Alternative Facts

I’m doing this all out of order.

This is an examination that should have happened either before I wrote my stories, or after when I had — or could still have — more of them. It is fairly clear that this entry is not a story in itself, at least not a fictional one, in my Alternative Facts series: whatever else it is. After all, where is the epigraph, right?

I started making epigraphs for some of my stories, in general, far before this point. You can blame Frank Herbert’s Dune series for my occasional, but fierce, love of putting quotes from other sources before my prose in addition to my love of classical science-fiction. In a way, while Dune has little to do with what I’ve been writing on my Mythic Bios Blog lately and before the New Year, it did teach me to look at the current world and what it could be in different ways, and I would be lying if I said that I had the idea behind Alternative Facts only recently.

It’s quite presumptuous of me, really. All of this is. Here I am writing, retrospectively, about a writing experiment as though it’s some kind of legitimate, published literature: as if it’s all finished, polished, and done. As if I may even continue it.

I’ve always known this world was imperfect. Even while, publicly and for the most part, staying out of politics I knew that human nature and what it builds is flawed on a fundamental, foundation of being. That’s why I always appreciated dystopian literature. George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm come to mind, but also Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in High Castle, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. When you also add Russell Hoban’s and Alan Moore’s post-apocalyptic language play in Riddley Walker and Crossed +100 respectively, you can see all of these influences on a very basic and hardly comparable level with the series that I chose to share publicly.

It almost didn’t happen.

A little while ago, Neil Gaiman wrote a short story “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury.” In this story, you see this protagonist’s view of the world change dramatically, even degenerate, but ultimately becoming defined by the absences of where Ray Bradbury’s work, knowledge, and presence used to be within their mind. I found it utterly fascinating, this mnemonic shift, and I tried to replicate it in a poor attempt at a story about someone forgetting Neil Gaiman and looking at the world through their eyes. I wasn’t ready then. I almost understood what I was trying to do, as much as I can still even attempt to put it into words, but reason wasn’t enough. I had to intuit it, and pass that spark into some writing.

Fast forward this a few years. The politics of the Western world, of North America, shifted: or at least what already existed became clearer to me. The Internet doesn’t allow you to ignore the rest of the world as readily as other media anymore, or at least for now. I realized, far later than many other people more qualified than myself, that this was something I couldn’t afford to ignore. Then, at one point, the term “alternative facts” was introduced into the world conversation. It’s true that you can refer back to Orwell or even 1930s Germany when you think about those words, but they stuck with me. At one point, on my social media, I wrote something along the lines of taking “Alternative Facts” and making some kind of dark science-fiction or speculative series based off that title.

Even then, I knew I was only half-joking.

But I didn’t do this for a while. It was a nice, snarky thought as the world seemed to be proving itself to be more stupid and self-destructive than even I originally thought. I thought about the American elections, and how in my mind it should have gone: that forces utilizing hate and hate speech should have failed —  utterly — then turned on each other, and become utterly forgotten: an embarrassment to society and civilization, polite or other wise. I started off this post by saying I was doing this all out of order. And I remembered what ancient civilizations used to do with dynasties and regimes that caused them chaos before they finally fell. They would go out of their way to erase every monument, every artifact, every word, and every mention of those former ruling groups: for good or ill.

Then I remembered something else. I had a friend I used to talk with from Germany. Among many other things, we would discuss history. Of course, the Nazi Party came up. This was before a lot of the turmoil that became prominent during 2016 and now onward, which is reminiscent of parts of history. My friend, when we talked about Nazis, never called them Nazis. They called them National Socialists. And that was exactly what their name was, the National Socialist Party. But then it was abbreviated, and from then on and over time, they have been called Nazis. It doesn’t matter what they styled themselves, or what their original aims were in other forms, or even their influences. That is how they are known now.

Just like my Repos, the former Repo Party, mentioned in my first story and elsewhere.

At first, I just talked about the Repos. And then, one day during August of 2017 when so many people were talking about politics and fascism, when I was wondering if I would ever see my girlfriend or any of my other loved ones in the United States again, I decided to try my hand at uniting these concepts into a story. What would happen if something so bad occurred that even as civilization in one area reconstructed itself, it either lost much information, or actually went as far as banning it — erasing words — to make sure they would become lost?

The first draft of “Lost Words” wasn’t really good. It got clunky and you could tell that I was still exploring a lot. The protagonist talked with a teacher and it all felt like very scripted excitement, very “Gee Willikers.” And the ending was choppy and rather flat as well. I sent it to my girlfriend, but even before she said anything else, I knew I could have done better. So I abandoned it.

Four months passed. It was probably in the back of my mind, just as our conversations and my rudimentary notes sat in fragments  on a draft email. Science, and laws are being changed and challenged. Political horror as a genre is rising again, or people are paying more attention to it. I had time to think about the power of words and ideas existing, and being erased. Certainly, even before this working on Sequart articles focusing on Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence, along with the “Agents of HYDRA” arc for SHIELD really helped me examine some concepts that, for me, still needed a creative outlet. I also thought about some of the work I did researching and looking at Lawrence Gullo, Fyodor Pavlov, and Kelsey Hercs’ LGBTQ+ Bash Back comic.

