Sunday, October 30, 2016

When Fighting Came Easy - A WAR PIGS post

I remember the first time I got into a fight. His name was Tim Dearny, the eldest son of my parents' friends and a kind family who we grew close to when we were part of the Presbyterian Church in St. Louis.

Tim was thirteen years old. I was six.

I don't remember what exactly started it, but I do remember the moment I knew I could fight. Tim at thirteen was of course much larger than me, a kid who played on his basketball team and was a good athlete. He pummeled me from corner to corner in his basement because I refused to let him bully me, which older boys tend to do to younger boys. Looking back on it, I should have realized it was because he did actually like me but didn't know how to deal with being thirteen--hell, he took the time to play video games with me, but when you are a young man power is something very difficult to wield and often young men make mistakes.

Anyway,  the moment: after pushing me into walls of his basement, kicking me, and saying some nasty things in general, I belted him. A clean haymaker across the jaw that put a boy who was so much taller than my 6 year old ass on a knee. He then proceeded to beat the unholy hell out of me until our parents separated us. But from that moment when I put him to a knee the passion for pugilism, grappling, and combat was there.

I started martial arts not long afterwards. Back when my parents could not afford the judo classes they still found a way to pay for them until they could not anymore. Same with Shotokan Karate, which didn't last long when I started beating up kids on the playground during elementary school, but it was on those playground where I really learned that what I knew could hurt people--and from then on I stopped. Save for a few fights with a couple of kids in my neighborhoods in St. Louis and Apex, North Carolina, I went out of my way to intentionally not hurt anyone. I did so because I didn't like making people cry when I shouldn't have, even if they were bullying me. The result was that I was bullied a lot, even to the point where my own mother was telling me to take my pound of flesh and stand up for myself.

I didn't.

Then I walked into Apex High School.

I remember the exact moment all best were off--I had incurred the wrath of two girls because I had embarrassed them in a class debate, which drove them to start a series of rumors over the next few years that I was going to come to school and shoot everyone or harm a teacher. The police came, my family and I were threatened with my expulsion multiple times if I did not confess to something I did not ever plan to do, and even two of my favorite teachers at the time went out of their way to implicate me, which seeded my inability to trust in the place I had to go to everyday afterward. They made an attempt to apologize later on after I was able to prove multiple times that I never had such intentions (one teacher even cried her way through hers), but from then on it didn't matter as the damage was done. I was going to fight the world and everyone in it using my fists, elbows, knees, feet, and whatever else I needed. I was going to accept and benefit from my power to do harm.

And I did.

For that choice I suffered a lot, and in an attempt to tell that story and the lessons I learned I did so through the allegorical device of Fantasy which allowed me to author WAR PIGS. This is what happened after I assumed my own power to do harm and the consequences that followed.

And it is now available for preorder. WAR PIGS will be $0.99 until it is released on 11/15/2016, at which point it will be available via KDU for free or as a download for $2.99. I hope you all check it out. It is a piece of me that I hope to not only exorcise but to show others what violence creates.

Click HERE to get WAR PIGS today!


Friday, October 21, 2016

Iron and Silk: Writing Manwe and Cleon's LGBTQ relationship

Love is hard, often drawing from people the best and worst aspects of themselves, and nothing is as hard as properly reflecting love in the most human fashion within fiction. I have written previously about Romance and Agency, but with this post I wanted to look at the challenges of writing a gay relationship between two of my favorite characters, Manwe the Panther and Cleon the Yellow, the mischievous/beguiling/ephemeral sorcerer that captures his heart within the pages of Thief of Secrets, the second installment in The Saga of the Panther.

Now, let me clear: I'm not gay. I've been in a very successful heterosexual relationship with the most wonderful woman in the world for almost 10 years, so when I set out to write my first gay relationship between two main characters there were a lot of concerns I had about accurately depicting the special dynamics that take place between two men when they are in love.

And to my surprise, I discovered that it was exactly like writing a relationship between a heterosexual couple. LGTBQ relationships come in a variety of forms, but the roles, behaviors, and customs found in these relationships are as ubiquitous to anything you will find between a man and a woman.

And there is the secret I think writers and readers should take away: to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda (and obviously others), Love is Love. I think this is especially important in light of National Coming Out Day this month, where we let our friends and family in the LGBTQ community know they have allies and are safe to be who they are. These people seek support, solace, and confidence in the people they choose to spend their lives with, which Manwe is given by Cleon the Yellow in his darkest moment.

