Bunnies, Foxes and Why You Have to See “Zootopia”

I interrupt poetry month to bring you my opinion on a movie.

To paraphrase Bryan Singer, science fiction is a great medium for storytelling because it allows the creative minds behind it to tell a human story from an alien perspective, and in my opinion that allows the audience to learn something about themselves and society. No media accomplishes this as well as science fiction except for one: children’s films.

Today I watched Zootopia in the theaters. It was a darn good movie, possibly one of the best talking animal movies I’ve ever seen. For those of you who haven’t seen it or haven’t heard of it, here is a brief synopsis from IMDB:

“From the largest elephant to the smallest shrew, the city of Zootopia is a mammal metropolis where various animals live and thrive. When Judy Hopps becomes the first rabbit to join the police force, she quickly learns how tough it is to enforce the law. Determined to prove herself, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious case. Unfortunately, that means working with Nick Wilde, a wily fox who makes her job even harder.”

It’s a movie about a bunny cop and a con artist fox. It’s also about discrimination and racism.

Here, there be spoilers.

You read that right. Disney, the company responsible for Peter Pan’s Tiger Lily and Songs of the South, made a movie about discrimination and racism.

I don’t know whether or not I can comment on the portrayal of racism, given that I’m so white I glow in the dark. In some ways I come from a place of privilege, but I can say that the movie did point out that everyone has little prejudices that they must work to overcome. I can comment on it’s portrayal of discrimination, however.

“But Kelsey, you’re white, what do you mean “discrimination?””

Well, I may have white privilege, but I lack straight privilege.

Have I come out on the blog yet? Nope. Well, consider this my coming out.

I’m bisexual. I’ve always been bisexual. I’m in a long term monogamous relationship with a man, but that doesn’t make me any less bi. And being bi hasn’t been easy.

There’s a scene in Zootopia which I found here:

In case you can’t watch the video, Nick the fox wants to be a Junior Trooper, but is the only predator in the group. The other kids don’t take well to this, and humiliate him and drive him out of the troopers. Nick vows two things after this; never to let them see that it gets to you, and that if the world thinks he’s something, that’s what he’s going to be.

That scene really hit home for me.

I’ve never told this story publicly before. When I came out none of my friends cared, even though a couple teachers treated me differently. I thought that my school was full of caring, open-minded people and that I would get through high school without any trouble.

I volunteered to help out with the school musical. My job was to help get costumes on and get makeup done. At first, it was going okay. A couple of the guys were squeemish about makeup but we got it done. Then, when it was time to do the girl’s makeup and costumes, it started. One girl took issue to me being in the room while the girls were changing. She started talking, whispering “behind my back”–just low enough that she thought I couldn’t hear her, even though I was in the room. Like I was some sort of pervert who couldn’t control myself. I could feel the looks burning into my back. I left the room, and didn’t come back.

It spread to the change rooms in gym class. Eventually, I started changing in the bathroom stalls. The bathroom cleared when I walked in.

I may not be a visible minority, but I know what prejudice looks like.

Zootopia captured the feeling of being that fifteen year old girl who didn’t understand why the other kids didn’t want her around.

Zootopia’s biggest flaw in dissecting discrimination, as pointed out by Nico Lang, is that it focuses primarily on individuals holding bigotted views and not on systematic racism, and suggesting that racism is solved by individuals simply not being racist anymore.  I don’t know how a film intended for children could tackle racist systems of power  (and if you know of any please tell me in the comments) but I think that Zootopia did a decent job of at least attempting it. I think that focusing on individual worldviews works better for children, who psycholgically see the world through an individualistic lens until they develop empathy. I have to wonder if the movie succeeds in teaching children about prejudice, and if it shows adults that they have a long way to go to eliminate prejudice from their lives.

I have to wonder if those girls from high school saw this movie, and thought of me.

Gasp! 3 Monster Mashups!

Pride, Prejudice and Zombies opened up on February 5th, 2016 to mixed reviews that veered ever so slightly to the negative side. The film also disappointed at the box office, making about half of what it was projected to make. I haven’t seen the movie yet (perhaps when it gets to the cheap theater) nor have I read either the novel the film was based on or the novel that the novel was based on. Yes, it’s true, I’ve never read a Jane Austen book. You may commence the tomato throwing.

