The Departure of Hokobe Mana [Part 2]

(Reed’s song of the day: No Sleep Til Brooklyn, by the Beastie Boys)

As before, if you’re associated with the Campaign of Death and Destruction, please don’t read this post. And for those of you who are getting caught up, here’s the link to part 1.

Okay, so I intend not to be as boring and/or bitchy in this post as in the previous one. I actually did have a point I wanted to get to, which I failed to do at first, so let me put it right here at the beginning.

I feel like, as an writer, I’ve come to place my characters on the same emotional level as real people in my life. Meaning, I agonize over their struggles, share their triumphs, and when they die or leave, I feel it like the loss of someone close to me.

I created Hokobe with the idea that he was just a good guy who’d taken some serious missteps, and who was trying to right those wrongs now. Yet somehow, by the somewhat magical process of character creation, he became entirely different than that. He was prideful, sometimes even arrogant, but also self-hating. He was naturally suspicious of everyone around him, but when he formed bonds with the other party members, he wouldn’t break them for anything. Even so, he experienced a deep sense of loneliness and isolation when he was with them, as though he never really fit in.

When I played Hokobe, I became Hokobe. I could feel his depression weighing on me, all the weight of his bad decisions. I felt his impatience with the group for not coming to conclusions quicker. I felt his moral rectitude and the way he considered every decision on every level, both rationally and ethically. I felt his horror at seeing bad rulership, selfish decisions, and wanton destruction.

It was like an addiction. I couldn’t stop being him, even when I wanted to. There were times when Reed was fully convinced that we should do everything, but Hokobe was not, and so I had to spend (in one case at least) literally hours arguing with another party member until I was satisfied.

I know these experiences were horrible for some of my other party members, and on multiple occasions they asked me why I couldn’t just tweak Hokobe’s character, even a little bit, to make him easier on the party. All I could respond with was the same dogged statement – that he was a person, not a character, and not really subject to my desires or changes.

Man, it drove some of my friends nuts to hear that.

But I’m being serious here, and not just stubborn. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to change; by the time I retired Hokobe, I was sick of playing him and being constantly controversial. I didn’t know how to. It was as if once I started playing him I couldn’t conceive of being any other way.

And that’s why things came to an end. I sensed Hokobe was on a long journey, a character arc that might take years or more to conclude. I knew, somehow, that at the end of that journey he would become a much easier person to deal with. But in the meantime, everyone, including myself, was exhausted with him.

So I let him go.

It was actually a really difficult thing to do. I contacted my DM and asked him if I could create a new character and phase Hokobe out. I really wanted it to matter as much to him as it did to me, but I think by that point he was just too tired to care. He told me to do whatever made me happiest. I kind of wish he’d reacted with a bit more surprise and gravity, but what can you do?

Honestly, it made me feel horrible to phase Hokobe out of the campaign. By this point, he was so tied to his companions that nothing would have made him leave them. And I had to find an excuse for him to do just that. So it involved (finally) making a whole bunch of decisions as Hokobe that I know he wouldn’t have made. By that point, I was so dissociated from him that I was able to do this, but it really felt like the final slap in the face to end his whole depressed, traumatized journey.

I felt like I was abandoning him. I felt like my friends were abandoning him too, not that they cared, or that they should care. It just felt like this person who had so much potential, such an ability to grow, was put out to pasture. Neglected in the worst of ways.

It seems so strange to be writing about this and have to remind myself he’s not real. In some ways, he feels even more real than me. There was a nuance to him that I don’t think I’ve captured in nearly any other character I’ve written, and I’m so sorry to see him go.

The weirdest part to me is just that I care so much. Like, I want to stop caring so badly about this. I want to be a normal person who doesn’t stress out and lose sleep (literally) over the fate of a person who doesn’t exist. I wonder if it’s being a writer, or loving D&D, or just my own eccentricity, that makes me so invested in him.

But it’s a good thing to think about as a writer. I know when I was writing Sanctuary last year, a book where most of the main characters have a form of mental illness, I felt like I was living their experiences. It was a very frightening time for me.

Maybe it will produce characters that are more realistic, like actors who get into method acting. But it’s kind of terrifying to disappear into someone else for extended periods of time, especially if that person is depressed or has a lot of personal issues to work out. Sometimes I wanted to scream at my friends, “You think I don’t want Hokobe to change too? You think I don’t want him to be less of a bitch?! I want it more badly than anything else in the world. But change doesn’t just happen overnight. I can’t just make him be a different person. It has to come from within.”

Again, strange as hell that I’m talking about someone who isn’t real.

I wish I could tell my friends I’m sorry that I made things so difficult on them. I really didn’t expect everything to go the way it did, and now there’s some pretty permanent damage done to my reputation in my campaign. But honestly, even talking about it more right now would be exhausting for them – which is one reason why I asked them not to read this post.

The good news is, I get to start again with a new character. And I’m working really hard to make sure she’s fun, not traumatized, and party-centric. I think being able to disappear into her for a while will actually be entertaining for me, and hopefully enjoyable for my friends as well.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

R.I.P. Hokobe Mana. Even though you’re not dead.

Yours, marvelling at his strange week,

-R.R. Buck


The Departure of Hokobe Mana [Part 1]

(Reed’s Song of the Day: Say It Ain’t So, by Weezer)

First, I’d like to ask that if you’re in any way tied to the Campaign of Death and Destruction, you don’t read this post.


