Tag Archives: real talk

For a Better Future

So I’m sure some of you noticed that there was no update for Eikasia again this past Sunday. That makes two weeks in a row. I remember when I posted on January 11th how excited I was. I thought, Finally! After a year of waiting, I can get back to it! But life! Ah, life. How it loves to crush my delusions.

Now before you all start getting alarmed (and you really shouldn’t be) this isn’t some dreary announcement that Eikasia is “ending” or something. Of course not! I’m not even shutting the site down. But I can’t lie that some of you will be disappointed. Thankfully, that’s not too many of you, but still.

Eikasia’s going back to irregular updates again so that I can focus on publishing the books. And this time, I just want to warn everybody that this doesn’t mean updates every other week, or even once a month. I mean there really could be long stretches between one update to the next–months we’re talking here.

Why? Why did this happen again? She had the baby didn’t she? She graduated from college, didn’t she!? Well yes, imaginary reader. Yes, I did all of those things.

But little did I know, that just because school is done and the baby is born, that doesn’t mean things get “easier.” Oh no! Far from that. The family problems still persist, and there’s still that nagging little problem of trying to get enough work experience to really start my career going that’s keeping me from smooth sailing. I’ve started a paid internship that pays little, but is much needed for my resume. It takes a lot of work, though. Almost like a part time job. So apart from playing housewife and taking care of my baby son 24/7, a lot of my energy goes towards that.

So there’s the time aspect. Now about the money: I don’t get many donations at all from the site. I’m lucky if I get five bucks from someone in a year. The ads? Because I’m having trouble keeping a steady schedule up, I can’t improve my SEO to get more visitors to the site, so ad sales aren’t much. The addition of a child in my life, plus a dramatic cut back in income in the last year, plus the new cost of student loan bills, makes money more imperative for me. To be honest, Eikasia’s web site is a money drain. So how do I justify keeping it still active? (And I swear I will!) It got to a point where I thought, Why am I killing myself, trying to write new material for Eikasia, when I already have at least 3-4 finished manuscripts that I just need to edit and publish? My original plan had been to have Book 2 of Eikasia out by the end of the year, but this feels unlikely. The first book was supposed to release a lot sooner than it did, but there were set backs that resulted in that not happening. What could happen this time around with Book 2? And the cost for editing will be much more, but my family has promised to help, and I’m trying to save what I can from sales for Book 1 (but hey I have to deal with my family’s needs right now sometimes.)

So I hope you guys understand. Just because updates aren’t going to be steady anymore doesn’t mean Eikasia is dead. If anything, I’m trying to insure its future! If you want to know when the site actually updates, just join the new mailing list by clicking here.

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Recovering From a Bad Review – When One Person’s Opinion Hurts Your Sales

TL;DR: One bad review is hurting my book sales. I need to make a comeback, so I’m offering free copies of my novel to anyone who will post an honest review on Amazon. To get your free e-book of my LGBT fantasy novel, click here and submit your request!


“Bad reviews happen to everyone.”

I’ve seen this all the time from writing sites and author blogs that try to offer some comfort to authors who have received negative comments on their work on such sites as Amazon. “Don’t take it personal and just move on.” I’ve even seen a few articles that claim bad reviews can be a good thing–that they might have the curious effect of “boosting sales”, or they could contain good advice about what not to do with your next book. For the obviously trollish reviews, the best advice I’ve seen is “just ignore it.” (Removing an inappropriate review from a site like Amazon is notoriously hard, apparently, even if that review violates guidelines.) Obviously, I’ve received negative and mixed reviews before for my unpublished writing. I took what I could from those and moved on, as all the articles have recommended.

But one thing I don’t see these writing sites discussing is what to do when you get a bad review, and have little to no reviews to balance it out. What do you do when one negative review impacts your sales so severely as to cause a virtual flat line? We’re talking about a kiss of financial death here, not just hurt feelings.

I’m in one such position right now. Currently, Amazon is where I’m selling the most units of my first and latest release, Tributaries, which came out just a short month ago. My planning was a bit rushed. It was one of those live-and-learn experiences. I set aside just one short month for promotion before releasing the book. I sent free copies to dozens of blogs, made announcements on all my personal sites, advertised tirelessly on sites like Twitter and Tumblr, launched a Project Wonderful campaign, entered a Halloween book contest, and gave away ten free copies in a promotional raffle. I did manage to get some pre-orders, but naturally, one month is too short a time to generate any real buzz, so when my book came out, it was basically a blank slate. Anyone buying it was taking a risk on me as an unknown author.

