On Writing

Yes, I know six weeks ago I said I would begin writing a few posts relevant to transformation, furry, and how that fits (or doesn’t fit) in the Christian perspective. I have not gotten around to doing that yet and don’t know when I will. I know it will eventually happen, but please don’t demand a timeline.

Anyway, I have been working on the first major revision to the coyote novel I began last spring. It is going well (about 22,000 words into it) and there have been no plot absurdities as there were in the first attempt. The story from its current point onward has been mapped out, giving ample room for future creative freedom, so it should be easy going from now on. Many story elements have remained the same, much to my surprise, but a few major changes have helped the novel along. I don’t want to go into detail, but I did want to share one of them.

The most notable change has been consciously making the novel more theistic. While not a religious story by any means, the primary characters reflect a more theistic mindset, rather than the attempted agnostic approach from the earlier draft. I am simply unable to replicate a believable agnostic attitude, so for the sake of the story I abandoned it.

There’s something else I have found. Two earlier novels which I enjoyed, and which I consider to be my strongest, had this in common: both were written around a particular theological question. I would not call them “preachy;” I was not trying to insert and promote a given doctrine by adding it to the text, but a theological controversy formed the backbone of both stories, which were written to explore the problem and develop a possible solution. The stories had meaning beyond pure entertainment value.

Naturally, I don’t want to state what the questions were. :)

The coyote novel lacked this at first. This, I think, was a large part of why it failed. There was no compelling reason to finish the story, nothing to share with the reader. It still isn’t there, although it is exploring a concept that arose through writing that initial draft. It has meaning again.

Two future stories will return to the model of constructing a story around a question, and I am excited to see where they will go when I am finally able to write them. Meanwhile, I’d like to hear from you. If you are a writer, what drives you to write? What made one story better than another?

Book Review: Summerhill by Kevin Frane

About two months ago I went to a convention in Atlanta and saw a vendor selling Summerhill. It has a dog wearing a suit on the front, which is interesting in itself, but I recognized it as having been written by the guy who led a writers’ workshop a few months back. I’d not read any of his work before, so since it was there I thought it was worth a try.

As a general rule, I avoid furry literature for a number of reasons. I like more “human” characters, dislike the amateurish feel so many have, and especially don’t want to read erotica, which I get the impression there is far too much of in furry.

So I was not sure what to expect.

As it turns out, not only is Summerhill the best furry work I have read so far, it is the first book in years that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed reading. Frane includes no shortage of creative chaos in this book, which he handles quite well although it took some getting used to in the first couple chapters. (This reminds me, the chapters are not always numbered sequentially. It took a little while to be convinced this was not an error, but there is a reason for it which I won’t say.) You don’t know anything the protagonist doesn’t know, and trust me, there isn’t much. You discover his world and his life along with him.

Not only is the plot complex, but so is the protagonist. Summerhill doesn’t really know who he is or what he’s looking for, and only has a fragment of information to go on. He’s also more than a little clueless and selfish at the beginning. It is pleasing to watch him develop a greater understanding of the world he is in and his place in it, as well as discovering that there are consequences for all his actions.

There’s also some romance and rivalry to move the plot along. There’s Tek, a likable male otter he has a strong fondness for and a very brief intimate encounter with – which causes a crisis for him early on. There’s also Katherine, a rival, partner, and primary obsession for Summerhill throughout. Stay with her and it’ll work out, but staying with her is not an easy task.

Summerhill is an engaging book with a complex plot, interesting characters, and very little objectionable content (mild profanity and a tastefully-portrayed intimate encounter). It’s definitely worth the read if you have the time and inclination.

Transformation and Christians — Intent to Write

For some time I have wondered about the appropriateness of Christians partaking in transformation art, not just when it becomes the defining characteristic and a time-waster, but transformation art in general. Some have made comments connecting TF-related media to the Christian faith, viewing transformation in a positive manner, so I have considered those as well. Over the next few weeks you will begin seeing some more detailed thoughts on the matter.

