Jan 27, 2015

Should Your Avoid Topical Issues in Your Writing?

Today I'm once again visiting my friend Janice Hardy, talking about tackling topical issues in your writing.

Stop on by!

Jan 21, 2015

Seeing Women's Issues From a Male Perspective

It's been over a week since my last post. I'm sorry about that. I've been dedicating a lot of my time to completing Red Skies so I can send it to my editor.

With this post, I'm fully expecting to receive some flak. And honestly, that's okay. I'm only human, and I'll say some things the wrong way. I'll own that, and try to correct myself if I don't manage to say this right.

I'm also about to get back into a topic which was a source of much debate for me last year; sexism. And I'm about to address a particular response to women's issues that I'm frankly tired of seeing. To preface, this is not directed at All Men (I can't tell you how much I hate even having to make that clarification, but it seems I do), but rather at any man who has seen an article shared detailing the experiences of women, and the negative consequences of those experiences, and felt compelled to comment with anything along the lines of "not all men do this", "this happens to men too", or any variation thereof.

Feminism takes a lot of heat. When it began, it was because women were generally seen as having a particular place in society and a role to fulfil, and if they stepped out of that place, it would be detrimental to humanity as we knew it. Years, decades passed, and we saw many feminists naturally become more frustrated and aggressive, as women were still not taken seriously in their issues. This was the start of the "RadFem" or "Feminiazi" movements that we sometimes hear about today. The perception of feminism shifted from "women stepping out of their place" to "women hating men and blaming them for their problems."

But therein lies the problem. Men, seeing a woman express her concerns, needs, and fears, and thinking "how does this affect me?" Guys, we're all horribly insecure. How could we not be? We have the media telling us how many women we're supposed to sleep with, how good we're supposed to be in bed, how much money we're meant to make. When we see someone with a problem that might, in some way, relate to us, we go into defensive mode. So "how does this affect me?" becomes "are they blaming me for this?"

We don't stop and think "how can that person's situation be made better?"

There are three fundamental obstacles that hinder a person's ability to help another with an issue:

  1. The issue does not affect them directly
  2. Inability to see from the other person's perspective how the issue affects them
  3. Inability to understand the difference between "I want you to understand my problem" and "I want to blame you for my problem."
Now imagine you're a straight white man. All other issues of economics, health, and education being equal, a straight white man has a significant advantage over a person of any other gender, skin colour, or sexual orientation. The circumstances of your life have told you one of two things: (1) You are supposed to strive for everything you desire, and/or (2) you are entitled to have everything you desire. These carry with them certain pressures. We want things, we feel we deserve them, and we worry that we'll be judged if we don't achieve them.

So when a woman says she's suffering unfairly, it's a common instinct to go "Hang on, I've worked hard to get where I am, why should she be treated better than me just for being a woman?" 

What many men don't realise is that for as hard as we work, most women have to work harder, or with obstacles we're not aware of, to achieve the same amount.

Another common reaction is "Well I didn't do that to her, so why am I being blamed?" This comes from that insecurity I mentioned before. If a woman is telling us about a problem, she must think we're to blame, right? But that's not what's going on. The single biggest thing standing in the way of equality, no matter which group you're dealing with, is getting other people to take your issues seriously. That's the goal, here. When you see someone sharing an article about how women frequently avoid walking home alone at night, or have a friend informed when they go on a first date, just in case they're assaulted, they're not saying "I blame all you men for this." They're saying "I wish you could understand why this happens, and why it's a problem."

So what can we do? Not Men, as a collective, but men, as individuals? If we're not the ones to blame, and we're compassionate enough to realise that another person's problems are important even if they don't directly relate to us, what can we do?

It's not about us

We don't have to (and shouldn't) bring every conversation on women's issues back to how men are affected by similar things. Yes, men suffer from unique issues too, and those things should be addressed, but there's nothing constructive, when a person says "I've got this problem" by responding with "Yeah, but what about my problem?"

It's not all-or-nothing

It's not all men that are rapists, but it's certainly enough men, and enough women are held to blame for being a victim, that there are serious problems with how we address the issue. It's not that every time a woman expresses an opinion on a comic book cover or video game that she'll be persecuted, but it's enough times that we should examine why it is that a man's opinion on these matters is given more credence and leeway than a woman's. It's not that men never get raped or abused or the victims of violence, but that these are usually in different enough circumstances that the problems and potential solutions are not always the same. 

It's about listening

There's nothing to be gained by speaking over someone who's trying to speak up for themselves. Step back and let the woman speak, see what she has to say, without jumping to conclusions. When you really listen to someone's problems and try to understand how this effects them and why they're coming out with it, you can learn some amazing things.

It's about compassion

If you'd been attacked or hurt, and you went to someone for help, you'd want to be treated with compassion. If someone you loved was hurt, you'd care. Give the compassion you'd like to receive, and spread the care you'd give to others, regardless of their relationship to you. It's incredible the different a simple "That's awful, are you okay?" can make to someone who's been through a traumatic incident.

