An Interview with Diana M. Pho

Diana Pho_side_Credit Amy StappToday’s interview is with Diana M. Pho, author of the essay “Breaking Mirrors” in Invisible 2, edited by Jim C. Hines. We’ve been thrilled to feature interviews from several authors from this anthology recently – you can read my review of Invisible 2 here.

I loved how, in talking about Julie of the Wolves in your essay for Invisible 2, you expressed how even though later you learned that the book had problematic aspects, you took something positive from it. How should we approach books that have both positive and problematic elements to them?

No work of art is perfect, and I think people fear being judged by liking something that is imperfect. Everyone has their own boundaries about what they like and what they don’t, and it can feel very personal when one’s boundaries are being examined.

Interacting and creating art should prioritize a code of ethics, for artists and people who enjoy art. I don’t think we can use the excuse, “Art for art’s sake!” anymore, because the meaning of art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and to claim that it does is to effectively render art meaningless.

It’s always important to keep in mind that art-making is subjected to many different types of responses. Of course, there’s entertainment value– no one wants to be bored by something (unless boredom is the point, and hey, I don’t have any desire to be an expert in ennui). There’re also the internal responses a participant has with the work of art and the external conversation among other participants.  And those things can be messy and complicated.

There’s also the role of the creator too; I think in today’s culture, the creator’s intent is put in the spotlight, while at the same time, the creator’s intention is frequently disregarded when criticizing the effect a work has on another person. So creators are being told two distinct messages: “Just make art for yourself and don’t listen to what others think!” but also “If someone tells you your art is racist/classist/sexist/oppressive in any way, you *must* acknowledge something or be smeared on the Internet forever!”

No wonder the internet explodes whenever someone points out something “problematic about their fav.” (Joss Whedon isn’t a feminist! Slash can fetishize queer relationships! There aren’t any PoC main characters in this thing!) Everyone gets their hackles up because people associate their personal happiness with the stuff they like. They don’t want to think that their happiness is false or flawed.

Acknowledging the weaknesses of an artwork doesn’t shortchange my personal relationship with it, because I know that thing is imperfect (and so am I).My personal relationship with Julie of the Wolves changed over time. That’s also significant to acknowledge. People can grow and change by art in many ways. As much as the book helped me when I felt isolated by my family’s identity, recognizing its racist flaws also developed my sense of political awareness. I am comfortable with seeing both; it’s an honesty that develops over time and thought, but ultimately is rooted in the initial love I had for the book.

(By the way, I use the word “art” in the most general sense — creations made by creators. Highbrow, lowbrow, pulp fiction, cosplay, religious icons, popcorn movies, symphonies, Shakespeare, nursery rhymes — it is all art to me. Age of Ultron is not the highest example made by the human race, but I’m not dismissing it as meaningless dirt either. Even the fluffiest or shallowest bit of storytelling is still telling — that is the soul of art — the existence of a narrative.)

What draws you to science fiction, fantasy, and steampunk?

It’s potential. The ideas. The feeling that our own lives exist on the surface of a deeper emotional and intellectual world, and SFF helps brings those qualities out to the forefront.

I’m a big fan of your blog, Beyond Victoriana. what, in a nutshell, is your advice for people who want to explore and enjoy Steampunk without glorifying the British Empire (including its colonialism, sexism, and racism)?

In a nutshell: own up to the bad stuff. Don’t romanticize it or explain it away. You also get much richer stories in dealing with the darker side of history and find may even find new spots of light.

People tend to shy away from addressing these more serious implications of history because they don’t want to spoil the sense of fun to it. But good storytelling — including the fun adventurous stuff — has roots in conflict.To me, why not address all of the social conflict in your storytelling — it only makes it more interesting, increases the stakes for your characters, and makes readers more invested in them. So beyond building verisimilitude in stories, it makes creators better creators.

It’s summer – should we be lucky enough to head to the beach, what book should we put in our beach bag?

I’m currently in the middle of both Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem and Lev A.C. Rosen’s Depth, so I’ll rec those. The Three-Body Problem is a meaty sci-fi read, and Depth is a stylish post-apoc noir set in a flooded New York. I don’t read your typical fluffy beach reads.

 

Diana M. Pho is an editor at Tor Books and blogs for Tor.com. She is also a published scholar, activist, performer, and general rabble-rouser. She is best-known for running Beyond Victoriana, an award-winning, US-based blog on multicultural steampunk under the moniker Ay-leen the Peacemaker. For several years, she has traveled the country as a professional convention speaker about social justice issues and fandom. Her most recent publications include the introduction to The Best of Spanish Steampunk, edited by James and Marian Womack and a forthcoming article in Like Clockwork, edited by Professors Brian Croxall and Rachel Bowser. You can follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.