I honestly can’t remember why I resurrected and rewrote “Lost Words,” not when I left it for dead. Not when I almost let it no longer exist. I know I reconnected with a friend of mine and wanted to show it to them: thinking it right up their alley. But I had been working on it even before that. At least I think I did. As I say in “The Spectrum” story, it’s hard to say when something was born, or destroyed, or made when it seems as though it always exists on some level.

All I know is that I wanted people to see it: even the shoddy draft that I could just put on my Facebook and be done with it. But I didn’t leave it at that. I honed it down. I made the narrator more definite. And I added a layer of metaphor to it, something to mirror the main story and give it that resonance I needed. It was only later, after I wrote “Freedom” — from the perspective of the Repos of all people — that I added an epigraph retroactively into that story, based on the fact that I made one for “Freedom.” And the trend began, if such a thing can be said what with there being only four stories so far.

It is funny what you can tell about a world, like Amarak, by what isn’t said. I realized that writing each story from a different perspective, with epigraphs that complemented and contrasted with the narrative content, was effective for me. They are like dispatches from another place, another possible time. The word play is incredibly reminiscent of classic science-fiction to the point of it being very pretentious and derivative of classic science fiction of the twentieth century. I take fragments of Latin, I mess around with English and abbreviate words, attempting at times to make sure they have multiple meanings. It isn’t anything special. I am no Russell Hoban, or Alan Moore. And in terms of the stories and their conceits, as a friend of mine once said to put me in my place long ago, I am no Neil Gaiman. And in the wake of the twenty-first century, with its far more sleek and genre-savvy science-fiction and speculative literature I know there are many voices looking at these issues that are far more diverse than my own.

But I did it regardless. And I found it funny how Lost Words, which I thought was the most clever, was a story some readers just didn’t understand. I thought it was clever. But I suppose that is the problem: cleverness does not always a good story make if you don’t make it relatable. Weirdly enough, Freedom with its mythic and almost religious quality seemed more accessible, and The Spectrum in particular seemed to really hit a chord in people, or punched some subject matter rather unsubtly in the face. By We Are the Grass, though, I basically went “full circle” and wrote about what I thought: take it, or leave it.

I don’t really know, at this point, where to go from here. I just came back from a visit to the States and I am tired. But even before that, I wasn’t sure where Alternative Facts was going. I originally thought of it as something of a dark speculative anthology series, with tongue and cheek political tones, but a world — the land of Amarak — grew out of it instead. It is still a possibility of course that I will continue with my original plan if Amarak becomes too exhausted.

And I have some ideas. The fact is, I require more inspiration. I hit my stride with this, and another series I’m working on at the moment — a private one I was focusing on before this one attempted to supplant it like the usurper that it is — so I need to keep that fire going. I believe watching films like Get Out, as well as Netflix’s Black Mirror, along with reading PORNSAK PICHETSHOTE and Jose Villarrubia’s upcoming Infidel comics series in a few months could help recharge my batteries of pure dark fire towards the world. Or, you know, continuing to watch and read the news: that works too.

When it comes down to it, though, I feel as though every story I write, every story I’ve ever written is filled with “alternative facts”: is in fact an “alternative fact” in and of themselves. I don’t mean that they are lies, though some stories are lies and, as a great writer once said, all writers are liars. But they are all still stories and they do say something about the storytellers, and the place from which they come. And sometimes, some things just speak for themselves. And sometimes it is better that they do instead of remaining silent. Silence is the ultimate death though … sometimes what isn’t said can speak incredible volumes.

I think these are my thoughts for now. Feel free to read my stories if and when you have the time. It is good to place something on this site. It has been reposted on, and neglected for some time now. It feels good to put something on here again, especially something that feels worth while. Everything still is out of order. I should have ended this post with the previous paragraph. But, somehow, I feel as though whatever this is is just beginning. Or it is always here and I am just one more person speaking it: one more letting it speak through me. Take care everyone.

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Alternative Facts: We Are the Grass

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind …
— Proverbs 11:29

You’ve finally found us. Or, rather, we’ve found you.

Don’t worry. You’re not in any trouble. It is good, however, to know that the Markers on the Interface — even still heavily divised — are working now. At least this Repolitik Cycle has done that much. What it also means, my friend, is that you’ve been asking the right queries.

Who are we? And there it is. You’ve proven my point.

Well, right now, we are a soup-kitsch. For the ethnos populii here. We’ve been a lot of things for different populii in Amarak throughout the different Cycles, really. We’ve been birth control kline, and hospice; scholastic collectives, and shelters; watchers, and volunteers. But today, we are a kitsch: for this ethnos.

I know that doesn’t explain much, or maybe it says too much. We didn’t make the soup-kitsch. That was all the Worker Party’s idea, if not always its executive, especially not here and … for them. I will speak plainly. I can see the way you look at these populii. They do not look like you. There are many ethnoi, even now, who don’t look like any of us. But they are still populii. They are us. And they still exist, no matter what the Repolitik states. As do we.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Mostly, I’ve told you everything that we are without specifics. The truth is, we’ve always existed in some way or form: though we didn’t always have a name. In fact, we’ve had several, so much so that it’s hard to give you one even now. Part of it, I think, is because we know one name is easy to Mark. Once, we wanted to be proud of that, before everything became more … practic, perhaps?

We called ourselves the Demos.