Something weird is happening to me. I’m in a period of mourning for a person that doesn’t exist.

Many of you know that Dungeons and Dragons constitutes a large part of my free time. I’ve talked before about how D&D can be a good way to develop writing skills and test out characters, but more than that, it’s a great way to spend a few hours with friends. More interactive than watching a movie, less expensive than going to a theme park or a nice dinner.

We’ve had quite a few campaigns ranging from serious to silly, some of them long-running, some of them quick and over with. Only a handful are ones I might consider the core of our D&D experience.

One of these campaigns, Death and Destruction, has been the longest-running campaign we’ve ever done. I don’t really know when they started playing, as I came in after the first act, but I would guess it’s been going on for two years?

There’s so much context here, I feel like I’m unable to summarize it all. So let’s do a quick bullet-point list:

  • I have historically not done well with making characters. For some reason, it seems all my characters are not “party-centric”, meaning they’re too aggressively different from the party to make decision making and general roleplay fun for anyone.
  • I set out in Death and Destruction with the goal of creating a character who was really just a good guy, haunted by his past but trying to make amends and become a better person.
  • I tend to take the character building a lot more seriously than at least half of the people we play with. Because of my desire to try out real, serious characters with obvious flaws, it’s often a pain to play with me (even when they’re party-centric characters).
  • I write long backstories for my characters, whereas some of the people I play with don’t bother writing them at all or make them as minimal as possible. I love seeing my backstory incorporated into the campaign and to have interactions with other characters that “reveal” my backstory as we go adventuring together.

So let’s talk about Hokobe Mana, the character I envisioned for Death and Destruction.

Hokobe was born in the City of Power (one of five cities in my DM’s world) where he was pressed into the military at a young age. His desire for greater combat prowess inspired him to take assignments in other cities, to spy and learn about their military.

He went to the City of Pleasure, another of the major cities, where he rooted out a mysterious underground organization called the Order of the Muse. Far from a military power, the Order used magic and music to bring peace and calm in times of trouble. Hokobe found himself strangely attracted to them, and to a member of theirs named Ta’ira. She saw him as a wounded war dog who might be converted to the ways of tranquility; he saw her as a fiery temptress who might give him the secrets of the Order that he could then pervert into a tool of oppression (somehow).

As they trained, Hokobe became of split mind and started to wonder if maybe bringing peace was just as admirable a goal as domination. When he forged his masterwork, a flute-staff he named Ta’ira in recognition of his teacher and then lover, he thought he’d conquered the old violent urges in himself.

He was wrong.

He fled the City of Pleasure and returned home, feeling shame chase him the whole way. It stayed with him even when his new magics from the Order helped him become one of the most formidable military officers in the City of Power. It stayed with him when he rose through the ranks too quickly to avoid suspicion and envy from other officers. It stayed with him even when his own brother, fearful and jealous of Hokobe’s power, made a plot to frame him for the murder of comrades, sentencing him to execution.

On the eve of his punishment, Ta’ira came in the night. She broke him out of jail, cursed his very name, and disappeared. Now he wanders the wilderness, exiled from both his city and the only people he’s ever cared about, wondering if there’s a path for him back towards being a Muse. Perhaps even a path to winning back Ta’ira’s heart.

So when I started the campaign, that’s where I was. A taciturn, war-torn man sitting in a tavern in the City of Law, who had just found out that the entire City of Power had been destroyed by some kind of storm. His entire home, gone. He could never repair relationships with his brother, who had died, nor with the city itself.

Now here’s where I begin to differ from other players of the game. About half of the people in Death and Destruction play their characters as characters. Meaning, there’s a kind of lack of seriousness in the way they make decisions or let the game affect them.

I can’t really describe it any other way than by juxtaposition. See, when I play D&D, I play my character not just as a character, but as a person. I react to what happens not as Reed, but as Hokobe. And if your home city were destroyed, along with any chance at redemption from your brother, you’d probably go a little bit crazy.

But that’s the thing. It’s not “party-centric” to go crazy when there’s a mission to accomplish. And people don’t really get why I can’t just “make” Hokobe be okay with things. I get the idea that they kind of see me as a puppeteer pulling Hokobe’s strings, and I’m pulling all the ones to make him do things that piss everyone off.

I see myself more as the sorrowful creator, watching Hokobe make bad decisions and feeling his pain because his world has been thrown upside down. Which, I have to admit, is selfish because it makes the rest of the party scramble to help.

Or, it actually doesn’t. But that’s for the second half of this post.

It also kind of feels to me like many of my friends are playing a game, whereas I’m trying to write a novel between all of us. They’ll do things that are entirely unrealistic – like, at the very end of a fight, looting corpses instead of checking to make sure there’s no other conflict happening elsewhere. And then they’ll be upset with Hokobe for calling them out for the greed.

It’s funny. In D&D, you’re allowed to choose an “alignment” which specifies whether you’re likely to obey the law or break it, and whether you are an inherently good or bad person. I chose Hokobe’s alignment to be Neutral (neither law abiding nor law breaking) and Good. That single choice – which I assumed would be helpful to a party – has caused so many problems as the rest of the players want to torture people for information or do other things Hokobe considers heinous. Which, of course, he strenuously resists – another way of not being “party-centric”.