It's about working together

I'm a member of HeForShe, the UN's new movement to get men and boys involved in women's rights. I was once, long ago, the kind of guy who thought feminists were all killjoys who wanted to blame men for their problems and take all the fun stuff out of movies and games. But I started listening to women and realising that what they were asking for was no more than I'd want for myself, to be treated fairly, without their gender becoming a deciding factor in their career or social situations. And I learned that if I didn't want to think that women were blaming me for mistreating them, then I should start by not being the kind of guy who mistreats women, whether that be by my actions, my words, or even how I think about women's issues. I stopped getting defensive and trying to explain how I was "not that kind of guy" and started responding to what was actually being said. 

Guys, most of us are basically decent. Let's start making sure that enough of us act that way.

Jan 12, 2015

A Turn of Events

Last week I was talking about trying to raise the money to pay for Red Skies to be edited.

This week I'm delighted to say that, thanks to a refund of overpaid tax, I have the money to get the edits done! This places me nicely on schedule, as work on the manuscript is going well, and I'm on track to have the first draft completed before the end of the month.

I still need to see how the edits themselves go, and have a cover designed, but all going well I think the book should be ready for release some time in the spring. I'm very excited. This series means more and more to me every day I work on it, and it's been an exciting challenge to push myself into a new genre and to tackle new themes. More than anything, I think Lady Raven was what really made me realise that I wanted to write stories to show that monsters can be beaten.

I'm hopeful that I'll get the print version of Lady Raven re-released soon, too. I'm planning some promotional stuff to go with it, and if anyone would like to help, by hosting me for a guest post or interview, or doing a review of the book, please get in touch.

So stay tuned and sign up to my mailing list to keep up with the latest news and promotional info.

Jan 8, 2015

Thoughts on Stacey Jay

Some of you may have heard about Stacey Jay, the pen-name of an author who set up a Kickstarter for the sequel to an earlier book after her publisher decided not to continue with the series. For those who haven't, what happened was that there was some backlash to the fact that she stated that around $7,000 of the $10,500 goal would go towards "mortgage, groceries, and gas for my family during the three months it will take me to write the book."

Now, Kickstarter has this guideline against "fund me while I do X." The money raised has to go towards a specific project, which must result in some product at the end. Let's put a pin in that for now.

Stacey advised potential backers that she wanted to take three months to concentrate on this book, as opposed to using some of that time to work on other writing projects which she knew could earn her money. In other words, the extra money she was hoping to raise was in order to bring out the book sooner than if she'd had to work on this book alongside other projects. And she was honest about that.

But there was a negative response to this, with some questioning whether it was appropriate to take Kickstarter money and put it towards something other than the creator's own expenses. Stacey seems to have been having a hard time of late, and this wound up being the final push that has left her deciding to cancel the Kickstarter and give up on her pen-name, at least for a while.

I'm left trying to figure out where the line is drawn between a creator's freedom to use their funding as they feel is required, and a backer's rights to decide how their money is spent. When you pre-order a book on Amazon, for example, you would never assume that the royalties the author earns will only be spent on editing and cover design. Leaving aside the specific amount of money being requested up-front, if someone's willing to pay $10 for an ebook, and they get the ebook as promised, whose business is it how exactly the money is spent?

I asked over on Chuck Wendig's blog, but didn't really get a response from the naysayers I was addressing, what is the difference between the following:

(A) An author asking for $10,000, on the understanding that $7,000 of that would be used to ensure that the book would be released in 3 months.

(B) An author asking for $3,000, on the understanding that the book would be released in 6 months, but receiving $10,000, and as a reward for the enthusiastic backers, deciding to leave aside other projects and release the book 3 months early.

Kickstarter is a great tool. It's yet another way for authors to bring their work to a quality that can compete in today's market. It's probably not right for me, at the moment, and yes there are Kickstarter projects I haven't backed because I don't like the reward levels offered or the amount I would have to pay to receive what I'd want from the creator. I've seen publishers offer the chance to write a book for them as a reward for backing a project at a certain level. I've seen people set up a Kickstarter to fund their pledge for another Kickstarter. I don't approve of these, so I don't back them. I might even bitch to a friend about it. But I don't take the creator to task for it.

When a man can receive $55,000 to make a batch of potato salad, what is inherently wrong with a woman trying to see if there's enough reader interest in a book that she can devote her full attention to writing it? Particularly when compared to the likes of the guy who took $122,000 (after a $35,000 starting goal) to produce a board game and simply cancelled the project, claiming the money was all spent and the game couldn't be made, with no explanation of where the money had gone except for a vague summary of costs, including using some of the money to move back to Portland.

People use Kickstarter to raise money for business projects. Business projects are intended to make money for those behind them. If you don't like the idea of someone making money off of things they create, perhaps don't back Kickstarters? Or buy things. At all? I don't know. Perhaps Stacey Jay would have been better off just asking for money and not telling the truth about her intentions.

What do you guys think? Am I way off base here, and Stacey was engaged in truly unethical practices, or is the answer to seeing Kickstarters you don't like to simply not back them?

Jan 6, 2015

Give Me Money!

I was running some numbers yesterday. I need to raise money in order to pay for the edits on Red Skies. Without these edits, I'm not comfortable sending the next book in the Lady Raven series out into the world.

