Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Small Potter World: Why We Don't Need the Cursed Child

At midnight on Saturday, July 30, my library system held a release party for the script book of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The play premiered this year, and made waves for casting a black woman as Hermione. J.K. Rowling didn't write the script, though she did write the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but she did approve and allow the story to become canon.

I didn't attend this event, for one important reason: I may have grown up with Harry Potter, but I read the books to their official ending.That ending came one day in 2005, when "nineteen years later" seemed sufficient at the time.

Spoiler warning: Do not read further if you don't want to know details about The Cursed Child.

When Harry Potter ended, it marked an era of change. It meant that the kids and adults who grew up with the series had to find new works, but could keep creating the scarves, songs and crafts. Daniel Radcliffe could move onto Broadway, while Emma Watson developed her film career while attaining a college degree. We felt satisfied, with a few loose threads hanging. Pottermore vignettes would provide nuggets of information.

The Cursed Child doesn't tackle the issues that the end of the series would bring up, like the struggle to reform the wizarding world after a great war, the Muggleborn witches and wizards who became lost to the school system, or the next generation bearing the scars of their legacy. While Harry struggles with the trauma of surviving as so many died, his son Albus struggles with fitting into this new world. They both encounter Draco Malfoy's son, a nice kid named Scorpio who is nothing like his father. Scorpio instead of dealing with the obvious legacy issue -- that his dad was a prejudiced Death Eater wannabe -- deals with rumors that he's Voldemort's son, conceived via his mother going back in time. Drop in a new character that could be a fanfiction offshoot, as well as time travel, and you get a convoluted, unnecessary plot that makes readers stare at the script with a bewildered expression.

Harry Potter teaches readers to be compassionate, that you have to look at a person's choices to judge them, and that being brave is extremely difficult. Conflicts reinforce these events within the narrative, as well as the need to constantly see the other side of the story. Karma hits everyone in the end, good and bad, for their actions, while occasionally good people suffer terrible things.

The Cursed Child doesn't reinforce any of these themes. Scorpio, the best character in the script, doesn't want to be his father but is constantly judged before he even gets a chance to pick a side, even by Harry. Harry can be judgmental at times, but he knows better than to distrust someone because of what their parents did. That makes no sense at all. Harry, an orphan who craved a loving family, would never tell any child that he wishes they weren't his son, which he does in the play. That's just one of the many inconsistencies in the show. The rumor itself seems too ridiculous, because Time Turners work on stable time loops, and it's something that a DNA test could verify. And the character that appears and convinces Albus and Scorpio to go back in time? The original series had no hint of her, or plausibility.

So does The Cursed Child bring anything new? It brings up the pervasive survivor's guilt, the wishing of saving someone who suffered. It brings up that you can't change the past, which anyone can tell you, but you can make different choices to improve your future. At the same time, these themes can't save the show, or the script.

Growing up gives one a different perspective on Harry Potter. As a child I read Harry Potter for the magic, the descriptions of food, and for the adventure. It was easier to ignore Professor Snape's bullying and Umbridge's abuse because they got karma.  As an adult when I read the books, however, I get anxious. The real world has many people like Umbridge who get away with their actions, and you wish someone in the books would stomp her onscreen. We already got a world where karma kicked in, instead of undoing that karma temporarily using a Time Turner.

We have enough Harry Potter, enough of the good films and the books. Time Warner gave us those, LEGO games, and theme parks. We have the fanbase, and enough fanfiction to fill the Library of Congress. Heck, we even have loving homages to Harry Potter's impact like Fangirl and Carry On  by Rainbow Rowell. The market meets our needs.

We are satisfied, J.K. Rowling. We don't need another story to muddle the narrative. And if we did, we need one that reinforces what you wrote first. So please, let's read your thrillers instead.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Spare Pair

Last week I decided to try something new; I pulled out an old pair of glasses that I hadn't worn since high school. My current glasses are rectangular with thick black frames. They look rather stylish, but one of the right handles is loose for some reason. A tennis racket colliding with the frames probably had something to do with the looseness. I took it off so that I could get the frames tightened. I opened a compact box and pulled out my old glasses to wear for several days.