I never would have thought being good would be a problem.

There’s a lot more to say, but I’ll save it for the second half. I know this was mostly context, but I promise I plan on getting to an interesting philosophical point in Part 2. Til then, thanks for reading.


-R.R. Buck

Awake (Short Writing Project)

(Reed’s Song of the Day: Mutt, by blink-182)

I’ve been sick all this week. I started composing this two nights ago as I waited to fall asleep.

It is 3:37 am.

A soft miasma of bruises hangs heavy in the air. It throbs in black colors. It presses on my eyes.

Breaths come from the back of my throat, unwillingly. They scratch my pharynx as they go by. My nose is a twelve-car pileup on the 405, so soundly jammed that not a single vespa-riding beach brunette can make it through.

Heat stifles me. I toss aside my covers, only to recover them momentarily when I miss the comfort. Because here, in this place, comfort is the only thing I have left.

I am awake.

It feels… anxious. Like I am a child waiting for Christmas morning to come. I wiggle my toes to make sure they are still there. I turn to one side, then another, let fluid gurgle down from one nostril to the other in acquiescence to gravity.

As if I am waiting for something. My brain is not whirring, but neither does it shut off. It just is. It considers the things around it. The fan my roommate does not like. The ever-so-slightly-sticky quality of the sheets I ought to wash. The sheen of fever sweat on my brow.

Chills I know. Chills I love, strangely. Wrapping myself in as many blankets as I can, curling up like a dog at the fireside, letting myself succumb to the tremors that toss my ship and rattle my sails…

I wish I had them now. I wish I had something keeping me up. Instead, nothing keeps me up.

I am awake.

I am warm. I can feel the heat coming from my body. But my skin is all the same. When I touch my hand to my head, it feels normal.

When I stand, I sway as though I am below deck. The wall steadies me as I make my way into the bathroom, swallow some tepid water. I collapse onto the toilet and piss sideways into the top of the bowl, so the liquid will make no sound as it trickles into the water below. I’ll flush it tomorrow morning.

Another few tottering steps towards my blissful roommates. One lets out a sort of half-snore. It reminds me of a question. A bear pawing the ground, confused.

My bed protests my weight. I run my slightly sweaty hands through my slightly sweaty hair. I press on my eyes, harder, wishing the pain to go away. It doesn’t.

Back to laying down, clutching my pillow in both arms like a drowning man on the ocean. Back to the snuffles, and the rasping, and the constant alertness. Back to the black-colored bruises hanging in the air around me, watching me.

I am awake.


Streed of Consciousness [Part 11 – Mental Illness]

(Reed’s Song of the Day – Dancing with Myself, by Billy Idol)

In keeping with my previous stream-of-consciousness posts, I’m going to try to keep this one as off-topic and meandering as possible. Hopefully I arrive at a point somewhere along the line.

I was talking to a coworker and friend today about mental illness and how it affects a person’s loved ones. It stemmed from a much longer conversation I’ve been having with myself about what I as a person can do to support those around me with various mental illnesses.

I see a lot of problems in the way we all handle mental illness today. We’ve made a lot of progress in removing certain types of stigma against those who suffer, but sometimes it feels like that’s only given power to other, more insidious stereotypes and assumptions. Like, now I’m not hearing so much that people just need to “get over it”, and I don’t see as much straight-up denial, but I’m still seeing people thinking that mental illness is something you just “get better” from.

As any recovering addict can tell you (and fun fact: neurologically, addiction is considered a mental illness), it’s not a “I am cured” kind of deal. You can be 30 years sober and still be an alcoholic, because a mental illness isn’t just something you come back from. It’s something you live with your entire life.

So that’s one thing I wish people wouldn’t think. It especially scares me when I’m talking to other family members and/or friends of the person with mental illness, and they tout how much “better” they are. “I really think they’ve moved past this,” is what I hear. It’s kind of like putting a person up on a pedestal and calling them perfect – it just puts so much pressure on them to be something they’re not. Eventually that pressure will cause them to crumble.

So the next time you’re thinking about asking a depressed person if they’re feeling better today, consider the pressure you might be putting on them to answer in a positive way instead of being real with you about their struggles.

It’s kind of sadly ironic, isn’t it? We want them to not suffer so badly that we unknowingly create pressure for them which increases their sense of isolation.

Aight, that’s point one. Point two is assuming that a mental illness is wholely due to [INSERT WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT HERE]. “Oh, it’s all my fault, I drove my husband to this.” “Ah, it’s just because they made some bad decisions. They’ll be fine as long as they clean up their act.” Or even more insidiously, “It’s just a brain thing, so if they get the right blend of pills and therapy, they’ll be fine.”

Let me just start off by saying this – mental illness is a complex, convoluted, tangled, snarled, Gordian Knot of an issue. It is neither entirely biologically nor socially derived. The factors that come into play when considering mental illness are as numerous and diverse as the factors that influence you in your own life choices and development.

Which means a “cure”, if it exists, is every bit as complex. It isn’t going to be a swallow-the-miracle-pill deal. Coping – truly coping – with a mental illness requires that everybody, from the sufferer to the support network, remains flexible, positive, and tolerant of setbacks. It requires trying a bunch of things and seeing what works. It requires being pissed off when nothing works. It requires not assuming that something is over with just because a person appears outwardly to be “healthy” again.

