Posts Tagged ‘LGBT characters’

It’s no secret that, along with horror, I’m a huge anime fan. In fact, I’ve dedicated posts to my love of Sailor Moon and to my favorite manga of all time, Red River. And because I wanted a change of pace, I figured I’d put out a list of some off the anime I’ve been enjoying lately or continue to enjoy years after I watch them. Along with Sailor Moon and Red River, these might be good places to start delving into what has become a worldwide phenomenon over the past several years. Or if you’re already a fan and just want something new to dive into, these could be good choices.

And of course, I’d love to hear from people who have already seen these series and enjoy them as much as I do.

So with all that said, let’s dive in. Here’s 8 anime I recommend.

1. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Another one of my favorite anime, this still influences me as much as Sailor Moon does. In a world where Britain is the Holy Britannian Empire and has conquered over a third of the world, an exiled Britannian prince in hiding in the recently-conquered Japan gains the power to control and influence people under certain circumstances. He dons a disguise and starts a rebellion against his father’s empire, while his best friend takes up arms against his rebel alter-ego on Britannia’s side.

An excellent show combining war, chess-level battle strategy, political intrigue, romance, high school drama, and giant robots. All in a cool two seasons that have spawned several mangas, games, a movie series, and even a new season coming out later this year (I will catch it as soon as I catch the movies, because apparently this season is a direct sequel to them). This is not a series to be missed, believe me.

2. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

A programmer by the name of Kobayashi (first name never mentioned) gets drunk one night, goes into the mountains, and stumbles across a dragon. She pulls a sword out of the dragon’s back, saving its life. The next day the dragon appears at Kobayashi’s apartment as a human girl to become her maid. Hijinks ensue.

This is one of the most popular animes out there right now, and it’s only thirteen episodes long! It’s just a silly fish-out-of-water story with dragons, but goddammit it is fun. They’re hilarious and heartwarming characters, learning to get along with this world and have a good time. I sometimes just watch some of my favorite episodes because they make me relaxed and lift up my mood. I highly recommend to anyone looking for a fun and laidback series with lots of laughs.

And it’s worth a watch just for the “How to Tame Your Dragon” joke in episode 2 (only available in the English dub).

3. Zombie Land Saga

A teenage girl named Sakura Minamoto dies in a car crash after she leaves for school one day. Ten years later she’s resurrected as a zombie, her mind and personality intact but her memories lost. That is crazy enough, but then the guy who resurrected her, a weirdo named Kotaro Tatsumi, informs her that she and six other zombie girls must form a pop idol group and become popular enough to somehow “save” the Japanese equivalent of the state of Idaho (sorry Idahoans, but the only time I ever hear anything out of your state is when there’s a presidential election). All while keeping their identities as zombies a secret from the public.

Considered by many to be one of the best anime of 2018 (including yours truly), this anime is a satire making fun of the Japanese idol industry as a whole as well as the anime focusing on them (yeah, that’s a genre). It’s hilarious even if you’re not familiar with either industry or genre, and it’s heartwarming too, with a cast of characters you grow to love and root for by the third episode. And it has the best examples of a trans character and a disabled character I’ve ever seen in anime. That alone makes it truly special.

You should give it a watch just for the outta nowhere rap battle in episode 2.

4. Shimoneta: A Boring World in Which the Concept of a Dirty Joke Doesn’t Exist

You know how there are people who believe if pornography and swearing were banned by law and sex education highly regulated, a more pure society would arise and people would naturally become better? Imagine if technology got to the point where that was enforceable and Japan somehow tried to make this happen. That’s the concept of Shimoneta, which follows a young man who wants nothing more than to be a moral, upright citizen and distance himself from his father, who was jailed for protesting the government’s efforts to over-regulate sex education and sexual content. Too bad he gets wrapped up with a classmate of his who is secretly a “dirty terrorist” and wants to decriminalize potty mouths and sexual content in our everyday media, and ends up founding an organization with her.

It’s a brilliant thought experiment on the part of the anime, and gives both sides of the argument, as well as what happens when either side becomes too extreme, a fair hearing. Of course, being anime it does it with as many dirty jokes as possible, to the point I’m surprised my floor isn’t covered in dirt whenever I watch it, but it’s still a brilliant anime. If you want a raunchy comedy with brains behind it, Shimoneta may be for you.

5. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

One of the latest entries in the isekai genre,* a 37-year-old businessman is stabbed to death after a mugging gone wrong, and ends up being reincarnated in a world out of a fantasy game. The thing is, he’s been reincarnated as a slime monster. Which normally would suck, but he soon finds himself becoming a protector for the many peoples living in the area he reincarnated in and taking on several foes with his unique powers. Within the span of a few episodes, this slime, renamed Rimuru Tempest, will become a great player to the events of his new world.

