Derivative Works And How to Stop Cringing at Them

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Image Source: Pixabay, Mysticsartdesign.

A derivative work is ANY subsequent work that was based upon an original. That means film or TV adaptations of books are derivative works. It means fan fictions are derivative works. And it means sequels and prequels where multiple authors are hired to contribute to a long-running series are derivative works. That last one might not be as widely recognized as such, but the fact that Agatha Christie is continuing to write Agatha Christie mysteries long after her death means a lot of professional fans are given legal copyright allowances under contract to continue her legacy with additional works based on the originals. Ditto for the Nancy Drew series, Star Trek series, Marvel comics, and so on. The only squeeze room for debate on this matter is if we’re talking about the original author reusing her own world and characters to create spin-offs. In such a case, the derivative work will not be reinterpreted through someone else’s vision. The original creator is in control. But the original work is still being referenced to create anything new borrowed from it.

So, why it is important for book, film, and TV lovers to recognize and appreciate derivative works AS derivative works?

When I was an English major in college, I took a Film Literature class. I also had to take Drama 101. These courses were often considered somehow less academic than the more traditional classes on Shakespeare, Modern American Literature, Linguistics, etc. (Probably because they are visual format, rather than linguistic: which I wrote about in a previous article on book snobbery.) But all forms of literature, including screenplays and stage plays require writers. Screenplays and plays can be just as deep as books, emotionally and creatively, depending on the circumstances under which they are adapted. And both books and film have limitations and advantages according to their nature.

Our syllabus for Film Lit was comprised of reading a novel, watching the movie based on the novel, then writing a comparison essay. We watched a few extra movies that were stand-alone or turned into books based on the films (which is less common, but occasionally happens). I learned that derivative works should be reviewed differently from original works, especially if they are different media formats, because there are very important differences between the two.

1) Understand the very fact that the derivative work is NOT the original makes it DIFFERENT BY DEFAULT.
People who expect movies to be like their original books are often automatically disappointed and highly critical — sometimes before they even see the final product. But to compare the product of a single author’s viewpoint and character creation to an attempt to recreate that same product by coordinating the various visions and talents of a director, producer, any number of actors, and stage and costume designers is an unbalanced comparison. Interpretations can get close to the original, but they will never be exactly what you expect because you, the director, the actor, and the author are all different people with different imaginations and different interpretations. If you ask 30 people to draw a bird, you will get 30 different-looking bird drawings because each person’s vision and talents are unique. Most will probably look nothing like a real bird. And an oil painting of that bird would look very different from a digital print. No amount of comparisons will turn that digital print into an oil painting or a real bird. To expect a film to be EXACTLY like you imagined the book is unrealistic.

2) Books will never in a million years BE films.
This underscores the first point, but more directly why. Films should be judged by film standards, not book standards. Books are linguistic; they use language to spark the reader’s imagination. If you’re a good reader, you probably enjoy books. If you’re not a good reader, does that mean you can’t enjoy good literature? Of course not. Some people are visual learners more than they are linguistic learners. (By visual I means “spatial”, not “able to see printed words on a page”.) Film and stage productions are collaborative visual and auditory efforts that spark the physical senses. Books and films are very different experiences, and that is as it should be. In books, if you skim descriptions, you might miss some of the atmosphere. But in film everything from lighting to camera angle to sound effects must be taken into consideration to be sure the atmosphere is credible. Books may or may not give detailed or vague descriptions of character faces, voices, and body language, according to whether it’s important to the scenes. But in film, actors have to convey all those things all the time to bring a character to life. And then there are props and costumes. In a book, we don’t usually care about the footwear of a Medieval knight on a battlefield. But in film, if a Medieval knight is wearing sneakers, someone somewhere will notice, and films automatically get marked down for little things like that, never mind the big offenses.

3) Attention spans and time are everything.
Another difference between books and their visual derivative works is how much time the author or producer has to tell the story and how much attention the reader or viewer is willing to give. The most obvious difference is that most people can’t read an entire book in one sitting, yet films can’t last longer than 2 hours average or people get restless and need bathroom breaks. TV shows, even shorter — 30 minutes to an hour. Why is this? The eye has an attention span of about 3-5 seconds. When you are reading, your eye continuously moves across the page, so it has less of a chance to get bored … unless the story you’re reading is more stale than week-old bread. But with film, that camera has 3 seconds to show you what’s important before your eyes start looking for something else to look at. If you watch old films or TV shows, you’ll notice the camera angles are more straightforward and change less often than they do today. Because today we know the change has to be continual, like scanning words on a page, or the eye gets bored. Loss of visual interest kills attention spans for story-telling. (I suppose the same could be said of audio books if the narrator reads in a monotone or if the eyes have nothing to look at while listening.) Books allow readers to mark a page and put it down when they need breaks. Since authors know this, books can be quite lengthy and epic in nature. With film and TV, however, you must keep the viewer’s attention for the entire story being told at that time. Pause buttons aside (which are not available for stage productions), that means you have to be able to clip the story into shorter, more quickly digested scenes. You can still stretch it over the length of a series for a TV season and get a lot of detail. But films have to cut everything that isn’t essential. They often have the daunting task of making an entire year pass in only 2 hours … or making two people who just met fall in love as if they’d been together forever. Books don’t have those kinds of restraints, which is probably why most people prefer books. They seem to go deeper, and often they do. But depth is not the same thing as length, and that is what must be remembered with reviewing film and TV and stage.

