But Is It Gay? How ClexaCon Changed My Mind

I’ve been really blessed throughout this process of working on my webseries, After Oil. My co-creator, Jessica Naftaly, and I were able to bring the pilot episode to New York Television Festival back in October and chat with TV development executives looking for “fresh” new material.

We knew walking into these generals that we were in a weird niche. We were “gay”, but not gay enough.

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Why? It’s a little high concept. It’s set in a global oil crisis. It takes place i Appalachia. A kid gets murdered. Oh yeah, and the main character is bi.

I didn’t walk into writing the After Oil scripts looking to make a statement. Whenever I start on a new story concept, I feel my characters out. I’m rolling a die in my brain. What ethnicity is this character? What’s their sexuality? This world I live in is diverse, and so is my imagination. Straight, white, and male has never been the default in my brain.

So when I met Briar as my main character, I knew that she was black and bisexual. I also felt she had a girlfriend, who was white and gay. I wasn’t being intentional with how I made these choices.

But after attending ClexaCon, I’ve begun to realize… maybe I should.

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Let me head this up by saying, I’m not a “good gay”. I’m not a shipper. I haven’t watched Carol. And I haven’t watched The 100. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when After Oil was accepted into this year’s ClexaCon Film Festival. For those who don’t know, Clexa is the shipname of characters Lexa and Clarke from the show The 100. This was a canon gay couple who were not token but main characters. So when show writers killed off Lexa, the community was devastated. To rub salt in the wound, Clexa wasn’t the only canon ship to be slain in 2016.

It’s not a coincidence. It’s a pattern. If we’re not token, or filling in a stereotype, LGBTQ female characters are, in general, far more likely to bite the bullet.

It’s part of the reason why I’ve never engaged with the community. So much of queer content falls under the same three umbrellas: dramas about coming out, rom-coms about coming out, or “camp” genre flicks. But what I love to watch and write is horror, or pseudo-intellectual thrillers like Inception or WestWorld. This, also, isn’t a coincidence. This is the industry’s way of saying that the “queer experience” can be one of two things: a joke or state of existential conflict.

This isn’t to bash these types of films and shows. The queer experience can be laughable and painful. But queer content is kept in these boxes because this is the lens the Man™ in charge feels comfortable viewing the LGBTQ+ community through.

This is the harsh truth. The “pull” of well-represented queer characters just isn’t enough on its own to sell me on consuming media. We’re seeing more diversity than ever before in film and TV. It’s not good enough. As a queer woman in this industry, I have a choice. I can settle for representation “where I can get it” or settle for watching the content I love where I am missing on-screen.

The solution is pretty straightforward: go gay or go home.

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More options means betters options, by default. Because I identify as bisexual, I understand that I have more diversity in my stories than the average straight white guy. It’s impossible for my sexuality not to color my worldview, but my sexuality has never been my identity. So yeah, I have main characters that are straight, or white, or male. Sometimes all three. I love those stories. I want to see them produced or published.

But after attending ClexaCon, I realize I have a responsibility not just to write from my perspective but to represent my perspective.

It sucks. I don’t want to be pigeonholed. And I’ve never wanted to make my characters an “insert” of myself. But until our entertainment reflects the diversity of my imagination, I need to be that change.

Which means I need to go full gay.

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I didn’t get it before. I guess I was fine with settling with watching the same leading straight men and women. I had gotten comfortable with inserting myself into those characters. But then I met the Clexa fangirls. And the vidders. And I saw what it meant to them, to have those characters on-screen.

And for a moment, I imagined what it would feel like if I had a character, like that, that I could see myself in.

I may never be a true fan of The 100 or Wynonna Earp. But I can be a part of this conversation.

I can be a part of this movement.

Quick plug. If you want to see me put my money where my mouth is, and support queer content while you’re at it, you can watch the pilot for After Oil on YouTube right here.  ALSO, if you always thought Harry Potter was missing some gay lady werewolves, you can follow my fanfic Stick Stone and Bone on Ao3! I plan to post new chapters every Friday.