What all that meant was that any reviews I received from the incredible diverse (and often unprofessional) reading masses was going to determine my sales. Scary, right? Especially considering the trolls that haunt the internet. But for the most part, I got a handful of mostly good reviews, with one or two mixed reviews tossed in. The problem? Most of my positive feedback was on Goodreads, where people are known to add books to their lists and virtually forget about them. I’m guilty of this myself, having I think over a hundred books on my “to-read” list. And on Amazon, my primary seller? I managed to snag one glowing 5-star review one month after the book’s release. “That’s great!” I thought. Then three days ago, I got a scathing one-star review from a guy who said my book was “pointless” and who apparently didn’t think too much of my books “rare vocabulary.” He even took a shot at the fact that I have a bachelor’s degree, like I was trying to lord that over everyone. Ouch!

And I could’ve ignored this review for what it was–the spiteful opinion of one guy who wasn’t even part of my targeted demographic. This was written by an older white man who has only bothered to review seven other books aside from mine, and only one out of those seven got four stars from him. A picky reader. Certainly not a crime, and it’s not like his review violated guidelines.

But his scathing comments had a huge impact on my sales. The effect was almost immediate. He posted his review on December 17th. You wanna know what my sale chart looks like on Kindle Direct Publishing now?

salesscreenshotdecember2014

Ouch, ouch, ouch! What happened? Can one man’s negative comments really have such a devastating effect on an author?

In my particular case…yes. You see, when you have such a small pool of reviews and a small publishing history to go with it, the fact of the matter is that unless I’m wowing people with tons of stellar reviews, no one is interested. It’s the insane hurdle that new indie writers have to overcome. This man’s one-star rating dropped my book’s average from five-stars to three. Even if I got another five-star rating, I’d only get half-a-star back of what I’d lost. Hardly the kind of thing that boosts confidence in potential customers, right? It’s particularly frustrating as I have a 4.2 star rating on Goodreads (at the time of this post) based on multiple reviews, but most of those who might actually purchase my book only ever see the feedback on Amazon. Talk about skewed perception!

So the question is: how do I come back from this?

The short answer? I honestly have no idea. Right now, all I can think to do is wait and have faith that someone who has already received the book will be kind enough to post a more positive review. What’s excruciating is that, until I get some better ratings to off-set this one bad rating, my sales will continue to look like the one above. I’ve already sent out free copies to tons of people prior to this latest set-back, specifically requesting a review on Amazon. I’d do a free sale if I was enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, but I’m not. If this keeps up, I might have to resort to editing the base price to see if I can encourage more people to try the book. Over a hundred people have purchased it since its release, and I have no idea if any of them will bother to say anything about it–good or bad.

And in the meantime? I guess I can just put my head between my knees and try to breathe. Publishing a book is rough, but it can be even rougher when one person sets out to destroy what little chances you already had. I don’t know that reviewers realize the kind of impact their comments have on writers like me. For me, this isn’t a hobby. I’m trying to make this my livelihood. The thing that hurts the most? It’s most likely that this person doesn’t give a damn about any of that.

…All that said, for the next few weeks only, I’m offering my novel for free to anyone who is willing to post a review on Amazon. This is for an HONEST review, and you don’t have to feel pressured to write something positive just because of my woeful tale. I know my book isn’t perfect, I wrote the original manuscript when I was just 19 for heaven’s sake, and it’s my first attempt at writing a major novel. BUT I’ve also made significant improvements since then, and I’m confident my work isn’t a one-star affair. All you need to do to get your free copy of my book is go to the contact page of my book’s site by clicking here, and submit your request for a copy. After that, I’ll personally send you three formats of it: PDF, MOBI, and EPUB. I realize that any reviews posted on Amazon will have to state that you received the book for free, and that it won’t be a “verified purchase”, but anything is better than what I have right now.

So I implore you. If you like independent books and/or LGBT fiction, then please consider reading my work and posting your feedback on Amazon! Don’t let this one person have the final say on what has taken over six years for me to accomplish!