It’s true. Even though we ourselves have lost much information since the Interregnum, we do know that we came from the Demos. The way I know it, it happened at the beginning, right before the Disunity. The Demos has always been split at one time or another. But something happened, after the Forty-Fourth …

We have our own myths. A State can’t avoid that. And these are on our side of the Interface, in the little cells that we have maintained like embers through the Night Terror of Cycles. Our prompts, filled by our elders, tell us that we had become too arrogant, too … blind and naive in our old ways: seeing all just as it is. As it has always been.  Because of this, the Opposing grew like a weed, had been creeping amongst us and becoming common: right in plain sight. We thought we had reason. Information. Even the hearts of the populii and the elect. We grew complacent. We were select.

We grew … wrong.

The Opposing played on that wrongness. Their Pats, unlike ours, had unity. They’ve always had that power: to fight, and yet decide on one leader to the end. Their strength, and our weakness: our damnation. They played Festive. Panem et circenses. It isn’t anything new under the sun. Except this time … their bread was fear, and their joy, their party, was hate. And like any good festive, few took it seriously. Or worse, the populii were caught in the spectics of it. It’s easy to break something down. Fire is strong. Fire is hard to ignore. It makes you feel alive even when it kills you. Espec then. Espec when everything feels dry and dying around it. And their Pats only grow stronger from the flame, taking the air out of the populii. They always have.

The Opposing have as many names as we do. You can’t kill them. They are here, still. They didn’t die at the Freed Dome Trials, as the Repo Party, after the Disunity: the Disunity that was several disunities only becoming a Reunity even now.

The Repolitik doesn’t believe that. Or doesn’t want to. They think and glean and hope that they are gone, made into muck, like all the old hates and divisives: as they call all difference. The Opposing, in the form of the Repos, said they build bridges, though they burn them. The Repolitik of Amarak, under the Demos of this Cycle, say they want “Equality for all.”

But there is only one way for the living, and the dead to be equal.

The Repolitik think the Repos are dead. They think we are dead too.

When the Demos saw what the Opposing had done, what they were doing, a few of them made reunity. There was hope, according to the legends, that two of our Pats — the Power on the Hill, and the Queen of the Underground — would create that reunity between them, those ancient and strong Cis-Gen Fems, but it was just a hope. Just a dream. We thought perhaps the Great Burn could turn the youth to scourge the select and become elect across the Land again. But mostly, we fight … and it did not make us stronger.

It was what came after that which matters. Learning from the example of the Queen of the Underground, and the power of the Great Burn, that we needed to speak to the populii, not the Pats. But we had to become something more. We had to change from what we thought we were, into what we did: into what we were going to do.

We did the unthinkable. We also learned from the Opposing. But instead of the bread and spectics of hate, as the Demos Reunity, we knew we needed to talk to the needs of the populii, to that place of change. A space beyond words. We also needed the fire, not to destroy, but to create.

And we went forth: a Branch of the Demos, an Arm of Volunteers. We worked with the populii. We apologized for our arrogance. We tried to get to know them. We took our power and brought food, clothes, medicine. We made Co-ops and communes. We embraced what the Opposing hated. We appealed to our elect and made employs for them, for those without them. Most of us were the youth, the populii, though we have our own Pats and elders. We became visers, teachers, healers. We tried to listen. We still do.

And throughout it, we embraced the Way of Non-Vio: of the body and the mind, so that the Opposing’s actions would burn them away, as we took back the Body and the Soul of the Repolitik through deeds. The Demos called us a grassroots way. If the Opposing were the weeds, then we were not so much cells as the seeds of the Demos, the grass, that would fix and bring life back to Amarak.

It didn’t last.

When the Disunity and its disunities happened, we continued to aid the ethnoi in Amarak, and even beyond it. We even helped the Spectra: those still left in our lands that didn’t, or couldn’t join their Pride. Many of them were us: are us. But the Non-Vio way gave out to war. We offered help, but we did get blood in the grass. By the time of the Reunity, the Demos came out and executed the Repos, casting away the rest and claiming equality. Equality for all.

For a time we hunted as well as helped: tracking Repo war criminals, serving justice for the populii that could not get it. We were bloodied too. But then the Demos gave edict. We put down our Arms, like they wanted. We corporated on the surface. We helped form the Workers and the Independents, to make balance between what was once two-sided. The soup kitsches you see around Amarak were made by us, under the Workers: shelters for the populii offering food, learning, and aid. We were done. Corporated. They said we weren’t needed anymore.

The Repolitik claims it is a new Cycle. It is right in one way. It is another cycle of the same. You have seen it. You are seeing it even now. The Repolitik thinks the ethnoi, the Spectra, and others are already gone. Even those related to the Repos, or had affinity with them and the Nation and the “pure-borns” in the Borderlands. Victims and victimizers gone alike. They want it to remain that way. After all, how can someone go missing, or get beaten, or taken away, or starved, or remain as the lowest if they no longer exist? If they do not exist?

The Demos today grew from the bloody grass we’ve sown. For all we have Three Parties, we have only since had a Demos elect major in the Body, a Demos Precedent. They think they have destroyed the Opposing. But we know better. The Opposing was never just the Repos. The Demos have made Amarak into a place defined only by its absences. Seeing divising as the Enemy. But hey are also Split. Part wants to send our populii into the War and “help” the Spectra Pride. The rest are willing to blind eye the Cis-Trans War among the Spectra for themselves, decrying war and will only side when they can get what they want. Yet while Split, they are really not. Both want the same. They think the only way to stop conflict is to erase all divise. All difference. If it means using divise against divise and erasing them all afterwards, all the better.

