Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jumbled assumptions

The last day of class was Monday (before last, as this has sat here progressing paragraphs at a time), so, despite having a take home final and a rather large paper due this upcoming Monday (no past; someone should have talked me into just revising this completely), I've been an almost total slacker.  I'm doing laundry as I type.  I've taken care of mommy things.  And I've stretched my wee budget to do some Xmas shopping.  But I've done none of the fiction writing I promised to do as soon as I was "free" of academics, nor the academics I should finish to be really free.  Maybe it's the guilt from scholarly procrastination that got me thinking of a class from last semester, and kid in it that I dubbed Mr. Whiner.

I'd blame his attitude on his youth, but since we attend a public, commuter university, the classes are a mix of old folks like me (and older by decades) returning for their degrees, and young, first time college students like him; he's the only one I've met with the attitude.  And it wasn't just the class (which he could have transfered out of in the early weeks, or withdrawn from for quite some time after) or the perfectly lovely teacher (again, it was one of those classes with a bazillion sections from early morning to late night because every student who enters below the grad level must take it, so he could have left if they didn't click)...In addition to ridiculously loud music, he filled my mornings with other complaints like how his dad wouldn't just sell the family business already since he was sick of working there on the weekends.

My edited response was, "You should appreciate what you have."  My inner voice said, "Get a grip, you little twerp!  Someday, when your dreams of being the next celebrity DJ fall through, you're going to be glad your parents worried more about your future than their own early retirement.  Enjoy getting into clubs you're otherwise too young for and the free tickets to more concerts than most folks with real jobs could ever afford; it'll only last so long.

I told you all that to tell you this: Mr. Whiner came to class one day more out of sorts than usual.  I don't remember if I asked or he just assumed I'd receive his venting.  He'd been on the commuter rail, making his way into the city, and dropped his pass.  By the time he realized it and went back, the pass was gone.  He'd been sitting near a black lady (no offense), and now he was out $100+...

Yeah, I was offended.  If I am to be drafted to represent "black ladies" everywhere (offensive in and of itself), how come we're the thieves?  Did she come from a special suburban ghetto and was commuting to her job as crack whore in the city?  (And who visits crack whores at 8am?)  Are all the white suburbanites magically immune to greed?

Never assume--it makes an Ass out of U, though it has relatively little to do with Me.

It's a side note, since he was already wrong without it, but at the start of the next class, he tried to sell his commuter rail pass.  The woman had indeed seen the pass left where he had been sitting, and tried to locate him to return it.  Like a modern romantic comedy, they must have just missed each other, but came so close to the meeting that would have changed the course of the story before it became tedious to its audience.

No, he did not apologize to me about his accusations toward her, which I would have accepted as the representative of black ladies everywhere.

The original plan, in keeping with this being a writing themed blog (as opposed to my free-for-all LiveJournal or the blog I should open for non-writerly things), was to write something witty about assumptions in fiction, and then turn that into a launch pad for why I love Kelley Armstrong's books...

But I came across Elif Shafak's "The Politics of Fiction" and thought that fit so well:

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I want to curl up in a ball and just stay there.

For a week, I was sick.  I have lupus, it's a fact of life, blah-blah.  I couldn't concentrate so I struggled to be just a little behind on school work (technically, I'm not behind in the two classes that I dreaded it most in...I just feel behind).  My professors for the two classes I most worried about were great--understanding that it's a chronic illness, and if I could manage my work, so be it.  In my 3rd class, it hasn't been an issue.  It's just once a week on Mondays--I am a paper behind, but I've been averaging an A and the last class was canceled anyway.  Now worries...

...X's "stomach virus" put him in emergency surgery to remove his appendix.  (I wrote that and remembered this is not my journal and not everyone reading this knows that X is my husband.  Now you know.)  It was horrible.  I was a little scared by the time that I got him into my brother's car to go to the hospital, but at that point, it was 1am; I needed to get my daughter and nephew to school in the morning and get myself to class, and I still believed that he'd get IV fluids and better meds than I'd gotten him over the counter.   He called at 5am to tell me that his appendix had burst and they were about to prep him for surgery.

I was so not going to class.  I explained the situation to the lovely two professors mentioned above with my assignments attached.  They were great about it.  So I foolishly didn't think to get anything on hospital letterhead explaining what happened.  I was worried about how weak he looked, how I needed to feed him. They only kept him one more night, but he was so much stronger that I didn't question that.  All I cared about was what I needed to know for his post-op care.  So guess what Professor #4 wants to not smash my grade over my absences?

Hopefully, it will be easier to get in touch with someone who can give me something on hospital letterhead once the weekend is over.  My bitchy-self says, "Or I'll just show her all the post-op info sheets and she can take 'em or leave 'em."  My regular self is tired...tired from being so worried about my partner...tired from being worried about my grades...tired from my lupus flare...

I want to call in dead for the rest of the semester.

And I want to write.

In all the stress, I turned to fiction.  Having read an *almost* satisfying novel, I want to put my own words on the page as though I might make a million and one mistakes, but I've been inoculated against those that made that piece of work *almost*.  And that fear from suddenly learning that X was going into surgery and the awareness of what can go wrong even in simple procedures is with me in a little ball that I can't throw away despite it all ending well.  I want to fictionalize it so it has a place outside my body.

But I can't phone the semester in so I'm going to hit the books.

...Screw it.  I'll hit the books after writing for half an hour.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Strange young adult kinda dream

I was young, pretty, white.  I loved him and he was gone, my only lead--only REAL lead--a phone number.  So I dialed and found this weird network like nothing I ever experienced before.  And it wasn't him, but I was closer.  I dialed again and again, til I had to take a break.  I didn't like going out of his room, seeing his family trying to be normal while I was a stranger in their home so nothing could be normal.  Mom cooked, twin boys tried to play only to freeze when they saw me.  He got his parents to say yes to my coming by promising I'd stay in the kid sister's room, but I haven't done that since he disappeared and she looks at me with this longing like I'm still supposed to still stay up late braiding her hair and whispering Older Girl secrets.  Kid brother's worst of all cuz he's just a couple of years younger than us, all punk rock/skater hot and getting closer to me while we looked for HIM.