I’ll be doing this until the end of the first full week of January. (That’s the 10th.) Spread the word about this, even if you feel you can’t read the work yourself! Every little bit helps.

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The Beautiful Perseverance

(My 200th post!)

Today I posted the latest update for Eikasia (Chapter 41.3) and it made me think of something.

The beauty of perseverance.

I was down almost a thousand words until meeting my word count goal and I was in a funky mood this morning. I considered saying, “No, I won’t write today. I’ll do it some other day.” The lethargy pressed down on me hard, to the point that even sitting up and looking at my computer screen seemed to take great effort. Negative thoughts ran rampant through my head. “You can’t do this. Your story’s quality is declining–not that it was that high to begin with. This update is boring.” What loomed over me was a big thick wall, and spray painted across it was the phrase: YOU CAN’T DO IT.

Then I just started typing. I ignored it all as best I could and just started typing. Did the feelings go away? No, actually. I felt like crap the entire time I typed. Almost unto the point of tears, even. But the point is, I got it done. After I read it to my husband and heard his input, I realized afterwards that this really WAS all just in my head, and there was nothing wrong with my update as a whole.

I’ve been very open on this blog about my struggles with depression-anxiety, and I’m proud to say that I’ve handled my pregnancy just fine, and haven’t had the need to resort to medications again since I kicked them to the curb October 2012. The thing is, while perhaps the degree of my sudden funk is not what most experience, to have a funk AT ALL is something I think everyone can relate to, especially with writing. I guess the point of this little post was to just say…if I can do it, so can you. Sometimes you just have to chew through it. Yes, even when it is really bad. What perpetuates depression is not depression, it’s our willingness to allow for it.

My husband’s been watching The Ultimate Fighter on DVD, and while I recognize that many of you aren’t into MMA fighting (or even despise it) I wanted to share this insightful bit of advice from fighter, Chael Sonnen. I think it can be applied in any person’s career, hobby, or lifestyle, including writing.

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November 2013 Update

So this is super late! I was supposed to post this here but I forgot. I talk about school a lot and the fact that I’m close to graduating my degree program. (Among other things)

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Trigger Warnings for Writing

I’m not sure how I got onto this topic today. I was literally supposed to just sit down and read my assigned pages for class this week, when some link or tweet or whatever caught my eye, and it got me thinking on trigger warnings for books. Namely that I don’t see them! Now while I am not a victim of abuse or trauma, I can say without a doubt that I truly appreciate content warnings from films and shows. If they say: “This presentation contains graphic sexual abuse and violence. Viewer discretion is advised.” I will listen! I don’t like getting blindsided with the sight of a man or woman getting raped, abused, or tortured. I like knowing when these things may happen so that I can decide for myself if I can stand watching them. But the courtesy of trigger warnings is less important for me, and more important for those who have actually suffered such experiences, or perhaps knows someone who has.

Even subtle warnings seem to be absent in most books. For instance, my copy of The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett fails to mention that one main character gets raped, and another is forced to watch–not to mention all the incest. Was Mr. Brett expecting his readers to just take for granted that a dark fantasy book would feature such things? And there are plenty of books on the market these days that pull the same thing. What gets me is that movies and television shows are expected to warn viewers beforehand due to censorship ratings, but because books aren’t held to that standard they just don’t do it. I’m not saying books should be rated, but I find it a little disappointing that so many fail to think of those readers who re-experience their traumas again because of someone’s writing.

Of course, there are arguments for and against trigger warnings. I really liked the write up by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, who provides a reasonable argument as to why she–a PTSD sufferer–disagreed with trigger warnings. It was a dilemma I found myself facing when putting trigger warnings on Eikasia and Akumu Love Panic. What “triggers” should I even mention? Was I going to have to put a trigger tag on every post containing a potential scene, sentence, or phrase that could set someone off? And we’re talking about years worth of writing here, so the task felt overwhelming… But as Coslett states, triggers are everywhere and can come from the least expected things. I realize that not everyone who has suffered a particular trauma or negative experience may be triggered in the obvious ways. For all I know, one of my in-story jokes could set someone off. Another write-up by Ann O’Malley argues that people should at least have the choice to deal with such things, because the old phrase “don’t like it, don’t read it” doesn’t work if someone isn’t aware it’s even there. Cosslett touches on this a little bit too.