4) There is nothing new under the sun … unless we paint it purple.
All plots ever written have been written before. All plots ever written boil down to only three plots: man against man, man against nature, and man against himself. But that’s boring, right? So, we mix it up a little. What if we say man against woman, dog against cat, drug addict against his addiction? What if the dog is lost, and the cat is trying to confuse him so he can’t find his way home? Is that different from the dog plotting against the cat to take over the house? Yes. Suddenly we have something that feels brand new by changing the details. So, if we enjoy Romeo and Juliet, why not jazz it up a little to make West Side Story? Tragic stories of star-crossed lovers in forbidden romances have been told for many centuries in many cultures, and nothing is going to stop people from writing that same old plot. But they will keep changing the details to make it feel fresh and different. So, if “Beauty and the Beast” starts as a centuries-old folk tale, but is then adapted and adapted and adapted (to death), we will keep looking for new and different ways to enjoy this story. Because it is timeless. We don’t have to like every version produced. (Honestly, the thought of a US version of a female Watson to pair with Sherlock Holmes drove me away from watching that series the minute I heard about it. How *could* they?! John Watson is a British man, why would they change that?Why do an American version of the BBC series Being Human, while we’re at it? It’s not like there’s a language barrier; leave it alone!) But it’s a little late to complain about why someone would redo something rather than creating something new, or why they would redo it the same way, or why they would redo it differently. Each similarity brings the comfort of familiarity. Each difference gives us an alternate universe to explore. This is not a recent phenomenon. This is not something that makes a purple sun any less interesting on another world. … Or our own. I mean, WHAT IF the sun suddenly turned purple? Is that really so bad? As ludicrous as it sounds, it’s man against nature (or man, or himself), trying to figure out why he sees a different sun. (Btw, I watched both the American and the BBC versions of Being Human and liked them both, but for different reasons because they intentionally gave it a different plot and character twist based on the original BBC concept.  Maybe I should give American, female Watson another shot? *shrug*)

I recently heard the Witcher novels and games were going to be adapted to a TV series on Netflix. On the one hand, I was so stoked! :3 I love the Witcher series! On the other hand, there’s this little voice in my head saying, “Please don’t suck, please don’t suck, please don’t suck.” … Fans of anything in the literary or gaming world can probably relate, if not for Witcher then something else. So, I offer this bit of advice for fans everywhere who cringe when they hear that their favourite books are being turned into movies or TV series. You are right. The derivative work will never BE the original. Nor are they trying to replace the originals. But if you can be flexible and learn to enjoy derivative works for what they are (something based on the original that in no way can possibly be the original), you will find derivative works a lot more enjoyable because you’ve shifted your expectations to a more realistic standard of judgment. 🙂

Book Review: The Conquering Dark

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Book: The Conquering Dark
Series: Shadow Revolution, Book 3
Author: Clay and Susan Griffin
Genres: fantasy, steampunk, Neo-Victorian, Gothic horror, adventure

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“A thrilling new Victorian-era urban fantasy for fans of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, and the Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Robert Downey, Jr.

The Crown and Key Society face their most terrifying villain yet: Gaios, a deranged demigod with the power to destroy Britain. To avenge a centuries-old betrayal, Gaios is hell-bent on summoning the elemental forces of the earth to level London and bury Britain. The Crown and Key Society, a secret league consisting of a magician, an alchemist, and a monster-hunter, is the realm’s only hope—and to stop Gaios, they must gather their full strength and come together as a team, or the world will fall apart. But Simon Archer, the Crown and Key’s leader and the last living magician-scribe, has lost his powers. As Gaios searches for the Stone of Scone, which will give him destructive dominion over the land, monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane, alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther, gadget geek Penny Carter, and Charlotte the werewolf scramble to reconnect Simon to his magic before the world as they know it is left forever in ruins.”

Notes of Interest:

This is the third book in the Shadow Revolution series. The first is Crown and Key, which I reviewed here: https://badcatink.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/book-review-crown-and-key/ . The second is Undying Legion, which I reviewed here: https://badcatink.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/book-review-undying-legion/ . This third book closes the trilogy.

As I stated in the previous review, I chose to read this series because of how much I enjoyed the Vampire Empire series by the Griffins. The third book in this series was closure for the first two, obviously, but it has all of the same good qualities as the previous two.