I'm getting out of that house and freeing us all, but just one more round of calls.  I hide out in the bathroom upstairs and dial.  There's an answer, it sounds like a party, and I thinking YES!  I'll be pissed when he answers, demand why he didn't just say that things were too intense...or no, I love him so much I can let him go without that scene if he just picks up the phone....But I see IT, one of the visions I'd had through all the phone calls, this a repeat of the first where he's walking along the shoulder of a dark road and van pulls up, he gets in, and vanishes...

There's a clicking sound on the phone and the party noises disappear.  The phone pressed to my ear rings as though I'd just dialed a number, and I can hear the echo of a phone ringing somewhere in the house.  My stomach seems to drop, an shadow of the sinking feeling felt throughout my soul.  Both rings stop and I'm already moving to hang up before I hear the little sister answer the phone.

There's a knock.  "Come in."  I'm scrubbing at my eyes when kid brother walks in, seriously hot, but not the one.  He holds up a portable phone.  "Were you...calling the house phone from a house phone? How is that possible?"

.....That last bit's not true.  It's already morphed in the recording.  It WAS the same number, so the best I should have gotten would have voice mail, but that's not what he said.  It had been something about Lucy thinking I might need something...I said, "Um?  Toilet paper?" and we both looked at the roll--not full, but full enough so that if I needed more I was probably about to go through something no one wanted in their bathroom.  I shared a smile with him, but it was almost like there were two of me--the one sharing a moment with him and the one still totally engrossed by the search for HIM.

The dream ended with flashes of vision and...a Damien Rice song playing on loop. 


The dream that I had left this page open to write about was kind of like that.  In a way, it was totally different--the woman I was in then was more solidly grown, a woman of color.  There had been less urgency with no missing lover.  But it was the sort that, upon waking, I knew was a story, not some sort of working things out from real life.  I'd gotten up from that dream and wrote about it in a hard copy note book.  Then, I'd set about trying to build a plot around the character study I'd been given in my sleep.

That was about two weeks before NaNoWriMo had started.  We're a week into and I'l still trying to build a plot, plodding along well behind writing schedule.

There's still lingering urgency from this morning's dream.  I feel like I could figure out what was up with that phone network, and spend the day writing the book, each bit missing from the dream unraveling as I reach.  Reality's throwing cold water on that fantasy.  Having a lupus flare, I phoned in all of last week, so I cannot skip class today.  If I did, I would probably end up spending hours just trying to make sense of the phone thing alone, hours writing the opening (if I dove right in rather than hours spent outlining), and I'd hit the middle and run out of steam.

But it's recorded (shifts in tense and any other flaws) so I can come back and revisit this if I ever need/want to and you can see how this kinda, sorta works for me.  Sometimes.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What the hell am I doing?!

It's that time again...or, several times again.  Halloween is just days away; beyond the anticipation of dressing the Wee One up, another Halloween means another year of staring at a computer screen at the moment--Eastern Standard Time--that October becomes November.  November, of course, is National Novel Writing Month.

I do it every year, even when I shouldn't, like this year.  I've done almost no writing that wasn't academic since the semester began.  On the one hand, I've never "won" NaNo so what's one more time of not reaching the goal?   On the other, I need the pressure I put on myself during NaNo like I need...something more creative than a hole in my head.

And thinking about it has me back in this place of, "What the hell an I doing?  I'm not a novelist."

I am a writer.  We've established that, right?  I write great openings and decent endings, and shitty middles that never seem to get revised no matter how often I sit down to revise them.  When do I say enough?

...Apparently not now.  I had this great dream a few weeks ago; it was basically an introduction to a character--a woman who lets lost souls pass though her into...well, wherever they go.  I dig her, dig the relationship with her sister and the potential relationship with the man I dreamt her meeting in a dark alley before a rift in the fabric of reality.  All of my non-academic time has been spent between learning the Savage Mojo   material for a project I've been tapped for and failing to build a story around this woman.

I create enjoyable characters.  Sometimes, I string words together nicely.  Whatever made me thing that would translate into being a novelist?

In a week when I've carved time out from my studies and I'm writing, I'll feel better.  In a month when I've got a neat beginning, a character I enjoy with a pretty cool supporting cast, and nowhere to take them...I'll be right back here wondering what the hell I'm doing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rethinking self-publishing

We've covered this.  Self-publishing is a good thing...for Other People.  If you're like me, you've grown up wanting to see your books published by the same folks who publish your favorite authors. You may or may not get over that; for me, the dream is still being published by Tor or Ace, but the goal (sometimes my dreams and my goals don't match) is to write for a living.  This meant accepting, first, that my work (when finally ready) might find a home in at a small press.  Eventually, I accepted that I may become an e-book writer.  Self publishing was out of the question...until now.

Some great books have been self published, but their numbers are eclipsed by the many, many crappy books self published because no agent or editor would consider them.  The list of self pubbed books that made the big time--sometimes remaining self published, but often bought by a big house--is nice and long...until you realize how many hundreds of thousands are never seen outside of the author's circle of friends and family.

And then there's the industry pressure.  I've heard/read "Agents and publishers won't even bother with your work if they've learned you've self-published" enough that it's not worth looking for links.  Even if your self-pubbed novel gets a serious readership, you're not eligible to join many of the writing associations that you may want to.  The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America association doesn't come out and say NO SELF-PUBLISHING, but they give a list of what makes you eligible and Lulu isn't on it.  Horror Writer's Association are longer and more involved, and at the end of the active membership regulations (as opposed to associate or affiliate), they let you know that any non-comic book self-published author need not apply.  And so on.

None of that matters if you just want a story "out there."  But if your goal is to quit your day job, the emergency medical fund, insider track for future publication, and other benefits are pretty damn important...