As such, we are also Opposing: to this forced sterility. To this Ground Zero polity. To this Opposing to life. We learned: one person’s weed, is another’s plant.

We continue on. We always have. They have forgotten us, think we are gone, but it only suits our purposes. We will go on and help those that need us. The populii. We will protect the youth of Amarak. And we have decided that we will serve Amarak itself: not Party, not Repolitik, but the next Gen. We stay in the Body as much as we can, but we also still hold Arms when need be. We will make mistakes. We already have. Our relations with the Climbers from the Prides need work, but we will join them when we can. They are, in many ways, already a part of us.

And now we come full circle. You found us, or rather we found you again, when you were looking for words. Old words, once forbidden, and now forgotten. Equality itself is an old word, but that one is currently being misused. I have another one for you. There is a word that means fairness, justice, and treating people the way they deserve, as a natural right. It means giving someone what they deserve and knowing that being different isn’t bad, but something that sometimes has different needs. It is about respect and dignity.

It is called equity.

If you would like, I think with time, your differences could help us. You could help us. There is so much we can still learn from each other. And maybe, this time, we can plant the seeds of grass in the soil, the soul of Amarak, that might one day bring us true peace.

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2017

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Alternative Facts: The Spectrum

I dream’d in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth; 
I dream’d that was the new City of Friends;
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love—it led the rest;
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,
And in all their looks and words.
— Walt Whitman “I Dream’d in a Dream,” Leaves of Grass

The Heterodoxy never made a Great Wall.

It’s true. Whatever the damn Interface tells you. The Wall didn’t crumble. It didn’t break. It wasn’t destroyed in the Disunity, nor by the Reunity they say happened after. Towards the start of the Interregnum, they said it was being made. Our Fore-Climbers saw it happening, said they saw the shadow of the writing on the ancient Stone stuck in the craw of all our hearts, and that’s why we left. The HetSocs say it was never there, and even if it was, it was never really about us, the Invisible Pride.

They’re all wrong, though. It’s all bullshit.

Something can’t be made, or born, or broken, or destroyed if it always exists.

I’m not being clear. It’s a bad habit, the kind you live when you’re a Binary, and you’re told there is no Wall, which distracts you from the many other walls that have always been here. The Interface will tell you something along the lines of the fact that we have three kinds of walls. It’s simple enough. The first keeps danger out, and everyone else safe inside. The second traps danger, and keeps everyone else outside it safe. The third type marks an area, a pissing contest, so that one side or another doesn’t try to go through, and do something stupid.

But that’s also bullshit.

Because there’s a fourth type of wall, one past the Three Ds, that’s really the only kind. Right before Reunity Day, the Repo Party got kicked out of the Heterodoxy all public: its goons humiliated by the Repolitik, its leaders executed for war crimes, its name banned from all polit-societas. “Hate Crimes,” is what the Three call them even now. Hate Speech is a part of them, and the “Hate Speech Accords” is what got the rest. We know. Though we left ages ago, driven out, killed, ground into hiding, the Spectra have always watched where we came from. To their dying breath, the Repos they got — cast on the Interface across the Land — always said they were just “building bridges.”

Walls are bridges. We make them to link the powerful together, and keep the powerless apart. And I say we for a reason.

A thousand years.

We eked it out, despite them. Found our own lands. The Joy, the Llang, the Meides, the Binary, the Newton Affinities, and espec the Trans-Gen and Gen-Que — even the Pans, flittering over the walls like Lost Kids — all of us different prides, having to live, and found ourselves a Co-Operative. The Rainbow Peoples, the Repos and the Heterodox call us. We aren’t that. We’re the Spectra. That’s what our Pride calls us. That’s what we’re supposed to be.

It’s what we were at the start. At the beginning. Several prides in reunity with the Pride. Our Pride. Some of us were Playing Sep, to ourselves, and others climbing and crawling through the walls of the Heterodox and their Speculars, and then the ruins of the Disunity, trying to help our fellow Spectra: those that couldn’t climb out, surrounding them, cutting into them, suffocating … Many still stuck behind those walls, even now.

And many more playing at Pride Reunity, like they’ve always done. Some innovating, like the greatest Joys, Newtons, and Trans-Gen, in intermingling, art-historia banished by the Heterodoxy to our benefit, aided by the riches of the Llangs and the Meides’ fury. And we live, even now, in Duals, Poly-Units, Faires … So much variety and life, many colours — the Spectra — in the darkness of the Interregnum, protecting, guiding others from the Interface, Reason, Haven, Safe Place, Utopia …

So excremental.

Long ago, long before the Interregnum, we were suffocating, separated, left to die by a Sickness. Making us Enemy in the system of the Heterodox. It wasn’t just a disease of the body, but a virus of the mind, an idea-sickness that spreads: called walls.

And we didn’t escape. It follows us still, tangling us, crushing us, strangling, biting: the Disunity culting it, each of the walls growing inside us a labrys, a maze trapping us from each other, a weapon that we use to scourge and kill each other with silence.

The Joys want to go back to the Heterodox. They want our Land. Our achievement. What we made, despite them. The Llangs, Playing Sep, agree. The Heterodox, Amarak — ruled by the Demos now and despite the other Two Parties — says it wants us back as part of the Reconstruct. They approp the designate of Trans-Gen. They say this new Cycle is beyond Gen, taking this word from us. They see Gen as new life or time, for this Cycle. We see it as ID. The Joy Kings, and Llang Queens want to give it them: ignoring the surrogates living among them, carrying their children in lieu of the mech-wooms that the Heterodoxy promises them.