All done? Good. Let’s continue.

There’s something inherently fascinating about taking popular figures and adding monsters, outside of the Halloween special. On an anecdotal note, I know lots of writers who heard of the premise of PPZ and immediately became sort of offended, and raved against the very idea. I hate to disappoint (no I don’t, this post is a day late), but taking popular figures plus monsters has been around for a long time. But what makes these absurd premises work?

  1. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Abbott and Costello

 

  • Abbott and Costello met a lot of monsters, crossing paths with The Mummy, Frankenstein(‘s creature), the invisible man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • The best reviewed film is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
  • It’s also the first in the series of Abbott and Costello’s monster misadventures
  • Preserved by the US Library of Congress
  • Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein’s creature, the wolf man and Dracula, all in one fun-filled film
  • These films worked because they were silly and didn’t take themselves seriously

2. Marvel Zombies

Marvel Zombies

  • At the height of the zombie craze Marvel unveiled a new series: Marvel Zombies
  • In this series, an unidentified being crash lands on a parallel Marvel Universe (one of many) and infects the Avengers, leading to the Avengers becoming ravenous zombies while still retaining their intellect and personality
  • The zombies have many adventures, mostly involving eating, and eventually gain the power cosmic and eat literally everyone in the universe
  • Critics agree that the plot makes no sense, and that the story is silly, but, like Abbott and Costello, that’s what makes the story work

3. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

 

abraham lincoln vampire hunter

  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was inspired by Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, so I thought it was only fair that I include it in my list
  • In this tale, young Abraham Lincoln’s parents are killed by vampires, who are revealed to be behind slavery in America
  • It is up to Abraham and his friends to stop the evil scourge of vampires
  • This movie makes no fricking sense
  • According to critics, The film has a very serious tone for a whacky premise, and the historical drama side and the vampire movie side never quite meet in the middle
  • Similar things were said about Pride, Prejudice and Zombies

 

So what can we learn from these mash-ups? Is it possible to create a serious work of art from a silly premise? Let me know in the comments!
God Bless,

Kelsey J.

Publishing 101 with BJ Muntain, part two:Querying

So what is querying?

Querying is trying to sell an agent (or publisher) on your book. You do this by sending a query letter. Some agents only want the query letter, some want a synopsis, some want to see the first 5, 10, 50 pages. Send them what their guidelines say they want to see.

A query letter is a creative business letter. It’s a business letter because you want to do business with the agent. It’s creative because you are selling your creativity, and effective selling takes creativity. You want your query letter to entice the agent to read your novel.

When querying, DO:

  • Read and follow the guidelines.
  • Address the query letter to the agent’s name. Agents cringe at “Dear Agent”. You don’t want the agent’s first impression of you to be cringe-worthy.
  • Make a good impression.
  • Keep the query letter to one page, double-spaced. That’s about 250 words. Even if you’re e-mailing the query.
  • Hook the agent. Use the three main points: Character’s goal, character’s obstacles (conflict), and the consequences of their success or failure (what are they risking?)
  • Be polite and professional.
  • Write the best query letter you can. (More on that below.)

DON’T:

  • Never send attachments, unless they specifically ask for them. If they want to see pages, they’ll usually ask you to cut and paste your pages into the body of the e-mail.
  • And don’t send the same e-mail to a lot of people. If the agent sees a lot of other agents in the subject line, or if they see that they were bcc’d (and people can tell if you’ve bcc’d them), they’re going to find it easier to reject you.

Query letters are a skill that needs to be developed – a good skill, because they help you figure out what is important in your novel, and gives you focus.

Luckily, the Query Shark (a.k.a. Janet Reid) has been critiquing and helping people with their queries for years. Read all 270+ queries and critiques she’s done there, because each is like a tutorial on what to do and what not to do. She isn’t posting as much these days, because she only wants to cover new problems or ideas. So if you don’t see your problem in the archive, send your query letter to her, and see if she’ll cover it in a future post.

