Monday Muse: Sci-Fi/Fantasy…We Need to Talk

So. It’s Monday. The second day of the week and the first of the work week for those of you who have jobs that follow the basic M-F thing. (A and I certainly don’t.) It is also Leap Day! Is it…Ten Lords a’Leaping? Or is that something completely different?

(Don’t worry; I know it’s completely different.)

First off, congrats to Leonardo DiCaprio for FINALLY WINNING THAT OSCAR. You deserved it, man. And what a wonderful acceptance speech.

Now, people of the internet…this means a lot of jokes are going to have to be retired. It’s up to us to bring the population up to safe levels. I promise to contribute to the effort as best I can, but I’m not that funny. Oh, people laugh, but I’m reasonably sure it’s more a chortle of discomfort than a genuine expression of humor. Anyway…

Leap Day. Monday Muse. I want to get serious.

It’s been a while since I really hunkered down and got super serial with the Muse, mostly because I didn’t want to talk about writing and editing when I had so much writing and editing to do myself. If I have to do one more word search for “seem”, I think I’m going to throw something. I am officially over editing. And, for a little while at least, I’m not actively writing anything (Bill and Ben is still in the outlining stage, though we’re really close to actually writing it now, and all my solo stuff is in the research and getting-to-know-you stages.) So I did what any good writer does in that situation:

I read.

I turned to my beautiful shelves and pulled out all my favorites. Blew through 5-6 books in a week, all the most comforting of good fantasy. Thursday NextPeter GrantNeverwhere, books I haven’t yet paired (NK Jemisin, Seanan McGuire, Guy Gavriel Kay), books I will probably never pair because I’m ashamed I like them, etc. I really went back and forth, jumping between series. Just enjoying myself immensely. Sinking into the books that make me happy (and sad and angry and terrified and proud and uncomfortable, etc) and giving my parched writer’s mind an o’erflowing cup of inspiration and comfort.

But I realized something as I was reading. Something I knew–something I’ve known for a long time, if I’m honest–and yet something I haven’t really thought about in depth until I really started feeling like I had a responsibility to do something about it. But, as bad as I knew the problem was, I don’t think I ever realized just HOW BAD it is.

There are too many white people in fantasy and science-fiction.

Now, I’ll be the first to say sci-fi isn’t as bad. Why? Because sci-fi isn’t as human-based as fantasy often is. You’ve got Kirk boning green women all the way back in the 60s (not to mention kissing Uhura). But…seriously…wander the shelves at the bookstore. The fantasy/sci-fi section. You’ll see what I mean.

Of course, there are amazing POC to be found in the world of fantasy. (Note: I will be focusing on fantasy as I know more about it, personally, but the argument–as I understand from those of my friends who’re sci-fi devotees–stands for both genres.) Even in the list I gave above, there are POC. NK Jemisin is a black woman writing fantasy, and a number of her characters are POC. Peter Grant’s mother is from Sierra Leone (his father is white, but that’s just for the sake of disclosure rather than meaning anything). Guy Gavriel Kay has stories based on the Middle East, Asia, all over the world. Strictly speaking, the Marquis de Carabas is black, but I always pictured him as…black…like the paint color, not the person color. (Did I type myself into a hole there? If so, I apologize.) And fantasy, like sci-fi, often has other species (elves, dwarves, orcs, etc). But…

Tolkien. Tolkien, man. All his damn characters (except, of course, the bad guys, but I don’t think that was particularly intentional in his part…or, at least, I’d like to hope it wasn’t because I need my image of Tolkien to remain intact) are white. Now, this is for a good reason: his stories are all based on Northern/Western European myth. It took a while for population migration to bring dark-skinned people to that part of the world (and, no, I’m not talking about slavery). But Tolkien is such a formative part of fantasy (along with CS Lewis, but I have already mentioned my contentious relationship with Narnia and its talking lion Jesus allegory), for a long time most fantasy writers basically sought to emulate him. Elves are white, dwarves are white…centaurs are whatever color their horse is, but also white. Hell, even unicorns! WHY, UNICORNS?!