So here’s what I decided to do: for Eikasia and Akumu Love Panic, I will not be tagging potential triggers in posts or hiding them in spoiler links.* On the front page (aka the “New Readers” page) for both sites, the header for trigger warnings will be highlighted in red (with a red instruction under “ratings” to scroll down to see it) and in that list will be a general breakdown of potential trigger warnings for each story arc for both series. In these lists, I try to cover some of the more common triggers, including one or two less common ones that I think are worth noting (like child death). Given the size of both Eikasia and Akumu Love Panic, combing the stories for triggers would be unfeasible. The best I can do is highlight those that are most likely to trigger someone, and let the stories run their natural course.

The point here isn’t to coddle people or to shove an agenda into people’s faces. I agree with Cosslett that the tendency to tag everything (from blog articles to tweets) with potential trigger warnings is a bit much. But everyone deals with trauma differently, and for those who seek solace in stories like mine, I think it is important to at least give the person a heads up about what they may encounter. People immerse themselves into stories, and sometimes that level of empathy can really impact a person strongly. I’d hate to send someone over the edge just because I failed to take the short time to offer a warning!

*For those Eikasia readers wondering why I’m not putting spoiler links on posts with possible triggers when I do that for graphic sex scenes, here’s why: Eikasia began as a story that didn’t feature graphic sex. I had asserted in the past that I wasn’t interested in writing sex scenes, but this later changed. In order to keep from alienating those readers who did not want to read sex scenes and came to expect their exclusion from the series, I put spoiler links. So the difference with trigger warnings and sex scenes is that I had always intended to write about certain controversial issues in Eikasia, whereas I hadn’t with sex scenes. I hinted at things like self-harm, rape, and torture early on, setting them up as a constant in the setting, and therefore something to be encountered at one point or another. Conversely, Akumu Love Panic does not have spoiler links for its sex scenes because it was established that the story would be featuring such things from the get go. I hope that is clear.

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Instant Message from I.M. #9

So let’s do an inventory on where I am so far, hmmm? I’m off my meds and happier for it, I’m back home in Georgia with my awesome husband, I’m really behind on updates for Eikasia and ALP!, aaaand I’m sick with a sinus infection.

Oh, did I mention I’m runner up for my school’s first annual comic anthology? I love how everything balances out. 😉

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Abuela, te quiero.

My grandmother passed away today. It wasn’t an unexpected thing. She was 82 years old and severely depressed after her partner in life, my aunt, passed away last December. She was very strong and very brave to have lasted as long as she did. I’ve quickly learned that the thing about death is that it’s more about the living—because the dead are dead, no matter how they got there. My grandmother lived a good life, and she was at peace in her final moments. It’s the living I find myself crying for—my mother, my brothers, my uncle, myself… But I want to believe that this time I can do right by her memory and not fall apart.

Watch me not fall apart.

Seriously.

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Fred

In my most recent podcast, I mentioned that I was going through a lot and learning a lot about myself as a person. I know I must’ve said this a thousand times before, but I think it is even more true now. I’m making serious decisions about my health, my lifestyle, and dealing with a lot of emotional wounds, both old and new. As some of you may remember, Halloween is my favorite month, and I have a particularly high interest in the macabre. I don’t have co-morbid idealizations mind you, I just think zombies and werewolves are fucking awesome. Sometimes I feel like a little monster myself. My friend, Aprilfish, will probably scold me later for saying that (check out her awesome hug in my Return to Cali post!) but I gotta say it. At the least, I feel like a ghost in my old life, and a shambling undead in my new life. Where do I go? Where do I fit? Yeah, yeah, yeah, roll your eyes. I’m young and going through THAT phase. Meanwhile, I’m still just a spirit haunting old haunts:


That, however, was not why I wanted a zombie tattoo on my right shoulder, nor was this some sort of plot to piss off my family or my husband (though I still managed the latter by accident). The above tattoo was originally artwork from Bernie Wrightson, an EC Horror veteran who is perhaps best known for his late ’80s comic adaptation of the classic tale of Frankenstein.

