I’ve hosted several blog tours over the years and made the same mistake with several of them — I didn’t post a recap blog post at the end of the tour. I think recap posts are important because they bring all the links together in one handy place for people who are discovering the blog tour after its over and so I’m working backward and creating those posts for past blog tours that are without. The very first tour to get a schmexy new recap post is Sirens: The Blog Tour.
Sirens are beautiful, dangerous, and musical, whether they come from the sea or the sky. Greek sirens were described as part-bird, part-woman, and Roman sirens more like mermaids, but both had a voice that could captivate and destroy the strongest man. The pages of this book contain the stories of the Sirens of old, but also allow for modern re-imaginings, plucking the sirens out of their natural elements and placing them at a high school football game, or in wartime London, or even into outer space.
Featuring stories by Kelly Sandoval, Amanda Kespohl, L.S. Johnson, Pat Flewwelling, Gabriel F. Cuellar, Randall G. Arnold, Micheal Leonberger, V. F. LeSann, Tamsin Showbrook, Simon Kewin, Cat McDonald, Sandra Wickham, K.T. Ivanrest, Adam L. Bealby, Eliza Chan, and Tabitha Lord, these siren songs will both exemplify and defy your expectations.
I love this anthology, so to celebrate and help spread the word about its release I hosted a contributor-centric blog tour. These were the stops:
The amazing ‘launchcast’ of Sirens. This is a one-off podcast all about Sirens. It includes interviews and readings and was so much fun. Organized, directed and brought to life by the amazing Cat McDonald.
So you know that thing when you’re happily reading submissions for the fifth book in a series and you realise that though you thought you’d done a round up post about the blog tour you held to celebrate the fourth book in the series you didn’t? No. Well, that must be nice.
Because I know exactly how that feels.
So bear with me–even though this was several months ago, I’m going to make this round up post. Because these blog entries? They are pretty spectacular. If you haven’t seen them already, they are definitely worth a look!
Sirens Blog Tour Recap
June 28, 29th and 30th
“Of Sirens and Sorrow” three part mini-series by Amanda Kespohl
For this, the final entry into the Sirens blog tour, I’d like to leave you with something amazing — The Sound of Sirens. This podcast was created by Cat McDonald and edited by Nick Acheff to celebrate the launch of Sirens so we affectionately refer to it as our launchcast 🙂
When Cat and I first started discussing the possibility of creating this launchcast I said, “I like this podcast-style idea you have. Do you have any experience dealing with audio editing or anything of the like? Because I don’t LOL So while I’m happy to solicit recordings from people and such, I don’t have the skills to turn it into something cohesive & I’d need someone else to take the lead on that. Could that person be you?”
Cat’s response after a couple more emails was “I baaaaasically can’t be stopped.”
She meant it.
Cat put together an amazing line-up of Siren-y interviews and readings. I’m biased. Of course I’m biased. But it’s true. Check it out:
One of my favourite things about this launchcast was hearing the variety of accents of my contributors. It made it so real to me, like nothing else ever has, now very multi-national this (and every one of my anthologies) book is. Please listen and enjoy The Sound of Sirens.
And thank you Cat. This is a gift. To me, to everyone, and I really can’t say thank you enough.
As suggested by the title right there *points up* and right there *points down”, this is an alternate opening for Cat McDonald’s Sirens story, “Notefisher” 🙂
Notefisher Alt Opening
Terra wiggled back into the rain-wet couch as the smells of wood smoke and palo santo incense whirled around her. When she felt her fingers penetrate her cup of cocoa like tree roots, winding through it and dragging its sweetness into her, she figured the C-Sharp she’d taken was kicking in, so she settled in to enjoy it.
Their timing was good. A chillstep act had taken the main stage while she and Jordan had been up getting cocoa, so she could just relax into the sound, wait for her guide, and find out where the bass intended to take her.
Jordan turned around to look up at her from his spot on the ground. He seemed to like sitting right against the earth; he settled in the grass every chance he got, like a preschooler or a true festival kid. He wasn’t, of course; he didn’t seem to know anyone, always looked a little confused when he heard a new music take the stage, and had worn a plain red t-shirt. It was obviously his first festival, so he needed a guide, and Terra’s campmate had abandoned her to pursue a DJ anyway, so they’d become friends.