Convention Planning

It’s the beginning of the year, which means it’s time to start thinking about what cons I want to attend, if any. That is not something I have done much of in the past (attended four in the past four years, so averaging one a year) due to a combination of lack of funds, lack of time, and general disinterest. Cons aren’t something that I find fun unless going with a large group of friends — or at least one good friend. Here is a list of some of the cons I have attended in the past or am considering now, along with my thoughts for each:

Furry Weekend Atlanta: Attended 2009, impressed because it was my first con, not impressed enough to return again without going with friends. It was a little too adult for my liking as well, and I don’t particularly like Atlanta. I may return this year because some friends want me to join them, but it looks unlikely.

Anthrocon: Attended 2010, enjoyed being with and meeting new friends, will not attend again without being accompanied by a group of friends. Anthrocon is too big to be fun, and also very expensive. While I won’t deny the fun had, it isn’t worth going up there again.

Megaplex: Never attended, considering this year. I like the thought of a “smaller” con and have heard positive things about it. The downside is perceived close association with the Funday Pawpet Show, which I find sophomoric at best.

Camp Feral!: Attended 2012 with my friend Wolfin, and loved it so much I wanted to return the next year. I gave no promises because of scheduling and cost, but it was worth every cent and every minute. It’s an outdoor con with maybe 100 – 120 people so you get to meet almost everyone, and there are actually things to do, unlike a hotel con. The only way I’m not going is if something major comes up.

Fangcon: Attended 2012 with Tikaani, WagzTail guest. It was a first-year con complete with its own hiccups and quirks, with a lot of room for improvement but not enough to inspire me to return. I was very disappointed in what I had hoped would be a more family-friendly con, but wasn’t.

That about sums it up. Leave a comment below if you’d like to share your own plans.

New Wagz site

I’m going to follow Wolfin’s lead and let you all know about the Wagz team’s new splash page: Wagz.me.

Well, it is not entirely new. It’s been around for a while but was either a list of links (Lucky you, those who did not see. Those who did, reminisce) or could not be reached at all because it was so bad we didn’t want you to see it. Now we do.

Wagz.me will serve as the hub site for all the Wagz products you have come to know and love: WagzTail, FurTalk, ChristianPaws, and FurryChat. Who knows? Maybe there’s more on the way.

Prayer, and thoughts on the past year

God, how is it possible to repair shattered relationships or friendships or, barring that, sweep up what remains? In the past few months, while some friendships have been strengthened and nurtured beyond what I would ever have imagined, there are others that, neglected and starved for so long, are revealing themselves as far more damaged than I would have anticipated. Perhaps it is naivete on my part, as I am much at fault for neglecting them, but the realization is no less painful. But now that they have been so openly displayed, Adonai, where do I go from here? How is it possible to speak to them when the very thought is both exciting and dreadful? But to neglect this would be sin. God, the answer is apparent. Please give me strength and wisdom to carry it out. It must be done.

Adonai, this past year has not been a good one, in retrospect. While yes, some wonderful friendships have been nurtured, what of the broken ones? Especially the tragic way they have developed? Too much has been made manifest, more than I would have wanted to see. “Christian” sites in the furry fandom I would have loved to support show themselves to be tainted by sin, from the leadership to the users. How am I to support or endorse that which promotes what You abhor? How do I speak to the people? Is a schism wise? There may not be another option but, Adonai, I don’t wish it should come to that.

Please make it more clear.

Feral! Report — Day 6/7

All too soon, the final morning came. I had already packed up most everything, so all that remained was to strip the bed, fold up the sheets, and stuff them in the suitcase. Also, Wolfin had passed along a few souvenir-type items that he did not want to take back with him, so they ended up in my suitcase.