Yeah.  I can go on and on about why self-pubbing is my second to last choice.  The above doesn't even touch on marketing and other such issues.  So why rethink self-publishing at all?  My friend Julie.

I have the urge to write about how fabulous she is as a writing buddy, how smart, how dedicated to her craft...What matters more, though, is praise for her work. When I read that post, I thought, "Wow, how fabulous!  Too bad it's utterly useless!"  

The chances of an agent stopping by, reading that review, and asking for the manuscript seem ridiculous to me, regardless of my sucking at math.  IF she were putting that book out herself while her other manuscript is in agent limbo, it would be another story.  Apparently, Julie thought so, too.  She revamped her long idle site (love that logo!), added the Doc stories that are getting a following of their own, and put serious research into the details of what it would take to publish Senior Year Bites herself.

Rather than thinking of all the reasons for why she shouldn't, I immediately thought of why she should.  Critiquing selected chapters of Senior Year Bites, I was impressed by Julie's talent and skill, but I didn't love it the way that Rabid Reader does (if you didn't click the "praise for her work" link, go take a look).  

Young Adult books start with a strike against them when it comes to me, and SYB is "light" while my tastes run toward "thick" if not "heavy".  It's a totally irrational bit of personal taste that I mentioned before with published authors Anton Strout and Mark Henry.  I was randomly thinking the other day how Strout's Dead To Me has my all time favorite opening scene, though I'm not crazy about the book.  Less randomly, I just reminisced about how fabulous parts of Henry's Happy Hour of the Damned were, though I gave up on reading the whole thing early on.

These books are well loved by other people, but were I an agent deciding whether or not to rep them, Henry would have gotten an encouraging "But it's not for me" letter and Strout would have gotten a request for the full manuscript, only to have to change major elements or to move on to someone else to represent him...

Industry pros will tell you, "That's the process" and "if the story's good, it will get published."  I've swallowed that whole.  But I've also watched Julie revise and fine tune Arabian Dreams, send it out, and learn that there aren't a lot of agents interested in young adult equestrian fantasy books.  The chapters I critiqued were great, agent response reflect that, but alas...

I thought, "Send it to publishers that don't require you to go through an agent!  It would fit right in with the equestrian adult fantasy published by Luna."  Except that they don't publish YA books.  "Carina!  They seem to be looking for everything that doesn't easily fall into other categories."  Except for YA books.  