Unfortunately, my current book sales aren't coming close to covering what I need, and I don't have enough disposable income to shell out the amount I need.

I looked into Kickstarter, since it seems to be the hot thing for many authors, musicians, and game developers. But if I've done the math right, in order to account for possible stretch goals and reward levels that would include hard copies of books, I would have to raise over three times the amount I expect to need, per book. Given that the very people I'd be turning to to back the Kickstarter are the same people I'd be turning to to buy my books in the first place, I don't see the logic in this. While hitting stretch goals would mean that backers could get all three books for about €10, that is very unlikely.

See, in order to make sure that backers weren't getting screwed over, paying above the odds post-release, I would need almost 2,000 people to back a Kickstarter that would result in being able to release just Red Skies. To say nothing of the third and fourth books in the series.

But, if 2,000 people bought any one of my books, I would earn enough to cover the editing costs for Red Skies, easy. And it would have the added benefit of increasing my ranking on Amazon and free up a lot of organisational time that I can put to writing more books.

So folks, if you've read any of my books and want to read more, particularly if you want to see the Lady Raven series continue, buy more of my books! Hire me as an editor or tell your writer friends about my services. Buy my books as gifts. Tell people how much you enjoy them. Leave reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and blogs. If you're a published author, and you're willing to be quoted on my site, on Amazon, or on my cover copy, tell me what you've thought. Anything at all will help.

A question to get some discussion going: What encourages you to pick up a book? Knowing the author? Amazon reviews? Good marketing?

Jan 5, 2015

Announcing Origin!

My first blog post of 2015 is something special. Beginning this month, I will be releasing my all-new e-serial, Origin.

Will Thorne lives an obedient life. He goes to work to support his mother and brother. He follows the law. He reports dissident behavior. He looks the other way when a police officer brutally subdues a suspect. It's easy for someone like him to get by in a world controlled by the men and women who watch over the people. The ones with the powers. The ones who once wore masks.

But Will's obedience is put to the test when his brother's criminal activities finally catch up to him. After a terrible accident, Will finds himself imbued with unique powers of his own, and conscripted into the ranks of the Power and Authority Department. 

Finding himself on the other side of the protests and barricades, using his superhuman abilities against ordinary people desperate for freedom, how far can Will push the limits of his  conscience? Will he become another part of the oppressive forces that rule the world? Or will he find the strength within himself to rise against his superhuman masters, and show the world what a real hero can do?

Obedience, Part 1 of Origin, will be released on January 31st, initially through Wattpad. Sign up and follow me there to read for free! Following this, I will release it, and future installments, on Amazon, for Kindle.

Dec 31, 2014

2014 Did Not Beat Me

Let's be blunt. 2014 was a horrible year, overall. After the high point, Olivia's birth, things went downhill in ways I could not have thought possible. Losing a friend to cancer, falling out with particular family members, childcare costs forcing us onto a single income, experiencing disappointing sales of my latest books, making mistakes with my first foray into self-publishing. 2014 has been a day to day slugfest, and it has tried every trick in the book to break me down.

The worst part? I'm not the only one. Most people I know have had a really hard year, from bereavement to health issues and problems at work. Globally, we've seen terror groups rise up again. I've watched the tide of harassment against women in the full range of geek fandoms grow stronger with every attempt to speak out against misogyny. I've read, helpless, about men and women being brutally assaulted and killed, with no apparent recourse. I've seen victims become the targets of hate.

Looking at the year, and how the causes I believe in are suffering, and how my book sales are nowhere close to what I had hoped they'd become, I honestly feel like I'm back at square one.

But I'm not done. I am not beaten. There are still good things that happened.

Friends have found work after long periods of unemployment. Friends have become engaged and gotten married. They've had children and announced new additions to their families. Society has made leaps, both scientifically and culturally. There is hope.

I held my third daughter at the start of this year. She turns one next week. I saw my first trilogy come to an end, and everyone who's read the final chapter of the Memory Wars has told me they loved it. I became a hybrid author, with the release of Lady Raven. I got to see an anthology I'd contributed to hit #1 on the Amazon best-seller list. And you know what else? I get to keep writing. I get to tell more stories, and look forward to the coming year.

So nice try, 2014. You gave it your best shot, and I am still here.

Maybe I am back at square one, but you know what? I'm still on the board. And I will finish the game.

Dec 22, 2014

The Santa Trilogy - Part 3

This will be my final blog post before Christmas. After this I'm taking a break for a week and I'll be back in action in time for New Year's. Of course, I'll still be pottering around on social media, so you're not completely rid of me.

A trilogy is really only as good as its final chapter, and our hidden Santa Trilogy brings with it a bit of a genre shift, as Santa's world is expanded.

Last time, Santa restored people's belief and faith in him as a symbol of hope and joy. Now he must take a stand once more, and rally allies to his side as an old foe returns...

If you have a problem, and no-one else can help...

Based on William Joyce's Guardians of Childhood books, Rise of the Guardians reveals that Santa Claus isn't the only mythical figure watching over children. In Part 2, Santa mentioned sometimes playing golf with the Easter Bunny, and that suggestion is proven true. Also, it's fun to note that Santa said that Bunny spends winter in New Zealand, and here he is voiced in full-on Aussie mode by Hugh Jackman.

