Saturday, January 23, 2016

In Defense of Adult Power Rangers Fans


It’s hard to live in an English-speaking country and not know anything about the Power Rangers. Probably a lot of non-English-speaking countries, too, but I can’t speak about them. Not from personal experience anyway. Whether the extent of your knowledge is teenagers in skin-tight suits doing karate, or you can name each Ranger from each season, something certainly comes to mind when you hear those words.

Power Rangers, man. They’re not a choice. They’re a lifestyle.

Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme. But the fact is, as much as they’re designed for kids, there are older fans. I’m not the only one at all, I assure you. It wasn’t some tech savvy ten year old who set up the Power Rangers Wiki. Chances are, it was someone around my age, because people my age have had Power Rangers thrust into our formative DNA.

As with most things, there are detractors. Older fans obviously have no taste. We’re watching kiddie shows. We’re stuck in the past. We’re somehow or another socially unacceptable because we like a TV show. We should be watching Keeping up with the Kardashians and Duck Dynasty instead.

I call bullshit on that, if you couldn’t tell. Complete bullshit. I’m absolutely a Power Rangers fan, even at age 24. To a lot of people, that probably seems obvious. I’m just a kid, anyway. But I’m old enough to catch crap for being a fan, so I’m old enough to argue against it.

See, there are a few points that are raised against us fans over and over and over. Often enough that we’re all pretty familiar with them. The big one, of course, is that it’s for kids. That’s a stupid argument, because it doesn’t raise any points. It never says why it’s for kids, just that it is.

If you make it past that, you get the plots. They’re weak. It’s a bit of a sweeping statement, though. I dare you to watch Power Rangers in Space and not get into the whole thing with Andros and Karone. It’s powerful stuff, and that season saved the entire franchise. Yes, the plots aren’t deep when compared to, say, a show like Empire or Once Upon a Time. That doesn’t mean they have no value. And, during the sort of halcyon age of Power Rangers, when they had it figured it out, but hadn’t yet sold it to Nickelodeon (Shudder), the stories were pretty damn good. And not just that, they were universal. Even played out on these grand scales the way they were, you could always relate to them.

Let’s take, I don’t know, Power Rangers Dino Thunder. A bunch of kids fighting against human/dinosaur hybrids to stop them from plunging Earth back into the Jurassic Age. I don’t know about anyone else, but this isn’t a daily occurrence in my life. But you see a kid dealing with stress from his father. You see dating. You see people trying to make friends. Yah, it’s all pretty bog-standard for a ‘kid’s show,’ but that doesn’t mean we don’t all get it.

But what is it specifically that still captures the attention of so many adult fans? Well, that’s less universal. There’s definitely some level of nostalgia for a lot of us who watched it as kids. We’re getting to go back and see these things again. Yes, there are flaws, but look at how cool thing X is. Remember watching that on antenna television fifteen years ago? Wasn’t it cool?

It’s not enough, though, to explain the number of active fans, and the devotion. Now, I’m just firing off ideas, here, but this is what I think. Power Rangers has serious ass-kicking. It has magic. It has cool, advanced tech. It had aliens. It has family drama. It has clear good and evil in it. And it’s half an hour long. We can devour an episode without completely losing a day. Because they aren’t so in-depth, we don’t mind leaving after one or two to carry on with normal life. Not that I, and many others, haven’t binge-watched Power Rangers. It’s dangerous, having every season on Netflix, I tell you. But you can always stop… well, except during the Green With Evil plotline. That’s a non-stop, two-and-a-half hour commitment. Accept it and move on.

Then there’s the ‘Pokemon Factor,’ as I’ll call it. You can collect all the Rangers, so to speak. In fact, that’s what Super Megaforce was all about: collecting all the other Rangers (Okay, not technically, but there was certainly a good bit of appeal in getting to see past Rangers returning.). There’s a crap-ton of them, let me tell you. There’s the stupid TV effect, which is the same reason fifty year olds watch Spongebob: sometimes you just need something simplistic to fill the house with noise, or to decompress at the end of a long day.

And really, is Power Rangers the worst thing? It’s hardly the only thing adults enjoy that wasn’t marketed at them. The Hunger Games. The Chronicles of Narnia. Avatar: The Last Airbender. Digimon. But Power Rangers catches so much more flack than any of those. Every single one of those is great. I love them. I’ve dissected A:TLA a dozen times to look at different aspects of it. I devoured The Hunger Games in two days, easily. They weren’t made for me at the time I got into them, but that doesn’t make them invalid. No one tries to invalidate them, either. Not the same way they’ll try to invalidate a love of Power Rangers.