Maybe the idea should be "if the story's good, readers will read it."  I'm not advocating doing away with agents (do you know how to navigate international rights?  me neither), but in the days of social networking, more book blogs than you can shake a magic wand at, and relatively simple (so I'm told) tech to make great-looking trailers, why can't you write a good story, edit the hell out of it, and get it out to the would-be fans without:
~~~~~Shopping it to agents and waiting months between each for a "cool, but no thanks"?
~~~~~Waiting for where you fit into the schedule IF you get an agent who finds you a publisher?
~~~~~And still having to do a lot of the marketing yourself because you've just made the bottom of the mid-list?

To Julie, I say, "Go for it!"  For anyone else (maybe myself included one day), I say put in the time for researching how to do this right.  If the pros outweigh the cons, rock on with your bad self!

(Link of encouragement: Konrath ebook sales top 100K)

Saturday, September 4, 2010


My son's young personality was pretty much set before he ever met the man who would become his stepfather, so I'm constantly amazed at how alike they are.  They fall into these patterns...for instance, they love to communicate while apart, which is most of the year since the boyo lives with his dad in a distant state during school.  Then they spend the summer bumping heads, so much alike that living together makes them batty.  Now I know what my relationship with my dad must have looked like from the outside.

I call my daughter "My Little Demon."  She's a planet sized ball of willful energy squished into a skinny six-year-old package.  Even when she's being good, she's pushing.  She's completely her own person, yet shares a lot of traits with her brother that, I'm told often, were not inherited from her father.

My mind holds all these little facts, like any parent's, about my kids with no effort at all.  I don't have to think hard to recall that, while the Wee One (my girl's other nickname) likes tomato slices and loves fried pickles, the Boo Man (a name he's outgrown, but I haven't, and that serves well enough to not spread his identity around the internet) hates tomatoes and thinks fried pickles are the grossest things he's heard of that don't come from an animal.  I know their strengths and weaknesses, the music they like, the shows they are likely to watch...

It's like that with my characters, too.  Or, rather, it's like that with the protagonists.  I haven't written out what Quinn did for his tenth birthday, but I know him well enough to guess (can't really be wrong since I did make him up, but you know what I mean).  I haven't taken the time to figure out Wade's favorite food, but just thinking the question, I know immediately that this chick is meat eater. The spicier, the better.

My antagonists, on the other hand, tend to be closed books to me.

Stories usually come to me from the character; some voice that isn't mine will seem to speak to me, or a physical/psychological quirk will stick in my head and I'll end up building a person around it.  Then I'll discover what story they belong to.  Unfortunately, that often leaves me with "insert bad guy here", with which I create a story that's never fully cooked.

Realizing that is a good thing in a G.I. Joe sort of "knowing is half the battle" way.  But even when I was a  kid, I always responded to that with, "Yeah, but it's the easy half."  Figuring that out didn't mean that I could fix it.  Trying to redo my villains following the hero template just made me feel bad for them; I couldn't help but want to write kinder, gentler versions....

I may have gotten the reality check that I've needed during last weekend's drunken celebrations.

Long story short, the liquor flowed and conversations turned to places they might not go while everyone is sober.  I learned that my ex had told a nasty little lie about me, and to my family no less.  The truth is simple yet complicated, and illustrates the character flaws of each of us.  The narrative he created manages to paint him both as victim and hero, and makes me a bad, bad person.

In a life that I've gone through great pains to make drama free, he became my villain with that stupid, selfish act.

As a woman, I was furious.  As a writer, something clicked.

Here's where my thinking gets convoluted, but if you've followed me this far, hold on!  When I was a kid, my game of choice was D&D {Dungeons & Dragons Core Rulebook Set (Dungeons & Dragons d20 3.5 Fantasy Roleplaying, Three Book Slipcased Set)} with it's character alignments that dictated behavior.  Lawful good characters were basically the white knights with good intentions.  Lawful evil finds it's modern equivalent in the corrupt district attorney, following the law, but happily putting it to bad ends for a profit.  And as good opposed evil, lawful personalities found their opposite in chaotic alignments.  Chaotic evil characters were the baddest of the bad with no regard for anything but their own desires.  Think serial killer, but not Dexter (Dexter: The First Season) since he does have a code--a sense of being more lawful evil--to live by.

I was once invited to a different game that I, alas, never became too familiar with.  But it did introduced to a different way of viewing alignments; a system not so much of good vs. evil, but varying degrees of selfishness.  I hadn't thought about that for years.  Decades.  Til my ex's lie was exposed.

Let's use him to build a better bad guy!

He's a regular guy.  He's got his good qualities and bad.  Yeah, he did plenty to contribute to the break up of our marriage, but that's enough water under the bridge that, after a few days' of deliberation, I accepted his Facebook friend request.  The fact that he also friended my dad and brothers is creepy, but no biggy.  The lie he told makes him an asshat, but not the biggest in the world.  Not much of a bad guy in real life.  But fictionally, those things are just the start.

Maybe he plays the part of the old-lover-turned-good-friend so well that, when little things start to go wrong in our heroine's life, she thinks it's all a coincidence.  One small, self-serving act that he got away with leads to another; he's sure that he's right all the while, never seeing the has crossed the line until the climatic end.  It can be all about recovering his lost love--psychological thriller; romance if his misdeeds are the obstacle between her and her new hero.  Maybe befriending her was just a means to get to a family member--mystery or mainstream.  Or maybe there's a supernatural element behind his selfishness--horror, urban fantasy.

OK, so the genre stuff is, perhaps, a red herring.  The nut that I needed to crack was that I start at the end, with them filling in the space of evil; knowing how they get to that point might breath new life into my antagonists.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

No matter what I do, Friday keeps coming

Soon, school will begin again.  I'll need to get up around the time that's been passing as a bed time for me, and the whole cycle of not-sleep-enough, get up, get the kid ready for school, somehow manage to get myself ready for school, come home study/cook/find time to write then not-sleep-enough will begin on Monday.  I will join all the others who breathe a sigh of relief on hump day and eventually get to thank God it's Friday.

But for now, whether I settle onto the blog window or not, Friday means I'm looking at my writing productivity and lack of it.

....And, like now, sometimes that means I quickly do something else until Saturday.

That's not true, really.  It's not that I go into avoidance mode, it's that I get stuck in what I *have* to do--and how silly is that when I don't have to post here at all?  I don't have a boss who will pay me or not depending on what I produce.  Can't tell you how much I appreciate my recurring readers, but I don't think your weeks are incomplete until you check out my latest babble on reading and/or writing.