*SNIKT* "Hey, bub."
Now, really Rise of the Guardians is about Jack Frost, the plucky young newcomer, but Santa plays an important role as the leader of the Guardians, and he's the driving heroic force behind much of the film.

A bit of backstory from Joyce's books, here. 

Earth was once a pretty nasty place, especially for children. Things lurked in the dark and preyed upon them, making their lives a misery. But in the Dark Ages, the Man in the Moon, whose moonbeams chase away the dark, chose four individuals who would stand for, and protect, those things that were most important in children.

E. Aster Bunnymund, the Easter Bunny up there, was chosen to protect hope, for Easter is the herald of spring and rebirth.

Toothiana, the queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies, collects children's teeth in order to safeguard the most important memories of childhood, which are stored within the teeth.

Sanderson Mansnoozie, the Sandman, ensures that children can dream of wonderful things, free of fear.

And Nicholas St North, Santa Claus, protects children's sense of wonder.

Remember back in Part 1, when Claus and his wife Anya died in the blizzard, and were brought to the North Pole? There you have it. Claus/North was chosen to become Santa Claus at that moment. He had literally sacrificed his life in trying to give wonder and joy to children, and so he was proven worthy of becoming a Guardian.

The movie opens with Jack Frost's introduction. We see him rising from an icy lake and discovering he has the power of flight and the ability to create and control ice. Unfortunately, he is invisible and immaterial to mortals. He has no idea why he is here. All the Moon told him was his name. And so he waits, dwelling among humans, but separate from them.

We cut to 300 years later, to the present, where Santa is working away in his workshop. There's a cute concept represented here, that Santa designs new toys out of ice, and sends these as prototypes for his workers. Also, these are the elves...

Freaking adorable
Yep. Remember how I said in Part 1 that the toys Santa delivers aren't made by the elves? That comes up again, as we learn that it's actually yetis who do the manual labour at the Pole, while the elves are simply allowed to think that they really help out. Santa's learned his lesson from Patch's horrible mistakes.

You are so fired, you daft bastard
Santa, whose workshop now includes a funky steampunk globe for monitoring the status of children who still believe, sees a vision of a dark shadow moving across said globe. The Enemy has returned.

"I'm in this movie?"
No, Pitch Black. The Boogeyman. And what's his schtick? Fear. He wants nothing more than to spread fear among all the people in the world. The other Guardians aren't entirely convinced, as they already defeated him back in the Dark Ages, and when Santa summons them (the Northern Lights are his Bat Signal!), Bunny is particularly annoyed as it's three days before Easter and he has eggs to paint. 

The Man in the Moon interrupts their arguing and confirms that Pitch is back, and reveals that he's chosen a new Guardian. Jack Frost.

Reactions are mixed, with Tooth's fairies swooning and Bunny being disgusted, as Jack apparently enjoys dicking around with Eager egg hunts. Still, destiny is destiny, and the Guardians deploy to bring Jack in.

Jack, voiced by Chris Pine, has grown into a mischevious rogue who causes trouble, ducks responsibility, and whose antics result in minor injuries.

"I majored in Antics and Hijinks"
He's also a lot of fun, and despite never receiving any recognition and not being believed in all these years, he still works to bring fun to kids.

Jack is... forcefully invited to the North Pole, by means of a sack and a magic portal. Though entertained at the idea of finally getting in (he's been trying to sneak in for years), he angrily rejects the idea that he can be a Guardian, leading to a tense stand-off between himself and Bunny, who takes offence at his attitude. Tooth is quite smitten, however.

But who can blame her, right?
Santa tries to talk to Jack about how important it is to be a Guardian, explaining that his own centre, wonder, is what makes him a Guardian. And once Jack figures out what his centre is, what it is he protects in children, he will be ready to help them fight Pitch.

Unfortunately, there's no time for a training montage, as Pitch attacks the Tooth Palace. The Guardians race into battle in Santa's sleigh.

Pimp My Ride - Christmas edition
It's a much more decked-put sleigh than we've seen before. Perhaps Santa took some ideas from Patch's flying car?

Something to note here is that, despite Santa traditionally having eight reindeer, there are only six shown in this movie. What happened to the other two? If you remember Santa Claus The Movie, Comet and Cupid were sick with the flu and had to sit out the movie's climax. So...?

One could infer from this that they actually died from the flu. That's certainly dark enough to fit with Santa Claus The Movie, but don't forget that scene from Miracle on 34th Street, with Santa visiting the reindeer in Central Park. He specifically apologised for not being to see them more often. And at the start of that movie, he wasn't on his way to watch the parade. Dorey had to follow him into Central Park to catch him and ask him to be their Santa. He was actually on his way to see the reindeer! Comet and Cupid are in reindeer retirement, having gotten on a bit in years.

So using a magical snow globe, Santa transports them all to the Tooth Palace.