This anime has recently wrapped its first season, and a second season is already ordered for next year. Not hard to see why, with great animation/visuals, and relatable characters, especially Rimuru who is kind and funny and makes being a ball of slime look desirable. All set in a rich world filled with a variety of creatures with unique abilities and cultures. And my God, I think the society Rimuru creates should be the model for every community in the world who wants to make coexistence between different groups a thing. I’m kind of jealous.

6. The Rising of the Shield Hero

A darker isekai than the last entry, this is considered one of the most controversial anime in recent years (and its first season still isn’t over). A young man is transported to another world with three other teens to become the legendary four heroes who will save this world from Waves, invasions of terrible monsters bent on destroying the world. Problem is, he gets to be the Shield Hero, which compared to Sword, Spear and Arrow isn’t as cool. As if that weren’t bad enough, soon after arriving in this new world, he is betrayed and finds himself losing all his money, dignity and respect, even from the other three heroes. Alone, unable to trust anyone and still required to go save the world, he ends up buying a slave named Raphtalia to help him in his missions, and sets out to destroy the Waves. At the same time though, will he find a way to redeem himself and find hope again?

As I said, this is one of the most controversial anime of recent years, due in part to how the protagonist is betrayed (I won’t go into why here, you’ll have to watch the first episode and decide for yourself if you want to go further afterwards). However, I will say that besides that, it is a great story of someone going against impossible odds and trying to find hope again. I look forward to every Wednesday when a new episode comes out, and will be waiting eagerly for the next twelve or thirteen on the way.

7. My Hime

Also known as Mai-Hime, this is from the same studio that brought us Code Geass. A teen girl and her sickly younger brother go to an exclusive boarding school, only to find out that the girl is a Hime, one of thirteen girls selected to participate in a ritual that occurs in the area around the school every couple centuries. Armed with fire magic and a dragon named Kagutsuchi, she must fight off terrible monsters or risk losing all she cares for. But there’s a secret plot afoot at the school involving the Hime, and if she isn’t careful, the teen girl will be the latest victim to fall prey to the ritual’s dark purpose.

I own this series on DVD, and still break it out every couple of years. It takes what seems to be a lighthearted story and expertly adds darker elements over time, drawing us in to the plot as well as into the lives of these characters. I’d give it a try if I were you.

8. My Otome

A spin-off/sequel to My Hime (it’s heavily hinted the events of My Hime cause the events of My Otome), a teen girl goes to a famous school for Otome, women who use nanotechnology to become superpowered warriors and keep wars at bay by working directly for the rulers of different nations. The girl goes there hoping to become an Otome and find out who her mother, a former Otome, was. While there, she makes friends, falls in love, and becomes embroiled in a plot to take over not just the country the school is located in, but the whole world.

This anime features a lot of characters from the original anime (possibly reincarnated after several centuries), and a less cosmic/Apocalypse-themed plot, but at the same time allows these new characters to shine and has the same expert storytelling as the previous series. If you like My Hime, definitely check out My Otome.

Well, that’s eight anime I recommend. Thanks for sticking with me through this long article. But tell me, which anime peaked your interest? Have you seen any of the above-mentioned shows? What were your thoughts? And what would you recommend seeing? Let’s discuss.

And if you like anime and horror, maybe consider becoming an advanced reader for my upcoming novel Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). The concept itself is influenced by anime and my love of the medium, and I think it shows. If this at all interests you, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and I’ll put you on the list. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

*For those unaware, isekai stories are about people from our world who end up in alternate worlds or dimensions with strong fantasy or sci-fi elements. They often end up becoming chosen heroes, going on quests, or otherwise becoming central to the events of the world they’re in. Sometimes these worlds are real life versions of video games the protagonist is playing prior to changing dimensions, is itself a video game, or has some video game elements. It’s one of the most popular genres out there right now. The more you know.

Advertisements

As you know, I’m a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to Lizzie Borden, the woman who allegedly murdered her stepmother and father, in that order, was acquitted at trial due to prosecutorial bungling as well as societal attitudes about women at the time, and who allegedly haunts the house where those same murders happened. I’ve stayed overnight at the Borden House, now a bed and breakfast; I’ve read a book or two about it, including See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt; and I’ve watched more than a few adaptations about the murders, including the famous 1975 TV movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden.