It’s hard to make non-fans understand why we love it so much, but I’m here to tell the other fans out there that it’s cool. Power Rangers is still cool, after all this time. Whatever you like about it is awesome, no matter what anyone says about it.

And to those who aren’t fans (yet), I have a challenge: find that friend you think is a little weird and ask them to give you the best of it. Whatever they think is the number one season or episode, or the one they think you would personally like the most. Whatever it is. Let them take you on a journey. Take that first Power Rangers joint, drag deep, and see if it’s not a gateway drug.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The One Where Voss Shares Too Much

(Sorry. Couldn't resist the Friends reference.)

The ground is covered in a sheet of snow, I have four half-drunk bottles of wine in my kitchen, and I keep scribbling out 2015 and correcting it to 2016. Seems like an average New Year to me. Although I’m really hoping not. I’m hoping for a kick-ass New Year this time around, and it appears to not be sucking totally right now (Knock on wood.).

Now, I’m going to give a hat tip to the elephant in the room before I continue on with things that are a little more fun. The third Evenstad Media book is coming, I promise. There was a bit of a snafu on the production side of things, so it’s going to be a bit delayed. Good news for anyone who needs to catch up, but bad news for anyone who’s been waiting for this one to release, so I do apologize. At the very latest, it’ll be out by mid-February, but a lot sooner if I get my way.

So, what about the year going forward? Well, Evenstad four is also on the docket, though I’m keeping it pretty well under my hat right now. Details will come when we get closer to the actual release date for that one (Some time this summer, unless gremlins gum up the works on this one, too. Here’s hoping not.). And, with The King Jester Trilogy totally finished at long last, I’ll be able to give some more focus to other ideas. Old ideas. Pretty ideas.

If you’ve been here for a while with me, you might remember the odd mention of Rings of Treachery here and there over the years. Well, it still exists, but I’ve vowed that I’m going to put it out this year, come hell or high water. In the interest of full disclosure, it’s currently out on submission with a publisher, so I should hear back within a few months… hopefully. If that works out, then I might have to bend a little on my schedule. Let’s say ‘published or contracted’ this year instead, yeah?

After that, depending on the phases of the moons and what the chicken intestines tell me (Or, you know, whatever I feel like), I could pick up a number of other projects. I have an old book about puppets that’s been weighing on my mind lately (Though that may just be because the puppet army is taking over Radcon this year…). Or I might turn to something a little less well-formed and see where that leads me, in the end. It’s really open. That’s what happens when a series closes off. Something that’s sort of filled your attention for months on end is finally gone, and you begin to see past it to what you can do next. Completely the opposite of reading a series. Then you just sort of feel lost and hungry for more books that don’t exist.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I’ll also be picking up on writing short stories again so I can spread tiny versions of my writing far and wide. Kind of like a plague, but slightly less deadly. Very slightly.

And when it comes to things in a non-writing sense, I’ve made some decisions about the year ahead as well. The main one is to have less anger and negativity. I tend to get rather upset with people, but it does me no good. So I’m working on it. Not to say I’ll turn all peaceful—anger is still an emotion and it’s still useful—but I’ll be more careful with how it comes out, and evaluate it more. See if it’s doing anything, or if it’s just causing me pain.

I’m also going to return to some of my other passions (This is where the part when the sharing begins. First and last warning.). I consider 2015 the year where I sort of got lost. There was really a lot of turmoil going on in my psyche at that point. I’d put back on all the weight I’d lost and shot back over 300 pounds. I wasn’t reading. I was even angrier than usual. I’d just moved away from most of my friends and family (It was really a good decision, but still. It’s hard no matter what.). I was readjusting, and things just started to drop off. I wasn’t reading anymore. I wasn’t singing anymore. I hadn’t played trombone in months and months. And eventually, that started to encroach on my writing. I hated doing it.

Eventually, I figured that I hated doing the actual writing work because I wasn’t doing anything else for myself. I used to say ‘If I’m not singing, then I know that something’s wrong.’ Except I ignored that advice and kept digging through the writing. The more I did it without anything else going on, the more I just hated doing it. And when I hated it, I hated myself a little more. The writing didn't suffer, just me.

