April 14, 2024

And Here We Go!

Down to the last two chapters for The Dubious Commode, and I have a last-minute time off arrangement for this coming Friday (a desperately needed one, btw, since I'm getting way too close to burning out at the day job). That'll add to my writing time, which will also mean my first dive into Voices in the Briars. So excited! And with that said, I finally have something a little more substantial to share about the next book.

SETTING: As a nod to the grotesque legend surrounding Elizabeth Báthory, I decided to set the story in Hungary. Obviously an AU version of the country since there's vampirism and dark magic at work, but I'm also (as usual) dipping into my Catholic background and will be working a lot of Catholic imagery, iconography, and tradition to the story. And as always, we're looking at somewhere in the early to mid-19th century for the timeline though it won't be clear / specified. That's always been my preferred period when it comes to writing historical fiction though I've dipped into earlier eras before. 

GENRES: While obviously a gothic horror, it's got an equal serving of gay romance since the POVs will switch from one character to another. So -- a gothic gay romance, then. My books are always HEA or HFN in that rare occasion (The Glass Minstrel) since I prefer to offer readers an escape and a more hopeful take on the future in spite of my own cynicism (which is a character flaw of mine, frankly). There's also that mix of fairy tale / folklore since the book's a retelling of "Bluebeard", so I hope to run wild with that. 

EXTRAS: Even though I can't find the actual text for the Estonian variant of the fairy tale, I'm using it, anyway, as inspiration for the resolution because compared to Perrault's version, I prefer it. That is, in the Estonian variant, it's the bride's childhood friend who's poorer / humbler than the bride's family in the French variant who ultimately rescues her. There won't be any rescuing in my book; rather, it's more of a joint effort at escaping and destroying. 

Oh, and here's a doozy. Two songs I've added to my playlist for this book (which I aim to listen to while I write) can't be any weirder when taken as a combo. But they make a hell of a lot of sense in my world. So firstly, childhood innocence:

I've seen different interpretations of the song online, but I've always thought of it as a song of almost painful hope. That's coming from a place of experience, though, and an unhealthy amount of bitterness aimed at humanity in general. But I still remember how it was like being a child, and I love the imagery in the song. It might be sentimental, but it's key to establishing the relationship between Lóránt Kárpáthy and Alexander Dávid Bodnár. 

Of course, to really, REALLY counteract that, we've got:

There are no devils or demons in the book unless one considers vampires as such. That said, this specific composition sets the mood perfectly and highlights a ton of stuff about Gyula Boros. I'm not spoiling much by talking superficially about my characters and the book's general story idea -- there's nothing much to spoil, seeing as how it's a retelling of "Bluebeard", but everything else going on in the background is my secret to keep until the time comes to unveil them. Many of them, anyway. 

Did I say I'm excited? I'm excited. Totally stoked.

April 06, 2024

Down the Homestretch and Looking Ahead (Like WAY Ahead)

By this weekend's end, I'll be down to less than 10K words for The Dubious Commode, and I've yet to get going with Voices in the Briars even though I'm champing at the bit. What's keeping me back at the moment is setting for that book, which is pretty stupid considering it's a dark fantasy story that's set in a vaguely European country. I thought at first to settle down with French names, etc., seeing as how the Bluebeard tale is most known through Charles Perrault's version. But I saw that there are variants, and one of those was from Estonia. Naturally, I can't find any text on it, so I'm defaulting to Perrault's take. However, I'm still sitting on the story's main setting, and I'm hoping to decide for sure tomorrow. There's not much left to write for The Dubious Commode, and I really need to get a move on with the next book.

I did mention before that we'll be back in the world of revenants for Voices in the Briars, and I'm also back to digging up stuff on Elizabeth Báthory ("the Blood Countess") and the legend (mostly falsehoods) behind her gruesome reputation. Because I'm making all kinds of connections between the Bluebeard character (still unnamed) in my story and the legend of the Blood Countess, and I hope to mine the holy hell out of history. 

In the process of writing today's chapter for The Dubious Commode, I made Prue blurt something out in reference to Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott, which made me look for the ballad's text online, which led me to consider the legend and all the sumptuous visuals in the poem. I love that poem, btw, and it's got nothing to do with all the literary analyses done about it (though those are really interesting explorations of the text) but really about the story on a more literal level. I think it's gorgeous and eerie and tragic, which also led me to explore the folklore of weaving. 

The Lady of Shalott by William Maw Egley
Which then led me to another myth I've never heard of before (Philomela), and now things are working in my head that are bringing so many disparate elements together, and between Tennyson's ballad, folklore, and mythology, I'm now adding another book idea to my growing list of to-be-written stories. It's getting ridiculous, folks, not to mention painful since I'm so excited and impatient to get on with things, but I only have one brain and one pair of hands. Plus I've got a life outside writing, and there's no way for me to write the following all at once: Voices in the Briars, The Perfect Rochester, Compline, The Bells of St. Mark's Eve. And now I have one more: Loom and Mirror. 