What could have made it better for me:

As with the previous book in this series, there was nothing of note that pulled me out of the story. All the basics I look for when considering “stars” to award were there: good technical work on grammar and elements of composition, well-developed “living” characters, no plot holes or burdens in style that damage the ability to suspend disbelief, etc. So, I present this book free of warning labels. 🙂

What I liked about it:

While writing this review, I realized I was having trouble coming up with new ways to describe the third volume in the series separately from the first two. (In fact, parts of this review are copy/paste sections from the previous reviews.) That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. It means there is a sense of continuity, which is very necessary in any series. I was a little confused at first because my mind was on the characters that the second book ended on, and this book seemed to be heading somewhere completely different, but it did pull everything together in the end.

Characterization and plot were well-defined and action-packed, as usual. The characters are turning into a real family unit in this volume, but they also undergo some transformations as individuals: Simon having to cope without his magic, while Kate advances her alchemical skills and Penny invents new mechanical weaponry; Malcolm growing a soft spot amid all those bristles, while Charlotte and Imogen make progress on stability. And then there are the questions of loyalty surrounding Nick, Ash, and several other minor characters, as to whether they will ultimately play into the hands of the demi-god Gaios and his plans for revenge. Without knowing who to trust, they must find a way to fix Simon’s magic and fix their inability to access the portals before Gaios gets his hands on the Stone of Scone to destroy London.

Wit among dialog and circumstance wins big points from me when it comes to enjoyment of literature. I think my favourite line in the book belonged to roguish Simon after enduring a glamour spell cast upon him by his old friend and mentor Nick. Upon seeing himself in the mirror, he said, “Could you have made me any uglier? Was a leper beyond your ability?” And you can just feel his dismay at actually not being attractive for the probably the first time in his life. So, little inserts like that can go a long way for me in making a read enjoyable.

These books have a distinct “superheroes save the world” feel to them … but blended with horror and a steampunk style. The premise of the third book reminds me a little of the Dr. Who spin-off series Torchwood, in that after everything that has already happened, you end up with this task force of magicians and supernatural creatures whom the king can call upon to take care of unusual threats of a dark nature that endanger the crown, the citizens at large, or national security. It’s a good premise, and I tend to enjoy seeing it explored. Whether or not we see more from this particular task force as Princess Victoria comes of age, remains to be seen, but the outcome of their endeavors lends itself to being open to future possibilities. The ending is bittersweet, but offers satisfying closure for the entire set. I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers. 🙂

Recommendation:

If you are into this kind of literature, I think you’ll enjoy this series. It is adventurous escapism at its finest with credible characters, delightful dialog, imaginative settings, and an immersive atmosphere.

A Writer’s Staycation

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Last Friday, I turned in my manuscript to some beta readers. This week, I am trying to take a vacation from writing. Emphasis on trying. Turns out my attempt at a short vacation is only confirming what I’ve suspected all my life — that writing isn’t something I DO, it’s who I AM. My vacation at home is teaching me a few more things about the cliche phrase, “You know you’re a writer when …” So, here we go with some vacation-specific thoughts on how to recognize the writer as a species, compared to writing as a profession.

You Know You’re a Writer When …

1. Though on vacation, you don’t bother turning off your alarm, which is set for 6:00 A.M. on normal weekdays, because you know you will wake up with ideas that need to be quickly transferred into Scrivener notes before you forget them … which is usually right after rolling out of bed. (That and you realize it’s pointless to try to sleep in when you have a cat that sits on you at 5:50 A.M., staring at you like a vulture, waiting for you to wake and feed him.)

2. You go through your morning routine of planning your day, as if you weren’t on vacation, but end up blocking off 2 or more hours anyway for “looking over” your next writing project. That “looking over” turns into plotting the draft of your next book. Then every day thereafter is blocked for working on specific draft elements. And you’re excited about that because the ideas are flowing since you’re not under pressure to have to do it.

3. Your first vacation day is miserable because you planned chores you otherwise don’t normally have time to do … like that half-finished sweater you’ve been knitting since last September. But after you “look over” your spontaneous draft work in the morning, you lose track of time refining it, and by evening you’re scowling at your planner as you highlight things you didn’t accomplish because you spent your “free time” writing.

4. Your second day of vacation is better because you decide that if writing is what you enjoy, and you’re making progress, you should give yourself permission to write! But when you force yourself to shut down Scrivener, you kind of have to talk yourself into playing Witcher 3 to get your mind off of the morning’s plotting. You’re on vacation for Gods’ sakes! Spend half the day playing or something!

5. Your third day of vacation you realize you suck at vacationing. But you’re okay with that because the goal is have fun and relax to counter burnout. If the morning was spent having fun writing, and you can spend the afternoon relaxing with a game … reading a book outside … or daydreaming while napping in the sun and thinking about what you might tackle in tomorrow morning’s draft work. Because your come to realize your idea of vacation is not about taking a break from doing something you love. It’s about giving yourself permission to take a break from the things you don’t love … like mowing the lawn or doing the dishes.

6. Your fourth day of vacation you finally feel like you’re on vacation because you have figured out that more time doing what you love and less time doing what you don’t love results in happiness. And you’re kind of relieved you chose a “staycation” because travel would involve the hassles of arranging pet care, planning an itinerary, and wasting precious money. Imagination is free, and you can take your time enjoying it if you live like every day is a holiday or summer break.