I have to admit that seeing the My Big Fat Greek Wedding sequel contributed to this idea. In the second movie, protagonist Tula loses her glasses after her dad breaks them by accident, and she has to temporarily wear her old plastic frames before renewing her contacts. Her reflection in the mirror gives her memories of that hard time, of before she met her husband and found her career as a travel agent. She switches to contacts as soon as she can.

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My old glasses have thinner frames, and tiny plastic nubs for balancing the lenses above the nose. The sensation wasn't that much different. My prescription has remained the same since I was a teenager, and I could see clearly once I wiped away the dust. They didn't spark many memories, since I can't remember which year I wore these frames. But when I put them on, I looked in the mirror and thought I still looked good with them.

I've worn glasses since I was a kid. Before my eyes developed mild astigmatism, I wanted to wear glasses because my heroes - Arthur, Harry Potter, and such-- wore them and seemed to enjoy themselves. Later on I wanted to wear them because contacts seemed very uncomfortable and tended to get lost while I was a middle school student. I do wear contacts for work, but at home I prefer glasses for convenience. Usually I get comments about how glasses hide my eyes, and that contacts reveal their large size and pupils.

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Sometimes I want glasses to define me. Glasses show that I read a lot, that I write a fair amount, and that I do think. Other times I want people to see my eyes, and I wear contacts. Neither of these choices make me less attractive. That's something I know with confidence. Other things seem far more uncertain, like if the sonnet I submitted to a magazine will get accepted.

I may pull out those glasses again to try on, and to remember how I felt as a teenager. It would be nice to dive back into those feelings as we enter another October. I may not have confidence about many things,  but I am confident about when I decide to wear my glasses.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Compressed Tragedies: Thoughts on 9/11

Yesterday was a tragic anniversary. Fifteen years ago, three hijacked planes crashed into American buildings. Thousands died in New York, and the last rescue dog from 9/11 passed away recently. Airplane regulations changed, so that you could no longer walk a loved one into the airpor tot say goodbye. People are now judged by their names, if they wore headscarves, and they have new labels: "terrorist," "fundamentalist".

I remember the classroom; it was a trailer with a portable classroom inside, with chalkboards (which I adored seeing) and a small television for morning announcements. In the middle of class someone, probably the teacher, turned the television on to show the planes. I didn't understand what was going on, why we were seeing the same footage. To a kid whose father had just died that summer, death on television seemed very far away.

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Fifteen years later, I wonder if we have become kinder. This past June a man with a history of domestic abuse and anger shot up an Orlando nightclub for LGBTQ residents, desecrating a safe space on the day that Broadway would host its Tony Awards. In the United States one school shooting happens a week, with one happening last week at the start of the school year. Refugees flee from Syria in the face of war and drought, to face prejudice in Europe, while during our election cycle there are people that enact violence to protestors and suffer no repercussions. An oil company set attack dogs on peaceful protestors in North Dakota and have issued an arrest warrant.

 Even though I know that people are cruel, and that haters will hate, it still boggles me that people will act on the hate, believing that it's right to kill on either side. A minority with power doesn't comprehend that the terrorists that hijacked those planes are very different from the everyday Muslims that want to be left alone, just as they didn't comprehend that the Japanese Americans living peacefully on American soil did not stand with the Pearl Harbor attackers. School board members insist on printing textbooks that leave out unpleasant facts and reinforce racism. We have had many moments of kindness and small victories this year, but the hatred feels cyclical and weighing.

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We remember 9/11 because it defined my generation, and the generation that came after it. People poke fun at the 1990s because it had interesting hair choices like mullets, funky pop music, and advertising that tried to be "hip". In the 1990s, however, when I went to school I had the reassurance that things would work out as an adult, that all the hate was in the past and in our history books. I also had the reassurance that if I went to the airport I would only have to worry about saying goodbye to family and arriving on time. After 9/11, that sense of security departed. We could no longer pack shampoos or soaps onto planes unless they were a certain size, and if our names didn't pass scrutiny we could no longer fly. In the meantime the tragedies keep increasing, and we have more pain to remember.