After breakfast were the closing ceremony and group picture. It took a few minutes to get everyone rounded up, so quite a few of us sat on the main lodge stairs and waited. And waited some more. Eventually, all the furries were corralled into one location so they could be shot more easily. From what I have been told, usually they spend fifteen minutes or more shooting us with a lot of cameras, but this year they had the idea to coerce one person into taking one group shot, ideally to reduce the time it took. I suppose it worked. There are pictures available online for those who wish to look. I do not wish to link it though.

After that, and packing and getting on the bus, we were ready to leave. Of course, there had to be a roll call to make sure everyone was on the bus who was supposed to be, and no one was trying to stay behind. After all weekend one of them still had trouble with my name. He did get it right though, the second time.

On the trip back, Wolfin and I sat beside each other again, as we did on the way up. We sat in almost the same seat, too, maybe even the same one. We can be creatures of habit I suppose. We made ourselves comfortable, knowing that we had four hours ahead of us, and engaged in conversation with some of the people around us, whom we now knew and were no longer complete strangers. (Blackfeather Tanfur, for example.)

We passed around our camp books for each other to sign, while on the bus. The idea behind that is this: on the bus, they are a captive audience and cannot escape. Perhaps they could simply pass along the book to the next person, but that would be rude, no? I started out with a pen and ended up with someone else’s pencil. Sorry about that, if it was dear to you. I have no idea whose it was and have no way of returning it to you. You can have my pen instead. I placed a contact card in each book I signed, but I’m not sure how many of them stayed in the books. I suspect some of them fell out.

For lunch we stopped at a hamburger place called Weber’s. It was good I thought. Again, we had only 30 minutes to eat, but we were there for about an hour is my guess. It took a while for everyone to get their food. It was there that I finally had poutine. (The camp served some version of it the night before but I refused to touch it then.) Wolfin had all but threatened to make me eat it in the weeks before we left, so he should be satisfied.

As it turns out, I like it. Not enough to eat it all the time, which is probably a good thing because nothing about it is good for you, but I like the taste.

That was about the halfway point, so we got back on the bus and went the rest of the way to Toronto. Somehow, the trip did not seem to take very long in either direction. Perhaps the lack of traffic helped especially, coming back. But when we got to the dropoff point, it was time to unload the trailer and see everyone off. Wolfin took a taxi to the airport and flew out later that evening, and I took the subway to a hotel downtown.

It was a sad parting.

I did not do much that night. Had supper, walked around Toronto a little bit more, and went to bed.

The next morning I was ready to get to the airport, so I could go home. The trip had been quite fun, but it was time to return to the Carolinas. Checked in for the flight, got my ticket, went through US Customs (truly my least favorite part of any international trip… I have never met a US Customs official who was not rude) and finally security before entering the terminal. I had a little while before my flight, so I checked email and talked on Skype with Wolfin and some others, and when it was time for lunch, found something to eat.

Afterward things got a little more exciting. I did not have a direct flight from Toronto to Charlotte, but had one layover in Chicago. Now, this would be fine except the flight to Chicago was delayed, and delayed so much that I would miss the next flight. Now, my bag has already been checked and is no longer with me, so I don’t like knowing that I may be separated from it. After talking to someone at the airline’s customer service desk, they were able to find a direct flight to Charlotte and move my bags to that flight. They also printed a new boarding pass, and it was then the computer system decided to hate me and flag me as needing additional security screening. In order to board the flight, I had to return to security and get them to stamp my boarding pass, so I could board the flight.

I don’t think they’re used to people going from the terminal to the secure area. At least they were pleasant about it.

Once that was cleared up, I went to the new gate and waited to board. Soon I was in the air and on my way to Charlotte, and early enough that I could make it to church that evening, which I had not expected to be able to do.

Feral! Report — Day 5

All too soon we reached the last full day of Feral, and I was determined to make the most of it. There were still things I wanted to do that had not been done (kayaking), and that, at least, was on my to-do list for the day. Otherwise, who knew when I would get the chance to go kayaking on that lake again? As much as I’d like to go back, the next one’s a year away, and who knows what can happen in one year, much less two or more?