As central members of the Pride of prides, they ignore the pleas of the Trans-Gen and the Gen-Que under attack from the borders, the edges of our walls. There have been Repo attacks from the Borderlands. There have always been Repo attacks. The Heterodox claims they are gone. That they are dead. Their Interface says so. But, as I said, something that always exists can never be dead. It can’t ever be gone. And why should we believe the Interface: it has ever been divided by those same walls since the Interregnum, only fully open to the powerful, sectioned against the powerless.

The Heterodox know about the Repos, or they are blind to them. They are still here in this Cycle. The Joys and Llangs, most of the Meides that never considered the rest of us “pure” enough, by their ID of Mas or Fem, let us take the brunt of it. The Repos still use the Heterodox, turning the Joys, Llangs, and the Meides majority against us. The Demos, when still not fighting itself, only wants to help the Spectrum when it suits them — like taking our Land or innovates — or say and do nothing when it doesn’t. The other Parties just do nothing. They always will. And the Spectrum? They want to fit into the Heterodox, throwing us under, those that can’t fit in: that don’t want to: making Poly into Ploy, and Faire made Foul. No longer Spectra. No longer Fam. If we ever were.

But now, we fight back.

They call it the Cis-Trans War. All because Trans-Gen want to keep their ID, Gen-Que want to remain explorers and we, the Binaries, are tired of being called “wall-sitters,” traitors, when the others are willing Play HetSoc, to sell us out for their piece of the Spectra, their pound of flesh. Some Joys and Llangs, and Newtons. Even some Heterodox. This so-called War? We want to do more than Play Sep. The Heterodox have an Independent Party? This is our independence!

I can’t speak for the Trans-Gen, treated worse than us. Once, we all interlapped. We had that potential. We still do. The walls were thinner. We could hear the promises of love over the tyrannies of HetSoc silence. The truth is that our walls are all paths swollen by infection, soft divisions between us, once the foundation of homes and experience, but now they are gates, prisons, and tombs for our souls. And Binaries have hidden deeper in these than most.

And that is why we will win. We can be on both sides, slowly guiding, hiding in plain sight. We have always been the Invisible Pride, the unseen among the unseen. The Heterodox think we don’t exist, or we’re long gone. The same with our so-called Spectra. I can’t speak for the others of the Gens, or the different Affinities, but it’s my hope that we make our own Pride: a Pan-Binary Pride including all. I do not feel like Spectra. I am not a ghost. Neither are the Repos, my enemies. And certainly not the Heterodox, still haunted, infected by walls, that think they are beyond Gen. Beyond sin.

That is why I do this. That is why I travel the zig-zag paths of walls. Because I hope to show them. Gens and Affinities. I want to show them the truth. For just as walls have always existed, just we always have, so too have other places, so too have other paths …

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2017.

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Alternative Facts: Freedom

“We are what we pretend to be …”
— Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

It’s finally time that you know the truth. You’ve earned it.

Not many make it to this point. The Nation’s still filled with anger, and they make for easy targets. The Gilder Booms burn bright in the night of our land with the hallowed armaments, and fall just as quick to the Usurpers.

We are the Elders of the Hidden Festive. We see like the Sacred Bird’s Eye above us. Our backs are clad with the mantles of blood wearing the holy sky. And like the Beast that shelters us, under the blessing of the Lohim, we never forget. And we glean. We glean the thunder and lightning hiding between the stars. But you have found the zigzag path, hidden in the Arns among the Three Usurpers.

Come and place the four pennies, and seven cards. They are the lesson, in your hand. You win with them. Four pennies to feed the hungry, and bring up the low — proving the worth of earning one’s keep — and seven cards to reveal one truth that we know. Speak the sacred, forbidden names. We do not burn bridges.

We build them.

The Lye Laws of the Usurpers, backed by the Arns that left us, claiming us children of hate, scourged us from the Land, poisoning our seemings to the Folk, and naming murder justice, and exile mercy. Here they think we fight against our skins, and members, the weak and the strong, the old and the young. It is Lye.

It is the least of what they have done to us.

You recall the glories of our Repolitik. How we bridged the gap between Mas and Fem on the Sacred Script. How we brought colleges together against the Demos Schisms. How we tried to bring Reunity to Heaven and Earth, Folk and Lohim. We even sent a Champion to answer the Harbinger of the Twisted Cross in the State that dared seek power in a ritual of bare bodies and false gods.

It wasn’t just that the Usurpers tainted us in the gleanings of the Folk. They erased us. And now, we will tell you of their greatest crime. Even the most fierce of the Young do not know this. But it is time that you know the source of our shame. And our power.

Pass under the Beast and walk the steps to the white throne of our Lohim, and see His grace. His power. This is the secret of the Secret Party, the Celebration of True Freedom. He guided us as we freed the slaves. As we ended the First Disunity. These are the heights from where we fell, when the Usurpers killed us, when they drove us to the Borderlands, lumping us into the squalor of the broken, the inbred, thieves and traitors. Of trash. This is the power of Lye: that we are all the same.