7. You resent the fact that, before the weekend is up, you will probably have to interrupt your writing retreat to face the dandelions taking over the yard. You already resent having to load the dishwasher last night because no one has invented a dishwasher that does that part of the job, too. Oh, and things like laundry and the budget? Their constant presence is a reminder that they will be waiting for you with double the normal workload when your “vacation” ends.

8. You are spending one of your last days of vacation writing about your attempts to take a break from writing because you finished today’s draft work early and now have six plots almost completely mapped out and ready for transcribing onto note cards for the storyboard. But you’re not quite ready to take the afternoon off for Witcher 3 yet. … Perhaps some ice cream and a nap in the sun will help.

Marketing Books for Free?

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Image Source: Pixabay, congerdesign.

The Dragonling is now in the hands of my most trusted beta readers, and I am wrapping up front and back matter, updating web pages, cleaning out files, and working on the first revision of Book 6. (Book 6 is actually more like a first draft because it’s comprised of everything from the original draft plus everything that was cut from the previous books, so somehow I have to mash all of that into a comprehensible ending for the series. It’s such a collection of spare parts and scraps right now, I’m tempted to make its working title The Frankenstein-ling.) So for today’s blog, I decided to clean out my old blog, too, and resuscitate an old article with new life.

I came across an article I wrote when The Changeling was first published; I was offering free copies for a few days. I was a new indie author, and it was my first book, so I thought it would help with promotional exposure and “discoverability” (the current buzz word in marketing). Lots of new indie authors take this route. It was a controversial marketing move back then, and it continues to be a point of debate today. Should new authors, artists, and other professional “creatives” offer their works for free?

Some people dislike the idea because if you offer something for nothing, people come to expect it as a regular thing. It lowers the value of the market overall, but it takes the highest toll on the creative professional as an individual. It takes a lot of TIME to create things like novels and professional quality art. The Dragonling has taken two years to craft … so far. It still has to endure the beta read, the final revisions, and the final edit before it’s ready for official publication. That’s about 500 pages of work going through about 7 revisions total in the end. That’s waking up every day at 6:00 a.m. and logging in anywhere from 4 to 19 hours a day of drafting, researching, and editing, even on weekends and holidays. (And that’s not including the time and effort spent on cover illustration or marketing.) Creative work is a labor of love for the creative professional, but it IS labor, and our time and effort are worth something because we have bills to pay, too. No other profession puts that much work into a product only to give it away for nothing. Can you imagine telling a doctor you expect the first visit to be free, because you don’t want to have to pay until you know you’re going to like the service?

There is also the argument regarding whether give-aways actually work as a marketing tool. Most people who snatch up the freebies snatch them because they’re free, not necessarily because they’re truly interested in the product. A lot of one-star reviews come from freebie offers because the consumer didn’t invest anything in narrowing down his or her own preferences for the purchase. And free literature doesn’t necessarily lead to more reviews in return. Something-for-nothing receivers are under no legal obligation to return the favor, even when authors bait them by saying, “I’ll give you a free book if you review it.” Maybe it’s because some readers don’t understand how reviews are the lifeblood of marketing for authors, but usually reviews don’t happen simply due to lack of time or inclination. So, if it isn’t a long-awaited sequel, from a favourite author, or a book that really, surprisingly impressed, most reads will not result in reviews. Many free books aren’t even opened.

On the flip side, those freebies I gave away did result in some really nice, very gracious reviews I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I probably would not have reached my initial audience or found regular readers had I not offered that first book for free to draw attention to the fact that this series exists. And as a reader and consumer myself, OF COURSE I want to save money! So, yes, I will look for free books before I look for cheap books, and save the expensive ones ($15-20 for an e-book? Seriously?) for last.

Right now all of my finished books fall into the “cheap” category because I realize people are hesitant to spend money on an author and series they’ve never heard of. But it’s also important to me that my books be reasonably affordable because my love of reading comes from growing up reading stacks of library books. Had it not been for free library books, I would not have become a good reader or writer … because I couldn’t afford to buy books, otherwise. I side with Neil Gaiman on this matter in saying I don’t care whether you bought my book, borrowed my book, or don’t like my book and choose to read something else. Just read. Reading is fundamental to a free society.

But I, too, must pay bills and eat. 🙂 So, if you enjoyed any books in the series (however you got your hands on them), please leave a review to help other readers know what you thought of it, so they can decide for themselves whether they might enjoy them, too. For those readers who have already left reviews, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It does take time and effort to write a thoughtful review, but it’s always appreciated by the author, especially if that author does not have a big-selling name that helps books market themselves.

There comes a point when the creator deserves to be paid for the creation, or eventually she will stop creating and have to find another job. So, if a book, song, handcrafted item, or other creative work lifts your spirits or offers a few minutes of fun or a few years of beauty, support your favourite author, musician, and artist by offering a few dollars and reviews.