Where does he get those wonderful toys? Oh wait...
When they arrive, they find the palace swarming with black nightmares. Pitch has developed a way to turn normal dreams into terrible creatures under his control. And somehow gained the power to create an entire army of them. The Guardians fight back, but the nightmares escape with the teeth, taking with them the most precious memories of every child in the world. Worse, they have also captured all of Tooth's fairies except one, Baby Tooth, meaning there is no-one left to collect children's teeth.

Children wake up, realising that the Tooth Fairy never came. Tooth's feathers begin to fall and her palace walls crumble. But Santa has a plan. The Guardians will step in and collect the teeth, delaying Pitch's plans for a little while. In exchange for help getting his own memories back, Jack Frost agrees to join the Guardians on their mission.

Of course, like any good villain, Pitch has a back-up plan, and ambushes the Guardians. With the rest of the team accidentally knocked out by Sandman's dreamsand after they were discovered by Jamie, a boy Jack has been trying to befriend, it's up to Jack and Sandman to face off against the nightmares.

The pair fight bravely, but Pitch takes a sneak shot. Just as the other Guardians join the fight and the tide is turning, Pitch shoots Sandman with an arrow, killing him.

The Guardians are left to mourn their friend, and for children the world over, there are no more good dreams, only nightmares.

"This Pitch guy ain't that bad!"
Lights start to go out. There is only one chance left. Easter. Bunny rallies the team and brings them to his Warren at the centre of the world, where the Guardians help him prepare the eggs (after almost murdering Jamie's little sister, Sophie), and learn an important lesson from Jack about how to deal with kids and have some fun with them.

Jack and Baby Tooth return Sophie to her home, and Jack is drawn away by the sound of his name being called. He is led underground to Pitch's lair. Which, incidentally, is located under an old bedframe in the middle of a forest. Yeah, not creepy at all...

He finds the tooth fairies, but they can't fly because not enough children believe in them anymore. Pitch tries to bribe Jack into leaving everything alone, by offering back his teeth. Jack takes them, but finds himself in one of Bunny's tunnels after refusing to leave. To his horror, he discovers that it was all a ruse. Pitch just wanted Jack out of the way to leave the Guardians vulnerable. All of the Easter eggs have been smashed, and now no-one is left to believe in the Easter Bunny.

Jack leaves, and encounters Pitch in a frozen wasteland. Pitch tries to convince Jack to join him, but he refuses, and so Pitch threatens to kill Baby Tooth if he doesn't surrender and hand over his staff. Jack complies, and Pitch snaps the staff in two, shattering Jack's power. He leaves them both in the cold and goes to watch his plans come to fruition, as children stop believing all over the world.

Jack opens his tooth box and regains his memories. We learn that Jack was human, and had a little sister. He saved her from falling through ice on a frozen lake. Although he was afraid, he makes a game out of getting her to inch closer to him until he can use a tree branch to sweep her to shore. Jack, however, falls through the ice, where he dies.

As with Santa before him, Jack was chosen because he sacrificed himself for a child.

Jack uses his powers to repair his staff and flies off to find the one light still remaining, Jamie. He manages to convince Jamie that the Easter Bunny is real, and in doing so, makes it snow in his bedroom. His reminds Jamie of his mother referring to "Jack Frost" and causes Jamie to believe in him. For the first time, a child can see Jack.

Santa, Tooth, and Bunny crash down in the sleigh, which is falling apart as belief fades from the world. Santa himself, an old man, can hardly stand without leaning on his sword. As for Bunny...

Pitch descends with his army of nightmares, and the Guardians are in no shape to fight. Even Jack isn't able to stand against Pitch, so great has the Boogeyman's power grown now that children can only have nightmares when they sleep. But Jack figures out the way to stop Pitch. Have a little fun.

Interrupting the villain's monologue with a snowball to the face, Jack drags Jamie and the Guardians on a sled ride through town, recruiting Jamie's friends to help. The children all start to see Jack, and their fun drives Pitch into a fury. He summons all of his nightmares to strike at the children.

Even weakened, the Guardians make a stand, and insist they will always protect the children. But who, Pitch asks, will protect them.

"I will."
Jamie and the other children have an "I am Spartacus" moment, declaring that they're not afraid of Pitch or his nightmares. A nightmare dives down and bursts against Jamie's outstretched hand, turning back into glowing golden dreamsand.

The children's faith restores the Guardian's powers and they fight back. Santa uses his snowglobes to summon elves and yetis from the North Pole to help, while Bunny calls on his stone eggmen from the Warren. It's a great sequence, as each Guardian in turn gets to take a shot at Pitch, until the Boogeyman sneaks up behind Jack and is about to deliver the killing blow...

When a dreamsand whip snaps down and pulls Pitch over a truck and up a hill to a glowing, swirling mass of light.

You're fucked now, mate.
Not only have the children given the Guardians back their powers, but their belief has brought Sandman back from the dead! He pummels Pitch and turns all of the nightmares back into regular dreams. All over the world, children's dreams are restored and they start to believe once again.

Pitch is beaten, reduced to an invisible, immaterial thing like he used to be, and a pack of nightmares, this time created by Pitch's fears, drag him back down beneath the Earth.

The children of the world are saved. Jack is now the Guardian of fun, and he joins his new friends as they say goodbye to the children who have, in turn, saved them. 