I'm even playing with mock-ups of cover art, which says something about how seriously I'm taking this. That said, things can still happen that'll keep this new plotbunny from taking form, so I'm not committing myself fully to anything. All I can say is that the idea's there, and it's promising as hell, and I love taking three different things and making something out of them. We'll see where things go in this case, but I love these flashes of inspiration.

March 31, 2024

Boys' Love

Wow, this video takes me back. I stumbled across the "first wave" of BL fiction after spending a lot of time reading classic gay literature in the mid- to late-90s. And I'm so happy to see my two much-adored classic BL manga being touched on as examples in this video: Kaze to Ki no Uta (Song of the Wind and Trees) by Keiko Takemiya and Toma No Shinzou (The Heart of Thomas) by Moto Hagio.  

My heart's broken again!

God, those days... I got so hung up on the genre (at least on those two manga series) that I spent so much money digging around Yahoo Japan's auction pages and connecting with someone in Japan for help in bidding for me. I wired them money for all the art books I could find as well as the actual series in its original form for Takemiya's work. And I'm now the proud owner of out-of-print copies of the original Flower edition of Kaze to Ki no Uta and its art books. I ain't letting those out of my sight. I also got the original soundtrack for the anime adaptation after I saw the anime.

For Toma no Shinzou, I bagged a single-volume TRANSLATED copy of the series, and I'm dying. 

Kaze to Ki no Uta by Keiko Takemiya
I didn't get into any of the later (more explicit) books, especially those mentioned in the video that came out in the 90s with the non-con content. Even as a fan of BL, the fetishization of rape in yaoi is a massive no-no for me*. My fascination for BL had nothing to do with the exploration of my own sexuality and so on like how it was with other readers, but it was the long, florid, melodramatic romance that's set in (why, of course!) European boarding schools that floated my boat. Takemiya's sprawling epic (as I call it) goes all out in melodrama and angst. Hagio's work is shorter and more subdued by classic BL standards, and I love it just as much. 

Back then as well, I was the only one who posted fanfic for Kaze to Ki no Uta over at fanfiction.net. I've already taken them down when I deleted my account, but those were heady days. I never wrote fanfic for Toma No Shinzou, though, since I discovered Hagio's work at the tail end of my fanfic days, and I was beginning to work on original material. 

Toma no Shinzou by Moto Hagio
One thing I do want to say about both seminal works is I'm seething with jealousy over the basic plots (not necessarily the details) as well as the mere title of Kaze to Ki no Uta. To have it translated as The Song of the Wind and Trees was a massive gut-punch because it's a perfect fit for the love story between Serge and Gilbert. It doesn't help that it's a tragedy as well (yes, one of my initial dips into the "bury your gays" pool, which I swore to myself I'll never do in my own fiction -- though there's an off-screen death in The Glass Minstrel that serves as a jumping-off point for the plot, and I'll NEVER do that again, either), so the title's even more heartbreaking. 

Hell, just about all classic BL was a tragedy, I think, or maybe a majority of the manga published in that genre. But I never got to explore that with other titles since my attention had fully shifted to original work, and I'd begun entertaining ideas of publication by then. And while I haven't really sat down and considered it in full, I suspect it was this initial exposure to classic BL that started me on the path toward same-sex romances in boarding schools, particularly same-sex romances involving younger characters in their late teens or early twenties. 

It's the coming-of-age thing, I think, that draws me in. I've always been a sucker for that theme, and you can tell from what I've published. At any rate, this was a nice little trip down memory lane. 

* just to be clear, there's some non-con / sexual abuse, bullying, and even torture in the two series I talked about, but they were always depicted as brutal and damaging, not at all fetishized 

March 28, 2024

Keeping Up With Netflix: Young Royals

One thing about blogging my intentions: it works like reverse psychology for me ("I triple dog dare ya!"). Like the writing and publishing resolution I made with the extended gap between releases, for instance -- poof! Resolve gone. I'm back to publishing more frequently. Granted, though, that's because I'm in a very good place and am taking full advantage of this energized wave I'm enjoying. Can't waste any opportunity in that case.

And then there's non-bingeing shows. I even did back-to-back rambling posts about it, and here we are. All three seasons of Young Royals done. Double-thumbs up for me, as I'm sure you can already guess from my most recent reaction post on it. This one isn't a full-on review of the series, but largely my thoughts on stuff. 

Major spoilers, btw.

Almost everything I want to say was already posted previously, and after going through the series' entire run, nothing much has changed. Character analyses got tweaked a little after learning more about the main players. But my views on the production overall still stand. Beautifully written with some scenes just devastating to watch, particularly the third and final season. 