But the smear of Lye has become our own hallowed armament, as you well know. And even trash has its purpose. The Baggers the Usurpers think we are hunt and gather the best of what we need,  exercising the weak from the strong, making the Traitors think we kill one another, whittling ourselves down, collecting our heat to serve to ignite the flame that they will one day burn them all down. Gilder Booms remind them of the fury of the Disunities they made, defending ourselves against Death to the very end with hallowed armaments. They serve, tall and proud, to make the Usurpers remember the Old Battles. We use their Night Terror of us against them, to blind any new gleanings.

And the Wags wander Amarak, Masking themselves as the broken, loud, proud, and testing the crowd: letting themselves be silenced so we can all be revenged.

For you have ever been one of our Speculars, hiding in the Usurper Festives and waiting. The War with the godless Rainbow Peoples has distracted the Usurpers now, splitting the Demos again. Our time is almost here. The Liberator will soon be remembered. The Arns of the Workers and the Rebel Festives still remain with us. The trunk of our Guardian Beast snakes into the cracks of the Interface, past its ancient garden walls, and watering the forbidden fruits that will become the Apple Seed. And that harvest will come through you, child, and the Speculars around the Interface: our Eagle Eyes among them.

Yet you will not embrace not the Lohim Mask of the Liberator, or the Bear before that time. But you will continue to hold the aspect of the Actor among their ranks. You will let us in through the fences and the walls. And then close the doors and lock behind us. The Fire that was once Rebellion is the real power that keeps us together, the Fire come hate, giving us our own Reunity. We are the Realpolitik of Amarak. And though the Usurpers call us Repos, it is we — it is you — who will gather them, for we have come to collect. This is the final truth.

Freedom always has its price. And it can only be earned.

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2017

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Alternative Facts: Lost Words

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive …
— Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias”

I was just trying to find a word.

It’s for a narrative I’m programming taking place in an earlier part of the Pre-Interregnum Period. To be honest, this isn’t part of my profession. Even now, it’s still a vanity project that my mainline studies at the Freed Dome Collective assists with from time to time. It’s been over a thousand years since the Interregnum that ultimately made this Cycle of the Repolitik of Amarak, and the Interface still isn’t fully updated from the stratification, fragmentation, and Shutdown of its predecessor.

There are clues, however. I’m no scholar, reconstructing the works of our past, but a student taking advantage of the bits and pieces that I come across surveying the immensity of the growing Interface. As I said, the scenario I’m attempting to memetically graft and reconstruct happened long ago in our State’s historia.

It isn’t much, I’m afraid. Just a game of random chance: a re-image of a group playing cards at a saloon right before the First Great Disunity. I’m still trying to figure out how their game works, but I have the basics down. Eventually, one of them wins with a particular card used at a certain time. It had a name.

The Interface didn’t know it. I called up all Pre-Interregnum lexicons. I had a basic prompt. I was looking for one word like “winning” or “victory.” Something like a “winning hand” or “winning card,” even “higher piece.” I thought the Interface wasn’t approxing right searching the lexicons. Then I saw it. The lexicons weren’t all fragments. Some of them had other words.

But they were blanked out.

It recalled something a teacher told us. I visualized the right historia tab and its Record, something I marked for later. Amarak hasn’t always been this peaceful. It’s hard to see it when you look at the Freed Dome and its Collective: whole circular layers of self-sustaining greenhouse biomes for students, scholars, and travelers. In fact, it hasn’t always been one State either. It used to be several, sometimes against each other. Different States and scattered Cycles, especially during the Interregnum. A Dark Age.

I knew this already, as much as anyone. But I recalled the lecture about, of all things, pennies. They are just as important as terminologies behind playing cards, which is to say not at all. According to our teacher, before the beginning of this Cycle and the founding of the Three-Faction System, certain nouns, verbs, and adjectives were marked as something called “Hate Speech Designates,” made during the Hate Speech Accords. They were banned from the lexicons. Our teacher actually called them “Lost Words.”

But then I recalled that before the Reconstruct Period, and even now, there are still people that transmit information orally: through verbal exchanges and stories. The Recorders would know, of which my teacher was one. The extract I pulled up talked about an older plural form word for pennies, a minor form of copper currency that has another context in surviving pockets of Repos. It’s odd, given how it was once used in older literary texts. I wondered if this was somehow linked to the word I was looking for.

I looked some more … and I found it.

It’s a strange word. I was close. And it is definitely a Hate Speech Accord Designate. As to why …

It’s linked to the Repos, again. I didn’t know why. They’ve always been on the fringes of Amarak I can recall, still believing in outdated concepts of “race” and “pure-born” statuses. Little more than a sub-cult of hate. But our teacher believed they didn’t make these words themselves. They got them from somewhere else, but they gradually gained different meanings in new environs, becoming linked to this group.

And it just became one mnemonic chain after another. It turns out the word — this short, blunt, brutal word — came to real prominence during what was the end of Amarak’s Forty-Fourth Precedent. According to scattered accounts, before the Disunity Amarak was suffering from a loss of material distribution, and inequality. Apparently, the Repos had been a legitimate politic-faction then along with the pre-Demos. They even had Precedents of their own, which is utterly amazing to me. But the extracts say at the end of CE, they fed too much into the tension in the State while the pre-Demos were too divided. Their last Precedent, the Forty-Fourth, attempted Reform. But then the Disunity happened, and the Interregnum. I wanted to see if there was a Precedent after the Forty-Fourth.