We need more fantasy in the world. Good, well-written fantasy that isn’t a Tolkien derivative (though, to be honest, we seem to be in a period where the deliberate refutation of Tolkien–grimdark–seems to be de rigeur ((NO ONE MENTION I USED THE WORD SEEMS RIGHT THERE! I KNOW!)) for works of high fantasy). Hell, I’d really like to undo what I call the Supernatural Effect, too. You know, the “hunter” brand of urban fantasy which seems to exist for the author’s half-mermaid M.C. to have a forbidden romance with the Clan Chief of the local Were-panther pack while simultaneously striving to remain neutral in the contentious politics of the secret supernatural factions that her “normal” friends can’t know about? Yeah…let’s all get away from that, please. But that’s really a brief, very personal, aside…so let’s move on. And, yes, it’s OK to write about white people. But I don’t think we should be able to list the number of good series featuring POC on our fingers and toes. And I’m not saying we need to deliberately go back and turn beloved comic book characters black (*cough* Wally West *cough*) for the sake of diversification because that feels more like pandering than a truly diverse POV.

But, the thing is…we shouldn’t have to do that. Fantasy can be anything. It can be deserts and taigas and wetlands and, hell, worlds where the laws of physics are completely different. Why is so much of it medieval? Why, when a character isn’t specifically described, do we assume they’re white? (Why, even when a character is described, do so many picture him as white? I ran into this particularly problem when talking about the casting for American Gods. Did you know a lot of people still picture Shadow as white even though he’s clearly not? WTF, people?) This is probably a topic for a thesis more than a blog, so I’ll move on from the whys and get to the point where I exhort you to do something about it.

Write diverse.

It’s as simple as that, really. Create worlds where people of all kinds are walking around. Write heroes who are deliberately not white. Get out of the castles and dragons mentality. (Note: castles and dragons are fine, of course…they’re a staple of fantasy for a reason…but try something different. Or, at least, put POC in there.) Now…I’m white. I’m whiter-n-white. OK, actually…I’m part Turkish, and A is the whiter-n-white one, but I’m still mostly Western European, so…white. And I refuse the notion–refuse–that I only want to read about people like me. If I wanted to read about people like me, I’d write about people like me. I want my characters to be cooler than I am, and braver, and smarter, and more cunning. They’re like my children, and parents ALWAYS want their children to be better than they are. So I don’t just want white girls with social anxiety and a tendency to memorize the Kings and Queens of Britain from 1066 onward for fun. *cough*

I want diversity. So…here I am, pledging to write diverse stories. Because stories are for the world, not just the part of it that looks like me.

That is all. I’ll be back on Friday to talk about NK Jemisin because, when I get on a subject, I make it a theme.




Silly Sunday: Ben and Han

Good evening, fellow cacti! It’s time for Silly Sunday!!! Yaaaay! Now, I’ve just closed my latest show so I’m a bit sad, but I found some appropriate silliness a few days ago and have been sitting on it, knowing it would be perfect. Perfect, I say!

So here it is… The Modern Adventures of Ben and Han Solo;  a series of GIFs that are as silly as they are completely plausible (within the Star Wars universe)…


Modern Solo Adventures!


Shakespeare Saturday: Snippet Time

Heyo, ladies and gentlemen of Nerd Cactus-landia! C here, fully recovered from our night of party hardy-ing together last night! (I go hard, y’all! A whiskey sour and Lobster Bisque! AND fried mac and cheese! BOOM!)

Well, A and I are well into the second round of edits of Killing Mercutio. To be fair, it’s mostly looking for “trouble” words right now: seem/s, that, was, adverbs ending in -ly, etc. You know, all the stuff that was shiftily seeming to damage our words. Stuff like those words. And I figured all those edits means it’s time for another snippet. Last time, we introduced you to Romeo and Team Montague (for lack of a better room). This time, let’s go Capulet.

So…an official, spoiler-free snippet of Killing Mercutio, featuring Tybalt and Lady Capulet.

“You have caught the eye of every woman in the room, dear Tybalt,” Lady Capulet said, green eyes crinkling as she smiled. She would not have liked to hear she had developed crow’s feet as she advanced into middle age, but Tybalt rather liked them. They reminded him of his mother, dead all these years from shame.

