On coffee, captains, and characters

I’m planning to teach a workshop this summer at the community college on creating characters, so that’s had me thinking: What makes our favorite characters our favorite characters? It’s never quite the same thing every time, is it?

If you follow me on any social media, it’ll be no surprise to you that I am a big fan of Captain Kathryn Janeway.

For those not in the know, she’s the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Voyager on the TV series Star Trek: Voyager, which ran from the late ‘90s to 2001. If you follow along on Instagram, or Twitter, or (ugh) Facebook, you’ll notice I post a lot of gifs featuring her fairly regularly. (There’s a reason I tag them #DailyJaneway, after all.)

No, she’s not a literary character (unless you count the Star Trek novels in which her character appears, and I do recommend Jeri Taylor’s Mosaic when it comes to that), but what makes her so compelling? Yes, Kate Mulgrew, the actress who portrays her, is a big reason I love her character so much, but beyond that, what is it about her? Is it some combination of background and character traits? Is it her love for coffee? (OK, that might play into it.) Is it that she’s from the Midwest and I’ve spent most of my life there, against my better judgment? Is it that she’s a scientist at heart? Maybe it’s that she stands up to anyone, no matter how big a bully they are. She’ll do anything for her crew, and she’ll tread along a narrow, confusing path between expediency and principle in order to get them home. She’s flawed and imperfect and completely determined.

She’s not black and white. She’s fabulously complicated.

She has a problem, she needs a solution, and the space between those two points is huge and full of conflicts. She’s not as noble as Jean-Luc Picard, not as tragic as Ben Sisko, and not as cavalier as Jim Kirk. (We won’t talk about Archer. Sorry.) She’s not always likable, but I’d say she’s the most relatable person to sit in the captain’s chair in any version of Star Trek.

For me, at least. And that’s why I keep coming back to her. And why I keep thinking about the things that make her a great character to me, so that I can tap that kind of complication when I’m working on my own characters, even a gay high school teenager who’s the son of an Amazon.

(See? Even when I start off talking about Star Trek, it all comes back to the writing.)

You are not cereal

Originally, this was the week I was planning to write about one of my favorite fictional heroes, Captain Kathryn Janeway, and try to explain why I find her so compelling. (For those who don’t know, she was a starship captain played by Kate Mulgrew in the science fiction series Star Trek: Voyager, and if you didn’t know this already, all seven seasons are available on Netflix.)

And I will still write about that (because Janeway=awesome), but next week. Because this past week, thanks to my friend ’Nathan, I came across this post on the website of a literary agency about a topic that’s somewhat close to my heart… well, if I’m honest, it’s probably closer to my spleen than anywhere else, because as I’ve discussed before, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. (I teach a class in social media for writers, and no, the irony of that is not lost on me.)

But, dialogue is always a goal of mine with writing, and I mean dialogue with the reader, not dialogue between the characters (although that’s a component of my writing, obviously). Social media is probably the best way for a midlist writer (or lower, like myself) to put a message in a bottle and send it across the sea to people who may open it and say yes, I get that.

So anyway, I read that post and my first thought was, “Well, what a load of codswallop.” Continue reading “You are not cereal”

You can't be everywhere all the time

I didn’t want this to be one of those “so I left Facebook, look at how above it all I am” post. So I asked myself: “Self,” I asked, “what does ditching a social media profile have to do with anything?”

It goes back to grad school.

Back in 2014, when I was getting my MFA in creative writing, I had a novel to write. This was my graduate thesis, and it was a dark speculative fiction piece about climate change, crumbling civilization, and the possibility of a new life on another planet, but mostly it was about family. It’s funny how, in the intervening years, what I wrote as basically science fiction looks scarily close to becoming fact (except for the whole other planet bit), but that’s the thing about fiction, right? Sometimes you tell a vision of the future and it comes true.

Continue reading “You can't be everywhere all the time”

Goal for 2017: Actively seek rejection. (Yes, really.)

Happy New Year!

That’s less of a declaration and more an expression of hope, as in “wow, I hope 2017 will be happy.” Because 2016 was a bit of a Dumpster fire, wasn’t it? Between a horrific election cycle and the way the year killed off so many actors, musicians, and artists, by Dec. 31 I was ready to stay up until midnight just to watch 2016 die.

Now that it’s over, though, I’m trying to look ahead and decide what I want to accomplish this year. I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions; they never seem to carry through the whole of the year, anyway. We make too much of a big deal about them, I think, and create unrealistic expectations (I’m going to get into the Best. Shape. Ever! I’m going to write a novel! I’m going to run a marathon!) and then the second week of January rolls around and we’re slouched in front of the TV on a Netflix binge with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s (those are single-serving containers, right?) and wondering where our motivation went.

That said, yes, you can set a goal for yourself at any time of the year, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set a goal at the beginning of the year. Basically, don’t stress about it, right?

Anyway, to figure out my goal for 2017, I just have to look back to the last day of 2016: On Dec. 31, I submitted a short story for an anthology. On Jan. 2, I received the rejection notice.

You know what? This pleases me. One, it means I finished that story. Dec. 31 was the submissions cutoff, and I was almost certain I wouldn’t make it. But I did. So, achievement met there. That they killed it two days later is less-than-optimal, but maybe the story was less than optimal. Maybe the reviewers were hungover from too much champagne. Or maybe they already had a story very similar to it. Or maybe they don’t like their science fiction a little bit gay.

But whatever. None of that is in my control—except for the possibility that the story was less than optimal, in which case this is an opportunity to revise. My point, and I do have one, is that my submission might have been rejected, but if I hadn’t submitted, I would have had no chance of acceptance, either.

Control what you can. For me, I can control how often (and where) I submit. So that’s what I’m planning to do. I’ve already got my eye on a submission deadline of January 31, and I’ve filled my calendar with reminders of when some magazines’ submission windows reopen. (Hopefully, I’ll have something to throw in their windows at that time.) If you’re a writer and your work leans toward speculative fiction or queer fiction, my friend ’Nathan is very good at posting calls for submission that he’s aware of. He does that every Wednesday; here’s what he posted this past week. (He also mentions his novel that’s coming out later this year; he’s a darn good writer, so that’s worth checking out if you like dark urban fantasy.)

Wish me luck.