Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Long overdue update which is actually kind of a good exciting sort of thing

Hi again...

I've basically been trying to rebuild both my writing career (if you want to call it that) and my mental health from the ground up over the last several months. I've managed to be at least a bit more active on social media and I am in fact writing a lot of things, but I have been shamefully neglectful of this blog, and I apologize for that.

I've mentioned this in places before, but in March of this year, I was diagnosed with PTSD, on top of my previous diagnoses of persistent depressive disorder and social anxiety. The details are a story that I'm nowhere near ready to tell yet, so all I'll say is that PTSD is just...the worst. The fucking worst. I would wish death on my enemies before I wished PTSD on them.

So anyway. In the course of all this rebuilding, I've thought a lot about what I want to write and how I want to handle writing going forward. I've thought about what exactly I want to write, and how I want to publish the things I do write. I have a pretty good handle on some of the stuff I want to do, but other things I'm still figuring out.

To put it shortly, I have come to the realization that I was trying really hard to force myself into a small, marketable box. I thought that "real" writers only wrote one kind of thing, like novelists only wrote novels and poets only wrote poetry, and if I didn't pick one thing and stick to it I would never get anywhere. Honestly, I can still kind of see the case for that on some level, although I no longer think it's that simple.

But here's the thing. I love to write. I have to write. I can't NOT write. And so, that's what I'm going to do. I don't want to be hung up on how many views I have, or how do I get big, or how do I be more visible. I just want to create things and put them out there. And that's what I'm going to do. I'm writing what I want to write. Poems, visual novels, essays, text-based games...There's a ton of different stuff that I want to do and I need to stop telling myself that I can't, because I don't think there's a good reason why I can't.

So what does this mean for Some Strange Circus? A couple of things. My website has been undergoing edits for a while, but is currently in a mostly stable state, although there are still some squirrelly bits. (Like the fact that there's a place where an Etsy shop that I haven't actually opened yet should be linked...Ahem.) I've also redone my Patreon page with new and less expensive reward tiers, so check that out if you're interested! (It too is still a tiny bit squirrelly in places.)

I'm currently trying to buckle down on finally finishing Yumi-chan's Wonderful Cake Shop, and also writing a bunch of other things. Mostly poetry, but there is this one other thing...

I will now be writing articles for The Mighty! To be honest, I still feel really, REALLY awkward about having an article published on any website at all. But excited too. The articles that I write for them will mostly be about my personal struggles with mental illness, so they probably won't be happy reads, but I hope that they can help someone understand what going through this is like. This one in particular talks a bit about my PTSD diagnosis and what having it is actually like. I get that it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but if you would like to read it, then by all means go ahead.

(I had to link it just one more time.)

I actually intended this to be a short update, but I seem to have rambled on for quite a while, so I'm going to go ahead and go. Thanks to everyone for your support thus far, and thanks especially to Naomi Norbez, who has been unbelievably supportive for far longer than I deserve. There are good days and bad days, but this actually ended up becoming a good day, and I'm going to go enjoy the rest of it.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Circus Reviews - The Lonely Hearts Hotel

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill, and should not be read unless you have finished the novel. It also makes references to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

As a rule, I generally dislike giving spoilers as part of a general review. However, most of my conflicted feelings regarding this book come from the ending, and thus discussing it is unavoidable.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel follows two orphans, Pierrot and Rose, who are abandoned at a Montreal orphanage in 1914 and grow up together under the care of strict, often abusive nuns. Even as children, they develop an irrepressible bond that is only strengthened by their respective talents: Pierrot is a piano prodigy despite a lack of formal education, and Rose is a charming and talented performer. As a pair, they travel around the city performing for the wealthy, a practice the nuns reluctantly allow for the money that it provides. But when Pierrot and Rose are fifteen, the Great Depression hits, and through a combination of the subsequent hardship and some interference from some of the nuns, Pierrot and Rose are sent to separate homes. While they fare well at first, they both eventually crash down into the dark underbelly of the struggling city. Despite their suffering, they never give up on finding each other, and on breathing life into their childhood plans for the world's most spectacular show.