That was also the day the weather decided it would be a good time to rain. The camp staff referred to it as “silver sunshine”… they might need to be reacquainted with sunshine because I do not quite have the same opinion of it that they do. Fortunately I enjoy the rain, so it was not a negative by any means.

Sometime after breakfast was the writing workshop with Rikoshi. A few weeks before Feral, there had been an announcement sent out (it was well-hidden, and many did not hear about it) that anyone who wanted to submit a story for the workshop could do so. Wolfin and I decided to do so, and as it turns out, we were the only ones. That meant Rikoshi had to suffer through our stories and did not have any others to read and recover from what we put him through.

It turned out all right, though.

Since there were only two people who submitted stories and only three who had read the stories, that was not quite enough for a not-awkward workshop, and Rikoshi had managed to draft about four other people into the workshop. So we all sat around the table and read each other’s story, and the audience was able to provide feedback. Now, we did not read our own, and we did not read the whole thing. I read about a page of Wolfin’s story, and he read a page of mine. He did not quite get the accents right, but that’s okay. I never told him that I was mimicking a select few of the South Carolina dialects.

Now that I think of it, that’s probably for the best. He hasn’t quite mastered the generic Southern accent, much less the more specific regional dialects. Maybe in time that will change.

We both got good feedback from it, I think. Also, since there were not very many stories to talk about, that just meant both of us got a more in-depth look at our own stories. We talked as a group until something like thirty minutes before lunch, so we hung out and then grabbed something to eat. I can’t remember what we had for meals on what day, anymore. That knowledge left me within two days of returning home. Sorry if you were waiting to hear it.

After lunch was staff vs camper dodgeball. The staff lined up on one side of the court, and the campers on the other, and we proceeded to pelt each other with mostly-inflated rubber balls. (There were two types: blue ones that were effective, and a yellow one that no one wanted to use.) To add to the fun, the court was wet from the rain. Not only wet, but also slippery. Now, I do not have a strong throwing arm. For that matter, I have next to no upper body strength as it is. I prefer the “dodge” part of dodgeball. Wolfin was much more enthusiastic about getting up to the front and getting as many people out as possible, before becoming a casualty himself, and I was content to lurk in the back and use the rest of them as human shields. This generally meant I was one of the last out, and also one of the most useless.

Did you know that getting hit by a dodgeball in the neck is not fun? I tried to catch it, and that did not succeed.

Afterward was the campwide game. I had not participated in a weekend-long game where people went around and got answers to trivia questions or be recorded as having participated in various activities, so I wasn’t able to play. You will have to wait for the ‘fin to tell you about it. He should in the next few days, otherwise poke him until you get your report.

Instead of the game, I went kayaking with Kuprin and Pathfinder. It took a few minutes to learn how to go in a straight line, and also to convince myself that the plastic banana I had squeezed myself in was not going to flip over. We had two options: we could go over to where a beaver dam possibly was, or we could paddle to and around an island. We chose the island. That was probably the better choice, too. On the far side of the island from camp, we came across a few loons, one of which came surprisingly close to our kayaks. Once again, I have no pictures to prove it, but we drifted for a few minutes and watched until they got tired of us and moved on to something else.

After that was a very long hike with Pathfinder to a creek something like two kilometers from camp. (I could be very wrong on the distance, but the hike was longer than expected and the sign I saw did say it was 2200-something meters to the lake. Maybe my distance estimation is off.) This trail was also narrow, and that was the only time of the trip that any insects were annoying. A couple black flies decided they wanted to sample coyote. They must not have been very interested because by and large they left me alone.

Cabin skits were that night. Our cabin had not done much of anything in the way of preparing and letting me know about it, so I found out sometime around supper time what we were going to do. Most of the cabin did not have any speaking parts, we just had to annoy the person who did, and then Wotan finished up with a song. Apparently he is known for that?

Cabin skits are best when short. The shorter ones can usually be witty. Too long and they get kind of dumb.

