to, learned about, understood people better, I’d rather stay away. That way I am – at the very least – significantly reducing my chances of falling into the trap. One day I will know more. On that day, I may take the plunge.
The most insightful and meaningful comment I heard on the podcast (and excuse me, I don’t remember who said what – they are all interesting) was regarding the fact that, though we all may be (whether we want to or not) part of certain different groups, we have so much more in common than we are really different. I totally agree that, from a writer’s perspective, if we write our characters with that in mind, the chances of our writing being offensive, or perceived as such, are reduced. I want to say it clearly again – there’s a huge difference between writing an offensive character (which is perfectly fine) and writing offensively (which I don’t recommend).
So far I focused on the writing itself, as it relates to weighty topics. But There is still the question of what is the writer’s role in the discussion of a certain weighty topic. My personal opinion is that it’s up to the writer. Some may feel a burning need to address a weighty topic because it may hit “close to home” for them, or perhaps the opposite – choose to stay away from one, for the exact same reason. I don’t think that everyone should necessarily write about them, but I do expect from any book that I write to be true to its reality. If a character in our story is of a group that suffers blatant discrimination, I expect to see him as such. I don’t need a militant activist of any faction for that. I just expect that the character will not be “just another guy”. Otherwise I will ask again – why does he have to be part of a specific group?
I’m not a big fan of preachy fiction. I identify with causes, but I do that in real life. In fiction I’d like to read a story that is informed by whatever reality it exists in. I can identify with a suffering character, as long as it’s not meant to “educate” me. It’s more about empathy to a character than a “message” that the writer wants to send.

 

I also don’t view the writer as a pacifist. What I mean by that is that, I am not actively looking to offend people. As I mentioned, I do not intend to write offensively. But I don’t believe a writer should “hold back” when it comes to writing about weighty topics. It boils down to target audience I guess.
If the story justifies it, a character will say the most horrific racist slurs and will behave in a despicable manner. Because the character is not the writer. That character may even be successful in his endeavors, because – it’s fiction… and yes, some people may be offended.
Beside the fact that people get offended more easily these days, there’s also the question of why should the writer compromise on a story that could be stronger should it included things that might offend some people? Again, target audience aside, I think the story should be told, IF – and I will try to close a little circle here – the writer has a satisfactory answer to that question: “Why is it so important for the writer?”
A Facebook friend of mine posted a couple of days ago about people who say that, when it comes to people, they are “color blind”. Meaning, we don’t see a black or white or whatever person as a black or white or whatever person. She challenged them, and I agree with what she said. This color blindness is mostly reserved to the privileged, to people who are part of stronger populations. Because it’s much easier. Like her, I choose to see colors, and religions and sexual orientations and other points of conflicts.
Is it not the ability to recognize the differences and yet look past them, understanding that indeed, these are far less than the things we have in common, and kill our prejudices the way to get rid of racism and other isms?
And also, how do we expect to empathise with a person who is marginalized, categorized and mistreated if we fail to recognize that he is? by being blind to the differences, we also have to be somewhat blind to problems that need to be addressed.
Now, I don’t see a gay person ONLY as gay, of course. That’s part of the problem. But I’m not going to ignore the fact that he is. Not as a person and not as a writer. As a person, by doing that I’d be ignoring the issues and basking in my privilege. As a writer I’d miss – at the very least – on two of writing’s most valuable aspects – conflict on the one hand, and empathy on the other.
Hopefully no one’s offended. You know no offense was meant.

The Very Real Story Of Walt Longmire

First of, no. This isn’t becoming a TV review site anytime soon. It’s a matter of coinciding schedule on Netflix. You can read the short post I wrote about The Punisher” here. That was written after a binge. This here post on the other hand was not. Yes, I doubled up on episodes of Longmire (because damn it, I love this show), but I let it last a whole week (trust me, it took a lot for me to hold off). After all, this was the last season, so I thought I’d make it count, in hope that they made it count too.
Well, the short version is – they did.
But we’re not here to take shortcuts. No. We’re here to celebrate one of TV’s most underrated shows.
Like quite a few TV shows I loved, this one was recommended to me by good friends in Georgia (other notable mentions: Justified, Top of the lake, The walking dead among others.). Had I not gotten this recommendation, chances are I’d never watch an episode of Longmire.
I mean, come on. It’s the second decade of this millenium for crying out loud. Who tells a story about Cowboys and Indians? No zombies, no high-tech, no weekly deaths of main characters, no full frontal…. Jeez…. right?
Wrong.
Like many less than flashy productions, Longmire is a proof that a good story could be told and acted, regardless of the year. And yes, there are still cowboys out there, and thankfully a few native Americans.

Every story, absolutely must have these things (a very condensed checklist):