“None as bright and clear as yours, my lady,” he replied, swallowing his disappointment and nodding reverentially, knowing this would please her. “Why are you not dancing?”

Waving her mask in a gesture around the room, Lady Capulet shook her head. “There are far too many people on the floor for me this evening. And I prefer to watch rather than bring the color of too much strain to my cheeks. But you are a fine dancer, Tybalt; why are you not out there?”

Tybalt shrugged, lips thinning into a small smile. “I made my way up here hoping to dance with Juliet, but it seems she has already decided to find herself a partner.”

“My daughter is determined to be the belle of the evening,” Lady Capulet replied, voice tinged with jealousy. Vanity like hers was only gratified if the center of attention, and Juliet far surpassed her mother in all the ways that mattered. “And her father is just as determined to put her there.”

“She is a beautiful young woman, Lady Capulet; perhaps your husband sees it as an investment for future gains.” Tybalt picked a grape from the cluster in front of him and popped it into his mouth, chewing slowly and spitting out each seed as he came to it.

“Yes. I do believe my Lord is in negotiations with the Prince regarding marriage. It seems there is a cousin…”

Tybalt choked. “Not Mercutio!”

“No, you fool,” Lady Capulet replied, “Paris. As if Capulet would ever consent to give his heir to a common tutor, no matter his relation to the Prince. The Houses of Escalus and Capulet have always been close; it seems now they shall be bound even more firmly.”

Yeah. We kept the Juliet/Paris thing. We were pretty adamant about keeping a lot of details from the play. It lends an authenticity to the story we were really keen on keeping. Respect for Shakespeare and all the years of R&J inspiring so many people. It’s not our favorite play, but we still love a lot of it. Doing our best to be respectful was really important to us.

Anyway…I hope you enjoyed this. Nothing too plot-heavy…but why did Tybalt’s mother die for shame? Dun dun DUUUUNNNN!

OK. A will be back tomorrow for something silly! I’ll see you on Monday!


Boozy Books: Tamora Pierce Mania!

Hello out there, internet friends!!! I’ve been deep in thought about what nostalgic book to pick for this last Boozy Book of February… I read a lot of books in my youth so narrowing down the list of favorites is pretty difficult. BUT! I devised a way to pick tonight’s (late) entry by considering which books I returned to for several readings.

On top of that list is probably any of Tamora Pierce’s Immortals series or The Lioness Quartet. If you don’t know what these are… Shame. Pierce’s books are arguably the greatest influence on my love of the fantasy genre. She’s written several other sets of books though I never got into them as I’d already graduated into higher reading by the time they were released. Nevertheless, they are worth revisiting for their attention to detail and faithful adherence to Pierce’s created universe.

Featuring strong female leads, these two particular series’ inspired me and transported me all at once. I won’t go into synopses tonight because I’m already tardy in delivering my post, but a quick internet search will garner results such as 4.5 stars on Goodreads and discussions about the vast scape of Pierce’s Tortall. And at this age they are very quick reads, offering a great story (admittedly young adult) and a fantastic world.

A pinot noir goes well with these books, because it starts easy, but lingers in the tongue a little heavier than you anticipated at first taste. This is a perfect analogy for these YA gems… They may seem light and fluffy, but there’s some substance to them and you’ll find yourself unable to forget the characters Pierce has brought to life.

Again, sorry about being late, but C and I were out for an evening of drinking and fried Mac and cheese. So… That’s a valid excuse.

Join us tomorrow for Shakespeare!


Monday Muse: Everything is Hard

Hi-ho and welcome back to Nerd Cactus HQ! Sorry I was absent on Saturday, but – as the title of this piece points out – everything is hard. I mean in life, ok. Life. GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER. (If you do not have my propensity for snickering at “that’s what she said”, then that outburst was not meant for you. Carry on.)

This past week has been tough. It didn’t start out that way, but sometimes when things seem to be at their best the underlying shit starts to appear. This week was not earth-shatteringly, life-alteringly terrible, mind you, but it was enough to get me evaluating my decisions vis a vis career, relationships, financial stability… Yeah… It was one of those “I’m an adult” kind of weeks. We all get them and they can be real downers; throwing everything into perspectives you never considered (or never wanted to consider) and sometimes just making you feel like a failure.