Theoretically, I could write about anything (hopefully, but hell, not necessarily within the scope of the blog).  Yet, I don't.  I think "I have to get this down" or "I've gotta tell them this" and "ugh, I haven't mentioned that project in a long time..."

And since I don't give a crap about any of that at the time, I go on to read someone else's blog(s) and watch a season of La Femme Nikita, or something.

My writing is like that, too.  The Hidden (generally known as Quinn's story to all you lovelies who have read chapters), might end up really being my first published novel....or it'll be the one in the bottom drawer forever (it doesn't suck, but it's got a fatal flaw that I may or may not be able to fix).  My need to have it ready for the world and sent out is a good one.  No one ever got published by leaving a work unrevised on her hard drive. But being unable to fix that flaw and unwilling to move on means nothing gets done.

Solution?  Do something.

Not just any something, since for me, that can mean playing three hours worth of Plants Vs. Zombies. But if I'd written down all the ideas that have come at any given time while I wasn't blogging, I'd have enough to post for the next two months.  While I was running around like a nut before my MiL came, I (in the true spirit of procrastination--in this case doing something productive to get out of doing something else productive) started two stories, each in a (slightly) different genre.

My new trick will be to build on that.  The next time I've got the kid in bed with hours to go before the spouse expects attention, and I'm NOT revising The Hidden,  I'll be writing something else.  Anything else, so long as  it's meant to be, sold.  I have a funny resistance come up when writing that, which tells me that I need to call on my inner Harlan Ellison*.

I am, have always been, a storyteller.  This is a truth of my being whether I ever make a living at it or not.  It's like being right handed; it  That gets all mixed up when the notion of money comes into play.  "You should be focusing on the work, the craft, your ability to entertain and, in the right circumstances to enlighten" meets "What?  Are you doing this for the money now?  If it's about money, you should just quit!"

Bullshit.  Yeah, the initial work needs to be for me, for the fun of a good story and the other joys I get from writing.  But if I *can* succeed at it, I *deserve* to be paid for my work, just like a builder or doctor.  Too many of us artsy types let ourselves believe that our work is worth less.  I'm officially taking myself out of that trap.

So...If three hours are scheduled to write fiction in hopes of a sale, then that's what's going to happen for three hours.  No blogging, gaming, or whatever instead.  If it's time to blog, then I'm blogging.  No fixating on blogging something I don't want to be bothered with because I got it stuck in my head that I HAVE post about that.  Got it?  Good.

*Ellison is famous for a lot of great spec fic writing, infamous for a couple of minor scandals that I don't currently care to seek out and link to, but perhaps best well known to me (besides for Deathbird Stories) for being out and loud about getting paid as a writer.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Links! Some yah gotta get before they're gone!

"The law isn’t about justice, Malcolm. It’s about the law."  ~Anita Blake

If you've been thinking about checking out Ardeur: 14 Writers on the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series (Smart Pop), the Melissa Tatum article on Anita and the law is available for free reading just until Tuesday the 17.

Great Thea Gilmore video.  Even if the music style isn't to your taste, take a few minutes to imagine along.

Are you a U.S. or Canadian citizen with a young adult novel that's done or will be between October 1st and December 31st?  If it's not under consideration from other publishers or agents, you might want to send it to the Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel  Makes me wish I'd paid more attention to WriteOnCon.

I'd forgotten around Heinlein's business rules:
1) You must write.
2) You must finish what you write.
3) You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand.
4) You must mail your work to someone who can buy it.
5) You must keep the work in the mail until someone buys it.

I just found them again at Dean Wesley Smith's Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing.  There's a lot more that I'm going to check out in there before bed.  Take a look!

ETA: Something weird has happened to the formatting so the links look like regular text (of course this happens in a post all about links, right?).  Wave your mouse on other the whole thing, or the bits that are likely to be links.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Friday on Facebook, or at least the fun parts.

If you really know me, there are some things that you are aware of.
1. I'm not a social creature.
2. Time only has real meaning to me when you are interrupting mine.
3. I'm a lousy housekeeper.

These factors have me running around today in a haze of OMG, my mother in law is coming!  I can't stand yet another party right now, so what are we going to do for the Wee One's birthday?  Crap!  It's the 30th, and I haven't done any of my critiques for the writer's group!  Oh my friggin' gaaaaaawd, my mother in law is COMING HERE!!!

With that playing on loop in my mind, I came up from the basement, put away some things that I purposely placed in my computer chair to force myself to not leave them where they should not have been, and thought: "I watched reruns of The Vampire Diaries and Moonlight last night, so it must be Friday again."

Ugh.  Friday again, and I haven't done the research for the post that would cover not only Kelley Armstrong's books, but also what tidbits I could pick up from her on writing and the industry without reproducing the major posts on plotting and etc. she's put up for the writing members of her site (cuz she rocks like that).

Having skipped the last Friday post, I felt like I had to produce something.  I thought, "Hey, I can scan Facebook for all the author news that people not on FB--or who are on but not following a lot of authors--might not know.

Ah, the best laid plans....I believe I mentioned that I'd finally given in to FB and followed blogger Tez and Kelley Armstrong over to the site, only to be "friended" by a bunch of authors who, either assumed I had to be good people if I hung with them...or who at least thought maybe I'd buy their books.  Some of the others from the writing group friended me and introduced me to those obnoxious FB games that we all complain about when we're not playing them.  To advance in those games, you often need a large number of fellow players, so I found myself adding hundreds of people that I don't actually know to my friend's feed.  To be able to keep up with those I do know, I created a filter for friends and authors...

......I've got dozens of authors in that filter, but, I realized as I went searching for updates to post, there are also tens of second cousins twice removed and scores of people from my high school....

And then, the author posts are sorted out, they aren't all or even mostly about writing.  Do you really want to know that Devon Monk (Magic to the Bone (Allie Beckstrom) ) wrote: Great. Mutant spider's on the loose on my desk. Sprayed it w/bleach, didn't faze it. Think it flipped me off as it skittered under computer. 

Yeah, so do I!  Maybe it's feeling like your favorite authors are accessible, or the joy of glimpsing the person behind the words, but I enjoy the status updates I get daily on Facebook and when I remember to log in to Twitter.  So let's have some fun!

Gerrie Ferris-Finger (The End Game: A Mystery) linked to The E-books Article Drinking Game.  In my defense, I was also sick of the articles, but had to add my two scents when I got an e-reader of my very own.

Mark Henry (Happy Hour of the Damned) turned friends and fans on to funnies.