Of course, the question remains, how did Pitch get so powerful? He says it took him a long time to learn how to turn dreams into nightmares, but would knowledge alone be enough? Pitch is a creature of fear and darkness. If he was defeated once, left powerless, how could he come to affect dreams at all? Something must have happened. Something... someone, with a heart so dark, must have felt fear so great that it awoke the power in Pitch...

You psychotic bastard!
So there you have it. The hidden Santa Trilogy. I've enjoyed looking into these movies and picking at the story threads to see what we can weave. I might do more posts like this in the new year.

But for now, Merry Christmas everyone. I'll see you on the other side of the 25th, and hope you all have a happy, peaceful time with the ones you love.

Dec 17, 2014

The Santa Trilogy - Part 2

Today we continue our exploration of the hidden Santa Trilogy. We started with Santa Claus The Movie, and now move on to the mid-point.

When we last left Santa, things were pretty bad. Though BZ had been defeated, there was still the fallout to deal with. Christmas was becoming more commercialised and false. Santa himself was losing faith in what Christmas stood for. And even those who believed in Santa Claus were becoming sure that he was a phony.

What can Santa do to in this situation? You can't force people to trust you, even less so when you've just come out of your own crisis of faith. As I said in the last post, it will take a miracle...

The man with the hat is back...

Miracle on 34th Street is a 1994 remake of the 1947 original, with the wonderful Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle/Santa Claus. I've chosen this one, rather than the original, as it fits chronologically, coming after 1984's Santa Claus The Movie, and featuring some particularly heartwarming and relevant scenes and dialogue.

For the purposes of this analysis, even though the character goes by the name Kris Kringle for the duration of the movie, I'll refer to him as Santa Claus.

We open with Santa dressed as a normal everyday New Yorker (he obviously has a fondness for the city, having spent much of the previous movie there), going to attend the Cole's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

"Who's this 'Macy' person you keep talking about?"
Interesting fact, although the actual Macy's name was allowed to be used in the 1947 original, and the store itself was featured, they refused to allow the use of the name for the remake. I guess they felt they had enough money. I believe the exterior of the store was at least used for many shots, though.

It's as if Santa is visiting the human world to see how things are now, maybe to recharge his enthusiasm and passion. It soon becomes clear that he hasn't completely lost his sense of what Christmas means when he sees the parade's Santa drunkenly stumbling into place as the parade starts.

After revealing the man's drunkenness to the special events coordinator of Cole's, Dorey Walker, the old Santa is fired and Dorey winds up desperately asking the real Santa to take his place. There's a subtle reluctance as he reaches for the offered red hat, but when Dorey reminds him of the children who will be let down if there is no Santa, he rises to the call.

Santa does such a great job being, well, Santa, that he's offered a job in the Cole's 34th street store. He even gets his own suiting-up scene, just like all heroes should have.

It isn't long before Santa comes to the attention of Victor Landberg, owner of Shopper's Express, a rival store to Cole's.

Two evil toy bosses in a row?
Now tell me this guy doesn't look like an older, more embittered version of John Lithgow's character from the previous movie. He even warns his lackey that "anachronisms" like Santa have a way of causing problems, almost as if he's had dealings with such things before.

It's possible that BZ survived, returned to Earth, and changed his name, to build up a new evil empire. But I'm not completely confident making that assertion based on only a couple of lines of dialogue and an absent hairline. Still, it's something to consider.

Santa also encounters Dorey's daughter, Susan, played by one of the most well-adjusted child stars in history, Mara Wilson.

Seriously, check her out now. She's super-smart and awesome.
Dorey has been quite firm with Susan that there is no such thing as fairytales and Santa Claus. So Susan is quite a stern, serious child, who desperately wants a traditional family, since her dad ran out on her mom years ago. She is quite taken with Santa, and his charming demeanor and genuine kindness begin to break down her cynicism.

Santa makes it his mission to prove to Susan, and her mother, that he is real, and should be believed in. As he says to Dorey:

"I'm a symbol of the human ability to be able to suppress the selfish and hateful tendencies that rule the major part of our lives. If you can't believe, if you can't accept anything on faith, then you're doomed for a life dominated by doubt."

By this stage, Santa wants to be believed in again. He only hopes it's not too late, and if he can start with these two people, there's a chance for Santa Claus to endure.

One of the key moments in Susan's growing faith in Santa, and my personal favourite scene in the movie, is when a woman brings her daughter to see Santa at Cole's, and explains to him that her daughter is deaf, and she just wanted to see him.

Santa looks down at the child, and for a moment, his smile falters. His eyes wilt. See, Santa Claus has incredible powers, but those powers have rules. They have a specific purpose. He can't make a deaf girl hear, or a blind boy see. That's not what Santa Claus is for. And it pains him that this is so.

So he does what he can to bring joy and wonder to the girl. He sits her on his knee and speaks to her using sign language. Her face lights up and they sing Jingle Bells together, and he tells her she'll get what she wants for Christmas.

Yes, it's the most heartwarming, tear-jerking thing ever, and I'm not sorry for crying.