Right now, all she knew about him was that he was new to this, that he liked drum and bass more than house, and that he couldn’t keep himself from staring at dancers.
“How are you doing?”
He stared at her for a moment or two, black-brown eyes shining in the reflected firelight, seeming to change shape as she struggled to keep a handle on her perceptions. The stage went red as a more traditional dubstep took the stage from her ambient chillstep.
“I’m fine,” she thought she heard him say as he turned back to face the fire, entranced by something only he could see. Terra followed his gaze as a ribbon of wood smoke wriggled between the stage’s lasers toward her.
The scent of incense reached out to caress her face, and when she glanced down she saw a transparent gray-blue hand cradling her. Red and orange stage lights flickered inside the hand and arm like lightning strikes, contained in the body of the muse she’d grown to love.
A pleasant humming in her ear skirted just under the music, in awkward, unpracticed harmony with the deep, booming music, and a smoky breeze tickled at her left ear. Terra turned to see a familiar smile rippling through the air, wavering but brilliant like treasure at the bottom of a clear pond. The embers of the fire glittered in the muse’s eyes, and when she opened her mouth to speak, Terra felt her ears tingle.
Behind the head and torso of a stately, dignified older woman, the body of a great rainbow-colored serpent glittered in twisted ribbons that bumped and writhed along the waveforms of the music like a fast-moving river. Every time Terra got a fix on one of her colors, the peerless aquamarine just behind her shoulder, it changed and the entire body had moved away on the wind to be discovered anew. Now, the journey could begin.
Rather than staring straight at Terra, her sparkling eyes stared down at the ground in front of the couch, where Jordan stared out into the distance after his own muse.
A high-pitched squeal in her ear pulled Terra’s focus back to the muse’s face, to the way her brows knit together, to the deep darkness that had settled in behind the sparks in her eyes. She brought her transparent hands together in front of her and cupped them in the air as if cradling something very delicate.
Terra reached out to take those hands, and felt nothing even though she saw them return her grasp.
“I understand. I’ll look out for him,” Terra said, and although the darkness never left the muse’s eyes, she smiled.
Then, as always, the world started to ripple around them as the muse pulled Terra forward into her dark, uncertain, watery world.
“I trust you,” Terra heard herself say out loud before falling forward to find out where the trip led next.
Cat McDonald lives in an eighth-floor apartment in Edmonton with a baby tortoise and at least a dozen tarot decks. She’s studying Investigations at Macewan and Tarot at Northern Star college, and makes better choices now than she did five years ago. Eli is two years old and loves strawberries.
Four (and a half) Things I Learned Writing Threshold
Disclaimer: While some of these are things I discovered about myself as a writer, others are advice straight out of Writing 101. I’m sharing them anyway because they were “Oh!” moments, when knowing something in the abstract became seeing it work (or not work) on the page.
1. Character and conflict outweigh the “cool concept.”
I admit it: I suck at coming up with story ideas. My Twitter feed is full of writers lamenting that they have three billion stories just waiting to be written and, woe is them, wherever will they find the time? I’m not one of those writers. Going from “awesome idea” to “plot” is really hard for me. So even with the anthology theme to give me a starting point, followed by lots of brainstorming weird siren scenarios, I was struggling.
After abandoning my first idea (about sirens running a dating service), I ran across a writing prompt: “You’re a pirate of the skies, preying on merchant airships. The officer leading the hunt for you is your brother.” (From Faye Kirwin @Writerology)
Now, if you read Threshold, you’ll notice that it has nothing to do with pirates, or airships, or manhunts (sad, I know). What it does have, though, is sibling rivalry, and that was what jumped out at me from that prompt. When I read it, I’d all but given up trying to write a story for Sirens, but as soon as “brother vs. brother” entered my head, I was ready to give it another go. I still didn’t have a plot, but I had a character struggle, and that resonated with me more strongly than any of the “cool concepts” I’d been dwelling on up till then.