“Oscar Wilde quite rightly said, ‘All art is useless’. And that may sound as if that means it’s something not worth supporting. But if you actually think about it, the things that matter in life are useless. Love is useless. Wine is useless. Art is the love and wine of life. It is the extra, without which life is not worth living.” (~ Stephen Fry)

Dragonling Update: Time for Betas!

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Image Source: Clipart Kid.

This morning I finished my fourth revision of The Dragonling.

(Pardon me whilst I blow horns and throw confetti.) 🙂

It’s actually more like the fifth revision because I got about 80% through the fourth revision and realized I had a huge plot hole that needed mending. It was big. And it involved going back to the beginning and finding ALL of the places where I was working up to a particular event because I had to tweak them and change the order of a few things. If that doesn’t sour your day as a writer, nothing will. But I digress.

After two years in production, this book is now ready for beta readers. Took a whole year longer than my other books because I had to go back and re-read them and take notes on them to make sure I didn’t miss bringing any plot threads together for this one. In mentioning this to a few friends and family, I got the return question, “What’s a beta reader?” So, I’ll offer a brief answer here.

Just like it sounds, a beta reader is someone who reviews the script before it’s published. My experience with alpha readers is that they offer feedback on sections of the work before the entire script is finished. Thus, betas are usually the second set of people to see it and from beginning to end, rather than in pieces. The beta reader is not an editor or proof-reader, but they can call out mistakes and make suggestions like those professions all the same. Beta readers usually aren’t hired professionals, but they can be.

Basically a beta reader is someone who matches the type of audience you would be selling the book to, so they can give critical feedback from a reader perspective. Beta readers need to be able to express WHY they did or did not like something and note any confusion or major reactions to let the writer know the work’s strengths and weaknesses, rather than offering a generalized, “I loved it!” or “It sucked!” Anyone a writer would trust to give honest critical feedback can be a beta reader.

In the case of The Dragonling, however, my choices are little more limited. The monkey wrench in finding beta readers for this book is that it’s the fifth in a series. It’s not a fifth volume in a collection, either. It’s a fifth book in an arc. That means the reader really needs to have read the first four books before attempting to tackle this one, or they’re going to miss a lot of references from them and possibly risk not understanding the main plot. Finding beta readers for stand-alone books is much easier.

The other problem with finding beta readers is that authors want to find someone they can depend on. If betas are too busy, don’t enjoy reading, or don’t enjoy your genre, you may never see feedback from them. And you will have wasted a month or more waiting for it. That’s a month or more that you could have been seeking another beta reader, or at least sent it off to the editor for the final edits. It’s not necessary to have beta readers, but most writers find their feedback helpful, if not invaluable.

So, if anyone ever asks you to do a beta reading, only take the job if you are genuinely interested in the author’s work, have the time to finish reading the script in a timely fashion, and can offer commentary along the way. If you offer to beta for a writer, but then something comes up and you can’t do it, let them know you need to cancel ASAP.

Wish me luck in finding any previous beta readers who would be willing to test drive this baby! And then I am ready for a hard-earned vacation while I await the returns! (Actually, knowing me … I will shorten vacation to focus on further developing book 6. I don’t know how to not write.)
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Book Review: The Places That Scare You

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Book: The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
Series:
Author: Pema Chödrön
Genres: Non-fiction, Self-Help, Meditation, Buddhism

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“We always have a choice, Pema Chödrön teaches: We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us and make us increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder. Here Pema provides the tools to deal with the problems and difficulties that life throws our way. This wisdom is always available to us, she teaches, but we usually block it with habitual patterns rooted in fear. Beyond that fear lies a state of openheartedness and tenderness. This book teaches us how to awaken our basic goodness and connect with others, to accept ourselves and others complete with faults and imperfections, and to stay in the present moment by seeing through the strategies of ego that cause us to resist life as it is.”

Notes of Interest:

I bought this book because I’ve been at a very tough place for the past four years, and my gut instinct tells me things are going to get worse before they get better. Meditation has been a real game-changer for my depression and anxiety. But lately I’ve been feeling I’m going to need a deeper practice to get me through the next several bumps in life. This book was among some Goodreads recommendations by Elizabeth Gilbert, and at a glimpse, seemed to be just the dose of wisdom I need and will continue to need for future reference.

This book has a Buddhist spiritual context because the author is a Buddhist monk. But meditation itself can be used as a secular and scientifically proven psychological aid. And the advice presented here can serve as tool for coping with secular, psychological obstacles without having to be Buddhist.

What could have made it better for me:

I honestly had no negative notes or feelings about this book. The language is clear. The content is well-organized. Pragmatic examples of the principles discussed are clearly illustrated. And it’s technically flawless. But most importantly, it’s exactly what I needed. And I think that might be key to anyone considering purchasing it. If you are looking for a quick fix for your anxiety and phobias, this is not it. This is not a book for people offended at Buddhist principles or terminology, either. Nor is this a book for people who are not ready and willing to look in the mirror and begin making changes within themselves to overcome their problems.