Mental illnesses are not caused by just one thing. They are not cured by just one thing. That’s all there is to it.

My last point is my most broad, and the one that makes me the most frustrated. It’s when people without mental illnesses assume that they can understand, on any level, what a person with a mental illness is going through. And I’m not talking about people who think that they know depression because they were sad for a year in high school; I feel like we all recognize the error there.

I’m talking about people who think that there’s a logical flow and order to the thoughts of a person with a reality-altering mental illness. I’m talking about people who treat a sufferer as though they’re a child, introducing a “reward and punishment” system to try to get them to make healthy decisions. I’m talking about people who try to apply rationality to a disorder that is inherently irrational.

“You know that’s not true, right?” is not a valid way to answer someone who tells you that they think everyone around them hates them. It’s not a valid way to answer someone who tells you they hear voices. It’s pretty much not a valid answer to anything in regards to a person with mental illness.

Or how about my personal favorite. “I’m going to punish you until you get back on your medication.” I can’t even honestly explain how much this saddens me. Taking the hard line with a person with mental illness assumes so much about them. That they can understand their actions or the consequences of them, that they can link the consequence you’re giving them with their actions….

I feel like I’m getting preachy. I’m probably even saying things my friends with mental illnesses would disagree with. I’m not an expert; I’m just a frustrated guy who wants to help the people around him as best he can. And sometimes that means getting everyone else on the same page.

Please, please. If you’re supporting someone with a mental illness, do me just one favor. Heed just one piece of advice.

Don’t assume anything about them.

Don’t assume they understand you or your intentions. Don’t assume they don’t understand you or your intentions. Don’t assume they’re “doing badly” or “doing well” based on their outward affect. Don’t assume that pills and therapy is the answer, but don’t rule it out, either. Don’t try to apply rules to them as though they were children. Don’t kick them out to thrash around in the deep waters like they’re an adult. Don’t assume they’re doing any of what they’re doing to hurt you personally.

Instead, talk to them. Tell them you’re trying your best to understand what they’re going through – and even though you will never truly be able to understand it, you’re going to learn how to help them cope. Tell them you love them, all the time, as often as you possibly can. Tell them you want to be their support system. Tell them you’re going to try, however much you can, to ease their burden.

There will be times when you can’t deal with it anymore and you need to withdraw. Don’t give yourself any grief over that; it’s a lot to deal with. Let some other part of the sufferer’s support system come in to help. Take your time to replenish your own mental health.

But do not go into a caretaker position with anger in your heart, or blame, or hatred (for yourself or for the sufferer). If you can’t come at it from a place of love, you shouldn’t be trying to support them right now.

I’m sorry, I guess this ran long. There’s a lot here to unpack, and honestly I feel like an asshat for even assuming I know enough about mental illness to write a post like this. I just think there is so much we have left to understand, and if I can help in any way by offering my thoughts and advice, I should do it. I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone.

And in case you’re reading this and thinking I’m talking about you specifically, I’m not. Friends and family members are the basis for this post, but I’m not targeting any one specific person. The truth is, we are all (myself included) not great at being support systems for our loved ones with mental illness. We shouldn’t blame ourselves for that. We should recognize the problem and start taking steps towards solving it.

Don’t assume. Listen with love.

Thank you, and have a wonderful night.


-R.R. Buck

Optimism Isn’t for the Faint of Heart

(Reed’s Theme of the Day: The Great Sea, From Wind Waker)

Hey, all. In the midst of the various daily horrors, tragedies, stresses, and complications of our lives, I’d like to take a moment to share two wonderful things that happened to me today.

I’ve talked a lot about optimism on this blog. Especially last summer, when I had four empty months to fill between jobs and a lot of anger and disillusionment to try to work through. I had some crises back then, of which some still haven’t been resolved.

Optimism has always been my way of life – it came naturally to me. I believed, and still do, that people inherently are good creatures by themselves. It’s when they get placed into groups and societies that pressure them to act or be a certain way that I think it all goes to shit.

For me, that means when a person shoots up a school, we’re all to blame. We have created a society in which violence is commonly accepted as a way to solve problems; in which shooters are given press coverage and national attention, and in their own way immortalized; in which those without a social support net feel there is no other way to make themselves noticed. We make it attractive to become a killer.

I have some more controversial opinions on the issue, too, but I don’t want to share them here.

All I want to say is seriously, fuck you and me and everyone in our society for being like this. Fuck us for the rapt attention we pay to media outlets which causes them to fight like wolves to be first on the scene of these tragedies. Fuck us for giving them an incentive to text and tweet students in the school while the shooter was still at large. Because it’s not Fox and CBS who are at fault for sticking those microphones in those crying kids’ faces. It’s us, for giving them viewership for doing so.

We need to change.

But honestly, I’m getting way the hell off-topic. This is actually why I didn’t post about this earlier – I knew it would be too close to me to keep a civil tongue in my head. I still find myself having flashbacks to when the murder-suicide happened on UCLA campus in my senior year of college, and the fury I felt then at the news trucks parked all around our school filming eulogies and terrified students.

Shit, I’m doing it again. See, it’s hard for me right now. It’s hard to keep that optimism, because things are so incredibly upside down. And I feel like the world is going to shit.

