Welcome To Night Vale: The Normal Town, For Weird People.

 Disclaimer: The podcast does not endorse this blog post in any way. Also, there is some light spoilers, but more for those who have already started listening, and need to catch up. :)

There is a town, somewhere in the desert of the United States that is on the list of fictional locations that we all want to go to as nerds. Night Vale, for many, joins the list of Hogwarts, Narnia, Arrakis, District 12 and other great fictional locations. But it did so, not by the traditional means of writing. It instead – did this by capturing the rise of technology that many of us started getting into recently: Podcasting.

Now we will save Podcasting, for another post. But since the summer of 2012, this show, that releases on the 1st and 15th of the month, has shared with nerds, the news of the small desert town from Night Vale Community Radio host Cecil Palmer. Through Cecil, we learn about a Secret Police force that acts in-lieu of an non-secretive police force. How the city council is just a bunch of weirdly hooded figures, that go on vacation a lot and scream when changes take place in town. (Sound familiar?) And my favorite, the reasons why their town’s Dog Park is forbidden and only a special group of Hooded Figured people can go in and out and until recently, dogs can go in but not out.

Fans of this show are known as Citizens of Night Vale. I have been a proud citizen since November of 2014. And while many of my friends, love and live vicariously through the adventures of the podcast, there are still many close to me who don’t get it. So, today, I am sharing with you some reasons why Night Vale for many, is the place we all dream of living in.

Do You Like Listening to NPR in the morning? This is the weird fictional version for you.

This show, reminds me of a far more interesting Fresh Air or Morning Talk episode from NPR. (National Public Radio for any of our non-American readers.) Now for some people this is a little harder to listen to, because for many NPR either signifies “old people” or “liberal progressives”. Which can be a bit of broad brush stroke, but many critics and fans of the show, use it as the best way to explain the show to friends and family. The show has normal segments such as traffic, community calendars, weather reports and even editorials. But what you think are just normal news episodes, shortly but surely make you wonder what kind of news is this, as well as what kind of town is this?

The attributes of Night Vale make it real

The creators have mentioned that this series, is set somewhere in the southwest USA. But the more you listen to this show, you increasingly notice how Night Vale looks a lot like your local town, only not weird at all. There is a Starbucks (in fact a whole district), they have an arena, an opera house, schools, city hall, Post Offices, and libraries that no one EVER goes into. (Albeit, the reason you wouldn’t go into Night Vale Library or the Night Vale Post Office are very different from the reasons we do not go into those real-world locations.)

Additionally, the setting of Night Vale is very modern. They have cell phones, the internet, Snapchat, Facebook, Tumblr, Amazon, Target, Costco, and all the other things that we are used to in our daily lives. While you may feel that you are being transported to another place, it’s not that far off from your town. I come from a small town, that reminds me of Night Vale in many ways. I mean, shoot, we have a Big Rico’s Pizza in my town. **

The People are DifferentAnd that’s SUPER OK

You know, we nerds, are by default type casted as outcasts in our normal society. So, when you listen about the news of a city, that makes *you* the normal one, it makes listening even more worthwhile. What I adore about this show, is how it normalizes the weird. Like it’s supposed to be no big deal that Street Sweepers are dangerous. Or how there is a faceless old woman that lives in everyone’s home. My favorite, is the Ephemeral Glow Cloud that is on the school board and has a small “child glow cloud” as a student in Night Vale. (ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY GLOW CLOUD.)

However, as a bonus, things that many people in our real world find weird and abnormal, are no big deal. Such as the relationship between Cecil and his boyfriend Carlos. In our real lives, a relationship like Cecil and Carlos would face judgements and in some places terrible homophobia attacks. But in Night Vale it is completely embraced. I mean being honest, the town has weirder things going on than two gay men in a monogamous relationship, but that’s how *not* weird it is, relationship is. Providing room for social commentary on how “weird” really should be defined both in and out of our daily lives.

You are always wondering what happens next. Always. Left. Wondering.

This show is always leaving you wondering what will happen next. There are threads that eventually are resolved over the years, but some of them, are never really resolved. Many books and series, tie everything up in a neat little bow, but Welcome to Night Vale, even if it does resolve a plot thread, leaves you tons of additional threads on which the creators can continue to work on long after the main plot has ended. There is material and themes that the writer brings up in episodes that make you go “That is from a long time ago!” – Episode 57 “The List” is one of those episodes.

Three Words: Allegorical Social Commentary

So, this one takes a lot of people by surprise. For some, they completely miss it unless someone mentions it. But once you get to Year Three (Starting around Episode 27-28), you will notice that all those weird sayings and settings, are not just plain weird. They begin to set stages, and evolve the weird things in this town into mirrors that replicate our own real world. For many Citizens of Night Vale, this is where many of us begin to change our ways of thinking and feeling both in and out of Night Vale.