Well, suffice it to say that’s over and done with, now. I’m not a New Year’s resolution kind of person, but I made some this year. Read more. Sing more. Make time for things that I’m passionate about. I still haven’t gotten around to belly dancing with any regularity again (Working on it.) and my trombone has only been out of the case once or twice in the past few weeks (And one of those times was to clean and oil it, so…), but it’s going to come. I’m determined not to fall into the Swamp of Sadness again this year.

Stupid horse…

So that’s my uncomfortable level of sharing. How about you? Are you taking 2016 as a chance to get shit back on track, or are you just going to continue to rock the socks off life? Let me know.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Top 5 Post-Holiday Gifts for Authors

Assuming that you’re not reading this in advance for the 2016 holiday season or something like that, it’s too late to get these for Festivus, Hanukkah, Christmas, or any other winter holiday. Sorry. I didn’t get around to writing this up in time.

But fear not! The wonderful thing about the holidays finally being over is that it’s actually a prime time to pick up some gifts and such for friends and family, and that hopefully includes your authorial friend. I mean, sure, we can be a bit distant, and often a bit drunken, but we mean well… for the most part. Let’s not look at this relationship too closely, otherwise it might fall apart.

See, once you’re done with the holidays, there’s an amazing convergence of things going on. Everything that the stores couldn’t move in time goes on super-ultra-discount, and you also might well have some extra money because Great Aunt Ida still insists on giving you a hundred dollars every year, bless her heart.

So, with some holiday cheer in your wallet, what exactly can you do to make your author feel loved? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but these are five things I certainly wouldn’t say no to, if some kind soul inserted them into my writer’s nest.

5: Review/Buy Book/Et Cetera
Okay, if I’m being frank, this is the best thing you can do. Snag a copy of your author’s book, read it, review it, pass it on to someone else, hell, buy it as another friend’s post-holiday gift if you think they’d like it. It’s awesome, and it will make your author feel unbelievably wonderful. This is the top thing you can do, but I have it at the bottom. Why? Because all these sorts of lists have that as the number one thing, and I enjoy being contrary. Also because it’s more or less an anonymous gift, in a lot of ways, and giving feels good. I love being able to see someone receive my gift.

But mostly to be contrary, and to get it out of the way. Seriously, when it comes to spreading cheer to your author, this is the big one. But if you’re looking for something a little more material…

4: Hooch
Liquor. Booze. Alcohol. Goofy juice. Whatever you want to call it, writers tend to like it. It’s not universal, so use your best judgment, but I’ve only met a handful of authors who don’t like a hearty nip every now and then. If you don’t know their drink of choice, you can always get them a basket of miniatures (My local liquor store will even arrange four mini-bottles of liquor into a bouquet with chocolates for an extra five dollars) to cover your bases. But, being the oddballs we authors are, something classic is always good. Something that makes us feel more like Hemingway. Whiskey, rum, scotch. Old school writerly drinks. Something off the wall will normally be welcome, too. If you find a weird flavor or a cool-looking bottle or something like that, you can bet a writer will crack it open with you. Or something that goes well with coffee, so we can ‘kickstart our muses’ in the morning.

Maybe you’re not quite comfortable with the booze, or you’re not old enough, or they’re not old enough, or you know they just plain don’t drink. Go straight for the heart of the matter. Coffee. Or tea or hot cocoa. Whatever their morning wake-up drink is. Personally, one of my favorite gifts I ever received was a collection of hot cocoas. Different flavors you just dump into hot water or milk. I’m simple like that. But I wouldn’t say no to a bag of coffee, either, and you can get decent deals on that, too, after the holidays are over. Especially the more specific flavored coffees like gingerbread and snickerdoodle and such. One of the best I found was for my sister, at a Ross of all places (White chocolate macadamia nut coffee. I didn’t even know this was a thing.), so keep your eyes peeled. Tea is also good, and especially nowadays, you can go nuts with it. Places like Steeped Tea, Dryad Tea, and FridayAfternoon Tea will ship bags of loose leaf tea to your doorstep. I’m down to one cup of my vanilla Earl Grey that I got for Christmas last year, and I’ve been nothing but happy with it. And if you want to get really fancy with it, there are coffee and tea subscription services, too. Or just a gift card to a local coffee joint works too.

2: Music

During the whole run of the holiday season, CDs seem to be on sale (Believe it or not, CDs are still actually a thing.), with instrumental music being particularly easy to get a hold of. I find that there’s always a section in the back of Hastings or Wal-Mart with symphonic and orchestral music, and it’s always super cheap as it is (I got a five-CD collection of Tchaikovsky music for about 5 bucks), and post-holiday sales make it even easier to get your hands on it. And as a general rule, writers like instrumental music. I’m one of the weirdos who actually writes to music with lyrics, but even I like to use instrumentals. So if you see something lying around, give it a buy.