[Caption: Rokat vs. Navrin (Source: Pokémon: The First Movie)]
2. Give your character a concrete want.
Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water” (Bagombo Snuff Box). My problem in Threshold’s early drafts was that my protagonist only wanted something abstract, something long term. This internal conflict was resolved by the end of the story, yes, but as my alpha reader (shout-out to Laura VanArendonk Baugh!) pointed out, any crisis situation could have led to the same resolution. It wasn’t a story about sirens, it just happened to include them because I needed a disaster and, well, the anthology theme was sirens! When it came time to give Navrin a more immediate want, I tied it directly to the sirens and other monsters in the story, and by doing so, I not only had a more interesting character, I also found a reason for my sirens to be there.
3. Fix one problem, create another – or solve them all?
Giving Navrin an immediate want didn’t just tighten the story, it solved at least three other problems as well. His new want resulted in a career change. That led to a setting change. That removed a crowd of people I didn’t need, a pack of “security guards” who should have prevented a disaster, and several instances of “this isn’t very logical, but maybe the reader won’t notice?”
I don’t know if this is something I learned so much as simply a success, but that moment of “Whoa, this all works now!” was exhilarating and bolstering. It helped me realize that there was, in fact, a story here—I’d just been surrounding it with the wrong details.
And speaking of details…
4. Keep worldbuilding to a minimum.
Another Writing 101 tip here, but man, was it hard. Threshold is set in a world I’ve been developing for a fantasy novel (series?), and in early drafts I was having a great time throwing in unnecessary details. Sky serpents. Names of countries and people we’d never actually see or meet. A whole description of my world’s equivalent of an airport, complete with the abovementioned security guards. I even gave the novel’s main character a cameo.
While some of it could have stayed (the airport was the original story setting, for instance), the rest was not only unnecessary but distracting. Fine for a novel, where names and places and foreign words become relevant later on, but not for a story of this length. Worldbuilding’s great for drawing your readers in, but too much and they’ll feel left out—or just plain lost—instead.
But! Since you’re here, have a fun fact that I didn’t get to share in Threshold: my world is modeled on a variety of Asian countries. Navrin’s family is from “China” (where the story is set), while Rokat’s is from “Vietnam.”
[Caption: My model for Eisa (Source: Pinterest)]
4.5 Research is a killjoy.
…okay, not really. But did you know that if you’re knocked out for more than a few minutes, it’s likely you’ve sustained permanent brain damage or other lasting effects? I didn’t. But now I do, and so do my characters, who got a new story ending—and no brain damage—thanks to this discovery.
Kate wanted to be a cat or a horse when she grew up, but after failing to metamorphose into either, she began writing stories about them instead. Soon the horses became unicorns and the cats sprouted wings, and once the dragons arrived there was no turning back. When not writing, Kate can be found sewing, cosplaying, and drinking decaf coffee. She recently completed a PhD in Classical Studies, which will come in handy when aliens finally make contact and it turns out they speak Latin.
This is the seed: a class called “Integrated Liberal Studies” in my senior year of high school. We read Homer, we read snatches of Ovid and Virgil, and I felt myself falling down a grotesque rabbit hole: women chased and women abandoned, women thwarted and women kidnapped, women raped and maimed and murdered and no rhyme or reason to any of it, just the will of the gods folks nothing to see here move along.
Decades later, I’m forwarded the call for Sirens stories and at once I’m back in that hot autumn classroom, thinking about sneaking a cigarette on my break, or about going out to a club that weekend with my fake ID and dancing to a band and making out with strange men. My teacher drones on about Odysseus Odysseus and who cares? The whole book is basically about a guy cheating on his wife and getting away with it, while the women of the story—Circe and her swine, the Sirens singing in their field of rotting corpses, Penelope’s weaving tactics—are just “episodes” in the journey of this asshole guy.
But that was then, and this is now, and I’m a writer, damn it.
It’s some weeks later and I’m turning, turning the idea of Sirens over in my head, looking for a way in . . . and it’s Saturday night, and we’re watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, like you do. Episode 610, to be exact: The Violent Years.