What sort of representation do you want to see on-screen? Let’s chat. Leave a comment down below!

Shai Cotten

How to Prep for NaNoWriMo


Hey there!

So some of you may be new to NaNo, in which case, YAY! I am so excited for you. Writing a book for NaNo can be such a rush, especially if you’re doing it with a group! It can also be a little daunting, especially when writing a book is always going to have to compete with work, school, and a social life. And, you know, sleep.

But that’s what October is for! ‘Tis the month for pumpkins, spoopy skelingtons, and NaNoWriMo prep! The work you put into your novel the month before November is largely what determines the smoothness of writing during NaNo. So buckle up! We’ve got some prep to do.

Firstly, we must sort you. This is a little bit like Hogwarts now. It’s time to put you in your houses.


Are you more organized and analytical? Do you like to outline and plot things out ahead? Then you my friend may belong to the noble Planners!


Or perhaps you are a fan of improv, preferring to wing it, a.k.a. fly by the seat of your pants? You’re probably a Pantser!

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Unable to commit? A bit wishy-washy? No worries, friend, there’s a place for you amongst the numerous Plantsers!

Regardless what your writing style is, I suggest that everyone put some prep into their first NaNo. If you don’t know where to start, here are some story basics:

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Know your characters

Story comes from character, so don’t go into your novel this NaNoWriMo without any idea who your characters are. If you're a Pantser, you might enjoy throwing a new character into the mix every then and again, but know your primary characters from the get-go. You don’t have to write out their entire biography before you’ve begun. I would suggest mapping out five things for each of your mains: goal, background, appearance, vice, and virtue.

If your main character doesn’t have a goal, your novel is gonna spin on its own axis, directionless. Get an idea of what your character wants most, and keep in mind that this can change multiple times throughout the story. This might also be motivated by their background, which is why you should jot down a sentence or two regarding their family background, where they grew up, what their current occupation is, etc. Lastly, I find it infinitely helpful to know at least one vice and virtue that my character exhibits. I draw from this huge master list on Writeworld. This keeps characters consistent. It’s the backbone of how your character will react in any given situation. Someone who’s depressive will react different to bad news than someone who is irritable, after all.

P.S., if you’re stuck on character or even town names, do not fret! This handy-dandy generator from Mithril and Mages is the perfect solution to your woes.

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Know where you’re going

You don’t need an outline. Though some writers will go so far as to map out their entire story in scene cards, for others, the prospect of laying their novel out moment by moment can seem terrifying. But do know what you’re working towards. Before November strikes, know these two fundamental things: how your story begins, and how it ends. A neat little tip: it’s easier to jump into your story if you start in the middle of the action. I.e., open up your scene with your character already locked into a fistfight, not when they’re walking into the room, or even when they’re eying up some unsavory fellow across the bar. On the other hand, knowing your character’s goal is going to help you find your perfect ending.

In addition, get some ideas for scenes that you really want to happen. You don’t need to know precisely when these scenes are going to happen, but having a few pre-planned moments gives you something to work towards. For example, I personally love writing fight scenes, and knowing that there’s one coming up will not only make me excited to write, but encourages me to puzzle out ways to get my character to that moment in time.


Have fun!

Cheer up, buttercup, planning a novel doesn’t have to be a chore. There are tons of fun things to do when you’re feeling stuck in plotting. Try making a themed playlist on Spotify or iTunes for your book! Not only will this be great for listening during your future writing sessions, music is great inspiration! It puts your head in a different space, and I’ve often learned to look at my characters from new angles by finding song “themes” which fit them. If you’re big into Pinterest (like I am) you might try making a themed board where you keep reference photos of your characters or a backup of writing prompts for when the well runs dry. It also never hurts to check out some books similar to your own. Much as we’d like to think we’re entirely original, chances are someone has covered your material before. Building up a list of books or even movies and TV shows with the same tone, genre, or premise as your book will be immeasurably helpful to you down the road. If you’re writing about anything grounded in the “real world” (i.e., science fiction, crime fiction, etc.) watching docs on your subject can be a great resource.