But it isn’t.

In the midst of this struggle I’ve been having, I stumbled across an AMA (an Ask-Me-Anything interview) today on Reddit with Bill Gates. He and his wife are longtime subscribers to optimism as a philosophy and a way of life, and their AMA centered around their hopes for the future.

Accompanying that, Gates asked Reddit to respond to a thread he created about the positive things going on in the world right now. It’s entitled, “With all of the negative headlines dominating the news these days, it can be difficult to spot signs of progress. What makes you optimistic about the future?”

I needed this thread. I needed it so badly, and I didn’t even realize it. I think we all need something like this every once in a while, just to remind us that it isn’t all terrible. Actually, despite all the injustices, inequities, and horrors in the world to day, we’re doing better than we were even ten years ago. Progress may be hard to see, but it’s there, and perhaps for the first time, we as a world are starting to care about more than just what affects us.

And we’re reaching out to one another to offer support. (Insert “thoughts and prayers” joke here.)

But seriously, I had the opportunity today to read some inspiring letters from UCLA students to the Parkland survivors. One of the library staff members suggested doing a pop-up display in our space with colored paper and pens, so we could collect letters from our students to send to Florida. I asked to screen them for any inflammatory or hateful comments, but really I just wanted to feel that support.

UCLA opened its heart up and poured love, strength, and spirit to the Parkland survivors. And I know it’s dumb, but sometimes I really just need to see that. I know people care; I know they do their utmost to help. But with a letter in hand, it’s hard not to smile (and tear up a little).

It’s a hard world to live in, sure. But it’s a world that’s better than yesterday’s. And tomorrow will be a little better than today. And shit, it’s our world.

Yours, with a dumb little grin,

-R.R. Buck

Editing Discoveries [#4 – Research Details]

(Reed’s Song of the Day: Dirty Harry, by Gorillaz)

I am freaking exhausted, so I’m going to go ahead and make this a short one.

Shout out to my man Theo who showed me the YouTube channel that inspired this post. See, as I’ve been going through editing Sleeper (I now have 3 chapters, woooo….) I’ve been trying to analyze what I’m doing differently this time than all the other times I’ve “edited” a novel. That’s kind of the whole point of this “Editing Discoveries” series.

And that mindfulness might honestly be a tip in and of itself. I think that writing first drafts for me, and even editing those things, would always occur on default. Kind of like writing this blog, it just happens and I don’t really think too much about what needs to occur or what tone needs to be set. And I think that works fine for a first draft because, like I’ve said countless times before, it’s about momentum.

But the second draft is about mindfulness. It’s about taking each and every scene and saying, “What needs to occur here, and why?” If you don’t have an answer to the “why”, the scene shouldn’t be in your final project. If the “what” can be a few different things, you should try a few different things (which is one of my previous tips). You have to examine what kind of image you’re trying to present in each scene and choose language perfectly crafted to convey that image.

Of course, while you’re doing that, you’re also trying to build your world. Most writers will agree you should do your research before you start your novel, both to give yourself ideas about the novel itself and to be able to speak effectively about whatever field or areas of study coincide with the topic of your novel. The most notable example I can think of right now is in Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, in which the author clearly took some sailing classes or learned in some way about all the marine jargon, which is then included (in… so much depth) in his book.

I’m pretty bad about doing research for my books, just like I’m pretty bad at researching stuff in real life. It’s not so much that I don’t have the skills as that I’m lazy as hell and just try to invent fantasy worlds where I can make everything up from scratch. But some things, whether it’s government structure, history, or even combat styles and fight scenes, can’t be made up without seeming dubious and unrealistic.

So, while research should ideally be done before starting the project, I do believe research should be incorporated in different amounts during the project. For instance, in Draft 1, I feel like research shouldn’t be overtly placed into the writing – whatever comes out of your mind, in that intersectionality of your own creativity and the information you’ve stored about the subject, should be what goes on the page. I wouldn’t worry too much about trying to force your research material in there.

Then in Draft 2 you should actually make a concentrated effort to include details, scenes, and backstory/worldbuilding that reflects the research you’ve done. Make the ideas in your head come to life with realistic situations and infrastructures. Don’t bog the reader down with absolutely everything you’ve studied, but consciously choose details that add to the sense of realism.

And in Draft 3, make sure the shit you said is actually correct. Go back through your research sources and ensure that you haven’t misperceived or incorrectly written anythign. If you have people as your sources, have them read through the relevant materials and make comments on them. Perfect your blend of real and imagined into something that is better than either on its own.

Those are my thoughts, at least. What do you think about research and incorporation into writing? Hit me with it, if you feel like it. God knows I have a lot to learn.

Yours, writing and rewriting and rerewriting away,

-R.R. Buck

Movie Review: Black Panther

(Reed’s Playlist of the Day: The Black Panther soundtrack… duh)

I was pleasantly surprised by Black Panther.

A while ago, I wrote a review of Wonder Woman in which I talked about how much I hate the superhero genre of movies. I’ve found it to be formulaic at the very least, and sometimes there isn’t really anything original in an entire two and a half hour film. Pretty much since the first avengers movie came out, I have watched with growing boredom as the movies got more and more “meh”.