The concept for the tattoo didn’t come to immediately. My good ol’ buddy Aprilfish helped me figure out what it was I really wanted. I had all sorts of ideas…another X-men tattoo, a tattoo of my astrological signs (Sagittarius and Dragon), or maybe even a silly tattoo of my favorite game of all time, Team Fortress 2. But among these ideas was one for a sort of old school horror inspired tattoo—something comic book styled that would work well in black and white, something with the supernatural: zombies, werewolves, witches, even vampires (which I’m not a fan of). I wanted something inspired from the 40’s and 50’s EC Horror comics. Given that this is Halloween month, the direction seemed clear, especially given the almost visceral emotions I’d been feeling since returning home. That was when Aprilfish pulled up this little gem:

Not to sound cheesy, but this piece immediately spoke to me. It was beautiful to me. Many people would not use that word to attribute to this artwork, but that’s how I felt. The way the undead rises from the ground, head thrown back, palms up toward the sky, free of the burden of both life and society. This is a beauty based in a grisly fantasy…or maybe it’s the reality. Since coming to California I’ve been struggling with my identity as everyone around me talks about the “real” Illise Montoya. It made me feel alienated and angry. What image was I failing to satisfy? What role was I neglecting? As far as I was concerned, who I was–an open bisexual with liberal political views and a love for horror and fantasy–that was IT. That was the reality! But some people here at home didn’t respond in very nice ways, and it got me thinking…FUCK other people’s “image” of me. Maybe the “ugly beauty” was the reality they needed to deal with.

But to be fair, I’m in a transitory phase. Today’s me could be tomorrow’s Casper. And that very well could be the case. After much drama and debate, I have decided to stop taking my anti-depression and anti-anxiety pills. They are just messing with my mind and my life too much. I want to find a better way to live. Surely some of you have been through this, or have an idea of what this is like?

The last meaning this artwork held for me was obvious. As you all know, my Aunt died last December, and I’ve been struggling to deal with it ever since. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but my grandmother, my abuela, has been having severe health problems after her recent surgery. My family is essentially waiting for her to die. My mother hides her pain well, but it leaks through her “image” like blood through a mask. In the end, what the above image made me feel was relief. A sort of acceptance of death. That despite a person’s demise their “true beauty” lives on in the memories of those that loved them. That’s why I had the tattoo artist, Adam from Creative Visions, put in Latin beneath the tattoo, Venustas Immortalis, which means, “Eternal Beauty.”

Anyway…I hope you guys have a better idea of what it is I’m going through down here. It was also just a nice opportunity to brag about my new tattoo. Oh yeah. My husband…he didn’t like it. I sort’ve forgot to tell him that I was getting it (I’m sorry honey!) But we talked about it, and things have been smoothed over. He’s decided to name my zombie ‘Fred’. I think I can deal with this.

It’s the other stuff I’m worried about!

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I got some ‘splainin to do…

Video is wonky for some damn reason. First few seconds glitch, then starts up. Youtube chewed it up. I’ll do a new one and post it, but for the most part I hope you guys get the gist of what I’m trying to say:

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Modifying Society: Freedom a current reality?

This is a post about some documentaries I watched, which I use to support a somewhat dark but sincere view point I have about today’s society. While my arrival to my final statement is circuitous, I just wanted to lay this out first and foremost for those of you wondering why the next few paragraphs is me talking about…well…me.

Thanks English 1A.

Anyway…so recently I’ve had an alkaline desire to view the graphic and the real. In the past, I was never much of a gore hound, and I realize that this term has negative connotations, but it would seem this fact is changing.

To be frank, I can watch videos of Mexican cartels beheading people slowly and ineffectively with a kitchen knife and still have my dinner, do my homework, and go to sleep without any nightmares. Perhaps the only real effect such a terrible thing has on me now, is a darker view of the world, and a deeper skepticism as to whether or not “freedom” is a current reality anywhere, even here in America.

Extreme to say? Maybe. But just to be clear, I’m an idealist, not a nihilist. I see wrongdoings, and I find myself hard pressed to keep my mouth shut. I’m blunt, forward, and often times, tactless. Many people in my life have found this to be both an exemplary but troublesome quality in me.