So if you ever set out to write a relationship between two people of same sex or different gender identities, please make sure to remember it doesn't matter who or what someone decides for themselves to be--they love like everyone else does. They go through times of darkness and light, and often the presence of someone that is the other half of their soul is the salve to the spiritual wound we all carry when destiny splits us from a person we're supposed to be with (or someone we're not supposed to be around.) That salve is created when they come back together.

My only hope is that I did well by the thief and his sorcerer, the sorcerer and his thief.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Life After Fighting, Fighting for Life: a #HoldOntoTheLight post

I will start with a declarative statement:

After 30 years of life on this planet I am still alive.

This statement contains a story within itself, but it is far harder for me not to remember the other stories I've grown up.

My first cousin committed suicide when I was thirteen. Nobody knew he was depressed, save for a recent breakup, and nobody believed he had those thoughts until it happened.

In sixth grade I was awed by the news that an older boy, an eighth grader, had gone home and hung himself during the day. Another friend's brother shot himself in the head.

Then I got into high school and things got very real. From a significant someone who tried to snort her way to destiny to a very gentle girl that carved the inside of her legs with a needle because she felt awful about herself, unspoken problems involving mental illness ran amok. Her older sister, who had been a very talented writer from what I remember, scratched the inside of her arms with needles too. People were cutting but nobody wanted to talk about it--save for the few brave parents who tackled these things head on and, surprisingly, often caught flack for having the courage to actually do something instead of sweeping it under the rug. Some of those people were and remain as close to me as family.

Mental illness is an epidemic our society refused to even acknowledge for a long time, but for many of the communities I grew up in it was lingering specter above us all, an malefic spirit that always threatened to take another without warning.

Into my junior year of high school I had a friend who was addicted to heroin. His best friend, the dude that started shoving way too many heavy metal CD's into my hands, literally watched out for my-friend-the-junkie day and night. My peer group spent weekends drinking pretty hard and living very fast. It is not out of the way to remember how many people I knew that felt left out of things, how people floated in and out of their self-destructive packs, and how many who were simply lost.

Sure, these are often the stories about growing up, but it was always startling to see how many of those stories were haunted by mental illness.

Some of us (see: Jay) had real anger issues, others tough family situations, and there were a lot of kids and adults I knew that were strung out or pilled up on something. The last of the Gen-Xers, who I looked up to, struggled with their place in the world after college and a few were left behind when it broke them. Drugs were a constant reality. I probably smoked and drank too much myself to mute out the world, but so did a lot of athletes I ran with. From those on the high school wrestling team to the guys I rolled jiu-jitsu with in the strip malls, there were always problems with depression. Start adding concussions into the mix and guys would act very strange. One of my closer friends at the time lost his brother to suicide--a brother who was one of my little sister's closest friends.

College was worse.

Many of my friends were poor and struggling with un-diagnosed bipolar disorders, self-medicating to get through working and going to school full-time--and some of them were raising kids, which while wonderful was a colossal burden within itself. I met a mom who served bar and she was the nearest thing to Wonder Woman I've ever met. And she popped a lot of pills. A lot of people were on some form of a SSRI.

And say what you want: The Bush Years were soul crushing. A lot of people went off to war and died. A lot of families were left with loved ones too damaged to make themselves a "normal" life when they came home. I knew a few soldiers that were taken by PTSD while I was in college. They aren't here to tell their stories now.

Here is the point where I insert myself back into it and admit my own demons: Since the time I was 14 years old I had wanted something all through high school and the beginning of college--a career in mixed martial arts--and through injury and purely bad choices on my part I screwed myself out of that. It took a lot of therapy before that period of my life and lot of therapy and love after that period to come to terms with the reality that I couldn't have what I wanted anymore.

That same reality almost took me twice and, if I'm purely honest, the same depression followed me into my destined career too. I know a good many writers in my community that really struggle with depression and suicide. I was, again, one of them not too long ago.

Yet for my part in this, I still remember the stories of others:

One roommate was so terribly broken by his experiences in the Bosnian-Serbian Conflict that he refused to act outside of a self-proscribed set of behaviors that inevitably led to self-mutilation and becoming one of the first people I know to be addicted to bath salts. The uncle who lost his son to suicide when I was thirteen went through rehab not too long ago. The fight to stay sober, happy, and healthy is a hard one for him that he faces every day.