1: A Day Out

This isn’t exactly a physical gift, but it’s still one of the best things you can do for a writer. We’re terribly solitary, reclusive little creatures. I hear that if you put us out in the sun, we burst into flames. Okay, not really, but a lot of us do tend to burn something awful. We don’t leave our caves very willingly, because there’s always another book to be written, edited, or submitted. Or if not, there’s a short story. Or we need to do marketing. And if there’s a looming deadline, you’re lucky if we even sleep.

Your writer, like most, will likely be resistant to your insistence that they actually move. But force your way through the hemming and hawing and drag their ass out the door. It’s best if you somehow force it. Buy the movie tickets ahead of time or make lunch reservations. Make sure they know that there was legwork involved that would all fall apart if they didn’t leave. If your writer actually does have a looming deadline, they’ll stay in anyway, most likely, but otherwise, get them out. As much as they’ll hate it at first, they’ll end up having a good time. See, we might be good with words, but no so god at self-care. That’s why we need moderately normal people to remind us that there’s a world out there not made entirely of pixels on a screen. And even if they never say thank you, they’ll appreciate it.

But if they don’t say thank you, guilt them into it. Guilt works wonderfully well on writers. Pro tip.

So, hopefully you’re armed to gift something to your favorite author buddy. Happy holidays, everyone.


Friday, December 4, 2015

New Release: A Fool's War!

Huzzah, huzzah! After a long wait, A Fool's War is finally available for everyone to read!

Marley is alive, and back with Toby and the rest of Zirkua Fantastic. But King Jester, the spirit of discord, still roams free, and his most fearsome creations, the Princes, have been loosed from their prisons. Now, human and immortal alike are disappearing, no sign of a body or a struggle to be found. More and more of them each day. 

Now, it’s the duty of the last remnants of resistance to stand strong against the impossible, battle back the chaos before it ravages Earth. And all the while, a single question remains unanswered: can life ever return to normal after this? 

And, if you still need to catch up with the King Jester Trilogy, Zirkua Fantastic and The Jester Prince are both 20% off at Prizm Books! Yet another huzzah!

Monday, November 2, 2015

New Release: The Heart of God by S.A. Bolich

S.A. Bolich has a brand new book out today. If you enjoy a good fantasy romp as much as I do, check it out!

Imagine being the most girl-shy guy at court, tasked to facilitate your brother the King’s wedding…and two of the candidates are fixated on you. Poor Alarion Aravon begins to suspect that the artificial goddess Fate has her own reasons for putting those particular girls in his path—but he’s trying hard not to believe in her. Mortal means are required to straighten out the mess, but he quickly he comes to regret having ignored the willing and ambitious courtesans who have pursued him for years. He could really use that experience about now. Because one of those girls will do absolutely anything to be Queen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Banned Books Week Showdown: Slate v. Book Riot (Spoiler Alert: Book Riot Wins)

Happy Banned Books Week, everyone. I hope you're all enjoying reading challenged literature the way I am (Harry Potter FTW!). It's true that reading a book categorized as 'banned or challenged' doesn't guarantee a good read, but you can't help but feel a little bit subversive when you do it. Or I can't.

This is as close to social rebellion as I'm likely to get. Let me have this.

However, Slate has suggested that "Banned Books Week is a Crock." Go ahead and read the article for yourself. I'm just going to sum up a handful of the major points given. Read the Book Riot article when it comes up, too, to get the full understanding.

Now, the Slate article made a pretty bold claim, so it better have something to back it up. On the surface, their argument seems cogent enough, right? We live in the information age. We can get any and all of these books from the internet, even if someone says "NO!" and slaps us on the wrist. So of course, there really aren't problems with banned books, right? Even if the school or a public library doesn't have the book because someone challenged it, you can just run over to Amazon and buy it for practically nothing.

That's where they lost me, but more on that toward the end.

It also brought up how weak the cases are for a lot of challenges and bans out there, and how a lot of them are in schools. Without actually saying as much, the implication is that bans in school libraries don't really count. Parents should have a say in what their children read, so those aren't real challenges and bans, right?

That cogent argument is looking a little worse for wear, now.

They bring up how it's gotten better, and they're right on that front. There's some legal protection, and a generally more accepting culture to allow theoretically offensive works to be read. But that doesn't mean the battle is won. That doesn't mean we shouldn't call attention to these things happening.