relatable main character:
You can’t get much more relatable than Walt Longmire. A man of the law (automatic good guy), Widowed due to murdered wife (we’re on board) and father to a beautiful, loving and caring daughter, leading a police force of seemingly less than stellar cops. Walt’s as real as they come. He seems to have quite a few of those very human flaws and just enough charm and guts to get us behind him.
Strong antagonist/s:
We had the chief of the reservation police Malachi, and his successor Mathias. Both in constant ends with Walt and his view of police work and interests.
Branch Connally and his father Barlow were a different kind of opposition, as were investigators trying to tie Walt to a murder.
The Irish Mafia came to town, and of course, the one guy who always walked the fine line between legal and charity – Jacob Nighthorse.
Add the different antagonistic forces that came with the sub plots and you have yourself a very strong, forever threatening opponent. Some of whom were truly a mirror of sorts. Keeping Walt on his guard, both as it relates to the threat they posed, as well as to what their similarities told him about himself.
Secondary/Supporting characters:
First and foremost, Walt’s best friend Henry Standing Bear. How do we know he’s his best friend? Well, he answers the two qualities of such person. He tells it like it is. There is no beating around the bush, walking on egg shells type of BS about Henry. When Walt Effs up – Henry is there to tell it to his face. And even though they may disagree or even downright oppose each other, Henry is always there for Walt (and the same is true the other way).
Cady is a character that manages to stay away from cliché. Yes, she stays by her dad after her mom dies and yes, she is that one who always wants to leave “small town USA” and falls in love with the good-looking quarterback (or bull rider). But she is also an intelligent, independent and driven person, who may irritate her old-fashioned dad, but ultimately (and recognized for it by him eventually) she is what Walt evolved into (though we will never actually see it on-screen).
Vic (Philly) is the outsider who wants to understand Walt, admires him and frustrated by him. Her being that stranger is what makes this slow burning, tense love story so effective.
Yes, there are others, but these three are the most important for the story and for the main character.
A believable plot and sub plots (within the rules of the story world):
A small (fictional) county, with “regular folk” and yet a lot seems to happen. Sure, when you say it like that, it may not be believable at all. Especially if you bring in the Irish mob from all the way out in Boston. But all told, every event makes sense. Either via cause and effect or by reasonable explanation.
The intermingling of plots and the relationships between White Americans and Native Americans, as well as the inner working of those societies living side by side (which in itself is a story), make for a very interesting mix of dilemmas and questions. Those drive character change and development in subtle but impactful ways.
The journey:
Oh, how far did we go in six seasons. From the loner drunk, stubborn and – let’s face it – selfish sherif of season 1, to the open-minded, flexible, emotionally engaged and proud father and lover we said goodbye to this season.
Every episode and every season brought Walt closer to that beautiful man we saw in the finale. And no, it wasn’t just a sequence of make a mistake, learn, improve. One of the most beautiful things about this story is that it is very real. It’s a tale of real men. You know, those who make the same mistake more than once (or three times) before they learn. Real men like us. relatable.
And after winning some of his battles and losing more than his fair share, this man learns to overcome his grief, open his heart to another woman, understand his daughter completely and come to terms with his imperfections.
Hey, He even has his own cellphone!
Voice:
Perhaps in TV is easier, because these words are spoken, but think about it. It’s not only the difference between cowboy Walt’s everyday guy English and Henry’s official-talk. It’s also the differences between Henry, Mathias and Malachi. Cause you know… not all injunes are the same. It’s also the way Cady differs from her dad (not to mention Vic from Philly).
And if we want to look at the voice of the story-teller, we can follow the camera and the directing and editing. A really solid work of modern-day Cowboy/Indian world creation.
Longmire is one of my all time favorite shows. I will surely re-watch it.
One point of contention though…
This series did such a phenomenal job in telling a story about a Native Indian society without falling into the trap of making it look like a group of identical individuals on the one hand, or go science fiction on the other. I loved that fact that visions and symbolism played a part in the story.
One thing I wish they kept out. In the last season, Cady helps a native American lady kidnap a kid in order to get him “proper” medication.
I truly believe this was unnecessary. If we credit visions and symbolism (which we should), we really should have not fallen into the trap of western medicine’s superiority over that of native Americans. It felt preachy and uncharacteristic.
But hey, it’s just a little piece of a very big and beautiful puzzle of story telling and TV production.
So long Walt (seems to be a great name for a phenomenal protagonist). See you later.


The Walking Dead Season 7 Grand Finale Special

Whoa.
Season 7 just ended and I thought about doing something special for tonight. But before that special something, I wanted to say a few words about a statement/musing/quip that was circling the interwebs during this last season. It even made it all the way to the mother ship of TWD discussion – Talking Dead. Continue reading

5 Tough Decisions Facing Fiction Writers (Guest Post – Christina Ranallo)

Hello everyone,
I will be back on a somewhat regular basis soon. Currently there is a combination of a lot of work, a lot of writing (Yay me!) and some really big changes, which I will share in due time…
The next couple of weeks will be all about MMA, with 3 great cards to predict and dissect. After that, I hope to have something special (I’ll “tease” that soon). This week…
This week, this week, I want to share a post written by my writing coach Christina Ranallo (See the original and more at penpaperwrite):

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Mixing Business With Pleasure (Bloodline on Netflix – No Spoilers)

Hello world.
Netflix could be really irritating. There could be six months stretches of nothing new but semi amusing stand up comedies and straight-to-video “blockbusters”, during which I find other things to do with my time. Then, there could be bursts of releases that make it difficult to find the time to handle all that wealth…

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(Fear The) Fear The Walking Dead

Hello world.

No preamble today, as time is of the essence.

I don’t like Zombies. I don’t like Zombie movies. I don’t like Zombie books. That’s me. But there are a couple of exceptions. Among the very few is the series “The walking dead“. Continue reading

About Those Resolutions

Hello 2016, Goodbye 2015, Happy New Year everyone!

I’m here to confess another little tidbit. I’m an amateur guitar player. I’m very serious about being an amateur, I’ve been doing this for close to 30 years now. Never had the time, nor the inclination to become professional about this either. It’s too much practice if we want to get down to it, and quite frankly, I am not one to play for a crowd of any kind, so why bother? So yeah, I can pull off some pretty nice tunes (rhythm guitar, forget solos), but that’s just for me, myself and I. Continue reading