For general information and questions about the publishing industry, Janet Reid is generous with her time and advice. She’s been working in the business for quite awhile, and she has a very straight-forward and straight-minded view of the industry. Read her back posts – she posts every day. You can start with her Publishing 101 category, then go down the list of categories on the left and the topics on the right, and see if you can answer your question. Or, you know, ask her. If she hasn’t covered it already, she might cover it in a future blog post. I highly recommend her blog.

A note on rejections

Rejection is a fact of life in this business. An agent can get upwards of 100 queries per day. They will request to read the rest of the novel about 1% of the time. Of that 1%, they won’t even sign half of them. They already have clients who take up most of their time. Unless they’re new to the game, they’re very choosy over what other clients they will take on. Understand that you will be rejected. Try to gather at least 100 rejections before you give up. Expect them. Celebrate them, because a rejection means you were brave enough to query – then send out another query letter.

Some people get tired of the rejections, and that’s normal. Some will decide to self-publish instead, and that’s a valid business strategy – as long as they look at it as a business strategy. It’s not an easy way to make money. You work for every sale. But if you’re prepared to put in all the work, and to put out the best product you can, then it is one way to go. Here’s a good take on Yog’s rule for self-publishers, according to John Scalzi’s Yog’s Law and Self-Publishing: “While in the process of self-publishing, money and rights are controlled by the writer.”

Do NOT get discouraged. Don’t get desperate. Don’t grasp at straws. Those straws are most likely to be the scammers that prey on desperate writers. NO ONE can guarantee you a legitimate publishing contract. If someone does guarantee this, run away. Run away very fast. Because, most likely, they’re offering you something you pay for, and it’s not going to help one little bit.

Vanity presses (which are completely separate from self-publishing or other form of publishing, no matter what the vanity presses themselves say) will charge you to publish your work. Or they’ll force you to pay for marketing. Or they’ll insist you pay fees of some sort. You pay them, AND give them control over your work. In traditional publishing, YOU get paid. In self-publishing, you control everything you pay for. With a vanity press (and these are described on Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors), you pay them to control you.

Before using any services, check them on the websites above. In fact, check everyone through those websites before doing business with them.

Also: Never respond to rejections. Take note of them, keep track of them, then ignore them. Don’t even send a ‘thank you’. ESPECIALLY do not argue with the agent or otherwise insult them. That is not going to help you get published, and it might actually hurt your chances.

Some further thoughts on scams

Read that list of steps again. Just about the ONLY steps you can skip in this list are 2) and 3): querying agents and revising to their suggestions. It is possible to query publishers on your own. Don’t look for other ways to skip a step. Don’t look for an easy way. There isn’t one.

If you come across a service that will do your querying for you, run away. They’ll take your money, send off a few form queries, and get rejected 99.999% of the time BECAUSE they are a query service and not the author. Agents hate those ‘services’.

Or a ‘publisher’ that says they’ll put your book in front of agents or big publishers – sure, they can send the books to the publishers or agents, but they can’t force them to read them. And publishers and agents will not read books sent by those ‘publishers’. (This used to be a promise made by vanity presses.)

You CAN pay for editors yourself. That’s perfectly legitimate. Find a good one, check them through Preditors & Editors under Editing & Software, and ask for references.

The money flows towards the author. Remember that. If anyone tries to charge you something, take a step back and think about it. Incidentals like postage and photocopying on your behalf are okay (but only once you’re already that agent’s client). Anything else – check it out carefully.

 

 

 

BJ Muntain’s website: http://www.bjmuntain.com/

BJ’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/bjmuntain

BJ’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BJMuntain

Publishing 101 with BJ Muntain

This week I asked my good friend BJ Muntain to come in and share a bit of her experience in the publishing world with you all! Since BJ has a wealth of great knowledge, her guest post will be in two parts, shared this week and next week. Hope you enjoy!

 

Publishing 101 

with BJ Muntain 

I recently read a blog post about a query service, on Janet Reid’s excellent publishing industry blog, and I had a huge Aha! moment.

People just starting out don’t know enough about the publishing industry, so they are easy prey for such ‘services.’ Unfortunately, the only thing these services are able to do is take a writer’s money.