Susan is so wracked with doubt as to her mother's insistence that Santa Claus isn't real, that she agrees to test Santa, and asks him to give her a specific house, a father, and a baby brother. Now, as I mentioned, this sort of thing is outside Santa's power to simply give, so he has to do some legwork...

Of course, Landberg wants to discredit Santa and divert customers from Cole's to his own store, so that his financial interests can take over the floundering company and add it to his retail empire. He has his lackeys follow Santa, to determine if he's potentially crazy. Santa has let his guard down amidst this newfound resurgence of popularity, and does himself no favours. He is seen talking to reindeer and mentions how he can slow down time, and enjoys playing golf with the Easter Bunny.

The fact the Easter Bunny exists, and usually spends winter in New Zealand, is something to note for Part 3.

The lackeys set Santa up, having the man he replaced at the parade provoke him in the street.

You skeevy bastard
Santa strikes him with his cane, and the man fakes a serious injury. Landberg's lackeys show up and make a show of announcing his name to the gathered crowd, and Santa is arrested.

Just when things were starting to come around for Santa, now the whole world watches as he's branded a violent, mentally-unstable old man. Worse, we learn that Landberg plans to bribe the judge in the case, to make sure Santa gets locked away.

"It's no 'teddy bear stuffed with nails', but that's still harsh, bro."
But all is not lost! Bryan, Dorey's sort-of-but-not-quite-boyfriend, is a lawyer, and decides to take the case and defend Santa. Not only will he prove that his client is not dangerous, but that he is in fact the one true Santa.

Someone's going on the Nice List, huh?

Of course, the challenge isn't in proving that Santa isn't dangerous, it's proving he's not insane for believing that he's Santa Claus. Bryan tries a range of tactics, but for every win he makes against the prosecution, they win one back when Santa continues to act, well, crazy. Even the judge, who wishes he could let Santa go free, says there is no way he can rule in favour; the law ties his hands.

During the trial, however, both Susan and Dorey come to support Santa completely. Dorey goes to her superiors and urges them to support Santa, giving them the rallying cry, "Do you believe in Santa Claus?"

Cue montage of New Yorkers posting signs and notices announcing their belief in Santa, to Aretha Franklin's rendition of "Joy To The World" (remember how that was used to fanfare Santa's first flight in the previous movie?). And yes, also cue more tears from me, because damn if I don't love seeing New Yorkers stand up for people.

"You mess with Santa, you mess with New York!"
So the entire population of New York flocks to the streets of Manhattan and cheers at the stroke of noon on Christmas Eve, to announce their solidarity and believe in Santa Claus. Then it starts to snow (all Christmas miracles cause spontaneous snowfall), and the judge realises (with a little extra help from Susan and the one dollar bill) that it was the will of the people of America that allows the nation's currency to say "In God we trust" and so he can, through a similar act of will from the people, carry forth their decision to believe in Santa Claus, and set Santa free.

Okay, that ruling could probably be all kinds of contested, but by the end of the movie, even the prosecutor doesn't want to put Santa away, and asks him to not forget to stop by his house that night.

The faith of the people restored, Santa gets ready to set off on his night's work. As it happens, he did manage to put a few things in motion, and arranges for Bryan and Dorey to get married, and ensures that Dorey's Christmas bonus is put towards buying the very house that Susan wanted.

As for the baby brother... Well, let's just say there are some things you don't have to ask Santa for...

"My mom's done the sex."
So everything's okay, now, right? Santa's back and the world believes in him, and the spirit of Christmas, once again.

Not so fast. There are other threats out there, and old fears have a way of creeping back...

Dec 16, 2014

The Santa Trilogy - Part 1

No, this isn't the reveal for a series of Christmas novels (though I do have an idea there...).

I've known for a while that there is a secret story hidden within three otherwise unconnected movies. You see, I love Christmas movies, and it so happens that three of my favourites feature Santa Claus. Not just any set of three Santas, either. No, these three movies are all about the same Santa Claus, in the same universe.

You might think the holiday cheer has gone to my head, but sit back and get ready to see the true story behind three movies I'll be examining in this series of posts. In each one, I'll reveal the movie and explain how they are not only set in more or less the same universe (with a few differences in aesthetics), but they form a single continuous character arc for Santa Claus.

For today's post, we will look at Santa Claus The Movie.

Santa Begins

After his parents were murdered by the Grinch in an alleyway, little Nicholas was inspired to fight naughtiness... Wait, wrong origin story.

I love an origin story, and Santa Claus The Movie is one of the very few movies that actually looks at where the jolly man came from, and who he was before donning the red and white suit.

Lovers of British tv will recognise Daisy from Keeping Up Appearances
Claus and his wife, Anya, bring toys to children every Christmas. It's mentioned later in the movie that they were never able to have children of their own, and so Claus loves all children, everywhere. However this year, there is a particularly bad snow storm. They become lost, and they and their two reindeer, Donner and Blitzen, freeze to death.

Yeah, didn't see that coming, did you? We are not playing around here, kids.

They awake, however, finding themselves transported somewhere else, a place filled with mountains of snow and ice. The elves arrive and take them to their new home, explaining that Claus has been chosen to bring toys and wonder to children all over the world.