What I liked about it:

I think this work has earned the most highlights I have ever given to a book. Seriously. There is probably at least one highlight on every page. I loved it that much and found it that relevant. That makes it extremely difficult for me to pull out the shiniest pearls of wisdom to show off in my review. But I will attempt to summarize the basic concept behind this book as I understand it.

The Buddhist concept of the compassionate warrior presented here can be used on a secular level, or dug into deeper as a study of “bodhichitta” or enlightenment. I’m going to speak of it on a secular level because I feel so many people could benefit from it, regardless of faith, or lack thereof.

In a nutshell, the practice of the compassionate warrior is this. You have to train yourself to confront what you fear in order to make it lose its power over you. To sit with your discomfort, your anger, your fear, all your negative emotions takes courage. After all, it’s uncomfortable. But all emotions, good and bad, are fleeting. So, training comes in learning to not hold onto the “good” ones or shy away from the “bad” ones. Grasping and aversion is what causes suffering. We’re not happy when we can’t have what we DO want. And avoiding what we DON’T want is running away from problems, so that doesn’t solve anything.

We start with meditating on self-compassion because if we do not have compassion for ourselves, we cannot generate compassion for anyone else. We often criticize ourselves for our reactions to things that frighten us, make us anxious, or otherwise put us in that place of discomfort. We often reach for exterior comforts (food, alcohol, escapism, etc.) because we never truly learned how to love and comfort ourselves. So, the compassionate warrior sits with discomfort until she can let it go, and this is an act of self-love, self-compassion because holding onto past hurts or running from future worries causes more suffering.

When we can face our fears, being kind and forgiving of ourselves for having those negative reactions, and learn to let go, the next step is learning how to support our loved ones in a similar fashion (rather than reacting with criticism when things don’t go the way we want). When you can do that and you’re ready for a challenge, the next arm of the outward spiral is to train with compassion for the difficult people in your life. (Yeah, that person that gets under your skin every time he opens his mouth, or every time she backs you into a corner.) This in itself is a means of confronting, staying, and releasing any fear or other negative emotions associated with our difficult people, so that compassion has a chance to create a different dynamic in the relationship. And if you train long enough to build that muscle of compassion, you can learn to develop compassion for strangers and finally all living beings.

Sounds easy, right? It’s not. Human nature is reactive. We get upset when our desires are blocked or not met. So, training the mind to react differently is a lifetime challenge, even for the meditation expert. Moving your mental practice from the mat into your daily life is always going to be difficult because you have no way of knowing what life is going to throw at you every day. Every day will present at least one opportunity for you to practice staying with and letting go of negative reactions. But the goal is to gain enough experience diffusing difficult situations that it becomes easier and more natural over time. This is how fear loses its power over us.

Recommendation:

I highly recommend this book for anyone struggling through difficult times, particularly for anyone coping with anxiety issues. I will be buying her other book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times next. And I’m sure I will consult both books frequently over the coming years because our society does not teach children (or adults) how to fail, how to have resilience. The goal is always to win, to succeed, to not appear weak in any way … perfection. Our parents tell us this. Our teachers tell us this. The business world tells us this. The media tells us this.

But that picture of success is not the same thing as integrity. So when things fall apart — and they WILL — the more tools we have for coping and then moving beyond the difficulties, the better.

If you were ever curious about meditation or the study of Buddhism, this book provides a simple and clear introduction to terms and practices. But one need not be Buddhist to benefit from the psychological advice given here.

Character Interview: Aija, the Rogue

04naturalsplendor_by_merodinoongaku
Image Source: My personal Skyrim game. I usually end up throwing my novel characters into the games I play to give me a better sense of how they might develop in terms of skills. And sometimes their adventures end up shredded and reshaped as part of their background. Putting Aija in Skyrim meant having her do mostly the odd-job side quests … and mostly without magic. After all, she’s supposed to be in hiding, rather than a prominent member of society.

As I close in on the final 10 chapters of the beta script, I thought I’d share another character interview. I’ve already featured Shei (the bard) and Trizryn (the thief) with this little quiz, so this week I decided to throw the same questions at Aija.

It’s always fun to compare and contrast character voices to make sure they are as unique as possible. While Shei and Trizryn are best friend and foils, Aija is the outsider. She’s the only true human in the cast, but in the land of the fae, that makes her stand out in a crowd. As the other main protagonist, it is her story that gets the ball rolling for the Elf Gate series. And it is her voice that most closely matches the reader’s in terms of first impressions about this Other World. Aija’s story is a coming-of-age story primarily. She goes from feeling like she lives a dull life with no purpose and experiences limited mostly to what she had to learn for school, to suddenly having to hide, run, and fight for her life in a land where her very existence could earn her a beheading, no questions asked. Aija is a dynamic character by design. She starts slow and has a lot to learn. But she does learn and even becomes a bit of a leader over the course of the series. I intentionally designed her to grow in the opposite manner of Trizryn. He starts strong and has to learn humility and vulnerability. She starts humble and vulnerable, but has to learn to be strong. I designed her this way because I did not want a damsel in distress who always needed someone to save her, but neither did I want a “strong female character” who suddenly knows everything and can do everything without help. She’s smart and capable. But she’s human. So, she does the best she can with that.