A large part of this article was also based on a woman trying to ban a book in Tennessee. She didn't want her teenage son reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (A fascinating book. You should read it.). She used her voice and made it known to the school that she didn't want her son or any other student reading this book. As the author said, this particular parent seems to have "confused gynecology with pornography."

The fact that the author and a lot of media outlets and the school district means that the book won, and since that's normally the case, we shouldn't really be worrying about Banned Books Week anymore. It's not exactly a fair argument to look at one case, is it?

Oh, also, the book didn't win. The woman was successful in stopping her son from reading it. The school provided him with another book. So now she's robbed a child of reading this book, and created extra work for a teacher who now (I'm assuming) has to write up two sets of assignments. One for the rest of the class, and one for this fifteen year old boy whose mother doesn't think he can handle some vagina talk.

Now, enter Book Riot, who makes a very succinct counter-statement: "Dear Slate: Banned Books Week Isn't a Crock." I won't go into a point by point of this one as much as the last one, mostly because a lot of my opinions are already in line with what's said.

See, when Slate suggests that people can just go buy the books if they're that concerned, that's all well and good for people who don't rely on their library for access to literature. Some people can't afford to go spend the money on a book, so they go to the library. When someone challenges a book and gets it banned, that means people in that community or that school don't have access to it. When a young adult book or middle grade book is challenged and moved to the adult section, younger readers are less likely to stumble upon it by searching, for one, and if they look for it specifically and have to go into the adult section, it's driving home the feeling of being off or wrong. While that might not be the greatest tragedy, making someone feel awkward, there's no God-damned point to it.

And they don't really touch on the fact that banning books from schools isn't harmless at all. Sherlock Holmes has been banned from certain schools for depictions of Mormonism. A book on forests banned because of the way it talks about the logging industry. Children and teenagers are being denied literature. That is a problem, no matter how small.

And what about outside of the US? It's true that Banned Books Week is put on by the American Library Association, but Slate very kindly reminded us that we have unprecedented access to information. When we post about it here in the US, it travels all over the world. While we might not have book burnings in the streets anymore (Or at least not often.), that's not true everywhere. At Worldcon, I was listening to a panel, and one of the panelists (Zaza Koshkadze) came from Georgia (The count, not the state.). A few years back, one of his author friends became a national bestseller there, but nobody read his book. How does that work?

Everyone bought his book, bought the whole first run, and burned the copies, because the content was controversial. Yes, he made his money, but nobody read the damn book. It was denied to people. That's why we need to bring attention to banned books. Not to mention the celebration of the past. Works that were controversial, even if they're fine now.

And if nothing else, if one day the whole world has moved past this and libraries and schools and bookstores can carry all books, do we really want to forget that books were banned and challenged at one point? No, of course not.

Hell, let's just face that facts: Banned Books Week gets people reading, and that's never a bad thing.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

On Creativity (and Shel Silverstein)

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’T’S
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me—
Anything can happen, child,
-Shel Silverstein, Listen to the Mustn’ts-

I saw this poem come through on Facebook today. This has long been one of my favorites. Shel Silverstein is a children’s poet, yes, but this is one of the few times that he shows who he really is. This is one of many poems of his encouraging people to go for their dreams or to express creativity, and I love every bit of it. Those poems of his are some of the things that keep me going as a writer.

I think it can go for all creative types. And I have a secret for you. Everyone is creative. It’s part of the human experience. You can say you’re not, that you’re just humdrum. I don’t buy it. Everyone has some kind of spark.

So I’m issuing everyone who sees this a challenge. Set aside one day. Just one, single day. You can spare that from your busy schedule. Make it on a weekend, if that’s what it takes. But find one day in your life and go be creative. Go do it. Write. Draw. Paint. Dance. Fix the Confederate battle strategy. Make up a new game to play with your kids. Make up a new game to play with your grandma. Try a new recipe. Make a website from scratch. I don’t know what tickles your personal creativity, but let it get tickled. Just once. You’ll probably suck at it the first time, but who doesn’t? Even the creatives you look up to the most sucked major balls at one point.

So go and be total shit at something. Or be great at something. Just feed that creativity. Start with one day and see where that takes you. Don’t do it for me, though. Do it because it’s something good. It’s something great. It’s a little spark of magic you can hold in your hands. And everyone could use a little more magic in this day and age, don’t you think?

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come it by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!
-Shel Silverstein, Invitation-