RG Alexander did a cyber Snoopy dance over a pic of her (?) new release shelved early at a certain Borders.     It's much like these other covers.... Lux in Shadow: Children of the Goddess Book 2  Twilight Guardian (Children of the Goddess) that are all primed and ready for me to put up, so you get the idea. I'm going to stop scanning updates because I feel a rant building.  I mean, why aren't more covers like this?  Not that I need all my books to be stamped with muscular or two will do nicely.  But if they're going to keep telling us that Urban Fantasy is a woman's genre, what's without all the female body parts on the cover?  I'm rereading Dime Store Magic (Women of the Otherworld), which now has a nifty new cover.  But I'm reading the original:
 Dime Store Magic (Women of the Otherworld, Book 3)What the hell?  Not only does the leg not make the book more appealing, but if you read just a chapter or two, you know that sure as hell isn't the narrator's leg!  Poor Paige, replaced by some skinny witch.  I'm not going to make the post too image heavy, but the urge is to show the sea of midriff and tramp stamps, broken up by the occasional over sized breasts or sexy thigh.

Humphf.  Rather than talk about the mixed messages of kick-ass heroines that have to look like sex kittens (even when they don't), I'm going to head over to R.G. Alexander's webpage to try and figure out if any of the paranormal romances come close enough to urban fantasy...or look sexy enough to keep me distracted from the fact that my mother in law is coming!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bad analogy, good idea

Two Christmases ago, the regular Spades players in my generation of family taught me to play.  We've pulled out a deck of cards at most social gatherings, and until recently, my team has always won.  Sure, my teammate is always more experienced than I am, but I make dumb mistakes.  Not to mention that I'll play with others and still cream whomever had won with me.  I've beaten people in my generation who have been playing for at least a decade, and my parents generation who started playing a good decade before I was born.  Until two weeks ago, I was undefeated, with little skill and nothing to explain it but beginners luck.

I thought of that the other day when agent Nathan Bransford asked why it's so hard to tell if our writing is good.  Writing to me, is like that in a way.  I've talked to a lot of creative people who are natural storytellers, but when you talk about writing, they're so sure they can't because their grammar sucks or they can't spell to save their lives.  And others have gotten beyond that and learned the grammar, embraced word processing with spell check, but hold on to the "I can't" mentality that keeps them from finishing or sending out their work.  (I may resemble that.)  On the other hand, I've searched my soul for diplomatic critiques and some sort of honest encouragement for people--sure that they're the next big thing in fiction--whose work makes me think, "Dude, really?  There's a story in this mass of words and semi-colons?"

OK, written out like that, the analogy is ridiculously thin...

But people from either group can fill in for me, never really sure of strategy, forgetting to count the cards that came before, but applying themselves and kicking ass.  We don't know if we're good...or bad...because there's no real measure.  We can't count adjectives like spades (I got on this metaphor and I'm gonna ride it til the wheels fall off, damn it!) and declare that we're "trump tight."  So some of us sit on creative goldmines sure that no one will like our work while others come up with the lamest excuse for a story and know we'll be the next big thing.

I think we should take a page for the (in their own minds) writing superstars.  They finish their stories and send them out.  So what if an agent or editor doesn't like their work?  The next one will.  Since this is advice that I'm really force feeding myself, sure there will be lots of rejection, but the superstars are on to something. When the boy I feel in love with in college dumped me for a so-called friend because she put out, that was rejection.  I lived through it.  A few dozen, "sorry, this isn't for me" notes could hardly compare.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Breaking the Block

A week ago Thursday, I decided that the Friday-post-that-never-was should start with: "A year from now, I'm going to write a post filled with all the good advice that I don't know to use now."

Thinking of that, I realized how much advice I've taken in over the years.  And that advice you don't take isn't particularly helpful...

Everything, from seeing a shot of Vin Diesel as I channel surfed to waking up with the chorus of a once heard song in my head, has been giving me ideas for characters and setting.  Meanwhile, the collaboration was staring at me with accusing eyes and a stagnant word count.  I told myself to focus...and ended up playing a lot of Plants Vs. Zombies and Bejeweled. 

Growing desperate, I desperate, I dusted off the my copy of The Artist's Way and started to do an exercise that had given me success in the past.  It's a long term recovery sort of thing, so I also started to follow my own advice.  "Just one line."  I had a few days in a row where that's as far as I got on my little section of story.  Then someone had posted what I'd been ignoring: use the ideas that you have.  Instead of blocking out the inspiration that was coming to me and sitting on the story that was blocked, I wrote the ideas down.

It wasn't exactly a floodgate, but when I went to write "just one line" that afternoon, I was able to write to the end of the chapter.

Somewhere in there, you know, if you happen to be stuck, is my advice to you.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Books have gender? (Or 'Watch An Stick Her Foot in Her Mouth')

I was looking up a certain interview to respond to the wonderful gentleman from Falcata Times when I stumbled upon Angry Chicks in Leather by Lilith Saintcrow.  

What defines urban fantasy?

That's simple, you might say. Chicks kicking ass. Well, leather-clad chicks kicking ass. Leather-clad chicks kicking ass in an urban environment where some form of "magic" is part of the world. There. That’s about it.

The sound you just heard was the grinding of my teeth.  It's just the old resistance; I grew up with the old UF that was really fantasy set in a modern, urban setting.  It was bad enough when any urban setting got lumped regardless of time period (cuz no high fantasy has been set within a city?), and worse still when paranormal action adventures, not actually having a genre of their own with that title, became UF, but leather clad chicks kicking ass...Basically none of the original UF is UF.  Fine for De Lint...he's long called his work "mythic fiction" rather than urban fantasy, but what about the...others who wouldn't give a damn to know that I'm defending their honor?  On to what really got me to post...

But that's not all there is to it.

Urban fantasy, they tell me, is "hot" right now. Paranormal romance (vampire/werewolf/something girl meets vampire/werewolf/something guy, wackiness or danger ensues, happy ending happens) is just as hot, but the "romance" tag keeps it from being literature. The "fantasy" tag keeps urban fantasy from being classified as Serious Literature as well.

It reminds me of Tom's Glossary of Book Publishing, where LITERATURE is "Designation applied to titles judged unsaleable", and MAINSTREAM FICTION is "The pretense that there is a group of readers who can be reached through writing that is sufficiently unspecific as to exclude no one". There's just one thing lacking from this set of definitions--the fact that Literature and Mainstream Fiction are seen as highbrow.

They're genres you don't have to act ashamed of writing in. But romance or urban fantasy? You might as well start embroidering your own scarlet letter, honey.

Paranormal romance is considered lowbrow and trashy because it's female. Despite the fact that it's a multibillion-dollar business (and every dollar a woman shells out for it costs more because let's face it, we earn a lot less), it's still that pink-jacketed crap for bored housewives. Tom Clancy is supposed to be Real and Hard-Hitting, even if his "novels" are thinly-veiled technical manuals. Nora Roberts is supposedly less Real because she writes about feeeeeeelings. While we could debate the relative merits of Clancy vs. La Nora all day--and not agree, mind you, because Roberts is just plain the better writer--the fact remains that Clancy has a better shot at being considered "serious" because his is MAN'S FICTION.