The writing style is what sticks out the most to me at first. It's highly evocative of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, one of my favorite novels of all time. It's whimsical and lyrical and doesn't so much tell us things as it sings them to us and weaves them into our hair. There is a pretty noticeable difference, though, and that's this novel's simultaneously jarring and grim narrative. The Night Circus is not a 100% happy novel, but it is far from dark; it has a dreamlike story and a narrative that feels gentle even when things look bleak. The Lonely Hearts Hotel, on the other hand, feeds us sugar with one spoon and poison with the other. As I mentioned, the writing style is quite whimsical, but in stark contrast, the events it describes are often horribly nightmarish.

I don't feel it's an exaggeration to say that there's a LOT of sexual abuse in this novel. A lot. As a child, Pierrot is sexually abused by Sister Eloise, one of the nuns (oh, don't worry, I'll get to her), which causes a lot of psychological issues for him down the road, especially when it comes to relationships or the lack thereof. The McMahons, a wealthy family that take in fifteen-year-old Rose as a governess, is headed by a drug dealer and mob boss who takes Rose as a mistress; Rose eventually grows miserable with the arrangement but knows that she will be penniless if she leaves. One she does walk out, she ends up working in porn to support herself. During all of this, she ends up miscarrying two children, and pretty graphically at that. Pierrot, meanwhile, winds up on the street and mostly steals to support his heroin habit, and sleeps with countless girls in an attempt to put both Sister Eloise and Rose out of her mind. All of these events are described so matter-of-factly, at times putting it at odds with the atmosphere that the story creates. Mercifully, however, Pierrot and Rose do eventually reunite after a painful series of missed encounters during which the world itself literally seems to conspire against them, and the loving relationship they develop is a much-needed if brief reprieve, although it too is very sexually explicit.

Pierrot and Rose themselves are fantastic characters to follow. They both possess an amazing charisma, and attract everyone they meet to them without even trying. Pierrot's lack of formal education doesn't keep him from being charming and able to fit in anywhere, while Rose inspires the world around her with her wild spirit. She gradually develops a ravenous ambition fueled by a desire to break out of her assigned gender role, and her years of helplessness in the face of impending poverty.

In comparison, none of the other characters shine as brightly. The only nuns that receive any real characterization are the Mother Superior and Sister Eloise. As mentioned, Eloise begins molesting Pierrot when he is eleven, and soon develops an obsession with him that coincides with Rose seemingly being abused more often. When Eloise discovers Pierrot and Rose's budding love, she grows enraged and beats Rose so violently that it makes the mostly aloof Mother Superior realize that Rose's life is in danger, which is partly what motivates her to send Rose off to work as a governess. Soon after, Pierrot is adopted by a wealthy man and is forced to leave without getting to say goodbye to Rose; he sends letters to the orphanage for her, and Eloise disposes of them. Years later, she also lies to him about where Rose has gone when he comes looking for her. Rose rightly assesses her as a "crazy bitch" and promises to Pierrot that she'll kill her one day...which I'll get to.

McMahon, the man who takes in Rose as a governess and then a mistress, develops a similar obsession with Rose in time, and grows more and more abusive as he finds himself unable to break her spirit as he wishes to. When she finally leaves him, he searches relentlessly for her and tries to have her killed; further down the line, when Pierrot and Rose have married, he also sends women to seduce Pierrot away from her. Rose's initial attraction to him is based on self-debasement; as she puts it, "hating herself was part of what made it feel so good."

Most of the other characters are more minor in comparison, but a majority of them share the occasionally inexplicable trait of wanting to keep Pierrot and Rose from reuniting, sometimes to extremes. You can probably guess that a good portion of the novel has the leads separated and focuses on their efforts to make it back to each other. If this book had kept them apart until the end of the novel, it would have been cruel and I probably would have rated it much lower. Pierrot and Rose's reunion takes long enough as it is, with several near-misses and several outside forces taking direct action to prolong it. But come the reunion does, and it feels like a breath of fresh air to see the couple finally get together. They quickly fall into the relationship they were always meant to have, and the small amount of happiness they are allowed to enjoy is a greatly needed relief.