So when I heard a new movie was being made on Lizzie and the murders, I was intrigued. It had some big names attached, including Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart. And the trailer made it seem like this was going to be a really tense thriller film. I was willing to see it in theaters, but the film was only given a limited theatrical run and it wasn’t playing anywhere near me (or in Ohio, as far as I can tell). So when my library’s copy came in for me today, I actually rushed over to pick it up with the goal to watch it tonight.

I can see why this was given a limited release.

Lizzie retells the story of Lizzie Borden and the 1892 murders of her parents, using the theory that Lizzie and the maid Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan were lovers and committed the murders after Mr. Borden discovered their affair. That’s the plot in a nutshell.

I’m not sure what exactly the filmmakers were going for, because this was nothing like the trailer. For the most part, the film goes at a slow crawl, making it feel like three hours rather than an hour and forty-five minutes. Everything takes it time, which in what is supposed to be a tense murder thriller can really take you out of the story. And you know how people accuse Kristen Stewart of having no emotional range in her films? Weirdly enough, it seems reversed here: Stewart has some emotional range, and everyone else seems like they only know how to mimic emotion, rather than show it!

On top of that, Lizzie didn’t include some things that one might expect from any story on Lizzie Borden. The turbulent relationship between Lizzie and her stepmother is glossed over; Lizzie is shown suffering from seizures, which is something I don’t remember ever hearing about her; elder sister Emma Borden is barely in the film; and a few other things beside.

Oh, and there’s this thing with the soundtrack. Namely, it doesn’t show up that much, and when it does it disappears really quickly. There’s one scene where you’d expect lots of soft music to highlight the emotion of the scene, only for it to cut in and out every three seconds. Um, why?

Was there anything about this film that I liked? Well, the attention to detail is decent when it comes to clothes and furnishings. The house’s first floor is laid out like the real house in Fall River, Massachusetts, which I approve of. And the development of the relationship between Lizzie and Bridget is given the time and development needed to really make you believe in it. And there are some real talents in this film, including Jeff Perry, Denis O’Hare, and Fiona Shaw.

But other than that, Lizzie was really not worth the wait. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this film a 2. If you want a Lizzie Borden film that keeps the tension up even though you already know how it ends, I recommend 1975’s The Legend of Lizzie Borden, starring the incomparable Elizabeth Montgomery in the titular role. Fun fact, Montgomery found out Lizzie was her sixth cousin once removed after completing the film. Imagine if she’d known that when she was playing the character!

Now if only I could see  productions of Fall River Legend, the ballet based on the murders, and the rock musical Lizzie. Yes, those exist, and I want to see them live. Someone pleeeeeease make those happen for me!

From left to right: Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Moon, Sailor Jupiter, and Sailor Venus.

I’ve been wanting to do this a long time, especially after the post about my favorite manga series did unexpectedly well. Just had to have the right timing. And as this weekend is the first of two Sailor Moon movie screenings,* I figured now would be a good time to discuss one of my favorite anime of all time, Sailor Moon. What it is, why it’s great, and what it means to me personally. There’s a chance that very few people are interested in that, but I’ve often been surprised by what gets read the most on this blog, so who knows? Perhaps you’re as interested in why a 25-year-old horror writer holds a debt to Sailor Moon as I am.

So if you’re somehow unaware of what I’m talking about, Sailor Moon is a Japanese media franchise that started off with a manga by Naoko Takeuchi and has since seen several different adaptations, the most enduring and popular of which is the anime that ran from 1992-1997. Stories vary slightly from iteration to iteration,** but the basic structure across all, especially the anime, involves a 14-year-old teenager named Usagi Tsukino who learns from a talking cat that she is a guardian with special powers bestowed upon her by the moon who must gather allies, find a mysterious princess and her magic gem, and stop dark forces from taking over the world. Thus she becomes Sailor Moon (the Sailor part referring to her superhero outfit being based on the sailor-style school uniform), a magical warrior dedicated to love and justice.

And if you’re unfamiliar with the show, just based on that description and the photo above, you might think that this is the silliest premise ever. And I’ll admit, you’re  not wrong. It is kind of a silly show at times, and not without its problems. Most episodes were formulaic monster-of-the-week stories with the characters discovering a scheme by the enemy of the season and destroying a monster. There was also a lot of reused animations, which was typical for a lot of anime from the 90’s (and today, to a degree). And let’s face it, the main character Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon isn’t your ordinary protagonist. She starts out as only caring about sleeping, eating, relaxing and finding a cute boyfriend. Fighting evil is the last thing she wants to do!

Oh, and this show was also being made simultaneously the manga. So while the former took cues from the latter, it often had to make drastic changes and that occasionally led to glaring storytelling issues. (*cough* rainbow crystals? *cough*)

Usagi Tsukino, aka Sailor Moon. Goofy as heck, but a heart and the capacity to grow braver with every episode.