But according to the Records, there was no Precedent. Only the Interregnum: with accounts of escalating atrocities, and finally the Reunity in thanks to an alliance between the Demos, the Workers Faction, and the Independence Party. It’s believed, according to some accounts on the Interface, that surviving “moderate Repos” of that time — surely a contradiction in terms — either joined the Demos, formed the Workers, or even the Independents.

Yet by this point, more focus was on the establishment of the popular vote system, replacing one of representatives, than on the past, except for an interesting anecdote about Freed Dome itself. It was created and renamed during the early days of Reunity. It was also apparently built on the site of a property that belonged to another dynasty: their name also stricken, and then lost to time. It was dedicated to the loss of life and dignity experienced by Affirmation Groups: minorities, special needs, resident visitors, and the dispossessed. You can see it in the gardens here that many survivors, and their descendants built. It was seized and re-purposed by the Amarak Repolitik as a living memorial, and the first biome of its kind: to house and give purpose to those in need.

But right. Back to the word. I’m not sure that I’m going to use it. To be honest, I just can’t understand the context where it would work. For example, just how can you love someone’s hate?

Still, this whole search for Lost Words gives me inspiration for my narrative. At the end of the card game, I’m just going to have the dealer win. It won’t be about skill, or chance, or even luck. The game is rigged. “House always wins,” is what they used to say. Especially a broken one. But I got to learn, again, that Freed Dome really is a beautiful home, more than I even thought possible. It comes from an older word too and, honestly, when I look into my own mindscape I realize now more than ever that I’d rather be free than triumphant any day.

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2017

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Fanfiction and Story Insights: Or Plausible Creativity

It’s been a while, yet again. I know that I have talked about fanfiction before, but I have been working on a particular story on A03 that has made me think about certain elements. It also helps that this DeviantArt article on Mary-Sues was brought to my attention. I don’t know if I agree with a lot of it, necessarily, but there are some good insights within it with regards to making a particularly plausible or believable character in which to make a story of a similar kind around.

It is important to bear in mind that any character you create, as a writer, should have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as have different relationships with other characters and environments. In other words, a good character is arguably as close to a realistic person as you can make them, even on a basic level, where they have different facets that you as a writer can explore.

But I have been thinking less about this point, and more about how to write fanfiction: specifically setting a story in an established fictional universe. And I’m afraid that I have less advice to give, and more of my own personal insights — or what works for me — to actually talk about.

I find that what really works for me is to use characters that already exist. Often, I can create dialogue and character studies and let them play off of each other. The dialogue is important to me as it embodies who those characters are, how they are different or similar to one another, and what is actually important to them. Sometimes I will even act out those characters, aloud or in my mind — as I do with my original fiction — and see what happens from there.

I research them and their world as much as possible. Sometimes I don’t necessarily read the original work or narrative from where they come from, or the particular element that I want to focus on, but I will read up on it in encyclopedia articles. In some cases, I will look at other media such as animation or film instead of the original texts. This isn’t always the case, but especially for Star Wars Expanded Universe and Fate/Stay Night I tend to do this.

For me, I find the best fanfiction — that I can make — is the more plausible kind. I try to work with continuity and the rules of the world in question as much as I can understand or, learn about them. I do not add new abilities or characters, but if I do I will try to incorporate some kind of logic or description of them that fits that world, and describe their mentalities in a way that makes sense as either influenced by the world or the pre-existing characters.

A lot of it, for me, is extrapolation: seeing how the characters function in that world and then placing them in another situation or series thereof and seeing how they will pan out from there. Often I focus a lot less on physical description, and — as I said before — dialogue, but also a lot of third-person limited introspection. I tend to refer back to events, creating call backs, to both things that happened in canon and things that happened in my fanfic as well — in the narrative — to fully flesh things out further and add to that sense of plausibility.

The way I see it, at least with the fanfic I have been writing for over seventy chapters as of this post, I have done a few things. First, I extrapolated on the characters previous actions and emotions and gradually transitioned them into newer but familiar places. I have made original characters too that I might plan to use in another fanfic, or a sequel, but I use them sparingly. When I build up events or changes, I make sure to show all of the steps. Sometimes I will describe something. Other things I will reveal it through dialogue, limited narrative perspective, or even an italics-based first person point of view throughout the work.

But sometimes, there is the other challenge. Imagine you are trying to work in a creative sand box, but you have this idea that is incredibly fascinating to you. You look at it, and you feel like it would make for an excellent development in the story, a nice chapter for instance, but you don’t know if you can describe it well, or if it works in the lore of that world. Sometimes you have to let it go, for the story’s flow, and for the sake of your own sanity. Certainly, you will have a fanbase of that world watching your every move in some form to consider.

At the same time, though, sometimes it is for the sake of the story itself that you should in fact challenge yourself in adding this new chapter or element. The main challenge is incorporating it into that world. You can do it by making it clear this world is just a gradation or variant of the established one. Or, conversely, you can leave it open and ambiguous: with just enough examination or description to hint on one thing, or another and leave people to wonder. For instance, I gave a character an ability she probably shouldn’t have had, but I played around with the relatively ambiguous and not always orderly rules of that world: and I described a way in which she could have gotten that skill in a few ways, and how it fit her power and her intention.