After that, it was time to go back to the cabin and start packing, and accept the fact that Feral was more or less over. It was fun, but it had to come to an end I guess. Then it was off to bed, and sleep. Tomorrow was the trip back to Toronto.

Feral! Report — Day 4

On this, the second day of Feral!, I actually learned how to use the hot water in the shower. Now, you may not think that’s very important, but believe me it is. I was not about to be tricked by Camp Arowhon into doing the Polar Bear Swim unwittingly. The trick to get the hot water to work is to turn the hot water on. Yes, coyotes can be stymied by the simplest of tasks.

There were two things I really wanted to do at Feral! aside from see Wolfin: go kayaking and do some hiking. Sunday was hike day. Now, it is always important to let someone else know that you are about to go traipsing off into the wilderness, so they know to send out a rescue team if you don’t come back. It’s also good to go with a friend, so if you do get lost, you can get lost with a friend. After informing Potoroo and some of the others about my desire, and learning about a few of the trails behind camp, Wolfin somehow got roped into going hiking with me, and off we went.

There are a number of trails with impressive views back behind the camp, and it’s quiet out there too. Camp is quiet as it is, but take away the hundred-odd furs and the stillness is so profound it’s impossible not to hear oneself think.

There are lakes everywhere up there, and naturally the trails take you to a couple of them. Over the course of the morning, I believe Wolfin and I hiked all the major ones. The first took us to Beaver Something-or-other, where we stopped at a rock promontory and stared at the meadow and pond several yards beneath and before us. The weather was pleasant that day, and so we stayed there for a few minutes admiring the beauty before deciding to move on. On the way back, we passed by another, larger lake. The water was so black and smooth, it offered a magnificent reflection of the trees and sky.

There were two things we forgot, and a third would have been useful. Sunscreen we had, because we did not wish to be burned. Bug spray we did not have, and neither one of us had enough water to be useful in time of emergency. (Although I suppose we could have consumed the lake water and risked the parasites later if we had to.) I am not accustomed to taking water on moderately short, well-marked trails, especially when it is as cool as it was, not even hot and humid enough to break a sweat. This leads me to the second item we forgot: a map.

The trails are supposed to be marked, and they are.

Just not well.

Their idea of a marker was a painted wooden block, weathered from exposure to the elements and posted at long intervals. Something a little more eye-catching would have been nice, although I do have to give them credit for the sign they posted at a crossroads. (Also, Croft State Park just a few miles away from here has as bad or worse markers.) It was also evident the trails did not see much use, as grown up as they were in places. It was never too difficult to see the trail, though, just difficult at times to tell which was what. The obvious exception was near the stables, where horses walk the trail and trample it to mud. At least when you see that (and other things) you know you can’t be too far from the camp.

We made it back alive, I think. Could be wrong.

After lunch was another game of watermelon football, but I had other plans. Rikoshi, last year’s guest of honor, returned this year as a regular attendee, and he led a writer’s workshop on constructing a furry world. We had to wait a few minutes for the building we were meeting in to be unlocked, but it was not long before we were able to begin.

The workshop was not quite what I expected, which was a good thing because it turned out to be far better. Discussed was the difference between different types of furry stories (is there a reason for their furry-ness, or is it just the way they are?) and there was a writing exercise at the end. Papers were passed around, and in one of the corners was written an occupation, a species, and a genre. The idea was to write the opening to a story connecting all three; or, failing an opening, to provide a synopsis of a story. I was presented with: turtle, piano tuner, day-in-the-life.

You will never see this story.

After the workshop was a game called Predator vs Prey, which sounded horribly complicated so I ended up not participating. (I ended up being 0 for 3 for the afternoon activities.) There was another reason for my absence, though. The workshop had got me thinking about the story I have been working on, and ways to improve it. I spent the afternoon dozing and thinking about the story, writing a few more pages of it and getting feedback from others on the story subject.

Feral! will be responsible for the impending total rewrite.