Some small examples of what I mean: My husband once had to (literally) hold me back from jumping down the throat of some jerk who cut in front of us at a Las Vegas hotel. It was late, we were tired, and literally the next in line when this guy just slides right in front of us and starts barking at the hotel clerk. The clerk very tactfully handled the situation and we were checked in just fine. Another time, I was about to settle down for a LARP game (White Wolf’s, Changeling: The Lost) when the Storyteller decided a player was banned simply because the guy had once banged his girlfriend (who had dumped said dude and left him for the Storyteller). In a ridiculous fit, this 6 foot giant locked himself in his room and refused to come out, having this girl come out to deliver the news to my beleaguered friend. Stunned and annoyed, the guy was gonna leave to go hang out with his friends on the other side of the apartment building, and after hearing what went down, I flat out quit the game, telling the girl she could tell her boyfriend to stuff it.

This is me. This is how I am. If I weren’t married and considerate of my husband’s feelings, I probably would have run off to join the Occupy movement. A good thing, I feel now, in the long run. The occupiers stirred my heart with their passion, but they were a part of what I now recognize as an impressively ineffective way to bring about change in organized society. Maybe if I had been given some more guidance when I was younger, I would’ve gone to CSU: Longbeach when they first accepted me, and got into whatever crazy left wing groups they had there. But I didn’t, and here I am: A quiet little rebel with radical thoughts somehow married to a middle-line conservative Air Force soldier in the bible belt, serving bloody-marys and mimosas at a conservative country club.

Say what?

But that’s life! And maybe this introspection has been the reason I’ve been watching documentaries as of late. Two documentaries, seemingly irrelevant, really underscored the thought I stated above.

Is freedom a current reality in our world?

That said, if there is no freedom, is our oppression under societal rule all that bad? America, as my prime example since I friggin’ live here, offers many people many opportunities…

…But in order to have those opportunities, you have to be born in certain areas, and you canNOT break the acceptable mold of appearance and behavior that American society dictates.

My first case for this is the documentary, MODIFY:

This incredible film explores the world of body modification—and not just tattoos and piercings. It covers everything from body builders, to permanent make-up, to 3D body art, to dental reconstruction, to plastic surgery. It talks about the beginnings of the extreme piercing and 3D body art world. Returning to the rabbit hole everyone is familiar with, and going beyond conventional piercings and tattoos, there are also genital piercings, subdermal implants, tongue splitting, amputations, scarification, branding, and probably much more I’m missing.

The documentary is rather graphic in that it depicts surgical procedures, such as sex changes and plastic surgeries, and genital piercing procedures. It talks about the hows, the whys, and the plain ‘ol facts of body modification, and how it is the participants ultimate form of self-expression.

But these people, especially those who engage in the most extreme and exotic forms of body modification, are often shunned by society for their choice in appearance. Many people who seek body modifications are actually rather religious. One man even stated that he was a born again Christian, but had been called the Devil numerous times.

The documentary also talks about the legal gray areas of body modification, and how currently there are hundreds of bills being sent through the political machine to try and restrict certain forms of body modification. The speakers on the documentary all voiced their adamant opposition to this, stating together in summary, “It is my body, and I have a right to change it to what I want.” As one self-described narcissistic, and nihilistic body modder stated, freedom is an illusion, everything is an illusion.

But given that I can’t get a job outside of this subculture with face tattoos and horn implants, I have to wonder if that guy was at least partially correct. What does it matter that I have tattoos up and down my arms? If I am capable to do the job required of me, I should be allowed to work, is my view. But is this the case? No. I realize that body modification is associated with the underworld of criminal activity, but this is an unwholesome misconception. Many of these people have families, but when they try to go down the street with their kids, people stare at them like they have robbed someone else’s crib. It’s a shame.

I have “body mods” too. I’ve got copper highlights in my hair, piercings in my ears, piercings in my nipples, and a tattoo of X-Men’s Storm on my left upper arm. Whether or not you consider these extreme or not, these are indeed modifications to my body, and you have to ask yourself: why are some forms of body modification more acceptable to others? We all say, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Frankly? I think we should shut up about books and start talking about real people. Because that’s who these body modders are. People.

The next documentary that I watched was Crips and Bloods: Made In America.