Aija is a rogue character, which is a lot like a bard and a thief, but the emphasis is on versatility of skills. She started with a love of lore about magical creatures, thanks to her grandmother’s old books. And she has a natural talent with drawing. But after landing in Aesethna, she’s had to learn survival skills, self-defense, a new language, and more about magic than she ever thought she’d need to know. Aija’s biggest asset is that she has a beginner’s mind; she’s open to learning new things. But her teachers come from all walks of life, so her growing collection of knowledge and skills make her a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

Here’s how Aija did when put to the same character development interview as her elven cohorts. 🙂

17KajiWoTore
Aija was my excuse to bring steampunk and modern elements into my game in Skyrim. But in my novel its the elves who straddle that line between old and new. She just does her best to blend in so that no one, other than her friends, notices she’s human.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Saturday mornings, sleeping in. Eating juicy tangerines in the sun. Or chocolates. (shrug) Maybe I’m too simple, but simple pleasures matter a lot to me.
2.What is your greatest fear?
I used to be afraid of getting lost, being alone in the dark, being dependent, heights … The list goes on and on, but I keep having to face these fears again and again. So, I’ve learned now that they’re not going to go away. It’s not that I’ve become braver; I just try to take them as they come, somehow.
3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Honestly? I hate that I can’t do magic. Not on my own. Not like the fae. I feel utterly useless around them sometimes. So, I’m working on that, too. Trizryn’s teaching me sorcery. Féonna and Shei are teaching me wizardry. And Gaellyna’s teaching me alchemy. My options are limited, but even if I can’t do magic, understanding it is better than nothing.
4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Cruelty. I’ve been surrounded by “monsters” living among fae, but it’s still normal people that often behave the most monstrous.
5. Which living person do you most admire?
Trizryn. I mean, okay, he’s not … that great of a role model. But he doesn’t pretend to be. I appreciate that he tries to do the right thing these days. He’s trying to better himself. And I think that’s powerful because that’s really all any of us can do. He’s still going to make mistakes. He’s still going to fail. But it’s how he gets back up again that inspires me.
6. What is your greatest extravagance?
Uhhhh … I have no idea how to answer that. (laughs) Chocolates? Cake?
7. What is your current state of mind?
Hmmm … Torn. I want to go home. I miss my family and friends. Aesethna isn’t exactly the safest place in the world for me. But … I can’t bear the thought of leaving, either. I’ve got friends who are like family to me here now. I can’t bear the thought of never seeing them again if I do go home, and that gate closes forever behind me.
8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Courage. I think what a lot of people think qualifies as courage is really just reckless apathy. To be fearless isn’t necessarily a good thing. I think real courage means being terrified, but somehow making yourself do it anyway. And I think there’s different kinds of courage. It’s not all about facing down dragons, so to speak. Sometimes it’s about being honest when you look in the mirror.
9. On what occasion do you lie?
Oh God. I hate lying. I hate it. But I’ve done it for Triz multiple times, and for others on occasion. I think there are times when truth does more harm than good, so unless there is a time and place for it, sometimes lies and secrets do a better job protecting people from unnecessary conflict. But I do absolutely hate having to keep secrets.
10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I’m short. (laughs) Do you know what it’s like to be the short one among all those tall fae? Even Féonna’s taller than me. Wee people and little folk, indeed … tsk.

01AijasBeenPracticingHerSwordSkills
Self-defense on a grand scale … something Aija never had to worry about before quite the way she does now.

11. Which living person do you most despise?
Ilisram. He is the epitome of what it means to be selfish and cruel, in my opinion. Mahntarei was selfish and cruel, but he was a touch mad, too. Ilisram knows better, but hurts people anyway.
12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
Humility. (smiles) I like someone who can apologize when he’s wrong … and mean it. Lip service isn’t the same as a change of heart. I’m not into macho bravado at all. A gentle man who’s not afraid to show compassion is someone I feel I could trust.
13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Friendliness. Wait, what is this rubbish Triz and Shei have scratched through on their interviews here? Let me guess. They said boobs and legs, right?
14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Oh, em … the word sorry. Definitely sorry. Triz once said I used it like a tic.
15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Trizryn. (smiles) He’s solid, you know? He’s always got my back, even when it seems like he doesn’t. He’s taught me a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses. And it’s because of him I’ve learned what I’m really capable of doing when pushed. I just want to see him happy; I think he deserves to be happy after everything he’s been through. If I can be part of that, then that makes me happy, too.
16. When and where were you happiest?
Before going through the Gate of Min? Riding my horse, hiking in the woods, sketching … After going through the Gate of Min? Seeing the world of the fae is really cool … so long as no one’s trying to kill me. That puts a bit of a damper on things.
17. Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to be a better artist. And I’d like to be able to do more with magic.
18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d like to be more capable. I know that sort of thing takes time, but … like I said, sometimes I feel quite useless among the fae. Maybe that’s what motivates me to take up Gáraketh’s quest for the alliance. If I can do that, he won’t have died in vain.
19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Learning telekinesis. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was lift that stupid little river rock Triz gave me. Now I can throw people off their feet and disarm opponents just like him.
20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Heh. Well, I think all bets are on me coming back as a vampire, considering how tainted I am with Triz’s blood. But let’s hope not, eh? I’m not ready to give up sweets yet.