But despite all that, there’s quite a number of things that this anime has going for that. For one thing, the characters: in the 1980s, female characters were in animated shows were either just “the girl” (ex. Smurfette or Arcee) or they all existed to sell toys and didn’t have very distinct personalities from one another (ex. the original My Little Pony). But Sailor Moon was special as each of its female leads had very distinct personalities: Usagi/Sailor Moon is goofy but kindhearted; Ami/Sailor Mercury is smart and bookish; Rei/Sailor Mars is a hotheaded but empathetic psychic; Makoto/Sailor Jupiter is a strong-willed fighter with a passion for baking and gardening; and Minako/Sailor Venus is a fun-loving but ambitious girl and a skilled warrior. Not only that, but throughout the series, the characters would have individual episodes devoted to their growth where they worked on overcoming their flaws and issues. Even Sailor Moon, who always retained her goofiness throughout the series, became a strong leader and fighter who wouldn’t hesitate to fight to protect the world she loves. This ended up creating a mix of role models that people like me growing up could look up to and identify with on a number of levels.

There’s also the fact that this show was hugely empowering for a number of kids back in the day. On the one level, it is highly feminist in its portrayal of its female leads. They are able to fight off their enemies while still retaining their personalities and femininity, and the show doesn’t make a huge deal out of it (like they would if characters regularly shouted “Girl Power!” or something). Even if the male lead of the show often helped out and stepped in during a pinch, it was still the ladies doing the main fighting. That’s really amazing. And on another level, you have regular teenagers saving the world from forces that are cosmic in their power. When you consider the other big superhero shows at the time were shows like Batman or Superman, that’s big. I mean, one’s a billionaire and the other’s an alien. How many kids growing up with those shows were either of those? And then you had Sailor Moon, with ordinary teens, teens we already looked up to, being chosen to be superheros. Do you know how inspirational that could be to kids back then?

And those are just a couple of reasons this show has been so enduring and beloved. It’s also been noted for being very LGBT-progressive at a time when that wasn’t usual; for pumping new life into the magical girl genre of anime that’s still flowing today; for influencing a number of shows, including the American hits Steven Universe and Star vs the Forces of Evil; and so much more. It’s no wonder that the show has endured and continues to find new fans.***

Sailor Moon and Luna Funko Pop dolls. There are good reasons why I bought them, and why I hope to buy more someday.

And as I said, I owe this series a huge debt. Sailor Moon is still one of my favorite anime ever. I identified with many of the characters, and Sailor Moon herself made a big impact on me. She wasn’t hero material at all when she started out, but over the course of the series she truly became a hero. That’s a character arc I still include in my own stories (Zahara Bakur from Reborn City, anyone?). Not to mention this show helped plant the seeds of feminism in my young mind.

And you know what else? I still find reasons to love this show to this day. Just a couple of months ago, this show gave me a pep talk when I was feeling a little disenchanted with writing. It was quite powerful, and it reignited my love for storytelling again. If a show that’s older than me can do that, then I’m glad I still watch it all these years.

To sum up this monster of a blog post, Sailor Moon is just an awesome show, and it isn’t hard to see why it endures to this day. And if you’re at all interested, I highly recommend checking the anime out, or any of the other incarnations out there.  You never know. You may get out of it something special like I did all those years ago.

Are you or have you been a fan of Sailor Moon? What did/do you like about it?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Thanks for reading this long post of mine. I hope you liked it. Maybe someday I’ll write more posts about anime I love. Would you like that? If so, let me know. And until next time, pleasant nightmares.

*The first two films get screened in theaters this Saturday, and a special and the third movie is next Saturday. Probably won’t surprise you that I have tickets for both.

**And I’m sorry I won’t discuss those here. Perhaps I’ll discuss some of the other adaptations another day.

***Especially with more faithful translations. Back in the 90’s when I found the show, it was heavily edited to make it more geared towards American kids, because that’s what you did with anime in the 90’s. While I still have fond memories of that edited version, I’m glad that nowadays you can get the anime without all those silly edits or American character names. It feels more pure that way, and endears it more to new fans.

I’ve heard everyone from Stephen King to members of Facebook groups I belong to raving about this book. Heck, some of the latter were raving about it months before the book came out (how they were able to do that well before the book came out, I have no idea). I remember listening to the audio book of Tremblay’s previous book A Head Full of Ghosts a few years ago and liking it, though I didn’t find it scary (see my review for my full thoughts), so I thought this was worth a try. And I’ll agree with His Royal Scariness, this is definitely Tremblay at his best.