There is nothing good about this movie, yet this time around I find it strangely enthralling. These women. These women with their anger and their pistols, their boy-clothes and their bandanna masks. I had forgotten about the rape scene, too—that rare spectacle, a woman raping a man—how she strips off her sweater with that wooden expression. Mike and the ‘bots giggle and crack wise, but this time around I feel angry: that these women are just puppets for Ed Wood’s straw man storyline; that they’re doomed, doomed, because the 1950s needed them to be doomed. Oh, that they could just keep on going, stealing petty cash and partying with bad boys and rolling around in that big old ’54 Cadillac.
They stay in my head, these women, lounging on the hood of their car, smoking and cleaning their weapons, waiting for me to do something about it.
I’ve seen a lot of girl gang movies, and there’s always something that feels off to me. Something about how the stories are framed; something about how the women’s choices unfold . . . as if they have no choice at all, as if whoever is plotting their lives needs them to be something very particular. Not a character but a trope, an idea.
Not a character but a myth.
My Sirens are a mashup of different Greek writings: a dollop of Homer, a line of Hyginus, all topped off with a few spoonfuls of Lycophron. Like so many figures in Greek mythology, Sirens are who their authors need them to be: an episode, an explanation, even a cautionary tale, but always without motivation or agency. Thus Hyginus:
“It was predicted that [the Sirens] would live only until someone who heard their singing would pass by. Ulysses proved fatal to them, for when by his cleverness he passed by the rocks where they dwelt, they threw themselves into the sea.”
I re-read these lines, and in my head five women look up from where they sprawl on the hood of their Cadillac, roll their eyes, and sing out in unison, “As if.”
Thus do stories begin.
L.S. Johnson was born in New York and now lives in Northern California, where she feeds her four cats by writing book indexes. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Interzone, Long Hidden, Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and other venues, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and longlisted for the Tiptree Award. Her first collection, Vacui Magia: Stories, is now available. Find out more about her at http://traversingz.com/.
If novels are like great romances, then short stories are the equivalent of speed dating.
Fast. Flirty. Direct. If the encounter is good, it lingers in the mind long after the affair has ended.
Hopefully it leaves the reader wanting more.
Sirens, then, are the perfect subjects for short stories, creatures whose very existence are built around flash pangs of desire. Of course, far from being celebratory, these stories instill caution in their audience.
Caution against quick detours. Against mischievous dead-ends. Against anything that detract from the long, overarching novel narrative of ones life.
What’s apparent to anyone living it is that life isn’t structured anything like a novel. Life is more non-sequitor and coincidence than we’d like to admit, which goes at least part of the way towards explaining the resilience of short stories.
Sometimes, the story the old scabby throated fossil tells around the campfire lives in the mind long after the balanced and thoughtful prose of a novel. Part of the power lies in the brevity. In the open-endedness. In the gray stuff left open to interpretation. For the camp fire story, it’s the shadows outside of the fire. Those terrific and endless swathes of black, where the imagination lives on long after the story teller has done his work.
It’s the same with the quick romances in life. The surging passions, the darting glances, the apprehensions, the stolen kisses — but beyond that, it’s the imagining. The gifts that you only get when you don’t know. The agonizing but stupidly pleasing process of lying in bed, wondering about your object of desire, filling in the blanks, fantasizing.
Writing isn’t such a dissimilar preoccupation. Neither is reading.
Constructing narratives, weird solipsistic successions of dreams becoming nightmares, and back again, and in this area, short stories have the edge because even the best short stories end. Upon re-reading enough, their mysteries and pleasures usually become routine. Usually.
But some crushes, even long extinct, can still come shrink-wrapped in soft, nostalgic ellipses. Some of these can shred even the best of us to pieces.
The story I wrote for Sirens is about such a situation — worse, because the main character is a married father, seemingly helpless to the infatuation he feels for a young woman. I think, morally and emotionally, he is maybe the weakest character I’ve ever written. Which means I trust him a great deal.
The great thing about horror stories (or fairy tales, fantasy, and any genre that deals with caution and consequence) is they are a great platform for us to examine ourselves at our worst. To see what we might be like if our scabs were to break open.
I think, for this character, the scab gets peeled all the way back, and what we might find in that blood is that endless black shadows aren’t exclusive to the edges of a campfire.