The Borrowers and the Power of Internal Consistency

I love the series The Borrowers, by Mary Norton. It’s whimsical without being overly twee, it’s exciting, it’s clever, it’s Edwardian with a little modern edge. The illustrations, by Beth and Joe Krush, are clever, detailed, and delightful. How I love adventurous Arrietty and her nervous parents – especially her mother, Homily, who is the most timid member of the family and yet shows the most backbone when push comes to shove. This book and others in the series are children’s books that adults can enjoy – indeed, as I’ve grown older, I find more to love in them every year.

These books describe the lives and adventures of Arrietty, her mother (Homily), her father (Pod) and various other characters who come in and out of the story, both human and Borrower. The Borrowers are tiny, tiny people who live secret lives. They prefer old houses with no pets or children, where there is an abundance of both clutter and routine. They live secret lives, and they don’t grow food or hunt animals or make anything from scratch. They borrow. So when you lose little things – buttons, safety pins, that kind of thing – the Borrowers took it.

The Borrowers has many things going for it but one thing I’ve noticed is that The Borrowers completely commits to its premise and is completely internal consistent. There’s no cheating here. Great attention is paid to how the Borrowers move, how they transport objects, and how they live their lives. This means that even though the premise is outlandish, the reader can commit to it. If there WERE Borrowers, clearly they would be just like this. While each book in the series has a compelling plot, the plot is not what the reader remembers. The reader is more likely to recall that Arrietty’s room is made from a cigar box, and that Homily quite loses her head when she realized that Pod can borrow form a doll’s house when a child comes to stay in the old house where they live, and that Pod climbs curtains with the aid of a pin and “name tape” (a sort of decorative ribbon). Here’s some of the lines about their sitting room:

The walls had been papered with scraps of old letters out of waste paper baskets…On the walls, repeated in various colors, hung several portraits of Queen Victoria as a girl; these were postage stamps, borrowed by Pod some years ago from the stamp box on the desk in the morning room. There was a lacquer trinket box, padded inside and with the lid open which they used as a settle; and that useful stand-by – a chest of drawers made of match boxes.

The Borrowers is also an ode to the importance of creativity and change. The family experiences “a golden age” of Borrowing when they get access to the doll’s house, but it doesn’t make them happy (Pod in particular becomes terribly bored) and it leads them into terrible trouble. They feel safe in the old house, unlike their relatives who all “emigrated” and whose fates are unknown – but in the safe house there is also stagnation. Who will Arrietty marry? Will the Borrowers die out altogether? Taking risks jeopardizes their immediate safety but makes their long-term safety possible. It’s a cozy series about the value of not being too cozy.

There are several editions of course, and movie adaptations, but do get the version with the illustrations by Beth and Joe Krush. How can you resist?

An Interview With Matthew “Navistar” Carauddo

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This week’s interview is with Matthew “Navistar” Caraduddo,. founder of Saber Combat, which specializes in lightsaber classes and performances.

Tell us about your saber combat business – it involves shows, classes, and parties, right? Tell us about what you do!

There are many facets to the goals of, and the actions/work of SaberCombat.com.

One aspect of the work is regarding unique performances that run the entire gamut of staged work, including fight choreography, staging, sound editing/engineering, vocal recording, music, and–naturally–costumes and building LED saber props that are meant for hard strikes and punishment.

An example of one of SaberCombat.com’s projects is at this link–a complete re-enactment of the famous “Empire Strikes Back” saber fight scene between the two epic heroes we’ve grown to know and love:

A second aspect of SaberCombat’s contributions & work are more about workshops, birthday parties, and special events.  No two are alike as every event has its needs, desires, requirements, and circumstances.

Events can be as complicated as a corporate event with a performance and “saber workshop” for adults in mind:

…or, they can be much simpler (to a point)–as events designed for youth, birthday parties, or martial arts schools. Parents end up having MORE fun than the kids… SOMEtimes… ;)

A third aspect of SaberCombat is… helping OTHERS to do awesome saber combat / staged combat work, in the form of tutorial videos, the SaberCombat fight choreography system (DVD tutorials on the website), and classes.

How did you get the idea to run a saber combat business – and what was your first step in making it a reality?

To be perfectly honest, a lot of it simply occurred “over time”, and in some ways, was simply a subset of my fencing instruction and experience.  The site and business didn’t actually come from one, singular, resolute decision.

Taking a step backward in time, back in 2005, I was brewing upon an idea I had to do an entirely LIVE light saber performance, involving 10 performers all on stage at once, complete with sabers, sound editing, music, vocals, a general story & characters, dramatic staging, and of course… awesome fight choreography.