We can't control all the problems of the world, and we as individuals need to figure out which ones we want to tackle. We need to figure out how to remain kind, and how to stay hopeful. Some of us are fighting the bigger problems, one by one, and some are handling the smaller ones. I've recently seen hatred on a smaller scale, that has angered me in turn because of the victims. It's been an effort to restrain my anger to the private sphere, and to try and turn all the negative feelings into good art, and into good lessons. The best good I can do is to tell other people what happened, to comfort those that the harassment hurt, and to restrain the urge to hope that this particular person is exposed and forever branded as a liar.

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Next year, I hope that we don't have to keep remembering the tragedies, and that we can outnumber them with enough large acts of kindness. The hurt weighs too heavily on my mind, and on our collective minds. Maybe on September 11th in 2017 we will remember the good that has happened and how far we have come.

We have a lot of work to do in the next 365 days to make that possible. I believe it is possible, however. What kindness can take the weight off a great tragedy, and many tragedies? What will you do to combat the overwhelming hate?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Two Months In Two Hundred Words or Less, and My Inner Editor

Hi everyone, happy Labor Day weekend. It's been too long, and there are so many things to blog about, like the Hugo Awards and my most recent short story publications ("The Farthest Nebula" in Mantid Magazine, "The Gnome in the Rosebush" in 9Tales from Elsewhere) and upcoming ones.

The main reason is that I've been job hunting while writing short fiction, and my mother broke her arm. In the middle of August she slipped in our front yard and landed on her right arm hard. She was unable to bend it, and  When it wasn't feeling better the next day I drove her to the ER after dinner, and the doctors wrapped it up in a cast. We didn't get out of the hospital until 4 AM, and I got up around seven AM to go to Toastmasters.

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My mom's arm will be okay; the cast comes off in a few weeks. My older brother and I have taken over the cooking, and learning all my mom's recipes. I've learned how to make rice and lentils in a pressure cooker, fry chicken with olive oil, turmeric powder and garlic bits, and curry various vegetables. My respect for my mother has grown knowing she makes a three-course dinner every night.

With that, my goal is to resume the attempts at blogging once to twice a month while job hunting and writing. I'm this year's Treasurer at my Toastmasters club, so I need to update some balance sheets and pay dues soon. In addition, I had started a job as a columnist at Panels online; Panels has become a part of Book Riot, the online website, and so I'll be writing two articles a month related to literature and comics.

So with that, I want to turn to a more writer-like topic. I was reading a Positive Writer post about a writer's Inner Editor. The Inner Editor, or the Internal Critic, is the voice in your head that discourages you from writing, judges the quality of the work you produce and the amount, and compares you to other authors. The Positive Writer post suggests to visualize your inner critic, since having a concrete image can help one talk down that critical voice so that you can do your job and write.

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My inner editor looks like my mirror image. She has curly black hair, square glasses, brown skin, and light brown eyes. She means well, and has been meaning well, but she's noted how often I forget to write things down, how I don't organize my plots or develop my characters. When she talks, it's like hearing a snippier version of myself. She asks why I don't write more, why I'm not submitting to more magazines, why I let myself get down and disappointed by real life so easily. Inner Editor makes me go to Sweater Town, to quote from Gravity Falls

I'd probably sit down and talk to Inner Editor over coffee. Sometimes she makes good points, like about submitting for anthologies well within deadline briefs and limits. I'd like her to help me adapt her criticism, and others' constructive words, into building better routines. I'd like to turn her doubts into reassurance. We can work together, and she wants to help.

If Inner Editor won't listen, I'd like a strategy for her belligerence as well. I'd like to leave her presence, and stay with my thoughts for the day. Meditation can help with that, and refocusing on my goals for today. Maybe she'll listen after a day of not seeing me. Or maybe she'll try to barge in and make her opinion known. Either way, I'll ignore her.