God, I sound like such a douchey critic. It’s not even that I don’t like superheroes – I’m just so tired of the genre that takes itself both too seriously and not seriously enough. That’s why I freaking adored Deadpool and, to a lesser extent, Guardians of the Galaxy. They were just so mold-breaking and so much less serious than their counterparts.

So when I started hearing that Black Panther was actually different, and better, and more exciting, I didn’t really want to believe it. I made the same joke I’ve been making the past two months – that the only superhero movies I want to see in 2018 are Deadpool 2 and Incredibles 2. Because let’s be honest, both of those movies are gonna kick ass.

And yet, somehow despite all of this, I found myself going along to see it with friends. And there were a few reasons why:

  1. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote the new graphic novel series. The author of Between the World and Me, an activist and writer and human rights homie. His book was featured as one of the UCLA Common Books, which was how I found out about him in the first place. I figured if the movie was as well-written as the series, it wouldn’t be half as annoying and full of factory-made dialogue as the rest of the Marvel films.
  2. Kendrick Lamar did the soundtrack for the film. I’m not much of a rap dude, and there are only a few rappers I listen to with any regularity. But Kendrick is one of them, and I knew he would bring some interesting cadence to this movie.
  3. The star-studded cast. From Chadwick Boseman to Danai Gurira to Letitia Wright to Forest Whitaker, there was hardly a person on the cast list who hadn’t won an oscar or been in a TV series I’ve loved. Plus Martin Freeman as the token white dude was hilarious.

So I went. And honestly, it was pretty good. Superhero movies will never truly be my genre – not until Christopher Nolan comes back to it – but the movie was fast-paced, exciting, and relatively good with dialogue. The characters were archetypal but likeable, and the acting was exceptional (except for Freeman’s American accent, which creeped everyone out a bit).

I especially appreciated that people didn’t fucking stop in the middle of battles to have heartfelt character moments; there was literally a time where two characters met up and said, “Are you okay?” “I’m good, you?” “Yeah.” and then went on with killing people. Everything felt very real. They even had a plot device to allow the protagonist and antagonist to have a talk in the middle of the battle which made total sense. I was kind of in love with that aspect of the film.

So, definite strength in dialogue. On the converse side, some of the scenes cut away too quickly which gave the movie a feeling of a bit of abruptness, and there was a plot point I wished had gone differently, which I won’t share because it’s a major spoiler.

Honestly, other than that the movie was good. The fighting felt powerful without being over-the-top violent or gory, and I appreciated the choreography, which felt a lot less flashy than most other films of the genre.

So yeah, I’d suggest you go out and watch it. Even if you don’t like superhero movies, you’re probably going to get your money’s worth.


Reed’s Rating: 8/10

Yours, gearing up for some more Edna Mode,

-R.R. Buck

Lucky Me

(Reed’s Song of the Day: Hey Thanks, by the Wonder Years)

Today I’d like to share with you all a sickeningly sappy tale.

My girlfriend and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day – not because of some kind of protest against commercialized love, but because our anniversary is on the 17th. This Saturday, we’ll be at 4 years, which is kind of crazy to think about.

4 years is a long time to be in a relationship. It’s an even longer time to be stuck with someone like me.

But in all seriousness, I’d like to mark the occasion by sharing the “how we met” story with the internet. Even my family and friends who read this blog may not have heard the entirety before. Despite raving all the time about how incredible Lindsay is, I don’t find a lot of opportunities to talk about the whole story.

Let’s start in September 2013, just a few days into my sophomore year of college, when I first saw Lindsay in the common room of the dorm we shared. I was a sophomore and she was a brand-new freshman.

My first thought was Wow, this girl is beautiful. I wish I had thought something a little less stereotypical and vapid, but hey. It’s what I thought. And she was beautiful – breathtakingly so.

She was also very quiet. She hung out with my friends and I a lot, and we developed a kind of core group of people on our floor in the dorms, but I never really got to know her. She always seemed so background, and I assumed – again, wonderful male douchebaggery here – that she had a boyfriend, because “Why would any girl that beautiful not have a boyfriend?”

I know. I have no excuses for the way I thought back then. All I can say is I try my hardest now to not put Lindsay on such a two-dimensional and body-centric pedestal.

So anyway, I didn’t really talk to Lindsay. Still, there were moments where I was able to see a little more of who she was. We used to host movie nights at least once a week in the dorms and sometimes there would be just a few people in attendance, and so I would end up sitting next to her and chatting about stuff before and after the showing. I realized just how sweet of a person she was – and that was my exact second impression. Sweet.

But I still didn’t even attempt to flirt with her. I tried to squish any feelings I had for her. I didn’t want to be let down by another girl.

Anyway, about midway through the year, we were getting late night food at one of the dining halls in the dorms. Lindsay had talked on previous occasions about the kind of crazy shit that can go down when her blood sugar gets too low. So when in the middle of the line she started to get woozy and weak, I kind of freaked out.

I brought her inside – rushed her, if I’m being honest – and grabbed her a cup of soda to drink. The time I sat with her, making sure she was okay, I realized how trembly I was. And when she looked up at me and thanked me for helping her, I had this thought.

Oh, shit. I kind of really like her.

Things went strangely quick after that, as they usually do with me when I finally admit I’m interested in someone. I asked her roommate about Lindsay and found out that in fact, she didn’t have a boyfriend, but she would always get super awkward around guys if she knew they were interested in her and she didn’t reciprocate.