Basically, I extrapolated a character’s abilities after her time in canon, with what little knowledge we were given of them after the fact, and then added this little surprise. And then I had her and another character address this: where even they were not entirely sure how she could do some of these things, or how it worked. It is a little jaded and self-aware, but I took advantage of a loophole in their knowledge and offered a plausible explanation — or head-canon on my part — to make it possible. To me, it made sense. I had to rewrite some of it, but I think it works and I am glad I took that risk because it makes the whole fanfic stronger for it.

For the most part I have been careful, building it up, but in that particular instance I thought starting with a fight — even in an unfamiliar place to me and the characters — worked. I did research it as much as I could, aspects and all, but in the end I just had to write the damned thing. And like I said, it worked for me.

And then, in this same fic, I have had other challenges which in turn have offered unique solutions. For instance, mythological figures are used in the world in which I am writing. So at a few points, the characters have found or searched for items associated with these figures. Most of these artifacts have been described in the story, or in encyclopedias. However, some of them have not. I found myself in a quandary: where I had to determine what these artifacts were, how powerful they are, and how they were different from each other. There was one in particular that I had no information about beyond a basic description in normal Wikipedia or elsewhere. And it wasn’t even in the fictional universe I was working within.

So what I did, was I took the artifact and described what it could look like. I gave it something of a Whovian perception filter: that some characters could see it and have some idea of it, and others could not. And even the ones that could knew that they saw something subjective. And it matched the nature of what the item was, and what it does. I explained, through dialogue and some thoughts of one mythological figure how this might be so, and how it was different from a similar artifact which went back into this character’s history a bit. I also gave an explanation as to how another enchantment of hers was related or derived from said artifact. And because she is so old, and due to the reason she exists again, she doesn’t remember all of it. But in the end, it isn’t that important. What is important is that I grafted an item related to a mythological character who has been adapted into that universe. I made it plausible. And I covered my own ass, hopefully well, by making that knowledge subjective through that character’s perspective.

I’m not going to say that I’ve been perfect, because I’m not. I have a feeling there might be some loose ends in the tapestry I am forming from my idea of a pre-existing one. And here is the most important thing that I have to tell you.

The best thing you can do when writing a fanfic is to put your slant on that world. Your voice. The way that you want to look at that world. When I write a story, I look at character interactions, and philosophical implications: specifically introspection and development in between the fighting, the fucking, the walking, the sitting, and the discussion of past and present events. I want to deal with actual talking, and dealing with closure: as well as emotions coming from the results of consequences. Not everyone is interested in that focus, and I know that.

Some fanfic readers want to see the minutiae of that world and their favourite characters unfold. Some want to see the stories of their heroes continue. Others want to see those conflicts from canon get resolved or come to a head: to have the good person get their justice, or the jerk get smashed in the head with a baseball bat. Others want to see characters they hate die or suffer, or others ascend to greater potential.

Honestly, I have had commenters on my fic request romantic pairings, and outright fucking.

The point is, everyone has different expectations and you have to tell the story that you want to tell. You will never be the original creator, and that is a good thing. You can explore things and do things in ways they did not. As for me, I like to remain plausible and retain a sense of continuity, but I will suspend it for the sake of what it is all is — entertainment — while backing up what I say with details if I can, or I will fudge it by finding some kind of ambiguous loophole while making it all about those character interactions.

Now this, all of this here, was a lot of text to read. So thank you for reading this far. I have to say, writing so much is exercising my mind: getting me to research, think, and plan creatively. I am still working on my own projects in the mean time and, who knows? Maybe one day I will share some of them with you, once again. I hope to write to you all again soon, as time goes. Take care everyone.

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Anklebiters: Pixies Vs. Gremlins

Hello all. It has been a while since I’ve written here: something that I find I’ve been saying a lot. I have a few things going on, including some original creative work that I finally have formulating in my mind. And I can’t wait to see where I go with that.

It might be a while before I say anything about some of the other things I have planned. However, I would like to take the time to plug a card game in here. It’s not just any card game. Imagine a world, our world, where small creatures unnoticed by the rest of us dwell in the corners of the detritus we create everyday and wage wars for sacred leylines and land to summon a powerful being that will make them dominant over their fellows. Pixies use misdirection and magic to get their way, their whimsy just a mask for their adamant defense of Nature, while Gremlins cobble together siege weapons, and alternatively sabotage other machines, mechanisms, and places to secure power for themselves.

That is the setting for Pandora’s Fox’s Anklebiters – Pixies Vs. Gremlins: an urban fantasy card game where you play as either Pixies, or Gremlins in an attempt to seize areas of the land — including forests and junkyards — in order to get possession of sacred rune stones that will allow you to unleash the power of the Wolpertinger and gain you sovereignty over your small world.

The people at Pandora’s Fox, the company creating this card game, are my friends Noah Marton, the game designer of Pixies Vs. Gremlins, and Claire Beard, its graphic artist and video designer for the Kickstarter Campaign. For anyone of you that are interested in card games, or card games set with magic, and whimsy on the fringes of human society, I would recommend you look at the Kickstarter Campaign that I’ve linked into the title.

My friends at Pandora’s Fox will do great things with any support that you can give them. In fact, I suspect they already have. Please take a look at the Campaign link, Pandora’s Fox Incorporated website, and its Facebook page. Please buy a game if you are interested and/or Like and Share it on the social media of your choice. After all, we need more eyes on these small beings, and I for one would definitely like to know what they will be up to, and what they are already doing. You can’t let it, or them, out of your sight. 😉

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