The one thing to keep in mind is, the number one rule of dealing with the publishing industry is the adage known as ‘Yog’s Law’: The money flows TO the writer.

I’m not talking about self-publishing. That’s a huge area, and not where my experience lies. I’m talking about traditional publishing. I’m also talking fiction (and memoirs, which are treated like fiction in the publishing process). Non-fiction has a few differences in the query process, which you’ll need to research separately.

Here’s a quick guide to how the publishing industry really works:

  • Author writes a novel. Then revises it. Then edits it. Then takes more training, and revises again. Then learns something new, and revises again. And again, ad nauseum, until the novel is the absolutely best it can be. Author may even hire an editor to help.
  • Author then sends queries to agents. (See below for information on queries.)
  • Agent may respond in one of three ways: 1. asking to read more, 2. offering representation, or 3. rejecting the query. Rejections are far more common than the other responses. Some agents will suggest revisions, in which case you can send it back to them for a second chance (called an R&R – Revise and Resend).
  • Once Agent offers representation, there will probably be more editing and revising.
  • Agent will send the novel to publishers that might be interested. Publishers will either reject or accept the novel.
  • Then there’s THE CONTRACT negotiations – which, if Agent is good, won’t be as scary as it sounds.
  • Then Publisher will go through it, and the author will have more revisions and editing to do.
  • By this time, the author is now working on the next novel. Or the next. Or even the next.
  • In a couple years after the contract is signed, the novel will be published and the author will be busy doing marketing and publicity in order to sell it. While writing the next novel.

Yes. I said TWO years. Publishers often have all their publishing spots scheduled for two years by the time they buy yours, and editing takes time. Some publishing houses may work quicker. Most smaller publishing houses will accept your submission without an agent. Most of the big ones will not.

While you can possibly skip numbers 3 and 4 by not seeking an agent, don’t try any other shortcuts. By the way, ‘not seeking an agent’ is not a shortcut. Be prepared for a lot of work.

So why do you need an agent?

First, if you want to sell your novel to a large publisher, you almost always need an agent. There are a few large publishers and many smaller ones that will accept unagented novels, but it’s still a good idea to have an agent.

There’s a lot of work that goes into selling a novel. Some agents will help you edit your book. They mediate between the publisher and the author, making sure the author is getting paid and the publisher is getting the revisions on time. They make sure both parties are living up to the contract they negotiated.

Because agents know contracts. They know what to look for in a contract. They know how to make sure a contract is fair – and they’re the ones who will do your negotiating for you. Unless you are a publishing lawyer, it can be pretty complicated to negotiate your own contract. And an agent can get you a better advance than you can get yourself.

And all an agent wants from the deal is 15% of the money you make. That may seem like a lot, but if an agent can get you a bigger advance AND make sure you’re not selling your soul and your first born along with your novel, it’s definitely worth it.

If you don’t have an agent, get a publishing lawyer (or someone well-versed in publishing contracts) to go over everything before you sign. Signing without understanding what you’re signing can get your career stuck in cement-hard muck. Someone who knows the publishing industry will know what needs to be in a contract for it to be fair for the client. There are horror stories about non-publishing lawyers being asked to go over publishing contracts, objecting to things that are industry standard while allowing grievous harm to be done to their client in other areas.

An agent is worth their 15%.

Some tips on choosing agents to query

Research agents. Make sure they’re the people you want representing you.

Unfortunately, there are some bad agents and bad publishers out there, and some real crooks. Here are the three most important links you’ll find:

  • Preditors & Editors – Always take any agent (and their agency) through the site, to see if there are any warnings. Publishers, too, and any other person or business you plan on doing business with. If there are no warnings, then they’re probably okay. If the site says the agent or agency is recommended, they’re a great choice. P&E doesn’t give recommendations easily. They have a lot more information there, too, about writing, publishing, and so forth.
  • The Absolute Write Water Cooler, specifically their CheckBewares, Recommendations & Background Check forum
    • Note: most agents and businesses listed here will be treated with suspicion at first. Read all the posts on an agent or publisher right to the end, because once an agent or publisher gets to be better known, the suspicions fade (or, if the agent/agency/publisher is really bad, you’ll find proof.)
  • Writer Beware — This service, housed on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website, is headed by Victoria Strauss and is supported by other writing organizations. You’ll only find the bad agents, agencies, publishers, and services here, so chances are you won’t find the agent you’re looking for – and that’s good. Victoria and the others are very passionate about their work, even so far as to be sued by the unscrupulous people they’ve outed. I have the highest regard for Victoria.