Somehow that didn’t deter me. It was getting into winter now and I was spending more time with her – trying to be physically close with her during movie nights, making excuses to hang out. I even invited her to our Organic Chemistry class to sit in on lecture, where she would spend the whole hour drawing things on the back of my right hand while I was taking notes with my left.


I know, it’s like fourth grade flirting.

I thought it might be a good idea to ask her out on Valentine’s Day. My friends talked me out of that particular endeavor. Still, I found myself filled with a kind of nervous energy that weekend (which also happened to be President’s day weekend, so it was a long one). I decided I wanted to go for a walk around campus, and I went around to all of my friends asking if they wanted to come.

Only one person accepted.

So instead of having a planned date with Lindsay that night, I went for a walk around campus with Lindsay that night. It wasn’t a date, but still, it was the first time I’d ever been alone with her for multiple hours.

I asked her what kind of music she liked. She told me cinematic music, like “Time” from Inception. I asked her what the most important thing in her world was. She said family. I asked her what her biggest fear was. She said her grandparents dying.

I think I fell in love with her right then.

I was still sure she wasn’t interested in me, but at the very least, spending time with her was incredible. She had to go away that weekend on a trip with her family, but I spent the whole time thinking about her.

Well, that and one other thing.

See, we do this thing at UCLA called “tunneling”. There are a series of access tunnels that go under the school, through which steam and electrical and water pipes travel. Punk-ass kids like myself who like to do illicit things can pop a bolt on certain doors in campus, enter these tunnels in the dead of night, and go around looking at certain UCLA sights that don’t exactly appear on maps of the campus. Like an underground bridge below the gardens. Or the basement of the research library where they keep old texts in other languages. Or even, if you’ve been taught by someone who knows the way, up into the towers of Royce Hall, our performance building and one of the iconic UCLA sights.

Because I was the only one who knew how to tunnel, I took our friends a lot. We went that Saturday evening while Lindsay was gone, and when she came back she said to me, half-jokingly, that she couldn’t believe I’d gone without her.

I said half-jokingly back that I could take her that night – the early morning (like 2am) of February 17th – but that, because everyone else had gone on Saturday, it would just be the two of us. I fully expected her to try to extricate herself from a creepy situation like that.

Instead, she said, “Okay.”

Let me tell you, winding your way through the bowels of UCLA with the girl you have an enormous crush on, still not entirely sure she’s at all interested in you, is terrifying. I spent that entire night jumpy as hell, hoping that one way or another this confusion would be resolved.

At about 3:30am we arrived up in the Royce towers, from which you can view the entirety of campus. She was all eyes – looking out at the buildings lit up in the night – while I was trembling and sweating up a storm. I had never been good at making any kind of move, and despite being up in an incredibly romantic setting alone, I found myself petrified.

So I went for the casual physical contact, to try to gauge interest. Here’s how it went:

Me: *puts hand on the small of her back and kind of scratches her*

Her: “That feels nice….”

Me: So she’s okay with this, at least!

Her: “…my mom used to do that when I was sick.”

Hold up, your mom? You’re thinking about your mom at a time like this?!?

Suddenly, everything was in disarray. All the signals I’d thought I’d picked up on during our Valentine’s Day walk were suddenly suspect. Did she even know what I was trying to do? Or was she just oblivious to the messages I was trying to covertly send? My mind was chaos.

In the end, I honestly think it was the late hour that did it. It was approaching four in the morning, and she turned to me and said, “Thank you so much, Reed. This was such an incredible night.” And I was so tired of being adrenalized, so tired of trying to figure out whether she was interested in me, that I just went for it.

I said something like, “I can think of one way we can make it even better.” (Smooth, I know.) And then I kissed her.

And when I pulled away, she was smiling. So of course, being me, I immediately said, “Wait, you wanted that? Like, you like me?”

And she said yes, to which I responded, “But… why?”

I’m not kidding. We spent a little more time kissing and then there was a long journey back to the dorms, and the entire time, I was pestering her, trying to figure out why she was interested in me. What could make somebody like her – somebody so incredible, inside and out – want somebody like me?

She just shrugged and said she didn’t know.

You know, it’s funny – I was at the rock wall in our gym the other day and the guy who runs it told me not to worry about the “grades” they give the trails which determine their difficulty. He said, “don’t let the numbers bother you.”

And without thinking, I said back, “The only time I didn’t let the numbers bother me was when I asked Lindsay out. And that’s the only time I need.”

I’m still really self-deprecating in my humor. I still like to joke about being a five dating a ten, and it’s not okay. But the thing is, I’m lucky. I’m so incredibly lucky to be with Lindsay, not just because she’s beautiful or sweet or interested in me, but because she helps me to understand that I am every bit as perfect for her as she is for me.

Here’s to you, Wizzy. I hope you’re not a blubbery mess right now, considering you’ve heard this all before.

Love, always,


A Zine for the World

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Burning Love, by Elvis Presley)

I won’t be able to do any work on Sleeper today.

I’m working until 7 pm – giving an information session on Library resources to TA’s – and after that, I have dinner and evening plans with friends. Which means no work on editing today.

Or tomorrow either, now that I think about it. Since I’ll be doing both Kashima Shin-ryu and climbing the rock wall with Lindsay tomorrow, I won’t be able to do any creative writing that evening either.