Here is to a new month, a new perspective, and some new writings. Have a fun Labor Day!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Fourth Cleaning: Photos and Thoughts (Art of Connection Part Two)

Happy Fourth to everyone! Hope you're all enjoying a nice dose of history, celebration, and the nation's colors.

Weekend was the Florida Supercon, which was loads of fun. I got a photo with Tara Strong, one of the best voice actresses ever, as well as a signed print from Jim Cummings. In addition I sold a book, connected with fellow Undertale fans, and basked in a safe space for people that enjoy fandoms. One reader who bought a book last year came to talk with me, and gave me his card so I could email him. It was a good Sunday, with all of these great events happening.

My first thought was how sweet Tara Strong was to her fans. She complimented one family's Incredibles cosplay and during an hourlong Q & A was a good sport about answering questions as the characters she's played: Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony, Raven from Teen Titans, and Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls. Two girls in the cutest outfits asked the same question during a time-pressured event, but she gave the same answer in two different ways. It's important to be nice to fans who are children, and there were plenty of them in costume and not, because they are innocent and new to the world of lovely animation and books. Several kids asked to take photos with me, and I always obliged. It was quite flattering.

 Today was a cleanup day, so I've filled one garbage bag with various items, and noticing how dusty my room becomes when books and papers gather in one place. I've also used up some scrap paper for sketching, started charging a digital camera that can record video since my iPhone can't record sound, skimmed magazines to toss them, and went for a bike ride to clear my head in the hopes of writing for Camp Nanowrimo.

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There was one photo I was considering whether or not to toss, one of the pictures that was taken when I was in preschool. I don't have many memories of being that young, but I remember having that photo taken multiple times because I wasn't smiling right. Apparently I was showing too much teeth and grimacing. Given the photo was sitting on my windowsill, not in a protective frame, it had become faded and dusty. Before I could make a decision, my mother made the benevolent decision to take it and store with our baby photos.

It's amazing how much photography has changed in twenty years. When I was a kid, I wanted a camera on my own and had several disposable ones that were one-time use and relied on film paper that would burn up if exposed to light. Now I have a digital camera that works quite well when charged, and probably needs its memory cleared with all the photos I took during university.

This is a photo from my digital camera, showing some parrots that are renting our palm tree.

I greatly enjoyed connecting with people at the Florida Supercon. My sales skills still need some practice, but seeing so many happy people in one space offered hope in light of the tragic news that hit us in June with the Orlando shooting. Next year I'll certainly remember to take more photos. My goal this summer is to take more videos and photos with my digital camera instead of my phone, and to behave like an actual writer. I've signed up for a Camp Nanowrimo month, as well as a July Flash Fiction challenge. With luck by the end of this month I might have a short novel, or at least some good stories.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day

Thanks to my sister for this video

My dad played tennis. He planted palm trees, mango trees, and banana trees in our yard. He recorded hours of us playing with his camcorder, on various tapes that we would later play back on television. Kasi Sridhar, MD, was also an oncologist, and he saved many lives. A few of his patients have kept in contact with us. They express their gratitude by offering to help in various ways.

It's 2016, 15 years since my father died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. My mother raised five of us alone, and we spent this Father's Day sitting out in our backyard, eating watermelon, and then picking mangoes from the trees that my father planted. We were testing out a new fruit picker that could reach high into the tree tops, and a mango fell on my head as we tried to catch it. The fruit picker worked like a charm.

The trees have grown into large canopies, with several rogue mango saplings having taken root in odd places. The key lime that my dad planted got chopped down after Hurricane Katrina, despite being perfectly healthy, but the curry leaf trees have blossomed. The bananas give fruit every several months.

I don't know what my dad would have thought of how I turned out. On one hand, I graduated with a Bachelor's and a Master's Degree, and have become a published author. On the other, I wasn't exactly the saint or the straight A student that my siblings were. He believed in the value of education, and of knowing what you wanted to do. He also supported my arts and crafts as a kid, and would have liked to see my reading habits. I'd like to think he was proud of me.