You also want to research agents to make sure they’re a good fit for your novel. And if you’re thorough, you might have a better chance at attracting them.

Places to find out more about an agent and their needs are:

  • Their blogs
  • Their agency’s website
  • Writers’ Digest – especially if you can find a recent interview.
  • Other interviews on blogs, etc. – Search by the agent’s name. If it’s not a unique name, add ‘literary agent’ to your search.

Find every agent’s and agency’s submission guidelines, and follow those guidelines when querying. If you’re going directly to publishers, then find the publisher’s guidelines. Publishers that don’t accept unagented submissions might make it difficult to find their guidelines, and they’ll only say something like, “We’re sorry, but we only accept manuscript submissions from agents.” Agents know how to submit to those publishers, so they don’t need to put the guidelines on their website.

 

BJ Muntain’s website: http://www.bjmuntain.com/

BJ’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/bjmuntain

 

BJ’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BJMuntain

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Heroism

I was a sheltered child.

My parents never let me play video games, or watch violent movies. Unlike other comic book fans my age, I didn’t grow up watching Batman and Spiderman. Batman and Spiderman were most kids first introduction to true altruism.

Mine was Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.

Yes, a red-nosed stop-motion reindeer was my first example of a true hero.

Who knew heroism could be so cute?

I watch the Rankin-Bass special every year. As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed the deeper messages in the narrative. Rudolph’s nose reveal reminds me of a coming out, and the things that Rudolph’s parents and Santa (if you haven’t seen this movie, Santa is a bit of a dick) say to Rudolph are things that were said to me as a mentally ill person and a bisexual person. Some examples of this are:

 

Rudolph: It’s not very comfortable!

Donner: There are more important things than comfort: self respect! Santa can’t object to you now.

 

Santa Claus: Great bouncing icebergs.

Donner: Ah, I’m sure it’ll stop as soon as he grows up, Santa.

Santa Claus: Well, let’s hope so, if he wants to make the sleigh team someday.

 

Head Elf: Why weren’t you at elf practice?
Hermey: Just fixing these dolls’ teeth.
Head Elf: Just fixing…? Now listen: we have dolls that cry, talk, walk, blink and run a temperature. We don’t need any chewing dolls!
Hermey: But I just thought I’d find a way to – to fit in.
Head Elf: You’ll never fit in! Now you come to elf practice, learn how to wiggle your ears, chuckle warmly, go “Hee-Hee” and “Ho-Ho”, and important stuff like that. A dentist! Good grief!

 

And of course, the misfit song:

We may be different from the rest

Who decides the test

Of what is really best?

We’re a couple of misfits

We’re a couple of misfits

What’s the matter with misfits?

That’s where we fit in!

 

Clearly, Rudolph doesn’t have an easy life. He has to hide who he is every day because who he is makes other people uncomfortable. He deals with the verbal abuse from Santa and the other reindeer, and the shame of his father.

But Rudolph never takes revenge. He never contemplates revenge on the other reindeer or his family. He goes out and finds his own life, and his own friends.  With current media so saturated with the revenge narrative, this stands out as powerful, though not necessarily heroic.

Where Rudolph’s heroism really shows is when he is called upon to help by the very people who hurt him. His parents get captured by the Abominable Snowman and Rudolph doesn’t hesitate to risk his own life when he sees them in peril. Then, when a storm hits and Santa can’t fly his sleigh, he asks Rudolph to help him guide the sleigh. Santa arguably treated Rudolph the cruelest for the longest, and once again, Rudolph doesn’t hesitate to help him.