But I did get to write something today.

The UCLA Library does a few pretty cool events each year around Valentine’s Day. One is called “Blind Date With a Book”, where we gift-wrap books and then write cute little taglines on them related to their subject matter. Then students can browse them and check them out without a real idea of what the book is.

The other is a zine-making workshop. For those who don’t know, zines are like small DIY magazines, usually made with part art/writing, part cut-and-paste from newspapers and other magazines, and part other interesting artistic materials. They often focus on political and social topics – feminism, mental health and illness, countercultures, that kind of stuff.

Now we all know I’m not an artist. But the last two years I’ve tried to take a crack at making zines while I was staffing the event. And because it’s almost Valentine’s day, I want to share one with you. I originally wrote it about – and later gave it to – one of my best friends. But it really goes out to anyone in the world with a mental illness.

(And no, I’m not gonna apologize for the shitty quality or mistakes I made. I think they’re endearing.)



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I love you, all. Remember that this Valentine’s Day – some random dude from the internet loves you.

Yours, heartful and hopeful,

-R.R. Buck


(Reed’s Song of the Day: Pretty Fly for a White Guy, by the Offspring)

There’s a point where nerdiness becomes cool. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. And I’m hoping that my newest hobby is going to propel me forward through nerddom to that barely tangible point on the horizon.

I’m learning to swing a sword.

You could probably have guessed this was coming if you read my post about buying a cloak and replica sword at a Renaissance Faire. I’ve actually wanted to get into swordplay for a while now, ever since I… bought one.

Let’s take it back a bit, shall we? To the beginning. In May, while at the Faire, I bought a wooden replica of a falchion. I rationalized the purchase by saying that learning some basic swordplay moves would make it easier to write more authentic combat scenes in some of my fantasy novels. However, when I started looking stuff up online, I couldn’t find that many resources on swordplay for a falchion. It isn’t exactly like kendo or anything like that; it’s hidden.

So I started thinking about maybe trying a different style of swordplay, one that would be easier to find resources or classes on. Fencing got into my mind – I have a friend who has a background in fencing. And right around the time I was thinking about fencing, and rapiers, and stuff, I was also doing research on how much it cost to have a sword smithed.


Turns out it’s ridiculously expensive to get a custom-made sword. Like, minimum $800 expensive. I don’t have that kind of cash.

But then there was a magical moment. A… wizardly moment. As in, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios. I went there on a trip with my girlfriend and her family, and you wouldn’t believe what I stumbled on in the gift shop.

Godric Gryffindor’s sword.

Not a replica. A legitimate steel rapier in the (fictitious) style of Excalibur, with the crosshilt/sword guard of a larger sword but a very thin blade. And it was much less expensive than getting a custom sword made.

So, to the befuddlement of my girlfriend’s family, I purchased a sword that day. Want to know a fun fact about buying a weapon from a theme park? They have to ship it out to the front entrance for you to pick up because you’re not allowed to have it on the premises. I would never have known.

Anyway, I had the sword, but again, finding online materials with which to teach myself was difficult. My poor rapier gathered dust under the futon while I got lazy (although I did bring it out for the occasional D&D session).

Then came New Year’s Eve, where I found myself in a dive bar with some friends counting down the hours until 2018. We met a really nice couple there, and over the course of a few games of pool we all became decent friends. The guy was talking about how he was with a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism – basically a huge group of crafters, LARPers, and fighters who enjoyed learning old Renaissance stuff. He encouraged me to look it up because, as we’ve established, I’m a nerd.

And when I looked up the L.A. chapter, I saw that they had rapier fencing classes. For free. I was so stoked, I emailed the rapier marshal almost immediately. But again, the momentum was lost when Lindsay and I weren’t able to make it out for the first class and then classes were cancelled for the next couple of weeks because of rain. Also, it was just a bit too far to Lyft once a week, and neither of us had access to a car.

Can we take a minute to recognize that Lindsay wanted to try this stuff with me? Seriously. Each and every time I ask her to try something new or weird, she puts aside her anxiety and goes for it because she knows how much it means to me. I am so lucky to have a partner like her.

But back to the story. I’d tried in three different ways to learn swordplay, and all of them failed.

But then came last Wednesday, when Lindsay and I were walking back from the gym and we saw a few people out on the lawn in front of the basketball stadium, practicing a martial art. They held wooden replicas of katanas and for a minute I thought it was just some altered form of kendo. But when we approached and talked to them, we found out it was something else altogether.

It’s called Kashima Shin-ryū, and it’s sick as hell. Basically it’s a series of grappling and weapons fighting techniques that include daggers, swords, staffs, glaives, and more. Many of the weapons I might have my characters swinging, I could learn myself first.

We came back yesterday – they practice every Wednesday – and tried our hands at it. I did pretty bad, but Lindsay picked it up really well! I think both of us felt badass, though, even if it was just wooden swords. It’s definitely something we’ll be continuing to do on the weekly, and I might bring some of the cool little nerdy facts back here to dissect.

I honestly think this will be a great inspiration for me to write good combat scenes. And maybe someday I’ll actually be able to wield that Sword of Gryffindor and not completely embarrass myself.

…even though it’s a rapier and not a katana.

Well, a guy can dream.

Yours, swooshy-slicingly,

-R.R. Buck