This documentary provides an interesting look into Los Angeles, California’s two notorious rival gangs, and the turbulent history of oppression and injustice that very likely led to their creation. It’s directed by Stacy Peralta, the filmmaker responsible for Dogtown & Z Boys, one of my favorite documentaries, and narrated by Forest Whitaker. The story begins in the 1950’s when many African American “clubs” were formed by adolescent teenagers. To name a few, there were the “Slausons”, active from 1952-1965, the “Businessmen”, active from 1957-1965, and the “Gladiators”, active from 1952-1965.

A Few Slausons’ Club Members

Commentary was provided from three former Slausons’ members, who stated their thoughts as to how these clubs came to formation, and what they really were about. In the 1950s, there weren’t “outreach programs” or “community groups” unified to encourage black youth and keep them out of trouble. One speaker even stated that the Boy Scouts turned him and his mother away because the troop leader believed some of the parents, “would feel uncomfortable.” Coupled with the constant harassment the black community faced at large in LA at the time, these things caused some youths to try to band together in an effort to create safety and pride. For them, it wasn’t about drugs and killing each other. Was there violence? Yes, to some degree. But guns and knives were never involved. Disputes were always handled by their fists. Club members were “notorious” for being difficult with white law enforcement, and often beat each other up for crossing imaginary territory lines. But there were no murders. No “beefs”. In fact, these clubs all united in 1965 for what was called, “The Watts Rebellion.”

It was a bloody and violent conflict, and it showed the pent up frustration that the southern LA African American community felt towards their being forced into poor living conditions, and the attacks faced by law enforcement. Many club members went on to become Black Panthers. Many became influential leaders in their communities for black pride. This new African American movement alarmed white government officials, who saw this as a threat to national security. The FBI and LAPD were known to consider these groups as dangerous and unlawful.

During this period, many black leaders were either imprisoned or assassinated.

By the end of the 70s, black youth were suddenly bereft of a righteous cause, and yet still denied equal opportunity. They were left angry, disenfranchised, and poor. They grew up, witnessing the organized and passionate movements their parents had participated in without an outlet of their own. Peralta suggests this led to the creation of today’s gangs.

Bloods

Crips — Allegedly created before the Bloods, they are assumed to have been founded by Raymond Lee Washington, who was murdered in 1979 at a young age.

The documentary loses some points with me, despite their interesting foundation of information, for neglecting to detail just how the Crips and Bloods arose from all of this, and for failing to answer who their founders were, and what their lives had been like. While it is true that these gang founders were killed at a young age and thus, we shall never know what their original intent had been beyond basic survival (maybe that’s all there ever was?), I still feel like Peralta lacked a direct connection with LA’s African American history, and today’s current gang violence. After all, it has been stated that Raymond Lee Washington, the original founder of the Crips, disliked guns and knives. His crimes were often attempts to protect himself or provide for basic needs—such as robberies consisting largely of food and clothing. But by the time of his death, he had little to no control of the Crips, and there is no current understanding as to why he was murdered in the first place. Maybe there wasn’t a reason, as can be the case in gang violence. But regardless, I think Peralta could have at least mentioned some of this in the documentary.

Still, the film does an excellent job giving a glimpse into today’s Crips and Bloods, offering testimonies from current members and former members alike, as well as the families of some of their victims. The basic point that the film makes is this: the Crips and the Bloods are a product of the America that was, and the America that is. Many African American men are incarcerated, tearing apart families over non-violent offenses. Criminal records often bar released prisoners from starting a new and lawful life, resulting in frustration and a return to crime. Sub-standard living and “gang task forces” also lend to the vicious cycle. After all, with discrimination and violence, and without equal opportunity, how can one expect the birthplace of these gangs to end their illicit activities?

What I especially liked was that the film doesn’t just leave you with this bloody and sad mess of societal failure, and it especially doesn’t give you any room to think that Peralta is somehow glorifying gangbanging—the film ends on a bittersweet, but otherwise positive note that, despite the continuing existence of these gangs, there are some who are willing to risk their lives, without government assistance, to try to turn the tide. This brave lot includes former gangbangers who try to reach out to young people and tell them how it really is.

So in America, where you can’t look a certain way, be born in a certain place, or even be related to certain people…does the concept of freedom still ring true in your ears?

For me, it rings more as a possibility. This may sound cheesy, and even pretentious, but if we don’t save our children from the unjust prejudices and social failures of the present, all of our bullshit will sound just like that…

Bullshit.

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