No, they live somewhere inside of us, where the loneliness is indefatigable. We can hurl things at them- crushes, desires, the constructing and consuming of fiction — but sometimes those yawning black chasms are impossible to fill.
The Siren stories, then, aren’t about the corruptibility of man, or his susceptibility to turpitude. They are about exploiting the human need for companionship.
The horror here isn’t about being whisked away, drowned, or eaten alive. It isn’t even the horror of unfaithfulness, or infidelity.
It’s the horror of being alone.
“Michael Leonberger is a writer, a filmmaker, and a horror movie enthusiast. A graduate of the VCUarts Cinema Department, he is responsible for the short film “Hair Grows In Funny Places” (the tragicomic love story between a werewolf and a dominatrix) and the feature length romantic comedy “Goodish” (a movie he co-directed that premiered at the 2014 Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, VA). He recently published his first book, Halloween Sweets, about a teenage girl who can raise the dead, and has since published several short stories. He also writes a column for the website Digital America.”
Today’s contribution to the Sirens blog tour is a piece of flash fiction from Tamsin Showbrook. Enjoy!
LISTEN AND REPEAT
by Tamsin Showbrook
It was okay in the beginning.
I first heard the song on YouTube. There were a few versions with different names, but I liked the one called Kanagawa Waves ’cos that was the smoothest. It didn’t have an actual video, just that picture – the one everyone knows but they never know its name? Where the boats look like they’re getting swallowed by the sea. Like there’s nothing the people on them can do to stop it.
I listened to it all the time and I shared it with my mates. Everyone could download it for free. I went to the original source – that blog by Netu-1. They – no one knows whether Netu-1 is a man or a woman – they said they heard it at the beach one day. Not close by, more like it was coming from out at sea, but somehow their phone’s mic picked it up. They cleaned it up and posted it, and after a week they had over 200,000 followers and then… Well, you know.
There’s no way of describing it. Everyone says different things when I ask them. For me, it’s like someone sorted out that shitty whale music for meditation, so it makes sense and there’s proper notes and… Yeah.
People have tried to copy it, haven’t they? But no one can, and no one’s heard ‘the real thing’ since, or if they have, they’ve not hit record quick enough.
I got the same effect as everyone: made me feel dead chilled out while I listened and then when I turned it off just… buzzing. Like I could do anything. Anything. The stuff I’ve done, I mean… Yeah.
I saw things more clearly too, y’know? And I lost weight. Didn’t feel like I needed to eat anymore; had to think about it. And I got this… healthy glow. I know now there’s nothing inside though; I’ve seen the reports.
I didn’t go home for a couple of months after I started listening, but then I lost my job and, yeah…
Mum cried when she opened her door. She hugged me, kept saying, “Oh, my poor baby!”
But I was fine.
I am fine.
Now I’m in here, I’ll be fine.
The riots and the collapse didn’t surprise me. I mean, there’s that many people like me now, stuck in these places, not contributing. Because of what we did while we were listening. I still can’t believe what I did to that guy. And there’ve been all those people who just let themselves fade to nothing…
I know the world governments teamed up to delete the file, even though some people still think it was planted by one of them in the first place. But you can’t tell me it’s not still out there. Have you got it on your phone? I won’t tell, honest. Just give me the overture. Go on. I’m alright.
I don’t need much.
Just a few bars.
Like in the beginning.
Tamsin lives in Manchester, UK, where she taught English in secondary schools until she had her two kids. Now she tutors part-time and writes a variety of stuff into the depths of night most days. She loves reading – can’t get enough Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman or David Mitchell – as well as hiking and running. Her best ideas do tend to come to her while she’s exercising, which means she has to make frequent scribble-stops and will never achieve marathon-level fitness, but she’s okay with that.
As a writer, creating characters is one of my favorite things. Often a character will appear in my mind, complete with a personality, career, and name, but without a story. If I’m working on something else when this happens, I’ll file them away and tell them to wait their turn! Other times, the story I’m working on will demand a new character, and the context and circumstances will help to form them. But once in a while, I’m interested in a character that already exists.