The Cabin at the End of the World centers on Wen, a young girl and her two dads, Andrew and Eric, who are taking a vacation off the grid in the deepest parts of New Hampshire. At the start of the novel, a man named Leonard appears before Wen and attempts to befriend her. He is soon followed by three others who claim that Wen and her family are the key to saving the world. But to do it, a price must be paid. Thus begins a tense story of belief, insanity, and violence as Wen and her dads are held captive in their own cabin and given an impossible choice.

Like I said, this is a tense book, and an intense one to boot. Like A Head Full of Ghosts, Tremblay focuses mainly on the psychological state of the characters rather than outright answering whether what we’re reading about is actually supernatural or the delusions of troubled individuals (and like the former novel, there’s an argument to be made for either one). The result is that you’re kept guessing as to which it is while getting a very personal look into these characters as they deal with the stress of the situation. It’s powerful, and makes you really connect to the characters and want to keep reading to find out how the story ends for them.

I also liked how unpredictable Cabin was. There were a couple of instances in the story that really threw me for a loop. Heck, following one of them, I kept reading for several pages sure I’d misunderstood what I’d read or that Tremblay was pulling my leg, heightening the emotional impact when this twist finally sunk in.

Add in that the novel was a great example of showing diversity in fiction without being patronizing or just showing diversity for diversity’s sake (Wen is from China and her dads are a gay married couple), and that an actual medical issue is portrayed with accuracy, rather than in 99% of other stories, and you’ve got yourself a decent novel.

I don’t have anything that I feel like saying detracted from the book. Maybe I wasn’t scared as others might be, but then again, I’ve built up a tolerance to being scared. I still found it extremely tense and emotionally powerful, and I enjoyed it for that. And that’s good enough for me.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Cabin at the End of the World a 4.5 out of 5. Gripping with suspense and characters you truly feel for, you’ll have a very hard time putting it down while you read. Take a look and see why it’s one of the most talked about stories this summer (I’m hoping Rose will be one for this coming fall or winter). Believe me, you won’t regret it.

Well, looks like I’m not the only one who’s having a dream come true. And I’m very excited about this interview. She’s a rather unique voice I’ve come to know recently.

I first met Rabbi Leiah Moser back in December, when I ran across one of her posts on her blog, Dag Gadol (Hebrew for “big fish”). Her post was about why, as a rabbi, she was writing a fantasy novel. I read through it, and I found that not only did she have some good points, but there was something about this blog and its writer’s voice I found compelling. As I read further, I found out that not only was she a Member of the Tribe, a rabbi, and a writer, but a member of the LGBT community. And here’s me, not just a writer, a Member of the Tribe and of the LGBT community, but the son of two rabbis, one of whom is also LGBT. I think the first line of my first comment on her blog was something like, “An LGBT female rabbi who writes fiction. Where has this blog been my whole blogging life?” Thus started our acquaintanceship.

Recently, Rabbi Moser announced that her YA fantasy novel, Magical Princess Harriet, had been published and was live on Amazon. Me being me, I offered to give her an interview here on my blog. Thus are we here today to here about Rabbi Moser and Magical Princess Harriet. Enjoy!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to my blog, Rabbi Moser. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.

Rabbi Moser: I think I’ve wanted to write a fantasy novel since I was in the sixth grade, but the road to actually achieving that ambition has been a long and convoluted one. Throughout my teenage years and into adulthood I tried my hand at writing fiction from time to time, but never managed to actually finish anything to my satisfaction, partially I think because I still hadn’t managed to get the whole identity thing nailed down. Trying to write without really knowing who you are is like trying to run on loose sand — the ground keeps shifting beneath you and you never seem to make any progress. After a while I kind of gave up on the dream of being a writer. I tried to find other dreams to pursue, but in a lot of ways I was just drifting.

Then while I was living in Japan I had this really intense religious experience. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the practical upshot was that afterwards I had this absolutely unshakeable conviction that God was real and that I needed to be Jewish. When I got back to the United States I found a synagogue and began attending, and after a while converted to Judaism. Later on, I decided I wanted to deepen my Jewish learning so I could do more work in the Jewish community, and that’s how I ended up moving out to Philadelphia to go to rabbinical school.

Rabbinical school was amazing, but before too long I was running into the same problem there that I’d had with my writing, namely that to do this kind of work you really have to bring your authentic self, whereas I’d been doing my best to hide from my authentic self ever since I was in middle school. After a great deal of soul searching I decided to come out as transgender and start my process of transitioning, and that, of all times, was when I finally realized that I had an idea for a book that I wanted to write. It was really that closely connected — converted to Judaism, came out as trans, and then the idea for Magical Princess Harriet popped up out of nowhere begging to be written.