But sadly, perhaps inevitably, it can't last. The first cracks appear when Rose loses her third pregnancy, but the real tension comes from the plans for the Snowflake Icicle Extravaganza, the show that Pierrot and Rose dreamed of in childhood. When they are finally in a position to try and make their dreams a reality, Rose violently seizes hold of the chance, and while Pierrot goes along enthusiastically at first, he begins to balk when he realizes that Rose has become more fixated on the money than on the show itself and sees what Rose is willing to do, up to and including having McMahon murdered. Their split comes when they have an explosive fight about whether to go back to Montreal after their show's run or stay in New York City; Pierrot wants to stay, while Rose wants to go back, and ultimately the two are not able to reconcile. They go their separate ways; Pierrot falls into despair and poverty once again, and ends up dying of a drug overdose. Rose goes back to Montreal, making good on her threat to kill McMahon, and while she becomes wealthy and successful in the entertainment world, she remains heartbroken by her loss, and is devastated to hear of Pierrot's death.

The final chapter contains an ending that I have some really mixed feelings about. Sister Eloise unexpectedly reappears with Pierrot's illegitimate son in tow and offers to leave him with Rose as penance for the way she acted previously. Rose forgives her and immediately agrees to adopt the boy, deciding that her new mission in life will be to make him happy. As Sister Eloise is leaving, Rose tells one of her men to shoot him, and the body is quickly cleaned up before anyone else can notice.

So on the one hand, I love the cleverness of the foreshadowing for that ending; it ties nicely to a conversation Pierrot and Rose have about Pierrot's childhood sexual abuse. Rose's righteous anger on the behalf of Pierrot isn't focused on much, but admittedly it's a bit satisfying to see that Eloise didn't get away with what she did.

On the other hand, after seeing Pierrot and Rose actually manage to get together and successfully achieve their shared dream, to have it be ripped away in the end makes me really sad. Normally I don't mind sad endings if they fit, but this one bothers me on a level I don't quite understand. Perhaps I just got so invested in the characters that I was that much more crestfallen by the crash. Looking back, if you listen closely, you can see hints that things are inevitably going to fail, but you want to hope that it will turn out all right anyway. Really, though, I think that makes the novel even stronger.

All in all, a powerfully charismatic story that builds up a strong fairy tale and a stronger explosion of its own core.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sakura-Con post-mortem

So here's the thing: I generally like conventions, but I've come to realize that I'm pretty bad at them.

I don't like large crowds and I don't like lots of loud noises, but in the past I've been able to ignore that, basically, because there are things I do love about conventions. I love the dealer's room and the artist's alley. I love the general atmosphere. I love seeing cosplay designs that people have worked so hard on. I love being somewhere where I'm not the weird awkward kid for liking anime.

I've come to realize that this is the first convention I've gone to where I went by myself and spent an extended amount of time. I did briefly go to Arkansas Anime Festival in May of 2016, for maybe an hour. But other than that, my past convention experiences have been with friends (or people I thought were friends at the time, but that's another story). I'd like to think that maybe this year's experience could simply be chalked up to not having anyone to share it with. But, like most sad stories, it's a bit more complicated than that.

About a month ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD. This combined with the mental illnesses I've been previously diagnosed with equals terrible mental health for the time being. This isn't the time to go into all the gorey details, but suffice to say that it's been a struggle, especially having just moved to a new area. To put it in a less professional manner: it really fucking sucks. Obviously, wanting to spend large amounts of time in bed and out of sight is a desire that doesn't mash well with attending a convention. But I really did want to enjoy myself. (Also, I'd already reserved the hotel.)

I can't say I didn't enjoy myself, because I did. I got to pick up some swag and see some bright and colorful things and it was nice. But I also ended up driving back home a day early because I couldn't sleep and couldn't stand being around people anymore.

So basically: I had fun, but not nearly as much as I wanted to.

Should I not be telling you all of this? Maybe not. It's not "professional" or anything. But I feel like you guys deserve to know why I've struggled so much producing content these past few months. Also I'm possibly going a bit stir-crazy from not having anyone to ramble at.

I don't really have a suitable conclusion. I'm always really horrible at writing conclusions. So instead, I shall end this with a picture of Seattle, and a promise that con swag pics will come at some point in the very near future. Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Coming back.