And there's the point: for people that struggle with mental illness, life is a fight, no matter if you are using your fists or not.

I make the statement "I am still alive" to write stories because I know of how many stories were ended because of cruel circumstance, or addiction, or depression, or something even deeper. The only reason I'm here is because I did something we are sometimes shamed in society for doing: I went and found help. I went to therapist, tried medication, took up meditation, and still work every day to fight the specter of mental illness. My best friends do too.

The best thing we can do to talk about mental illness is to tell these stories and let others know that somehow, somewhere, someone out there cares enough to help them. The more we talk about it the more we help others win their fight to hold on, endure, and find their own victories. It is a far better option than waiting until it is too late and having another tale lost.

About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Fight Is Not Over

When I first sat down to write down a couple of blog posts to help promote Thief of Shadows, I found myself writing blog posts that were apologies for the stories contained therein. There are stories within this collection that are going to piss a lot of people off, and because of that there is this inherent fear that I am going to forever deny myself the opportunity to make myself attractive to current readers of Fantasy. We live in a society today where everyone has to measure their words carefully because nobody gives the benefit of the doubt when it comes to intentions, which is an odd place I think for literature to exist.

But literature, fiction or non-fiction, must be about an author's truth.

The truth of the matter is that I think we all know there is something going on in this world that is deeply wrong. Whether it is religious extremism, racism, elitism, cultural relativism, homophobia, transphobia, the destruction of our planet, or just downright being awful to people simply because you think you've earned the right to, the world has gone crazy to the point where people want to silence, exile, or kill others for simply having an opinion they don't like.

And for a long time I was the same way.

I often introduce myself at cons with "Hi, I'm Jay Requard and I live for revolution." And the truth is that I still do--I think we are currently mired in a system that is extracting our families, our lives, our time, our identities, and more insidiously, our morality. I believe that if voting, legislation, and democracy doesn't work to resolve this extraction we have to rise up and reset that democracy. Call me a crazy humanist, but I think the dignity that EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. is born with must be held up and protected, especially in the face of irrational evil.

But what many often conflate with the idea of revolution is a notion that equals the abject destruction of everyone else except them, I cannot simply support the idea in the face of the proposed action. I was first confronted by this six months ago when someone who holds the same revolutionary ideas as me openly attacked two people that would have been their allies if not for the fact they were of a different skin color and had a different opinion. In this faux-revolutionary's mind, everyone was an enemy and in the coming "revolution" even people who wished him no harm whatsoever would be punished. He took off his false mask to reveal an intolerance and racism that is akin to "an eye for an eye" instead of liberation. Even now, I am watching someone I care about very deeply get hammered because she is white and supports Black Lives Matters. Simply stated, there are zealots on both sides of this illusion we call "the political spectrum", and those individuals on the extreme ends would rather watch the world burn to have their way before they would even consider building a path for all that moves the world forward.

Manwe is confronted by this version in a blunt fashion, and like myself, he is exposed to the fact that there is a concept of revolution that is infantile and harmful and a concept of revolution that is transformative and liberating. And for my favorite thief it strikes at his heart like a sledgehammer blow, destroying the illusion that immaturity and willful ignorance creates. But he is also wise enough to know that he must change for the sake of himself and others.

For Manwe, he will to have to find what he truly wants to fight for in Thief of Secrets, and at the very least, he has snatches of what would be in my heart (taken from The Free and The Damned):

“What made you deter from the path?” She turned her head to study him. “You were out in the hills when the battle happened. What did you see?”
“Nightmares from my childhood, from the darkest corners of magic,” Manwe revealed, simple and to the point. He trained his eyes on one of the lamps at the foot of the goddess, its simple flame a match for a more recent, more horrid memory of a cackling shaman and fell ghouls. “I saw good men sell their souls.”
“So you aren’t aligned at the moment.”
Manwe squinted against the flame. “I’d say not.”
 Magera grabbed his hand, held it firm. “Then what would you see as fair, if you had your way?”
“I would keep you all well,” Manwe answered. “No man a slave, no woman a whore. Love and let live and be left alone. End the plight of the poor. That’s what I would want for myself.”

I hope that is something worth rising for.