If anything what I’ve learned from all this is that in this life things sometimes have to happen in a certain order and I am in no way the one who gets to decide what that order is. As they say in Yiddish, a mensch tracht un got lacht (a person plans and God laughs).

The cover of Magical Princess Harriet.

RU: Reminds me of the old country. So tell us about your new book, Magical Princess Harriet. I’ve heard some good things.

RM: Magical Princess Harriet is a young adult fantasy novel that draws its inspiration in roughly equal amounts from the “magical girl” genre of anime, Jewish mysticism, and my own strong feelings about LGBT inclusion and neurodiversity in Judaism. It’s about a young trans girl named Harriet Baumgartner who is doing her best to avoid having to think about the persistent feeling she has that she’s not supposed to be a boy, when a pushy angel named Nuriel shows up and tells her that she’s a magical princess now and that it’s her job to protect her town from the forces of darkness. (A quick side note: You have no idea how difficult it is to figure out how to talk about a book in which the main character changes their name and pronouns a third of the way in without misgendering them. Of all the challenges I’ve faced in figuring out how to explain this book to people, that has been the most difficult!)

RU: Tell us about some of the characters, and why we might like (or if applicable, hate) them.

RM: Harriet I’ve talked about a little already, so let me talk about her friend Frances.

Frances and Harriet have been best friends for years, ever since they met in Hebrew school. When Frances was six years old she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and ever since she’s been pushing back against peoples’ tendency to regard her as stupid or crazy because she sometimes has trouble speaking. Obsessed with architecture, she has an inherent talent for understanding spatial relationships, which serves the kids well in the labyrinthine corridors of Arbory Middle School where the ordinary laws of space and geometry tend to break down.

The girl on the cover with the lavender hair and the dark holes where her eyes ought to be is Kasadya. She looks like that because she’s one of the nephilim, a group of creatures who got their start as angels unwilling to devote their existences to service. As a nephil-girl, she has the power to influence human minds, and she has used this ability to turn the middle school into her own private domain… well, private except for her brother Azrael, that is, but as far as she’s concerned she is the one in charge. Kasadya likes to think of herself as an epic villain from a TV show or comic book, and she’s been waiting for a hero to come along to challenge her. When Harriet shows up, glowing like a disco ball, it occurs to Kasadya that she might fit the bill — much to Harriet’s chagrin.

RU: What was the inspiration for MPH? Did any of your own life experiences make their way into or influence your writing of the story?

RM: I think all of my life experiences made it into the book in one way or another. This was an intensely personal project for me.

RU: MPH had an illustrator, Magdalena Zwierzchowska. How did you two meet and what was it like working with her on the book?

RM: When I got to the point where I was thinking seriously about publishing this book for real I knew I wanted to find an illustrator. I’ve always been a very visual person myself, and know how helpful illustrations can be in solidifying one’s sense of the world an author is presenting. How we met was fairly prosaic — I posted an ad on DeviantArt indicating that I was looking for someone to illustrate this book, and she was one of nine or ten people who responded. I was totally charmed by her work, by the gorgeous, surreal creepiness of it, and so she got the job.

Working with her was easy in some ways, difficult in others. She was extremely professional and always willing to listen to my input and feedback regarding how the characters and setting elements should look. The tough part was figuring out how to translate the images I had in my head into concrete instructions she could use. In the end I was very pleased with how it all turned out. I think it has a very unique look.

An illustration of a seraph by Magdalena Zweirczkowska.

RU: You address several issues in the pages of MPH: autism spectrum disorder, Jewish identity, gender identity, intersectionality, etc. Was it hard to talk about those subjects in the book?

RM: Yes. Not because I normally find it difficult to talk about these topics (on the contrary, most of the time I can’t shut up about them!) but because I didn’t want to address them in a way that would come across as preachy. That may sound a bit weird, coming from someone whose job literally involves preaching, but I was writing with the assumption that these were things my target audience, middle schoolers and teens, are dealing with every day, and the awareness of that fact demanded that I approach what I was doing with a self-critical eye.

RU: MPH is a crowdfunded, self-published book. What made you decide not only to self-publish, but to crowdfund your story?

RM: While it is theoretically possible that I could have found a publisher for a book like this, my hopes were not high. That has nothing to do with the quality of the book, mind you, but rather its subject matter. MPH in many ways defies categorization. I mean, Jewish fantasy is not exactly a well-represented subgenre, is it? Add on top of that the transgender element and… well, I felt like I might be able to find a publisher for a Jewish fantasy book, and I might be able to find a publisher for a queer fantasy book, but a queer, Jewish fantasy book with a transgender protagonist? That’s where I wasn’t so sure.