I've been an official-ish resident of the Pacific Northwest for the last couple weeks. Still adjusting, but things are all right so far.

As promised, I'm going to spend the next several weeks retooling my website and getting back into the swing of writing. Some pages on my personal website may look very strange while I'm doing this, and some links to the site may no longer work. It may take a bit, but I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Where have you been, you awkward slug

Well. It's been a while, hasn't it?

I'd like to apologize for being so silent these past several months. It's been a very hard time for me emotionally and financially, and I kind of crawled into a metaphorical hole and fell asleep down there, hoping I could wake up in the spring and everything would be flowery again. Of course, life doesn't work that way. I did wake up, and now my brain has the awkward task of trying to put me back together while I come to terms with a lot of facts. Facts like, really bad things have happened to me and I put off dealing with them for too long. Facts like, I'm a mess right now and scared that I'll never get better. Facts like, I want to try and keep going anyway.

Over the next month, I will be attending job training for a new job I've taken in Washington, 2,000 miles away from my current home in Arkansas. It's a big opportunity and I'm excited and nervous and sad and the whole gauntlet of emotions about it. It does unfortunately necessitate that I continue to remain stepped back from Some Strange Circus for a little while longer, while I go to training and then go get settled in a new state. But I'm determined to keep going. Once I am moved into my new state, I'm going to look at getting things back on track with my writing, which is something that's always been very dear to me.

To those who have supported me in the past, thank you. To those who are reading this, thank you as well.

I'm not okay just yet, but I'm going to work on it.

I'll see you all soon.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Circus Reviews - 16 Ways To Kill A Vampire At McDonald's

IF Comp is here again, and I didn't enter like I'd planned to. I may be stuck in a hole, but darned if I won't pull something down here with me. So let's play some IF Comp games!

The game centers around a vampire hunter named Lucy who generally just acts as bait for the undead creatures and doesn't do much of the heavy lifting herself. But on her night off, she wanders into a McDonald's and comes face to face with a vampire, with no backup and an adorable cashier to protect. With time ticking down before the vampire makes a move and no way to tackle the vampire head-on, how will Lucy manage to save the day?

I normally tend to go for the story-driven IF games, such as those by kaleidofish, but the bulk of this one's gameplay involves trying to figure out how to kill the vampire with your limited surroundings and whatever knowledge of traditional vampire myths you have. Pretty much all of the common ones can be used in some way, which is helpful in that it doesn't have to go into a bunch of tedious exposition, but a McDonald's doesn't have a ton of options when it comes to religious paraphernalia, for example, and thus creative thinking is required. This game in particular makes more use of your inventory than most of the IF games I've played. You actually start with a few items that turn out to be extremely helpful, which I did not realize my first few times through the game.

The vampire itself is treated as the villain, and it feels like that's gotten so rare in a world where Twilight is part of general history. Part of the vampire's plan does involve seduction, but it's not treated as anything attractive; it's treated like a predator hunting prey. Lucy herself takes the entire thing as just part of her duty, and treats the seduction thing as simply something to be dealt with. She's fairly no-nonsense in general, but cares about the safety and well-being of other people and thinks on her feet. You might trust her for help with a supernatural being trying to kill you after spending a game with her.

The game has sixteen different endings (of course), and there's a helpful list that details each ending and gives a hint for the ones you haven't gotten yet. As you play through the game, you also get bonus content, like vampire facts and a more spoofy sequel wherein Lucy gets to bring her two friends, Maggie and Luke, along to hunt even more vampires. The amount of content here is happily surprising considering it's a free IF game. There is also a "true ending" that I haven't quite unlocked yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

All in all, this is well worth the time you'll put into it. It has massive replay value and good goals to work towards. It's not a particularly deep game and maybe not filled with a bunch of new ideas, but there's also something refreshing about treating a villainous predator like a villainous predator.

And maybe, you'll never look at a McDonald's the same way again.

16 Ways To Kill A Vampire At McDonald's is available to play in browser through IFComp.

Final verdict: A simple but enjoyable game about good old-fashioned vampire killing, with enough replayability and bonus content to make it well worth your while.