Claus prepares for his task, and next Christmas Eve, is introduced to the "Ancient Elf".

Ladies and gentlemen, Burgess Meredith!
You know this means that both Santa Claus and Rocky Balboa were mentored by the same guy, right?

Anyway, the Ancient Elf speaks of a prophecy that has come to pass, and reveals that in addition to immortality, Claus will be given all of the things he needs to complete his mission. Time will travel with him, creating an endless night, just for him. He will be able to fly. And all those in the world will now know of him, and that he will forever more be known as Santa Claus.

Santa takes to his sleigh, and his reindeer carry him into the night sky to the rousing chorus of "Joy to the world."

The music is instrumental only, but is it sacrilegious to have the line "Joy to the world, the Lord has come" in subtle reference to Santa Claus taking his first flight? If it is, it's worth it. The scene is wonderful and always gets me choked up.

Centuries pass, and Santa Claus carries out his task, learning to award toys to the nice children, but not to naughty ones. Now, one thing to note is that for all we see of the elves making toys, throughout the Obligatory Montage we never see a child playing with a toy the elves are shown to make. This will be worth keeping in mind, and I'll explain why in Part 3, but for now let me make a declarative statement: The elves do not make the toys that Santa delivers.

When we do see an elf's creations sent to be played with, disaster strikes. And it's all the fault of Patch.

You bastard.
I gotta be honest, the scene where the kids' toys fall apart is fucking heartbreaking. Little kids falling off faulty bikes and watching helplessly while a broken toy cart is run over by a bus is some cruel shit. I told you this movie wasn't playing around.

As a result of this, people stop believing in Santa Claus. Kids who do still believe, like Joe and Corny, two minor characters who have befriended Santa, get beaten up for defending him, and Santa has to exile Patch. And it is only now, halfway through the movie, that we meet our villain, the evil toy company boss, BZ, who is also Corny's uncle.

See how evil he is? He's SMOKING in a kids' movie!
Let me take a moment here to clarify just how evil BZ is, okay? He's not Donald Trump evil. He's not Rupert Murdoch evil. He's not even Lex Luthor evil.

BZ's company is under investigation for making toys that are dangerous for children. How dangerous? Well, one doll is made of material so flammable that a cigarette being held near it causes it to burst into flames. A toy panda? Is stuffed with nails and broken glass.

"Dude, that's fucked up."
I told you. This movie? Not playing around.

BZ teams up with none other than Patch, who thinks he can show Santa how valuable he is by creating the best Christmas present ever. Patch develops a lollipop with makes children float. And it's being given away for free. But of course, BZ has other plans, and wants to take over Christmas for himself!

Santa, meanwhile, laments that people don't seem to care about giving a gift just so a friend can be happy. He thinks BZ may be smarter than him, and wonders if there's any point in continuing. He wants to give up on Christmas. The stakes simply cannot get any higher, folks!

I have to say, all joking aside, this is a really lovely scene between Santa and Anya. Santa Claus in movies is so often a flat, two-dimensional guy, with no flaws or doubts. Here, we get a glimpse at his human side. He's hurt and vulnerable, and it's such an understated scene, done in dark, intimate lighting in total contrast to the rest of the movie.

Back to the action, and BZ is planning "Christmas 2", for which he demands a better, improved gift. Patch increases the magic formula and produces candy canes which will make children fly. Money starts pouring in. BZ is planning to take over Christmas, leaving Santa in the dirt.

Joe, who has been hiding out in BZ's house while Corny helps him recover from being sick, is discovered listening in, and is kidnapped.

Unfortunately for children everywhere, it is revealed that the candy canes react to heat and explode. Anything as warm as being next to a radiator will trigger them. BZ doesn't care, however, and plans to take the money and flee to a non-extradition country.

Sorry, let me interject again. The villain here is going to take his money and flee, while the Christmas gifts his unwitting elf partner will be sending out are going to cause every single child on the planet to be blown up.

"Seriously, BZ, you need help."
Corny writes to Santa to get him to help. Only two of the reindeer are sick, and the rest are still tired from Christmas Eve. It's all on the line.

They race to save Joe, and Corny explains about the candy canes and says she called the cops on her uncle. The cops show up to BZ's office and he tries to escape by eating handfuls of candy canes. Unfortunately for him, he is unable to control his flight and shoots up into the sky.

Meanwhile, it turns out that Patch found Joe, and realised that Santa does care about him, so he packs Joe and all the candy canes into his flying car to let Santa have them instead of BZ. But the candy canes are right next to the engine, and they're heating up.

Santa pulls off the Super-Duper-Looper, a move he named before ever being able to complete it, and loops around the car to rescue Patch and Joe as the car explodes.

Santa and friends celebrate, and we end on a scene of BZ flying through space along with bits of the destroyed flying car. Somehow, he is able to breathe and speak, crying out as he tumbles off away from Earth.

To be continued...

Okay, so the ending is a little weak, narratively-speaking. The hero never really defeats the villain, and we're still left with the hanging issue of people the world over having lost faith in Santa Claus. What can be done? How will Santa regain the trust of the children?

Well, you might say it'll take a miracle.

Tune in next time and see.