My degree is in Classics. As a student I read the Odyssey many times, even translating portions of it from ancient Greek (my superpower). It was Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, who always fascinated me. Left behind when Odysseus was called to fight in the Trojan War, we encounter Penelope at the very beginning of the poem and then again at the end. She’s portrayed as clever, loyal, and faithful to Odysseus in his absence. But this woman raised a son and ran the family estate in Ithaca for twenty years while her husband was away. There had to be more to her story!
When World Weaver Press announced a new installment in their Magical Menageries anthology series titled Sirens, I thought about Penelope again. It was, after all, the famous Siren Kalypso who held Odysseus captive for seven years, delaying his return to Penelope. Was there a story here about both these women? One a Siren, and one a loyal wife?
As soon as I posed the question, the ladies spoke! Penelope was stronger and shrewder than I first imagined her. She even demanded her own magic. Kalypso displayed a madness that was both innocent and terrifying, and while her voice felt more distant, it was no less interesting. Other minor characters emerged and shared their personalities. Penelope’s loyal servant, Eurykleia, and the treacherous housemaid, Melantho, both sought their place in the story and helped illuminate the politics and intrigue of the household. It seemed as if these characters were simply waiting for me to tell their tale!
The threads of this story wove together in ways I hadn’t predicted. And like Penelope with her tapestry, I unwound and restrung them numerous times. The end result (I hope!) is a unique, feminine, and imaginative retelling of arguably the most famous homecoming in classical mythology.
Tabitha currently lives in Rhode Island. She is married, has four great kids, a spoiled cat, and lovable lab mix. She holds a degree in Classics from College of the Holy Cross and taught Latin for years at an independent Waldorf school. She also worked in the admissions office there for over a decade before turning her attention to full-time writing. You can visit her author website at www.tabithalordauthor.com, and follow her on www.bookclubbabble.com where she posts author interviews, reviews, and more. Horizon, her first novel, was released December 2015, and she is currently at work on the sequel.
I should be here to talk about The Fisherman’s Catch, my new black comedy featured in Rhonda Parrish’s rather lovely Sirens anthology. But I’d like to talk about movies instead. Also, my gran.
See, I write odd-ball horror and weird fiction. And I think my gran’s to blame. You know how children’s minds are fragile malleable things, easily influenced by external stimuli? Well I think my gran unknowingly did a number on me. She let me watch a ton of freaky horror films in the late eighties and early nineties. That’s a good thing, though. Really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It all started with a box in the closet.
Actually, it started with blood gushing out of a toilet. There I was at the tender age of 9 watching Psycho II, when my gran realizes this might not actually be suitable viewing and rushes over. She stands in front of the TV to blot out this traumatic childhood event, but the red from the screen is still showing through the white nightgown stretched between her legs, so how could that be any better? Least that’s how I remember it. I might have unconsciously embellished the memory for Carrie-esque effect.
But… it really starts with the closet. Fast-forward a couple of years and I find a big box of VHS video nasties in my gran’s closet. To this day I don’t know where they came from. For the next few months, every time I stay over with her to give my parents a bit of a break I wait until she’s gone to bed, then I slip one of those bad-boys in the cassette player and settle down to have my nerves fried. There were some really bad horror movies in that box. Also, some great ones, like John Carpenter’s The Thing, and to a lesser degree The Howling.
And when I’m through watching them, where do I go next? I ask my gran whether I can rent a couple of films when I’m next visiting. When I’m done choosing, she’ll pay for them at the counter. She’s at least going to glance at the covers, if not the certificate. It has to be something with either a cartoony or fantasy vibe, to take the heat off the monsters and ghouls and bloody mayhem lurking therein.
So I end up watching movies like Creepshow (with its EC Comics cover), Troll, Troll II, Ghoulies II,Fly II, Pet Sematary, IT, Body Parts, Killer Party, Monkey Shines, Child’s Play II, The Lost Boys, Bad Taste, Critters I-IV– the list goes on. Later, I manage to track down those weird and wonderful Troma movies.