16 Ways To Kill A Vampire At McDonald's is developed by Abigail Corfman. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

GenCon post-mortem

Well, I only actually went for one day, but I have a few things to say, at least.

GenCon is different than any anime convention I've been to. There didn't seem to be so many panels. There were a lot of booths for different game companies and a lot of people playing games. "Artist Alley" was a thing, and there was a dedicated author's section that made me quite happy. It was very...crowded. Hard to deal with at times for a person with social anxiety, but it all worked out. I met some cool artists, including one whose work I've admired for a while, and picked up a nice little stack of business cards. If I wasn't so poor I'd hire most of them for visual novel shenanigans.

I wish I could have stayed longer, to tell the truth...I wanted to see more of the con and I wanted to see my family more than I got to. But, you know, financial obligations and impending doom.

I have a number of pictures on my cell phone that will eventually make their way online, probably to Instagram, which I do occasionally post on.

Also, driving a nine and a half hour drive alone is interesting. It's freeing not to have to make conversation all the time, and to have the ability to stop wherever the damn hell I feel like. That said, it was hard in the mornings, when I was getting so tired that I had to pull over. This did lead me to discovering the joys of five-hour energy shots, which helped somewhat. I made terrible time both ways, but eh, who cares.

I guess that concludes my ramblings. I wouldn't mind going to GenCon again, but there's that awkward thing where next year it conflicts with AnimeFest, which I wish I was going to this year and had hoped to go to next year...So we'll see what happens.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Circus Reviews - So You Killed a Guy

The issue with reviewing interactive fiction games is that they often have no pictures, and thus inserting pictures throughout the review ends up being boring and likely to spoil things. However, I feel like I haven't played nearly enough text-based games lately, especially with IFComp upon us. So here, I present to you an interesting gem plucked from r/interactivefiction: a Creative Writing thesis as presented in Twine.

In an unforeseen twist, So You Killed a Guy opens with the narrator telling you that you have just killed a guy. This narrator purports to be your guide, claiming to have instructions that will allow you to get away with this crime unpunished, and as long as you follow these instructions, you will be perfectly fine, probably.

To me, a lot of second-person fiction sets up the protagonist as a concrete character while still referring to "you" when telling the story; this game, however, doesn't really have a protagonist, unless we count the narrator himself. The story is set up in such a way that you alone fill the "protagonist" role, and it feels more like the choices themselves are the character, if that makes any sense. A number of your options are filled with sarcasm and apathy, and you are presented with a number of opportunities to mercilessly screw with the narrator, but you can also play along and be cooperative.

The narrator is probably the real character here. He begins by presenting an almost too enthusiastic front, being quite into the fact that you're a murderer and rushing to offer his assistance, but the facade shatters pretty quickly if you refuse to play along with what he's telling you. What develops is a neurotic voice that lashes out and gets angry, but at heart wants nothing more than to write a good, original story. That's something that hit particularly hard for me, especially considering the recent slump I've been in. What's different about the narrator's fits of rage, though, is that they actually affect something. The narrator is in control of the game world; if he doesn't like something in it (like, say, YOU), he can change it...unless, of course, he lacks the creative inspiration to do so. Isn't that an ability we all wish we could have?

There are several different ways the story can end depending on whether you heckle the narrator and how much, and each one explores a slightly different aspect of the issue of writer's block in a unique and compelling way. You might successfully make it to your planned ending, or you might poke fun at the narrator one too many times and end up being severely punished for your actions. I personally started feeling rather bad for the narrator in at least one path, only for this to dissipate somewhat when he began threatening me with violence.

I fully admit that I am not qualified to judge the merit of any sort of thesis, but I do know at least one small thing about video games, and I feel that this holds up as a game pretty well. It treats a subject I know very well in a new way, and I'd strongly recommend it to writers of any kind, or to people who enjoy IF games and are looking for a quick one to try out. Also, I hope that the author considers continuing to write for Twine, because their first project is an enjoyable one indeed.

So You Killed a Guy is available to play for free on

Final verdict: While perhaps not intended as a game in the traditional sense, So You Killed a Guy stands out with its relateable narrator and its short but fascinating exploration into the struggle for creativity and inspiration.

So You Killed a Guy is developed by tomfrom1995. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.