On Love, Death & Responsibility

Issues of love, death and responsibility – from a creative point of view – have been on my mind during last week.  What follows will contain thoughts on a recent episode of The 100, on representation, on choices, and on the responsiblity of a creator.

So, here’s a picture of Edward James Olmos as Lt. Castillo from Miami Vice as a spoiler break, and a warning. I’ll explain why EJO at the end of this entry.

This was written in response to Episode 7 of The 100‘s 3rd season. There’s been a lot said about the episode. I’ll point to The Mary Sue’s article as a starting point, but you can go anywhere for comments and write-ups. I found a particularly interesting one regarding the writers of the show, and in particular Javier Grillo-Marxuach – the man who wrote this specific episode, as well as episodes of Lost and Helix, and creator of The Middleman. He’s also the show-runner on the upcoming Xena reboot. And I sincerely believe him when he says he’s taken all the comments he’s received to heart. I also think he will act on what he’s heard in the future.

He’s also made two key statements about the story arc and this episode in particular. The first was that he was one writer on another person’s show, with a specific job. His job was to take all the plot elements given, and to create an effective narrative for them to deliver a strong episode.  He also said that he, and the writer’s and creators as a whole, were arrogant and naive about the impact of their choices.  Both are true.  Like any professional, especially on a show he did not run, he had a job to do.  And he, like the other creatives behind the show, thought the work would be taken the context the writer’s room intended.  The also thought the good will they’d built with the fanbase, along with the story elements they’d set in place,would help them put the death in the right perspective.

But they were wrong. As they focused on the context of the show, they forgot they were not writing in a vacuum. And there’s a lot of very naked pain on the net right now because of this.  As I read the reaction, and sorted through my own feelings, I put myself in the shoes of both the fans, and JGM.  It started thinking about my own writing, and the responsibilities I had as an author, and about the novel that’s dominated my recent years, Ivre.

Now, if you want to stop here and throw something at the screen, go ahead. “What ‘responsiblity?’ You’re barely published! Not like that novel of yours is out there in the world.”

“True,” I’d say (though I’d admonish you for throwing something at your monitor). But that doesn’t mean I have any less of a responsibility for the content I create and choose to let loose into the world.

I’ve been posting Ivre in bits and pieces here. If you’d like to see the whole thing, I can generate a draft and post it for folks to look at. But I’ll give a spoiler here: there are a lot of deaths.  And I intended it this way. The story was structured to follow Adia and Tellus as they discovered the city of Ivre, its people, its politics and the impact it held on a much wider war between the Gallatian Empire and the non-human Krell.

Then, there was a terrible, tragic act of violence which began a chain of retributions. At the very end, the characters you’ve been introduced to in what I’ve posted so far begin to fall like it was the last two episodes of Zeta Gundam. Or Ideon. (Check out the TV Tropes page on it – first entry under Anime & Manga).

That included Ufric and Cormac, two soldiers of the city of Ivre – lovers and love interests for Adia. They died fighting off a horde of Krell soldiers, defending the Lady Protector as she sought to end the horror engulfing her city before there was nothing left of Ivre. I thought it was a tragic, brave and necessary scene given the stakes involved. It was episode 23 of Zeta Gundam, and the final battle was on. They were soldiers, defending their city, their friends and their lover. They died together, insisting she do her duty and protect the last chance the Ivre had to survive.

But I also killed an LGBT couple as well as two dedicated soldiers. I did it after showing them meeting Adia, falling for her, and seeing all three have serious conversations about where they want the relationship to go. I did it after showing them as happy, functional and kind. And I knew it would happen, right from the start.

This is where the responsibility comes in: I do not live, work or write in a vacuum. If stories of happy LGBT couples living tragedy free lives common as rain, it would be a wartime loss with all the appropriate emotion involved. Were there no tropes of “the gay couple gets it” or “the black man doesn’t survive the horror movie” or “the transsexual man is a serial killer!” I would feel more comfortable about the scene. It wouldn’t keep needling at me.

But that’s not the world we live in. Right now: we live in a world where charities like The Trevor Project are absolutely necessary. Right now: we live in a world beautiful young souls commit suicide because they feel they’re alone, or trapped in bigoted households. Right now: we live in a world where friends of mine won’t travel through specific states police pulling them over and arresting them for “driving while black.”

And right now, in my own world – the one I have total responsibility for – the one which exists just on paper: I don’t know how to change the scene without changing the book as a whole.

So I’m going to stop working on it until I can find a better way out, that still keeps with my themes but doesn’t make my most prominent bisexual characters sacrifices. And that’s much harder than any tragic LGBT couple ending. People think the Tomino style “Kill ’em all” endings are hard. Here’s the secret: They’re not. Writing an ending where people live and have to survive with what has happened is far, far harder. We don’t give it the dramatic cache of a pile of corpses. You have to work for it. You’ve got to fight for it and justify it. Even the grimmest of stories sometimes needs an ending where the hero and the heroine float off into space in their cryotube, hoping for a better future when they awake.

I’m going to work my way towards those endings. But I’m not there yet.  So for now, Ivre is shelved. Time to work on a new story.

-30-

Oh – why Edward James Olmos? When I was growing up, I was stuck on TV as much as anyone in the world. Back then, no one had heard of Serbia or Venezuela. Most couldn’t even spell Venezuela No one knew where to put me. Was I Latino? Something else? There was no one who looked or sounded like anyone in my family – on either side. And certainly no one in authority.

Then came Castillo. In the world of Miami Vice, he was a badass. Edward James Olmos could, in a glare, say more than pages of scripted dialog.  In the days when most Latinos were given parts like drug lords or cocaine cowboys, calm and commanding Lt. Castillo was a miracle. It’s small wonder my favorite episode is “Bushido.”  The fact he existed, the fact he looked like my cousins and myself, meant the world to me because it said that I existed.

And at ten tender years of age, the world of TV was the only world that mattered to a kid like me.

So I know why this is so precious – why having a positive narrative where you are the star is vital. And that’s why I probably won’t be doing more work on Ivre right now.

(This is also why I’ll never ask the man for an autograph – I’d revert to a 10 year old again and weep.)

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