Rudolph is a hero not only for the Christmas season, but for all year round. He doesn’t use violence to solve his problems—he uses kindness. When he’s angry, he runs away instead of fighting. He forgives everyone who did him wrong, and goes the extra mile to actually help those people. Wow.

The Christians in the audience will notice that the last bit especially sounds pretty familiar. And I think that’s the right kind of thing to show young kids who aren’t old enough to really understand why most conventional heroes use violence. It’s also a message that needs to be absorbed by adults. I’ve talked before about how revenge doesn’t do a lot of good, but the media hasn’t gotten the memo yet. This little reindeer does something so easily that we all have trouble with. He forgives.

He’s not the hero we need, but he’s the hero that we deserve.

Kelsey

Poor Old Jack: The Nightmare Before Christmas and Depression

I was told by several friends that I wasn’t a true child of the 90’s unless I watched Tim Burton’s classic film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. I hadn’t seen it as a child, as the trailer terrified me. This year I decided to give the movie a go–all those goth kids had to be on to something, right?

So far I’ve watched it twice, once at Halloween and again as I was making Christmas cookies a couple of days ago.

The synopsis of the film is that Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween town (“Pumpkin King” being kind of like the Grand Marshall of Halloween) discovers Christmas Town and, while he doesn’t quite understand the concept of Christmas, falls in love with the idea of the holiday and gets the residents of Halloween Town to help him put on the scariest Christmas the world has ever seen.

While those are the events of the film, that isn’t what the film is really about. It’s about one man’s (skeleton’s?) journey through depression.

The film begins with Jack finishing up Halloween and receiving adoration from the people of Halloween Town. Jack brushes off this praise and comments that it’s the same routine every year. He heads off into the graveyard adjacent to town and sings this little song:

In this song, Jack shows the classic signs of depression. He complains of feeling “weary of the sounds of screams” and “tired of the same old thing”, which indicates a loss of pleasure in things he used to enjoy. Jack goes on to talk about feeling an emptiness  “that [he’s] never known”  and implies feelings of sadness in his lines about longing and empty tears. Jack also shows irritability and frustration throughout the song, and has little outbursts throughout the movie. Before and after the song the audience sees Jack noticeably slumping and finding no joy in playing with his ghostly dog, Zero. Jack claims that the people of Halloween Town could never understand his feelings, and it’s visible how lonely that makes him. It is clear that Jack Skellington, despite having praise, adulation, and a variety of talents, is suffering from depression.

This is all well and good, but what does the movie have to say about depression?

Surprisingly good things, for a movie about a talking skeleton and the kidnapping of Santa Claus.

download

Jack finds something that he loves and that he’s passionate about, Christmas, and that helps him deal with some of his symptoms of emptiness and sadness, though he still shows frustration and anxiety over not being able to understand Christmas. After failing spectacularly at putting on his own Christmas (this movie is almost as old as me, that shouldn’t be considered a spoiler) Jack has a brief slide back into depression, singing about how no one understood his attempts at Christmas, showing loneliness once again. However, Jack goes on to sing that he’s happy that at least he tried, and that for the first time in a long time Jack feels more like himself and is excited for next Halloween. The film ends with Jack finding a kindred spirit in Sally, a sort of Frankensteined female who befriends Jack over the course of the movie. 

The Nightmare Before Christmas says something that isn’t said enough in common portrayals of mental illness. It says that, despite Jack’s struggles and sadness, he was able to recover. This is a powerful message in a movie originally intended for children. Most movies that show mental illness show it as something that the characters suffering from it never get over, and terms degrading mental illness are rampant in films for all ages. What this movie says is that it’s okay to be mentally ill, and that it’s possible to get better.

 

God bless,

 

Kelsey J.

Great Opening Sentences: An article

Guten tag! Or Nacht where I am.

Since I posted a heavier post outside of PTSDiaries I thought I’d share another article, just to even things out. This article shares some of science fiction’s greatest opening sentences. Writers are constantly told to write great opening sentences, and this type of article can either be really inspiring (“Wow! What great sentences!”) or really disheartening (“I’ll never be able to write anything that good”). Either way, it’s super cool to have all of these in one place. Thanks io9!

God Bless,

Kelsey J.