And y’know, I think all those bad to worse to downright wrong video-nasties (even nasty-lite, as many of them were) did something to my brain. I see elements of them in my work, but all mixed up in the creative grinder. The macabre sits alongside the fantastical. Arch satire goes hand-in-hand with gallows humour. And the occasional detour into magic realism is perhaps just me trying to exonerate a heap of nonsensical movie plotlines.
So, thanks gran. You might not know it but every time I put pen to paper, I’m thinking of you.
Oh, I also write rollicking adventure-stories for children. Those I pen for the little boy whose mind was prematurely corrupted by a blood-drenched nightie.
I love Japanese dramas, or J-dorama as fans call it. Before I lived in Japan, it was a great way to learn about culture and language, during my three years living in Japan it was great to have subtitles for life (oh, that’s what the guy in the post office meant) and after Japan it is still helpful to keep up my Japanese. . I can’t understand the archaic language in the period dramas, I have no interest in crime and I’ve found comedy romances the easiest to follow. They use everyday language. They are about everyday life (kind of). But they are also my guilty secret . Like everything else, they are trope-filled and a lot of these tropes are very, let’s say, antiquated, with traditional gender roles. Allow me to introduce some of my pet hates.
The male love interest is nearly always sullen and moody. Think Squall from Final Fantasy VII. Literally no charisma, no personality, hates people, rarely has friends and yet is the most popular guy ever (Rich Man, Poor Woman). That’s if you are lucky. Otherwise he could be a misogynist who sends minions to beat up and sexually harass the heroine (No. Just no, Hana Yori Dango). But don’t worry, the upbeat, feisty and kooky heroine will win him over with her cooking and/or shouting at him, skills (every female protagonist, ever).
Also if there is an empathetic, kind and communicative male character he will be friend-zoned or made into comedy material because who actually wants a boyfriend who talks to you (Hanazakarir no Kimitachi e)?
If you are in the presence of your secret love interest, you will be rendered entirely incapable of telling each other anything important. You will also fall over at least once and end up accidentally kissing. And this is nearly always their first kiss, ever. Because, don’t you know, Japanese people don’t kiss. (Yamada-kun and the 7 Witches)
People need to go on mysterious years abroad for reasons of plot, I mean for self-discovery and maturity (Hotaru no Hikari). That’s fine, but guess what, it’s nearly impossible to keep in contact with your long-distance partner during this time. That’s right. Skype? Nope. Messaging? Doesn’t exist. Showing up at the right time and place with a new haircut? Yup, that’s the only means of communication.
As much as I’ve denigrated Japanese dramas with this list, I do continue to watch them. They are a great way to keep up Japanese and with a pinch of salt, good harmless fun. I like learning, or being nostalgic about, bento boxes, karaoke, cherry blossoms, summer matsuris, hot springs and futons. They have anime moments of slapstick, great female friendships and storylines that are warm and predictable like your mum’s cooking. I highly recommend Nodame Cantabile for anyone interested in trying them. Note here, I am speaking solely about romantic comedies, I know there are some brilliant dark and serious Japanese dramas out there, Last Friends springs to mind.
What bothers me is that I’m a woman in my 30s who can see them for what they are. If I was a 14 year old girl, I might have some expectations that I can reform every bad boy and that relationships are built on silence than communication. I know Hollywood is also guilty of this (Twilight) but it does make me wonder what the normal Japanese teen makes of these TV shows.
I am, therefore, very conscious in attempts to subvert these tropes in my writing. I often write Asian characters, normally Japanese or Chinese because these are the two cultures I have some knowledge and therefore confidence with. But I don’t want my female characters to just be rescued. They can do the rescuing too. And I don’t like my male characters to be stoic and brooding. They can be empathetic and diplomatic too. There’s a bit of this in “One More Song”, and a lot more coming in the novel I’m working on.
Eliza Chan writes about East Asian mythology, British folklore and madwomen in the attic, but preferably all three at once. She has work published in Fantasy Magazine, Lontar and recently in the Fox Spirit anthology Winter Tales. She is currently writing a novel set in the world of ‘One More Song’, alongside working as a Speech and Language Therapist and completing a Masters. When not in front of a screen, Eliza can be found playing board games and cosplaying whenever possible. Find out more at www.elizawchan.wordpress.com and @elizawchan.