One of the most infamous episodes of Allegorical Social Commentary is Episode 73 titled “Triptych”.  No spoilers, but by the end of the episode, you not only question your beliefs about a certain character, but you then start asking the question of “What would I have done in this situation?” Knowing that the ending of the episode is with Cecil literally saying the following: “Stay Tuned next, for a feeling in your chest that will never quite sit right with you again.” Truer words have never been spoken.

This is when you know, that the show is more than just weird people and events in a small town. There is more, much more, that the show allows us to see, if we are willing to see it. Night Vale has used its weirdness to not only allow people to escape from the world they live in, but a safe space for us to question our own personal emotional and social beliefs.

For example: *

  • The entire story of the Apache Tracker?!
  • Are we okay with the way Episode 42: “Numbers” ended?
  • Were you ready to go to battle in Episode 46 “Parade Day”?
  • Did Episode 51 “The September Monologues” change your opinion concerning a few recurring characters?
  • Did Episode 83 “One Normal Town” make you question your beliefs on immigration and refugees?
  • Were you emotionally devastated, yet also feeling the glaring and painful irony to the endings of Episode 87 “The Trial of Hiram McDaniel’s” and Episode 98 “Flight”?

So if you have been wondering what the big deal is with this weird fictional town – now is a good time to jump in and take a look. At 100 episodes at the end of December, there is plenty of story and time for you to listen into. Consider listening as you are waiting in line while shopping or while drive over the hills and through the woods to your designated person you are trying to reach. Embrace the weird, and discover why this town Is the town we all want to live in.

*If they didn’t – feel free to re-listen to those episodes again and think about it. Or not. It’s up to you.
** Also – The owner of the Big Rico’s in my current hometown, is a huge Night Vale fan!



Cosplay For All: Interview With Kristopher Ling

Property of BlizzardTrek Photography

This week, we interview an up and coming photographer names Kris Ling. I had been a fan of his work for quite some time and now and it was great to finally get to interview him.

How long have you been into photography?

Almost two years, since Fanime 2009. Several photographers, friends, and even cosplayers liked some of the shots I took at the con, so much so that I was even invited to go to several local gatherings. I had a lot of fun at these events and I talked to others about photography. I’ve been in love ever since.

What captivated you to cosplay photography over any other type of photography?

Speaking and writing have never been things I was good at. It makes it hard to tell stories to others. So when I discovered I had a knack for taking pictures, I discovered a means to communicate. Working with other people to set a mood, make a scene, create action in the moment is what I enjoy about taking pictures. The best part of cosplay photography is that the cosplayers and even other photographers are just a blast to be with. I mean, most of them are fellow fans, geeks, nerds, etc.

What are the tools that you use to take your photos?

My camera, of course. (chuckles) I use a Nikon D3000 camera and an SB-600 Flash unit. I have two main lenses, a 35mm Prime lens and a 55-200mm lens. Software wise, I , use Adobe Lightroom 3. I just use it more to manage my workflow and some minor edits. I’m more of a “straight out of camera” style with lights and colors.

Do you like having a theme in your photo shoots? Or do you like to freestyle with the cosplayer?

I have some ideas about what I want to shoot, but it always helps to bounce ideas around to make the most of any shoot. But the fact is that the cosplayer you’re shooting knows the character better than you do, knows how he/she/it thinks and the world the character comes from. I always love it when cosplayers bring their own ideas. They can suggest a shot and I can concentrate on what I got around me to make that shot work. Sometimes it involves posing, coordination, and sometimes it involves standing on ledges to get the shot. Whatever works, right?

What other career/work paths are you in besides photography?

I’m currently studying Computer Engineering at San Jose State University. I’ve always been good with fixing computers and other electronic devices, so I thought it was a natural career choice.

Do you have plans to make photography a profession, or would you like to just be an enthusiast?

I do admit that sometimes I would like to do photography as a career. I would love to travel around the world, meet new people, and create all kinds of new stories from exotic and strange locations around the world. But the problem for me is that would make this a job. It would be a fun job, but then I would be constantly stressed out about cosplay photography. So I’d have to say, I’d prefer to keep this as a hobby.

Recent trends have leaned towards cash prizes for cosplay participants, do you think this is a good idea or could it possibly take the fun out of cosplay?

I think cosplay contests and competitions have been around for a while. Go to some of the smaller cons and they tend to have contests where the cosplayer shows off their work and be judged. Some of them even win awards and prizes. It’s nice to get recognition for all the hard work you put into a project, right?

In regards to Anime Expo’s large cash prize ($10,000? Wow!), I’m scared. I mean it is great giving cosplayers an incentive or reward for their work. But with that much money, I fear that cosplayers would begin to cosplay for the sake of the cash prize instead of for fun. Time will tell, and I might be wrong. But if I’m wrong, I would be glad to be.

What is your advice to those who wish to start-up their own cosplay photography business?