At the time, I was running a small saber fencing business, and my involvement with anything “Star Wars” was limited to a few video games, the films themselves, and being inspired by John Williams awesome music.  I didn’t even have any kind of “jedi costume”–never had any need.  :)

But my sudden idea to do a 10 person fight required a lot of behind-the-scenes work, planning, money, initiative, research, and of course… even auditions & casting!  :)  Also, initially, it was VERY difficult to get or build the appropriate props for actual staged combat, as… at the time (again ~2005/2006), the technology simply wasn’t present.

Nova - Palpy edited by Rosika

The 2006 performance of “Balance of Power” was a huge hit with viewers (Youtube was actually very new at the time!), and it emblazoned me to continue on to… see where the proverbial “rabbit hole” went… :)

Over due time, I actually ended up helping to further innovate LED saber props as part of a small “saber community” (which built props on their own, independent of large toy companies)… and even ended up designing some of the first custom “saber sound fonts” that were installed into more present-day sabers.  :)

 

Examples of my sound font work can be found here:

More time passed, and I made a simple staged combat tutorial (care of numerous requests from fans & viewers) and released it as a single product for people to learn from.  A year passed, and I had greatly built upon my own basic system, and wanted to share more of it… so I paired up with a local martial artist to film some more in-depth tutorials to become a part of two DVDs–each with several videos entailing how to do high-level staged combat with the right kinds of tools, notation, drills, patterns, training, etc.

Shortly after that, the DVDs and work became so popular, SaberCombat.com went from being a site “solely to launch the DVDs” into something MUCH larger!  I’d taken my first step into a larger world.  :)  Well… more like my 4th or 5th step, I suppose…

What’s the biggest challenge in your business?

Lately, the biggest challenges have been tenfold (unfortunately).  I’ve recently run into a lot of health issues–despite my lifestyle being fairly well revolved around fitness and staying in shape.  I’ve had to pour almost every dime I have (which isn’t much, sadly) into two MRIs recently, and… there isn’t much I can do right now except fight through extreme pain, shoulder issues, and so forth.

Finding the RIGHT people with the right work ethic, team spirit, dedication, and true desire to innovate has been very, very difficult!

But, I’m extremely hopeful, as… I HAVE worked with some REALLY great people–really talented individuals, such as my associate Gary Ripper (Ripper Sabers & Ripper Blades), who not only portrays “Darth Vader” in my “Empire Strikes Back” re-creation, but designs and sells some AMAZING acrylic & polycarbonate saber and sword prop blades, all hand-designed.  For more information, just look up “Ripper Sabers” on Facebook… you’ll know his incredible work when you see it.

Ultimately, challenge is a good thing.  If a hero in a film “quit” when things became overwhelming or difficult… he or she would NOT be much of hero, now would they?  :)

You have a cyberpunk project in the works – tell us about your involvement with that!  What’s the series about, and what’s your role?

Ah, you’re resourceful, and… must be watching my “Novastar” Facebook page!  :)  I can’t really say all that much about it right now, but here is a video which shows a different side of my work, as… I’m not just a “light saber guy”, my background is varied.  Performance, acting, writing, costuming work, vocal work and electronics fit into many ways of expressing art:

I have since grabbed myself a “long length” leather jacket (only $30–discount store) in order to help the costume & look work better, so… progress is being made.  Stay tuned for more later on!

It’s summer, it’s hot, kids are bored, mom is tired. What movie that ISN’T Star Wars should we watch?

Ironically, since you noted this possible cyberpunk project I may be involved in… instead of a film, how about a game?  An “old” one, but a great piece of work that won “Game of the Year” twice over, if I recall correctly.

The game is “Deus Ex” (2000), the original one created by Ion Storm, made for PCs.  It couldn’t be more than $10 now to buy, and it’s definitely one of THE best games I’ve ever played, winning on so many levels: excellent gameplay / skill trees / RPG elements, excellent music, excellent storyline, perfect ambiance, great characters… it’s the way a game is supposed to be made!  Not just “shoot everything in sight” like they seem to be doing these days.  :)

Here is a short animation where I was able to voice the “J.C. Denton” character.  I’m hoping to do more with this, too:

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My only final thoughts would be… whatever your passions & dreams are–keep pursuing them.  I realize that this is cliche’, but here’s something important I will add to that…

The most difficult part about pursuing your dreams & passions is the fact that you are going AGAINST the grain.  Society will prefer to push you toward ITS desires, and let’s face it: when 1000 voices are telling you to “go left” when your heart tells you to “go right”… you question yourself, and sometimes–it’s MUCH easier to just stop listening to yourself.

You have to also do the WORK though, too.  :)  Nothing good comes without dedication, consistency, and weathering the proverbial storms & tsunamis that life often casts your way.  When the storms come–you mustn’t stay there, you must fight THROUGH them, and as the old quote goes… “keep going”.