Smell that testosterone, baby.

Urban fantasy is mostly women's fiction too. (Yes, I know there are significant exceptions, like Jim Butcher, Simon Green, and Charles de Lint. We'll get to that.) There's a lot of crossover between paranormal romance and urban fantasy. I like to say that UF is PR without the HEA (that's Happily Ever After, for those just joining us.)

I know that's a really long block of text to quote, but I really don't want to chop it up and remove context for anyone who chooses not to open the link (which, of course, you should do). Let's ignore my own Clancy vs. Roberts opinion.  We can even ignore that I nearly fractured my jaw grinding my teeth on "UF is PR without the HEA."  (What. The., I said I'll ignore and I'll genuinely pretend to.)  The women's fiction bit hits the same "dude, what?!" bell with me as "no one reads any more" and "men don't read."

No one reads any more.  All the bookstores we city dwellers pass all the time, and Amazon plus all the lesser known online bookstores are entirely products of our imagination.  If no one reads, no one buys books, so there are no bookstores.  (Of course, this has nothing to do with what Saintcrow wrote.  In fact, my rant at her text is nothing that changes my adoration for her work. Like I said, though, it all rings the same bell.)

Men don't read.  Those genres aimed specifically at men as well as those rumored to (like sci-fi) are place holders in the imaginary stores that don't exist because no one reads.

Those false facts have bugged me for a long time.  I'd hear--or worse, read--someone going on about nobody reading and want to shake the silliness out of them.  Now, lots of people don't read (er, beyond what's necessary to function).  I don't understand these folks, but they exist.  And while Jason Pinter wrote a really good article on why men don't read, if the actual words were true, how could there women's lit?  Wouldn't it just be...lit?

Of course Lili's (it's how she refers to herself, it's how I think about her...'til I'm disagreeing and distance myself in case she reads it and gets annoyed) statement that urban fantasy is mostly women's fiction isn't as senseless.  But it is...disempowering.  

On the one hand, OK, a lot of it is written by women and/or  marketed to women, so what else would you call it?  On the other hand...WTF?  I've written and deleted the following, rewriting it differently, many times over.  I think I can divide it into two more hands...

1. There is an unfixable wrong in naming romance women's fiction.  I come from a speculative fiction background, as do many of the woman who write UF rather than PR, and the fans who read one over the other.  We have tits and ovaries.  We're demonstrably as female as the women who read PR interchangeably with UF or who prefer all manner of romance, but a good amount of us hate that stuff.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't do to start calling romance "fiction for a large group of women and a handful of men."  It's irreparably labeled as it is.

2. A lot of men like UF and other spec. fic. with female leads.  It's anecdotal, but I want to use one of my brothers as an example.  He was, for a long time, a scary dude.  I'm not going to put all his business out there, but ...yeah, scary dude fits.  He turned his life around and followed in our dad's footsteps to become a big, burly fire fighter.  He is, in short, one of the alpha males that most romances require.  Hanging out at my place, he glanced at a certain book, and later couldn't get it out of his mind.  He had to read it, then he had to have the whole series.  With no one telling him it was women's fiction, his testosterone had no need to keep him in his usual non-fiction mode.  

Why shouldn't he?  Great characters, fantastic action, and being UF rather than PR, there were deep and complicated relationships beyond the romantic ones.  

Aaaand (since this really isn't about Lilith's post so much as my angst each time I see these labels; she just happened to write in a way that allowed me to examine the reaction), does money from men have cooties?  On the off chance that my fiction doesn't suck and I get over the issues that keep me from sending it out, could we please not convince men that the genre isn't for them until after I get my royalties?  I'm just saying.

Part of what makes this so fascinating to me is the fact that female UF protagonists are almost without exception extraordinarily tough, and that violence is acceptable for them to use. This is a huge revolution in the type of stories our culture tells itself. Violence in our culture is a man's game...

Bat Girl.  Rogue.  Storm.  Marvel Girl (though I've always thought that such an unfortunate name).  Firestar.  They and countless other comic heroines who don't make my list because they aren't mostly good (like Cat Woman) or are fall to late in my awareness 'cause I'm thinking pre-UF (Witchblade)  or because the list is long enough (Scarlet Witch, et all)... all tough females for whom violence is acceptable for them to use.  All from a "classically male" genre. 

It's not that I think there is no room here to talk about the marginalization of women or that I don't think that's still a very real thing in this day and age.


Every genre sucks.  The day I moved beyond See Spot Run, I dove into spec. fic., augmented by the occasional good mystery, and that has barely changed in the decades since.  It's how I'm wired.  That same wiring gives me a huge distaste for all non-paranormal romance and most mainstream.  All spec. fic. lovers have had to deal with highbrow lit. fic. lovers lecturing about the useless escapism of their genre, and none of us like lit. fic. either.  And while we make obnoxious comments about one another's genres, those who prefer non-fiction think we're all filling our minds with junk.  

Hmmm...maybe it's time we all stop alienating one another and focus those who can't appreciate a well written fiction of any type.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Just Anita Blake and Me.

Here, there be spoilers.  If you've read the series, have no intention of reading the series, or, like many, are a mix of both, the spoilers won't bother you.  If you're don't fall into one of those categories, seriously, there will be spoilers.  And TMI of other sorts.

Why even go there?

This is not yet the world famous blog that it will be (..yeah, go tell your writerly or readerly friends to get in now), so most readers are long time internet buddies; you know my stance against reading more of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake books.  If you're not a long time internet buddy, and can't infer that I have such a stance from what I just wrote, I don't know what to tell yah.

So I was exploring the not-so-wonderful world of borrowing ebooks from the library--fantastic concept, less than stellar inventory--and I saw Flirt (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 18).  Yes, I know better.  But it was free!  My rules for buying Anita Blake books went from MORE! NOW! getting each new release the weekend, if not the day, they came out, to never again at cover price, to not for one thin dime.  I put it out of my mind completely as I slipped into "Um...well, maybe if someone's paying me, but probably not."

....That requires back story.  Many, many years ago, I needed, desperately to replace Diana Tregarde (Children of the Night: A Diana Tregarde Investigation).  Mercedes Lackey, for both personal and publishing reasons, decided to stop the series at book three.  I decided to stop reading at book two, for the silly impulse of "if I don't hunt down the last, there will always be one more book."  What can I say?  I was in love.