I had several of those moments these past few days and I have come to the conclusion that I am not a failure. Nobody is. As long as we keep fighting the naysayers and the negative energy clouds, and take into consideration that life is meant to be hard. If it were easy we’d never have moments of true euphoria. We’d never have those grand moments of victory, basking in our hard-won accomplishments. Would C and I have written a whole damn novel, if every little annoying misstep sent us reeling and unable to recover? NO. Same goes for all the rest.

In the wake of several sleepless nights, lack of appetite, and waterfalls worth of tears, I am here to tell you to be a fighter. As commander Taggart has said on countless occasions… “Never give up. Never surrender.”

Next time you hear from me on a Monday Muse… I promise I will be cheerier . (I’ve actually been working on a fun piece in my spare time, but it’s still taking shape.) So, as I leave you today, know that the things worth fighting for will work out for the best if you are willing to expend the time and energy it takes to win.



Until next time.



Silly Sunday: A Bit o’ Grammar Humor

Heyo! Welcome back, readers! It’s me, again. C. Of course, it’s supposed to be me today, so that’s hardly surprising. But, yes…hi! I’m back! And it’s time for something silly!

Or at least giggle-inducing.

Apparently, the author in this picture is the child of Ayn Rand and God. Just goes to show you how important a comma can be.

Long Live the Oxford Comma!!!



I saw this and blinked at it for several moments before bursting out laughing. This was not appreciated by the people at Starbucks, and I got some weird looks. But it was worth it.

I wonder how Merle Haggard feels about having being married to Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall. I wonder how Robert Duvall and Kris Kristofferson feel about being ex-wives.

Not to mention I never knew Nelson Mandela was a collector of faux penises. (Penii?) I guess you need a hobby when you’re an 800-year-old demigod.

Just remember, folks…don’t turn Stalin into a stripper. (That makes a lot more sense if you know the example my teacher used to teach me the importance of the Oxford Comma. It dealt with picking up the strippers, Stalin, and Bush vs picking up the strippers, Stalin and Bush. Bush 2. W. Picture it.


OK. That’s it for me today. A will definitely be back tomorrow with the Muse.


Shakespeare Saturday: Don’t Say We’re Too Stupid for Shakespeare!


You thought it’d be A today, didn’t you? Alas, no…you got C, again! A got caught up in the details of life, and I don’t have a life, so I’m doing her a favor and handling Shakespeare Saturday.

It’s actually a good thing because my friend (also A, but a different A. A the honorary Cactus A) shared an article with me after noticing my ramble on Alexander Hamilton on Monday. See, unlike you HURTFUL PEOPLE, she reads my history blogs no matter how word vomity they become. Because she loves me.

(Note: It has been brought to my attention that, because of an unfortunate lack of sarcasm fonts, some of my jokes might not translate onto the screen. I am not upset at the lack of shared enthusiasm vis a vis Alexander Hamilton. I love all of you and am glad you tolerate my occasional explosions of history love.)

But, seriously…please read this article if you haven’t already. It combines Hamilton and Shakespeare and rhetoric (oh my!), explaining why it is that modern audiences’ ability to understand and appreciate Hamilton is proof positive the English language isn’t dying and people are perfectly capable of understanding Shakespeare even unto today. The issue isn’t our understanding, it’s just a matter of being able to connect with the language and train our minds to listen at a different rhythm. But, seriously…the article is amazing. Language lovers of Nerd Cactus: READ THIS ARTICLE.


(That didn’t translate to the Alice and Wonderland reference playing in my head right now, did it?)

I really think you’ll enjoy it. Any article that compares Hamilton to Shakespeare is a good article, indeed, especially when it combats the stupid belief that we’re not sophisticated enough for Shakespeare. (I mean, seriously…do you know how many dick jokes there are in Shakespeare? SO MANY DICK JOKES!)

Thanks for bearing with me. Unfortunately, you’ll have to do it again tomorrow. Luckily, it’s something silly. I do love me some silly.