Also, I’ll admit, there was a part of the decision that was about actively wanting to do it myself. I’ve always been fascinated with every aspect of the publishing process, and with print-on-demand and online sales venues making it so easy to self-publish these days, it seemed like a waste to write the book and then turn it over to someone else to produce. I probably bit off more than I could chew, and I had to spend a lot of time learning about things like layout and formatting for print, but in the end I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

RU: What has the reception for MPH been like so far (from congregants, friends and family, random Internet people, etc.)?

RM: It’s still early days, but so far all the feedback I’ve been getting has been very positive. The first question of everyone who’s actually finished the book has been, “When is the next one coming out?”, so that’s pretty great to hear. My one thing is that because my Kickstarter backers are obviously all adults, I haven’t yet received any feedback from the young people who are the primary audience of the book. I’m really looking forward to that.

RU: Are you working on anything new? And what are your plans for the future?

RM: Right now I’m mainly focusing on getting the word out about Magical Princess Harriet, but I have plans for at least two more books in the series. After that… well, who knows? It all depends on what kind of response I get, I guess. I really loved writing this book, and now that I know I can, I feel like there’s very little stopping me from writing another, and another, and…

RU: What advice would you give another writer, regardless of background or experience?

RM: Write! But that’s ridiculously obvious and patronizing, so I take it back. Here’s the best piece of advice I can give: Take the time to figure out who you are and to learn how to be okay with that. Writing can be this incredibly daunting thing because those ideas and feelings on the page you just handed to someone else to read are basically you. It’s hard not to get intimidated by that and start pulling back, to restrain the words, force them into a mold that’s more about what you think others are expecting than it is about what you have to write. Edit your writing, not yourself.

And also: It is ridiculously easy to publish a book these days. Give it a try, you’ll see what I mean.

RU: Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a little while and could only take three books with you, which ones would you picks?

RM: Ack! That’s so hard! Assuming that “three books” refers to three actual bound volumes and that bringing an entire set would be cheating, I have to go with:

  • Volume 2 of my portable Talmud set (the one with massechet Chagigah)
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  • A copy of The Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig, because then I might be able to actually finish the darn thing.

RU: Thanks for being on the show, Rabbi Moser. We all hope the book does well.

If you’re interested in checking out Magical Princess Harriet, you can check it out on Amazon. And I highly recommend checking out her website Dag Gadol. Trust me, it’s a great site and I always enjoy seeing new posts in my inbox.

And if you would like to have an interview for your new book, hit me up on my Interviews page or email me at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see if we can make some magic happen.

Well, I’m writing this at a time I’m normally preparing for bed, but what can I say? When you’re on a roll and nearing the end, you just don’t stop writing.

Now, if you didn’t know, I’m taking a short break from working on Full Circle to work on some short stories. This particular short story, The Red Burst, is one I particularly had fun writing. The story is about a man and his husband who go to visit the former’s sister in a small town, only to find out that something that gives off bursts of red light (hence the title) is driving the residents insane. It’s definitely a dark story, and it’s special too for a number of reasons. One is that this story is very HP Lovecraft-influenced in many ways.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with HP Lovecraft, he’s a horror author who wrote during the first half of the twentieth century, and has become very influential since (see my posts on my forays into his work, Part 1 and Part 2). A lot of his themes include the idea that humanity are ants in the grand scheme of things, that there’s no real meaning to existence, and that there might be things in the universe that are bigger than us and might see us as a food source or playthings. This is called cosmic horror, and I tired to incorporate those themes into The Red Burst. I got so hooked on the Lovecraft aspect of the story, I actually started reading his work again, and I listened to Lovecraft-themed relaxation videos on YouTube while I wrote the story (yes, those are a thing. Look up Ephemeral Rift on YouTube if you’re interested).

Another thing I liked about this story was that I got to incorporate a gay couple into the story. Even better, a Jewish gay couple! I like having diverse characters in my stories, and I know a lot of LGBT Jewish couples, so it was interesting having that sort of couple in the story, portraying not just their relationship but also their faith and how the events of the story affect that faith. I have a feeling though some of those LGBT couples I know will be coming up to me asking if I based the characters on them. The answer to that, of course, is no, because they haven’t done anything horrible enough to warrant that treatment from me.