02GotIt
Rogue characters are generally lumped into bard and thief categories; but they aren’t usually talented performers, and they’re not necessarily treasure hunters. Rogues stand out as having versatile skill sets. So, she might be charismatic like a bard, but light and agile on her feet like a thief. Or more precisely, Aija’s strength is that she is open to learning just about anything from anyone. She might not be able to master the skill, but being versatile has its own benefits.

21. Where would you most like to live?
I’d like to be able to take Triz home with me. I think he’d like Yorkshire. The question is whether Yorkshire would like him. An elf they’d be happy to gander at, but probably not big fans of vampires.
22. What is your most treasured possession?
That stupid little river rock? Yeah. Not the most expensive or magical item I’m carrying. In fact, it’s probably the most ordinary. But … definitely the most precious. Oh! That and my Gran’s gold ring that she gave me. Oh, wait, I’m wearing Trizryn’s signet ring, too, now. He’d kill me if I lost that.
23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Not having hope. Not having a reason to go on. I’ve come close to feeling that way a few times, but … someone always manages to lift me up. Good friends are priceless like that.
24. What is your favorite occupation?
Haven’t a clue. Seriously. Maybe I can sell my elf sketches when I go home. Make them into a manga. I have lots of good models right now. (sneaky grin)
25. What is your most marked characteristic?
You see this mole right here? (points to upper lip) It follows me. Everywhere. I can cover up the scars on my leg and abdomen, but no amount of make-up will make this disappear.
26. What do you most value in your friends?
Inclusiveness. They accept me as I am, even though I’m human. And I know I can count on them to be there for me when I need them. And it’s not just me. They’re all so different from one another. Sometimes they have issues with that, but mostly they try to get along and learn to appreciate those differences. Frostfang had a huge problem with finding out I was human because it was the human invasion that started the War of the Blood Reign, for example. But … I took care of her egg when she went missing, so … she knows she can trust me now. And even though she tried to roast and eat me when we first met, as far as dragons go, she’s not that bad.
27. Who are your favorite writers?
Oh, em, I don’t really … read as much as I used to when I was a kid. But I love mythology and nursery stories. I’m always up for reading those. Maybe Tolkien or Rowling … (taps finger thoughtfully against cheek)
28. Who is your hero of fiction?
Harry Potter. No, wait, the Doctor. No, Bilbo Baggins. Spock! Okay, that’s a bad question. How can you possibly expect me to have only one answer for that?
29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
(Puffs bangs out of eyes and thinks hard … really hard.) Next question?
30. Who are your heroes in real life?
My friends. They are … amazing.

08AijasBestFriend_by_Merodinoongaku
There’s a few times in my books that Aija mentions she has an Irish wolfhound named Mirk. Imagine my squee of delight when I started playing Skyrim and discovered you could own a pet wolfhound in the game. Aija is an animal lover. Besides Mirk, she loves horses and helps take care of Trizryn’s black mare, Zhenta. She also befriends a special little mouse, which she names Henry. But Henry is much more than a wee beastie. 😉

31. What are your favorite names?
Oh, dear. I kind of like the name Kethrei. Sssh! Don’t tell Triz. I mean that used to be his name, and it suits him well still; but I don’t think he appreciates it so much now, and there’s no telling what might happen if he started answering to his past, rather than his present.
32. What is it that you most dislike?
Spiders and zombies and I do not get on well. But I think I’d have to say heights make me really, really uncomfortable. Spiders and zombies up high would probably be the death of me.
33. What is your greatest regret?
Leaving my own world without knowing whether or not the dragon of Min attacked Winderbury. For all I know, he’s killed Kim, my family, my pets … and everyone else. I have no way of knowing or doing anything about it … unless we can find a gate back.
34. How would you like to die?
No, thank you. I’d rather not. That is the whole point of Triz hiding me from Erys and the Derra Eirlyn, yeah? NOT dying?
35. What is your motto?
I once told Triz that our mistakes make us who we are. Everything we experience makes us who we are, but mistakes in particular force us to choose between suffering repeats, or learning and growing. So, when I make mistakes, I try to ask myself if I grew … if I learned. If I can learn something from it, I don’t feel so bad about having made a mistake.

04WolfAttack
Whether it’s facing off against wolves or facing off against her friends, Aija’s vulnerability is kind of what makes her special in a setting where everyone else has so many more advantages than she does. I think that’s what I like most about writing for Aija’s character. She has to put a little more effort into solving her problems the mundane way, just like most of us mere mortals do.