And that’s it! Have you got any questions? Anything else you feel I should have covered? Please let me know, and Happy NaNoing!

Shai Cotten

Don't Kill Yourself Over Your Art

“True artists kill themselves at their peak to prevent themselves from making bad work.”

Okay. So this. I’m so sick of this. I’m so tired of people thinking that madness is a prerequisite to making good art.

I know too many people who think they have to suffer in order to create. Like, people who will intentionally go out of their way to make themselves uncomfortable, unhappy, or even in pain in order to create better art.

Stop this. Just. No.

In the first place, where is the fucking logic in that? Look. Stop sweating it. The world is already a miserable enough place as it is, and you really don’t have to go out of your way to find suffering. Just wait. It’ll come to you. Chill the fuck out.

Secondly, this idea that art comes from madness or that the two go hand in hand is crap. And even if it wasn’t, YOUR ART IS NOT WORTH IT.

Let me say that again.


If your art makes you uncomfortable, if your art makes you depressed, if your art is compromising your unhappiness in any way at all FUCK YOUR ART.

Good art does come from hard things. I’m not going to argue that. But the two aren’t synonymous, and it’s so fucking dangerous to think that way. More importantly, there are other ways of creating. Throw away this notion that your best work has come out of some of your darkest moments. If that’s what you think your peak is, I have good news.

You haven’t hit it yet.

So if you think you've hit rock bottom, and your sitting on the valley of your life as an artist, here are some things to try before calling it quits:

1. Make shit. Not art.

Let yourself fuck up. Not everything you create is going to be beautiful. But your creativity isn't a well that you can dreg dry. It's bottomless. You'll go through dry spells, but that doesn't mean you're broken. Wait it out. Rain always comes again. And don't fear ineptitude. You're making art, not building a bridge. No one's going to die if you fuck up. Allow yourself to suck. 

2. Follow passion, not pain.

If you're living with a mental illness, that shit is not your superpower. You don't have x-ray vision, or an insight into the world that "normies" are lacking. Sorry to rain on your parade, but if mental illness came with cardholder benefits, wouldn't we all be vying for it? You're limiting yourself and your art when you define yourself by the confines of an illness. Choose to focus instead on the things that get you fired up. Choose to define yourself by something other than your art.

3. Try not being an artist.

And by this I don't mean give up on your art completely. But have you ever tried being something other than an artist? What about a stamp collector? A jogger? A small-time ice skater? The miraculous thing about art is how very not mystical it is. It's not a religion, and if you devote yourself to nothing than its practice, turns out you're probably cutting yourself off from a lot of different sources of inspiration. Try drawing from the mundane rather than the maddened. You might save your sanity a couple extra years.

I'm aware that this all comes across as being very salty, and while I have a fair amount of anger towards this perception of art to work through, please know: I'm not angry at you if this is how you feel about your art. For a long time, I too, felt I had peaked at 15.

But please. Please know. You are worth more than your art. You have infinitely more value than anything you could create, and that is beautiful. You will find a way to create and be happy.

Please don't kill yourself over your art.

One of my favorite screenwriters, Max Landis, has a video on this topic, which I'll link to here. I highly recommend. If you need someone to talk about this, or anything, the comments section below is always open.

Shai Cotten

Why Stranger Things Is Important

Even if you were not able to tune in for the SAG Awards 2017 ceremony, you likely haven't missed the hype flooding social media about this year's award winners.  Hidden Figures won for Outstanding Performance by a Cast.  Denzel Washington and Viola Davis won for their roles in the film Fences.  Actor Mahershala Ali won for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role for Moonlight.  But it is the win for Netflix's hit series Stranger Things for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series that is truly taking the media by storm.