“When you’re going through Hell… keep going.”  –Churchill

Hawkeye Vol. 4: A Great Conclusion to a Great Run

I’d like to thank Hawkeye Vol. 4 (Rio Bravo) for making me cry at the public pool. No, really. The other moms didn’t think it was weird at all. Jeez.

Since 2012, Matt Fraction and artist David Aja have been writing a Hawkeye comic for Marvel. This comic tells the story of “What Hawkeye does when he’s not Avenging.” Hawkeyes, AKA Clint Barton, adopts a dog, he trains his protege, Young Avenger Kate Bishop, (she gets several issues of her own drawn by Annie Wu), he fights with his ex, he drinks too much, and he gets beat up a ton. What makes this run so great is that Clint, on his off hours, isn’t trying to save the world – he’s trying to save his apartment building, and getting his ass royally kicked in the process.

This run is never gimmicky, but it’s often experimental and meta. There’s an issue (#3) in which Clint decides to sort his trick arrows. For complex reason, he and Kate find themselves in a car chase with one bag of arrows – Kate grabbed the un-labeled trick arrows on her way out the door. Hilarity,. mayhem, and a lon, long payoff joke ensure. There’s an episode in which a great deal is communicated via sign language, and an episode in which Clint dreams that he’s a character in a kids’ TV show. Above all, there’s an issue that takes place entirely from the point of view of the dog (Lucky, known to fans as Pizza Dog). In this issue( #11), people talk over Pizza’s Dog’s head, but the only words we see are ones Pizza Dog knows (I was impressed by “Collar stays.” How, I wondered, would the dog know what collar stays are? He doesn’t, bu the words are legible because he knows “Collar” and “stay.”)

Here’s a short and incomplete list of reasons I love this run – the last volume just came out and I can’t urge you enough to run out and buy all four and have a glorious binge. I didn’t even like Hawkeye before this run. It’s a jewel among comics.

  1. Pizza Dog.
  2. Everything else on here should be Pizza Dog.
  3. The Russian Gansters who inexplicably say, “Bro, bro” all the time. In Hawkeye’s dream, Hawkeye is a dog and the Gangsters are wolves who say, “Dog, dog.”
  4. Clint’s brother Barney.
  5. Kate Bishop. LOVE HER. LOVE HER ARC.
  6. The humor.
  7. The heartwarming stuff
  8. Everyone in the apartment and how they use Clint’s TV because he broke the satellite dish (with an arrow)
  9. Boomerang arrow.

As is so tragically often the case, io9 says things much better than I do in their post “6 Reasons Why Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is One of Marvel’s Greatest Comics” by James Whitbrook. So go read that, and then read Hawkeye. Or skip to Hawkeye. Because Pizza Dog, Bro.

Between the Lines Book Club: Truly Weird Adaptations of Crime and Punishment

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In Sacramento, CA? Join us for an in-person discussion of Crime and Punishment tomorrow (Aug 22, 2015) at 10:30 AM at Arden Dimick Library!

Unlike some other classics, there’s no single iconic adaptation of Crime and Punishment, although there are a few movies and once might sound Law and Order as an adaptation that’s very long-running. While there may be no adaptation that is iconic, there are several that are just plain weird. Here’s some of the bizarre things people have done with the novel:

Proving that everything is better with Batman: Crime and Punishment Batman comic!

This spoof, from the collection Masterpiece Comics, tells the story of Crime and Punishment with Batman as the main character. In this version, Batman decides to take the law into his own hands – murder and angst ensue.

Teen Angst: Crime and Punishment in Suburbia (Film, 2000)

This movie has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It tells the tale of a teen girl who is attacked by her stepfather and plots to kill him with the help of the school quarterback. When she’s accused of the murder, the weird outcast high school kid with a crush is the only one she can turn to. This seems to be a love it or hate it movie.

Because Les Miserables wasn’t depressing enough:

Crime and Punishment is being made into a musical. I’m just going to drop this here and back slowly away.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/01/crime-and-punishment-musical-moscow-stage

http://russia-news.us/news/culture/dostoyevsky/

Wednesday Videos: WWI and the Birth of Modern Fantasy

WednesdayVideoAnd now for something completely different…a video that includes me!  I gave this presentation, “The War that Launched a Genre: WWI and the Birth of Modern Fantasy” at Sacramento Public Library.  I had a great time, and you can tell that I thought the topic was “really interesting” because I seem to have said so about once every five minutes. The presentation includes discussion of “The Battle of Dorking”, H.G. Wells, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, modernism, C.S. Lewis, and, of course, Tolkien.

Warning: it’s long, and if you take a drink every time I say “really interesting” you’ll be unconscious in the first thirty minutes.