The best thing you can do is to get your camera out and start practicing. Practice on your friends and family. Watch how the sun or other light sources illuminate your subject. For a lot of shots, it’s mostly about how well you’re lighting your subject. Having a good camera and other accessories can help, but if you can’t grasp lighting, your shots won’t come out well, no matter how expensive your camera. Check out the link below, the photographer is using a phone as his camera. I wouldn’t recommend doing that, but I hope you get the idea that you don’t need expensive cameras to make a good shot.

Ask the cosplayer you want to shoot for permission to do a few shots. They’ll most likely say yes, and pose, giving you a better shot. You are better able to shoot from a better angle. This does mean you should look decent too. That means proper hygiene. And I am NOT kidding when I say un-scented, especially for conventions.

Having decent software would help too. Colors are very important in cosplay, as well as the shadows. You might even try a little black and white or other effects to enhance a shot. Some of the software your camera comes with could do the trick and software you can download for free legally. Remember: Photoshop helps; Bad shots will never go away. Eventually, when you’re confident that you’d love your pictures to be used for a portfolio, having a model release form would be a good idea. Even if you’re just posting them online for all to see and no money is involved.

What advice do you have for cosplayers who are looking to have professional photos done?

Get exposure at cons. If there’s a con, there’s a photographer somewhere, we usually stand out. (laughs) Try and get cards from those you like at these cons. Find the ones you like and contact us. Set up times and find places to shoot you both can agree with. Find out what your photographer likes to do and how they like to shoot. Working together, cosplayer and photographer, ends up creating the best shots.

If you can’t go to a big con, see if there are any cosplay gatherings around your area. Photographers do some of those as well. Sometimes we get better effects if it’s at a pier or park.

Interview With Steven Savage: Part Deux!

Finally, after a long work and writer’s delay, we continue our interview with Steven Savage!  He is the lead writer at the blog Fan To Pro, Consultant, Writer and overall Professional Geek. This time, we’re talking about his current and upcoming writing projects.

So you, have two books-Fan to Pro and The Best of Fan To Pro. Those who have read your works, know your main themes, but for those who haven’t, what’s your main mission when you are writing your books?

I make tools for people’s lives and careers. What I do is create useful analysis, speculation, or exercises and advice that people can apply to their careers.

How long does it take for you to complete an initial draft of a written project?

Click on the link to check out the book's website!

The best-of-books are made over time.

The other books are a bit odd. My first “non-best-of” book actually took a good 9 months – that was Fan To Pro, which was rewritten twice. My current book, “Convention Career Connection” took some 10 months, but I was interrupted for about 4-5 months during that.

I’ve got it down to the point where I can write a book about every six months. The formatting and editing actually is the worst part, so I’m starting to outsource that. I’m also moving to dictation software. So get ready to see things come faster . . .

With the struggle of “Paper” bookstores and routes such as Borders, do you worry that publishers and writers are going to lose their ability to reach the masses who have not yet or may not ever make the transition to E-books and E-publishing?

It’s sort of six of one, half-dozen of the other. The e-publishing movement means you can reach more people who are part of a smaller population that is very book-oriented. So really in a way you can reach more people, but you’re reaching a subpopulation. It’s very strange, and for some authors it works, for some it doesn’t.

As you also do E-publishing, what is the hardest part of the entire process of converting from print to E-formats?

Click on the pic, to learn more about this book!

Bullet points. I kid you not, those never convert right.

The problem is there are 3 formats – PDF, ePub, and Kindle. PDF is easy, but you often want to remove breaks and padding pages for PDFs. ePub isn’t too bad with the right tools as it’s really a web page. Kindle is challenging because some elements don’t quite translate right unless you’re careful with them.

I think conversion is, straight up, one of the big barriers to eBooks being used by even more small publishers.

We have heard through certain sources, that you use dictation software to aid in your writing process. Do you feel it would help writers who don’t feel like typing, and would you recommend it to someone in that same predicament?

Certain sources? My blog? Of course!

It’s actually a mixed bag. It’s NOT for everyone or for every writing style. I don’t use it all the time.

It works for me because A) I often speak like I write, B) I can carry outlines in my heads and thus “read off of them”, C) Some of my writing is braindumps that are just edited. If you don’t work in any of these ways it may not be for you.

If it is? It’s great. I write 25% faster when using the software.

This book is almost ready!! Check out the website for more information!

We have also heard of a new project that is in final production.. Can you tell us anything about it? We also like pictures too. :)

That’s Convention Career Connection. It’s a guide to creating career events for cons, and it has a simple 5-part system to help you make events – paired with a huge list of ways to carry out those parts! The idea is that there are five things that make a good career event, and if you can fulfill them all, your event will be a success. So I walk people through their options.

Want to see more? Go to http://www.conventioncareerconnection.com/

If there is one thing you would like anyone who reads any of your works, walks away with, what would that be?

The confidence that they can turn their geekery into a career.

Any final advice to those who wish to join the writer’s movement?

I like calling it a movement – because it can be! Write. Go and do it. You can get your words out. If you’re good, you’re good. If you’re bad, you can improve. But go communicate!