Now, the cast of Stranger Things were not only the award winners to get a little political in their acceptance speeches, in the wake of Trump's recent "Muslim ban".  But if you haven't already watched David Harbour's speech, watch it now, and if you have - view it again just to watch the looks on the cast's faces as they traverse the full emotional range from confusion, to realization, to pride.  Harbour's speech is eloquent, it's poignant, and it is delivered in the true gusto of his character, Jim Hopper - with tremendous heart and ferocity.

Stranger Things took audiences by storm when it was first released on Netflix in 2016.  People were quick to celebrate this charming callback to American 80's sci-fi and horror, and it soon became a viral trend.

However, I would stretch to say that Stranger Things was not a groundbreaking show.  The performances the actors gave were phenomenal, and the story and pacing executed flawlessly, but as far as being revolutionary or innovative, the truth is that Stranger Things is nothing starkly new.  It is very simply a fantastic sci-fi show.

Stranger Things getting an award show win is what is groundbreaking.

There is a reason that "Oscar-bait" has become it's own genre, and that is because the films and TV series that are nominated and awarded for award ceremonies all typically fit the same mold.  Besides being released at an ideal time for nominations, they tend to conform to the same genres: period dramas, Holocaust films, "true story" adaptations, white guilt films, or any other film that plays on heart strings and allows for a wide range of powerful acting without taking any real risks.

This is important.  By creating this whole category for films that are "Oscar-worthy", a statement is created as towards what sort of stories "deserve" to be celebrated or honored.  This is a system that rewards creators for taking the road well-traveled.  It entirely excludes mainstream or "genre" media.

This system also tends to focus on narratives that are in the past.

Narratives that rehash old stories of hope and victory as if to remind us: look at us, we fought that fight.  We should be so proud.

No reason to fight it anymore.

The power of fiction - mainstream, genre fiction - is that it is never not relevant.  The symbolism and metaphors in Lord of the Rings, or Alien, will never grow old.  The accessibility of fiction is what makes it ageless.

Because we will never not be at war.  We will never not be terrorized or afraid.  We will never not be pressed with the decision to be courageous in the face of difficulty, horror, or oppression.

Fiction like Stranger Things lets people know, as David Harbour said, that we "fight monsters" on a daily basis, and we will always have the strength to do it.  It is so incredibly important, in the wake of everything happening in our country presently, to see actors and creators - the symbols of action and resistance that we all see in our day to day - standing up and speaking out against tyranny.

Narrative and fiction has the potential to create radical change.  The same power that Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games franchise represents.  Not to go toe to toe with villainy, but to stand as a symbol for others to rally around.  A fiction which conceals, at its heart, a message of truth.

When the character Evey Hammond from the film V for Vendetta asks V, our masked vigilante, why he is intent on blowing up parliament, he replies, "A building is a symbol, as is the act of destroying it. Symbols are given power by people. Alone, a symbol is meaningless, but with enough people, blowing up a building can change the world."

In the light of the recent election, I know many may feel that our voices go unheard, and that in the face of the government, we have no power or choice.  But we do have a choice, and that is in what we give power to; the symbols, movements, and ideas that we support or demand.

Chose to give power to the narratives that symbolize radical change, fierce resistance, vehement horror, and unbending hope. Support the stories that reflect our struggle - that support the truth that monsters are real, and seek to build up in us the courage to fight back against them.

With enough people, believing in one unified ideal, a story can change the world.


Shai Cotten

Re-Establishing Your Writing Routine

Re-Establishing Your Writing Routine

There are some out there who are fortunate enough to have the luxury of getting paid to do what they love; to write.  The rest of us have the get by, squeezing in minutes of writing time between school, work, personal relationships, second jobs even.

Like many writers who struggle to keep up a writing practice between the doldrums of daily life, I have spent hours scouring Pinterest for blog posts on how to keep up a lively, productive writing routine.  I typically skim through these blog posts searching for the bolded and bulleted phrases.  In my mind, I’m too busy to be reading long, in-depth articles with helpful tips and relatable anecdotes.  You know.  With all of the not-writing I'm doing.

So here’s another relatable anecdote for you to skip over: I currently don’t have a writing practice.

Shai Cotten