That night was furry improv, which was… odd. Improv has this tendency to start out strong, then turn weird before finally fizzling if it goes on too long. “Too long” varies depending on the skill level of the victim. While I thought about participating, I did not in the end. They had their traditions, and as I was an outsider, I wanted to observe and see how they did things before getting too far into it. Next time I will have a better idea of what to expect.

Sometime that day, although I cannot remember when or why, Pathfinder and I started to talk. He joined me on a couple Monday expeditions, but you will have to wait until later to read about them.

And then at the end of the day, Wolfin and I headed back to the cabin to retire for the night. We talked about our stories for a few minutes, inadvertently keeping someone else in the cabin awake, so we ended discussion and resumed the next day.

Feral! Report — Day 3

Saturday, the first official day of Feral! Because I am naturally an early riser, I woke up when it started getting light outside, somewhere around 6 AM. It’s also a bit chilly in the mornings in late August, apparently. I did not have a thermometer with me, but I suppose it was around 50 F. Considering that was the morning I did not quite figure out how the showers worked and I woke myself up with a contained version of the Polar Bear Swim (which I never participated in), that just added to the cold.

Breakfast is at 8 AM, so I go over to the main lodge and hang out for a little bit, get to know a few more people. I think this is when Wotan and I began the first of several talks over the course of the weekend. It’s quiet in the morning, though, because furries do not believe in waking up early for the most part. After breakfast comes the opening ceremonies, which was the shortest and most informal I had ever seen. In my mind that’s not a bad thing. Almost everything that happens at opening ceremonies can happen in 5 to 10 minutes if it’s timed right. Potoroo introduced the staff during breakfast, and Max from the Arowhon staff introduced himself and the rest of that group, and then it was outside to introduce the guests of honor and raise the Feral! flag.

One of the things I like about Feral! is that there are actually things to do that don’t involve wandering the dealer’s den and lounging in the hotel room. It’s vacation, so you can hide yourself away in the cabin all weekend if you want to, but why do that when there’s so much going on? You can choose between multiple camp activities like archery (which I avoided), kayaking, swimming, a ropes course… There are also different workshops. I think the camp staff deliberately set up the camp so you can’t do everything at once and so you must come back the next year.

I think it will work.

Anyway, Jeffery Core and I decide it would be fun to go on the canoe trip to the other side of the lake. There’s supposed to be a really good vantage point of camp from over there, and I’m always interested in pretty scenery. So we get on the canoe with about twenty other people, and then promptly learn that none of us know how to paddle as a team, so rowing in a straight line becomes a challenge of its own. You know it’s bad when the kayakers are doing laps around your canoe.

We take the long way to the vantage point, and from there it is a short hike. Now, I am a Southern ‘yote used to warm temperatures, and I walk several miles a day. A quarter mile walk uphill is nothing. It was funny listening to them all be out of breath.

The view was wonderful, too. No pictures, I am afraid; I did not want the camera to get wet. You just have to trust me.

After lunch that afternoon was a ropes course. The coyote does not like heights, and I am a firm believer that all four paws are meant to remain on the ground at all times. Nevertheless, I got all harnessed up, and I climbed up a tower of tires to a chair perched on the very top. Honestly the view from up there wasn’t all that impressive.

That was also the day I discovered the lake. There had been a game of watermelon football (I did not play this year, and based on how cold the water was I never wish to play), but since I did not participate I did not really know just how cold the water is. I am surprised there are no ice cubes in that lake. It is so cold it’s difficult to breathe, and it’s a workout just treading water. There’s no getting used to that temperature. Ever.

That night was the sponsor’s event. A lot of drinking in a very crowded room. Not fun, moving along.

Saturday and Sunday there was also a “backyard astronomy” session where we could look up and see lots of stars and satellites. It gets very dark at Camp Arowhon at night. Since that was also the first night I really slept, that was also the first night I noticed some animal sounds. Heard loons and wolves that night.

I also realized lying in bed that night that I had somehow managed to avoid almost all the staff that day. I had wanted to talk to them, and resolved beginning tomorrow to change that.