Happy Father's Day, to everyone who doesn't have a father this year. We made it this far. I hope your dads loved you as much as mine did.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Considering the Source: Handling Book Recs from Former Friends

 Hi, all! It's been too long. I graduated from University of Miami with my MBA and started a meaningful job where I can make a difference.

Right now I'm reading Red Queen, a Young Adult fantasy romp. It talks about a world where magical people oppress normal people, the way benders do in the series Avatar: The Legend of Korra, and a girl who instead of being shipped off to war ends up in the royal courts as a spy. Despite the good writing, the intriguing plot and the promise of moral ambiguity, I'm not enjoying this book. This is not the book's fault and I know it. The fault lies in who recommended the book.

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A few months ago, tragedy struck the How to Train Your Dragon fandom, and some anonymous trolls are trying to ride on the resulting shockwaves. In the meantime, a not-so anonymous user has been suffering problems, and he recommended Red Queen while I reached out to comfort him. Shortly after recommending it, he became verbally abusive, and I had to cut communication with him to not lose my temper. That was a couple of months ago; I only finished Red Queen today, but I'm associating each prose with the frustration and disgust.

This isn't the first time I've experienced such an association. My first beta reader and I had a fallout several years back when he recommend A Game of Thrones -- the book, not the show-- and The Gospel According to Christ, and I took issue with the fact that both of the books kill characters with glee and don't really relax the reader. As a result, though I occasionally check Game of Thrones updates I hold irrational resentment towards the franchise. I've also gone softer on my fictional characters, more reluctant to make them suffer.

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There are two explanations for this frustration: one is that the book recommendation shows the person's state of mind when they vouch for you to read it, or that you can't believe that the bad conversations will surge in full force, as well as the bilious emotions. 

The first explanation holds a grain of merit. Both Game of Thrones and Red Queen are similar in showing complicated politics and the villain gaining a massive victory, with infatuated characters getting screwed over in a bad way. While a person's taste doesn't necessarily reveal their personality, since author Hannah Moskowitz is a bubbly, cheerful person while writing about teen angst and pain, it might provide a few red flags. The red flags come from when someone defends the author's choices with verbal abuse and with assuming that another person with a different opinion is in the wrong. Red Queen takes a Hunger Games-like approach to a new fantasy world, without the hope that Hunger Games has for a better world and for people to survive their own mistakes and capacity to cause violence. It also incorporates a lot of political games that aren't really my cup of tea. Thus while I know other people who are fans of the show and the book, I make sure we can discuss other works appropriately.

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As for the second explanation, science would support that. Obviously the psychological associations need to be taken into account, in that we create connections with items based on experience. The other is that I read these books in the hopes of becoming better friends with these individuals. I like reading fiction in general, especially that which helps me escape to another world. When I don't enjoy a book, it hits me hard since I try my best to finish it despite any clunky prose or unwanted emotions. Sometimes when a book is too well written, it will strike nerves that are not meant to be struck and I react rather poorly. That is what happened with Game of Thrones, and why I didn't like the story at all. Instead of talking through why it's an upsetting book, my beta reader yelled at me for reading it too fast and for believing that all fiction needs to be escapist. Following a similar argument over The Gospel According to Christ, our friendship didn't survive past that summer. For that reason I associate what happened to Ned Stark and Joseph with those arguments. 

With all of this said, it seems the easiest solution lies in not accepting book recommendations from people that feel strongly rooted in their opinions. If someone else won't create a safe space to disagree, then a reader may as well not participate in intellectual exploration.  Even that solution is not so simple on the surface; sometimes people are fine with others having different tastes, and sometimes people are far from reasonable. Word of mouth is also the strongest means of spreading books to people, and I like to find new authors to read.

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I'm not going to reread A Game of Thrones, Red Queen, or The Gospel According to Christ due to the associations and the source material. When it comes to rereading, I choose the books that fill me with joy and contentment. Despite that, I won't disregard a book or give it a two-star review because of circumstances unrelated to the prose or the choice of narrative style. That would be unkind, and as an author I don't want to be unkind in that way. Someday I hope that my stories don't cause schisms, and instead bring people together.