Not to forget as well that the series is anchored by a very talented cast. I can't emphasize this enough. Excellent writing can still be undermined by bland acting and zero chemistry among the actors, and we don't get any of that at all. In terms of chemistry, the one between Edvin Ryding (Wille) and Omar Rudberg (Simon) is off the charts.

Of all the characters, I still think August is the most inscrutable because Wille and Simon are written more openly in a way, their paths more easily followed. There's still a lot to unpack with those two, but August poses more of a challenge in my case. Yes, he's all about self-interest. Yes, he's a swaggering bully. In the beginning, for the most part, at least from what I can see. Each season sees him knocked down a peg, and we see glimpses of humanity now and then. If anything, the letter he writes to himself as part of a class exercise reveals who he really is or who he was, at least, and Sara was there -- a good opportunity for him to figure things out about himself and how he handles relationships (friends, family, girlfriends). 

I do think he feels guilt in his own way, but he's got no real support network besides his friends to guide his actions, and any expression of regret is met with skepticism (understandably). Cracks were already showing in the final season, and he even looked to be bothered by his "Bad Boy" title. Doesn't he tell the school psychologist that no one's going to forgive him, anyway, so why bother forgiving himself or being kind to others? There are a lot of small things filtering through that I caught. And they're largely too dispersed for me to get a better and more cohesive picture of August. I'm not an apologist for him, but I'm not going to condemn him completely, either, because what I saw from the first episode to the finale was a really nasty product of the monarchy. His smarmy-ass lawyer even asks "But does the monarchy love you?".

As an addendum, one of the most revealing moments is when August admits to Sara he'd rather have a father who goes through good spells (being sober) than not have a father at all. It's heartbreaking. 

I also failed to address the elephant in the room: the sex tape. Now THAT screw-up is unforgivable even if it was done in the heat of the moment, and August thought he didn't have anything to lose. It was Simon who paid the most, and it didn't end even after Wille publicly came out and admitted being Simon's partner in the tape. Should August apologize not just to Wille, but to Simon as well? Yeah. He should have. But would Simon also be willing to hear him out? Considering how gentle and compassionate he is and how big he is on giving people a second chance -- I honestly can't call it. I wouldn't be surprised if he did or didn't, really. Fuck it, he shouldn't. Ever. For now, at the very least he has Wille to play guard dog for him.

Sweden's royal family: aaaawwwkward!

Wille and Simon own my soul, of course. I honestly can't choose either one without naming the other for my favorite character because as far as I'm concerned, they're so bound so closely together as diverging forces (ironically) that to take one away means the ruin of the other (in an overly dramatic manner of speaking). The series doesn't hold back in showing us how beautiful and imperfect each boy is, how madly in love they are with each other, how badly they want to be together and fight for their happiness -- and yet screw things up time and time again. 

They're kids. They're only sixteen (seventeen for Wille by the end of the series run), and what little life experience they have to guide them can be boiled down to family, peers, and social media. Social hierarchies, money, peer pressure, what have you -- everything seems to conspire to work against them. Well, in addition to the usual bad decisions that teens make from a place of high emotion. That Wille and Simon somehow manage to pull each other back from the brink time and time again -- including breaking up more than once -- is testament to their devotion to each other. So in that sense, I really can't call the series a romance. It's a love story. Or at least it's closer to a full-on love story that we tend to see explored between adult couples. 

Because even after the final episode, things will still be a struggle for the two, but the point of the show is that Wille establishes autonomy from the crown, chooses himself over the crippling influence of a system that was born from long-outdated ideals. And he knows it's going to hurt his family, but it takes Simon breaking up with him one last time with the added sting of "I don't recognize you anymore" for him to dig deep -- if not for Simon, then for himself. Because Simon sees how much damage the pressure of the monarchy is causing in Wille, and he knows he's an unlucky part of it as Wille's boyfriend. So he refuses to contribute any more to Wille's downward spiral. I get it even though it was excruciating, seeing it all unfold on Wille's birthday, of all days. But in this series, there's no real good moment for Wille to break away from the crown (he has to put his foot down and disappoint an ailing queen), and there's no real good moment for Simon to force Wille to see what's happening to him. 

Of course, in between, there are a lot of mistakes made (like Marcus, who gives me major creeper vibes), a lot of painful confessions, admissions, and scenes of forgiveness. Felice and Sara's relationship's got to be one of the best explorations I've seen of love between friends, which is rare nowadays. Two people together are either just superficially labeled friends or are made into romantic partners. So again, I bow to the writers for this. 

There's also the unconditional love of friends that help someone like Simon endure some of the worst things a kid his age can face. Ayub and Rosh are the MVPs, going neck-and-neck with Linda (Simon's mom, who'll take shit from no one and whose integrity in the face of smug privilege is a sight to behold). Sadly, Wille can't even have any of that save for Felice (my darling girl!). Emotionally neglected and stifled throughout his life, it's no wonder he lashes out in a pretty major way when the pressure gets too much. 