And a final thing that I enjoyed with writing the story was that I got to use a drone in it! I don’t know why, but including modern elements in horror stories is just a blast for me. It’s like, “look, there’s a powerful demon from Hell, and now there’s an augmented reality game!” Or, “there’s a ghost after me, but at the same time, superhero franchises!” It’s like they don’t go together, but at the same time you make them go together, and it’s an incredible result. Plus with some, like the drone, you feel like there aren’t that many stories with the same elements in them, so you’re kind of exploring new territory. It’s a real thrill.

So what’s next for this story? Well, I’ll give it some time and return to it at a later date to edit it. It’s around 7,500 words, but I’ve discovered quite a few Lovecraft-themed magazines that are open to longer stories, so I may find this one a home. And if it does get published, I think people will really enjoy it. Especially Lovecraft fans who like a story with his themes but without language that was prevalent in early 19th century.

In the meantime, I’ll return to Full Circle ASAP and get to work on finishing that. I still have quite a ways to go, but after working on some short stories involving werewolves, cars, and insanity-causing red lights, I think some gangster science fiction shouldn’t be too hard. I’ll let you guys know if there’s anything new going on when the time comes.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear! Pleasant nightmares!

So I’ve been working on the outline for a new novel that I plan to write for National Novel Writing Month in November (I know, it’s early for that, but I need to work on something original because I’ve been doing nonstop editing since last NaNoWriMo, and if I don’t work on something new before I work on Rose I’m going to scream). And while I’ve been working on it, building the story chapter by chapter, I had the feeling that there was something missing from the story.

About two nights ago, I hit across what was missing. It was personal problems! Good horror stories often deal with issues that the characters are dealing with both internally and in their own lives! In great horror stories like Cujo and the novel I read and reviewed the other day, the main characters are trying to keep their families alive in some state and not lose their livelihoods in addition to trying to survive rabid dogs or a haunted house. In the TV series Supernatural (which I’ve been binging on lately, it’s so good!), in addition to dealing with evil entities and the oncoming Apocalypse, the protagonists Sam and Dean Winchester have to deal with the fact that they’re brothers, with all the issues that family can have when living and working in proximity, and then some.

And I don’t do enough of that exploring–or indicate that I will be doing that sort of exploring–in the outline for this new project. Which is actually a very big issue if I think about it.

There are several reasons why this is. One is having these personal issues helps the audience identify with the characters. Everybody has problems, and seeing people with relatable issues in their life–recent loss, money troubles, relationship issues, addiction, etc.–even if they’re just characters in a story, make people feel for them. In American Horror Story: Asylum, the character of Lana Winters is thrown into Briarcliff as a patient because she’s a lesbian. We of the present day know she was born that way and there’s nothing wrong with her, but back then, the LGBT community was seen by many as immoral or insane, and faced all sorts of discrimination. This immediately makes her a lot more sympathetic to us than if she was just a regular ambitious reporter, and helps draw us into the story as well as makes us identify with the characters.

Another reason creators explore these deep, personal issues in horror fiction, even when you’ve got everything from ghosts to serial killers to aliens to vampires and everything in-between, is that it keeps the characters interesting and the audience interested. Going back to Supernatural, what would the show be like if each episode was about the Winchester brothers facing a new monster and defeating it, plus a few quips? Well sure, it’d be entertaining for a while, but with no change in that formula things would’ve gotten stale probably ten seasons ago. Part of the draw is seeing these two very-different brothers go through ups and downs in their relationships, figuring out right and wrong in a world full of grey areas and just trying to be good people and good to each other at the end of the day, in addition to stopping the end of the world and all the things that go bump in the night.

And third, we writers like to explore these characters, their problems and traumas, and how the characters deal with them over the course of the story. Some good examples of this come from my own work. If you’ve read Reborn City, you know that protgonist Zahara Bakur doesn’t really start out as heroine material. She’s as far from a Wonder Woman as you cn get. But through the story, I explore both the problems she deals with as a Muslim gangster in an environment that isn’t very nice to Muslims and Zahara’s doubts and fears. And I love doing that, I love watching characters like Zahara grow from someone whom you’d never expect to be a hero to someone whom you’d willingly follow into a tricky situation.

So yeah, exploring personal problems with our characters, whatever those problems are, is definitely something we authors do a lot of. And I need to do it more with this new project I’m working on, even if I’m not picking it up again until September or October. Actually,I’m a little surprised I’m not doing more exploration. There’s a whole big problem with the protagonist’s relationship with another character–let’s just say they shouldn’t be an item for a very good reason–and I’m so not exploiting that enough. I really have to explore how this relationship could mess with the characters while at the same time something evil is attacking the town.

In fact, I’m going to get on that right now. Wish me luck, my Followers of Fear. Hopefully by the time I’m done going over this outline, it’ll be as good as it needs to be for November.