Again, there's so much to pick apart in this series, and what's great about this is that I can always go back and rewatch everything from Season One, enjoy the wild ride and put up with the emotional stress of two kids who -- like Simon glumly says -- haven't done anything wrong but fall in love with each other. Ouch. Linda said love shouldn't be this hard. But it's really worth the fight, isn't it? And I'm sure each rewatch will bring a new revelation to me. I just need to recover from this first viewing, though. Egad. 

Backward slash, end rambling. 

EDIT: After rereading my post, I realized I actually did sound like an August apologist even though that wasn't my intention. Goddamnit. I was aiming for a more balanced take. I guess that goes to show just how brilliantly his character was written.

March 24, 2024

Almost There (and What a Ride!)

Yeah, I know. Still on a Young Royals kick, and I can see why the show's so addicting. The writing, for one, is really well done. What I said about "accident of birth" previously? That. That, that, that, and as much as I sometimes want to just reach though the computer screen and slap a few people around, I can't -- because as much as it frustrates me as a viewer, I get it. 

August? Brilliantly written antagonist. Brilliantly written. The kid's broken, and he's behaving as someone who's desperate to fit in, desperate to be like his cousin (or ride his coattails at least), desperate to hold on to that veneer of aristocracy when he's really coming from a place of trauma and shame. Dad committed suicide? Family broke? I can't reference other things that were revealed in future seasons (spoilers for me), but I get it. I actually pity the guy and hate what he does / how he reacts from a place of anger, but I get it. It doesn't help that he's still in high school and behaves as a teenager would behave under those circumstances, that still-developing lizard brain dancing a psychotic jig whenever he sees how Willhelm gets what he wants because he's the crown prince while August, the one who fights tooth and nail for the crown and the status quo, keeps fucking things up. 

The series doesn't even need to wallow in an exploration of his eating disorder (possibly bulimia). Fanatical workouts, constant testing of his body fat, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's either vomiting his food off-screen and in private. All the writers need to do is work in a quick moment of his workout or his belly-pinching, and that's enough to tell us what's happening. 

The same can be said about Simon and how he stumbles around, trying to win August's favor in the worst possible way in spite of the humiliation August and his clique constantly subject him to (EDIT: he does it for Sara's benefit, which took me a looong while to get even though it's been established more than once). And he's coming from a poorer family compared to the resident students and is a POC to boot plunked in the midst of a mostly lily-white student population. Of course, he'd want to fit in as well, lashing out in his own way against the status quo and mocking the crown while doing stuff for August's benefit just to be accepted. It's such a teenage thing to do, behaving in ways that don't make sense, and I get it. His sister (older sister?) Sara has her own struggles in fitting in with the added complication of her autism, but unlike Simon, she at least has someone like Felice to help her. 

Felice is my darling girl, and while there's not much to her in season one other than the pressure from her mom to be St. Lucia (see: dress that's too small for her body type + her admission of not wanting the role to begin with), I'm really looking forward to seeing her character develop in season 2. 

Wille's following the trajectory I expect given his role as crown prince, and there's of course the dubious bonus of being a teenager who's still finding himself. Lots of mistakes, lots of "Oh, Christ, you didn't!" (man, I hated what they did to Alexander), but again: accident of birth. With no real support from his own family following the traumatic loss of his hero and older brother. The kid's not even allowed to grieve, for fuck's sake, and as of this morning (in terms of my viewing progress), he's got a sex tape to deal with (another one of those "Oh, shit -- you done fucked up big time, August!"). 

Yeah, I ended with Episode 5 of Season 1. Episode 6 is on standby. 

As for my take on other things besides the writing, I have to say the camera work is exquisite. There's a certain delicacy to it, an intimacy in the way the close-ups are handled, and even scenes involving groups of people are done in a way that feels very private. Moreover, I take my hat off to the production team for not glossing over features the way a lot of American productions do when filming younger characters, especially teenagers. 

There's no attempt to hide imperfections in the skin under ten pounds of makeup: scars, pimples, the usual skin-related issues young people deal with a lot -- I love it. There's a rawness and vulnerability to the images, which adds to the intimacy of the shots, and those are miles above what I'm used to seeing in American shows. The CW this ain't, and, boy, am I grateful for it (for the record, I abhor the CW). It really is good to check out entertainment outside the more established and mainstream Hollywood productions because so many gems are left undiscovered. 

I've already seen that quality of being refreshingly different in the shows I've been raving about (1670 from Poland being at the top of my list so far), and I'm now stoked -- really stoked -- to dig around for more. 

EDIT: Season One done. On to Season Two. 

EDIT (3/25/24): Season Two done. Holy shit. On to Season Three. I need a breather.