In my mad search, I discovered Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter).  Perfect!  Same type of story, Anita even looked like Diana...but, not so perfect...I didn't actually like Anita.  I put the book down, unfinished, and eventually did this twice more with consecutive books.  It seems the fourth time became the charm.  Facing a long overnight shift in which I would have to do a flurry of work and then simply stay awake until I could do another flurry of work, I grabbed a book, *any* book so long as I hadn't already read it.

Burnt Offerings (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 7) gave me something that allowed me to embrace Anita's flaws.  I devoured the book, went back and read the first three, then quickly bought the missing books in between.  Then I had to wait for the next to be published, so I read them all again.

An discovers the wider world of fandom...and the ick factor

I always knew I wasn't alone in my geekhood.  All of my close friends and I read the original Dragonlance books at around the same time.  A boyfriend introduced me to Anne Rice, and a buddy dragged me (happily, as it turned out) back into reading sci-fi by forcing eluki bes shahar.  I'd had friends, of course, who didn't read the same things as me, and more rarely, who weren't readers, but I hadn't really thought about the throngs of fans out there until connecting to others on the internet.

And one of the things I did was look for other AB fans.  One person, reporting on a convention, wrote about LKH cuddling with a man who was not her husband.  I felt a little greasy, just reading about someone else's private life and tried to put it out of my head.  You don't really think of writers in the same celebrity terms that you think of actors, especially back a little more than a decade ago, so accidently receiving the information was a lot more uncomfortable than knowing way more than is my business about Sandra Bullock and Jesse James.

It was nastier still when the AB blog--which I followed seriously, both as a fan of the series and a would-be novelist soaking up all the tidbits about the writing process that were dropped--turned into LKH's blog and she shared details about her and hubby #2 that bordered on graphic.  Yeah, ick.

As she let us (or pulled us...for those who really just wanted the character and writing stuff) more into her personal life and the content of her novels changed more and more, a grumpiness grew among her fans until a large faction became anti-fans.  I was among them, hoping upon hope to get the old Anita back, trying to shoosh the loudest complainers--or at least those who had to take their complaints to the source--because she told us, repeatedly, that she was contrary by nature (her words) and would keep writing crap (our words) if anyone tried to tell her she couldn't.

Why we loved it and why we split into those who still do and those who want to scream

Oh, my.  How do I put this?  Have you ever had a place that was part of who you are?  For me, it was Paragon Park (opens to video...::sniffle:: I gotta share on Facebook so my brother can see this..::misty eyed sniffle:: ).  I could try to explain the dynamics of my family and how this was one of the things that pulled us all together every summer, but the highest rated reply perhaps says it best for both those who miss this place or any other, including the world of Anita Blake: I would give every remaining second of my life to ride in the kooky kastle just one more time.  Maybe that's going a bit far for me, but it gives the idea...

Hamilton made the "Anitaverse" such a place.  Maybe even back in the early days we'd complain about Anita's version of feminism being taken from a confused ten year old, or other wee problems of the character or the prose.  But when you got down to it, a part of us moved into a Saint Louis where vampire politics sometimes spilled out on the innocent, and that teacher you crushed on was secretly a werewolf.  We shared the characters' sufferings and triumphs.  Having Anita's ultra violence by proxy helped me through a painful divorce.  We were invested.

And then there was the sex.

I went looking for LKH's old blog post where she defended the sex--and insulted old fans still clinging to hope--but alas, she's got a new integrated version and the archives are gone.  (I wonder if it were just for the better look or if something happened like the shit storm on the old deleted guestbook that broke out when my husband flipped over her remarks....I digress.)

Just the facts, ma'am.  Anita was (annoyingly to some) celibate in the early books.  Her heart had been broken pre-novels, and unlike everyone else on the planet, she didn't hurt and get over it, she metaphorically glued her legs together and nurtured the pain as only Anita can.  But you can't stay celibate surrounded by the hottest guys in fiction who want you.  Who would she choose...the sexy French master vampire, or the gorgeous All-American alpha werewolf?  If you use a sliding scale for the definition of "choose", she picked one.  People who don't use a sliding scale (obviously, that would be me) accepted it, and others rejoiced.  Surely, there would a deepening of relationships and the stories would be even better!

...Or no.  Don't get me wrong--two of the three next books were the best she's written, and the odd one out, though it happens to be the one of three with sex (real sex and on the page, as opposed to sensual situations that don't go that far or off-stage rape) isn't bad at all.  But the sex just meant there was more whining, not that things went deeper.  Anita had been a good Catholic girl before the Church excommunicated all necromancers; while that did not keep her from having sex before marriage, it did make her a stickler for monogamy.  For a while...

There were arguments, back in the day, about which was better: Burnt Offerings (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 7) or Obsidian Butterfly (An Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 9).  OB does read as though LKH wrote it while reading Burning Water (Diana Tregarde Investigation), but I'm sure that's a tribute to the lesser known series rather than something less pleasant.  Either way, it's a damned fine book, that maybe edges out BO by virtue of taking place out of town, away from the angst that loving two men has caused...(Oh, had I forgotten to mention that once she had one, she had to have the other?)

I remember that LKH's A Kiss of Shadows (Meredith Gentry, Book 1) came out around the time of OB.  I thought "Ah, here's the sex she wanted to write before.  I'm glad she has an outlet."  And I wasn't just happy for her; I actually enjoyed the book.  I didn't know that I should've taken it as a warning.

Things got bad while Anita was out of town and Narcissus in Chains (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 10) starts with violence that nearly kills her.  But there are (see how I change tense when I get like this?) new shifters in town with the power to bring her back from the brink.  A few pages/minutes after regaining consciousness and meeting Micah, the leader of the group, he rapes her and becomes the (additional) love of her life...

In one printing of the story, at least.  The next--and sadly, I am missing one of the texts and the patience to go through the archives of the one place where I know I've faithfully copied each--edition changed the text so she finally gave in before he enters her.  That was the beginning of the end.

Anita gains the ardeur from her vampire boyfriend, which makes her have to feed on sex everyday, several times a day.


It wasn't painful yet.  The sex didn't get in the way of the plot yet, and the plot wasn't bad.  Some of it, combined with knowing too much about the author's personal life was ick, (and super-Mary-Sue-meets-are-you-fucking-kidding-me) but there was a solid story and resolution.This became less and less true until, four books later, she totally phoned the ending in.  Screw resolution, there were just too many penises to examine.


Upon purchase of the book before, the clerk felt the duty to explain that there wasn't any actual plot (as fans of a paranormal thriller would see it--if you were in the market for stupid relationship angst, there was plenty) for the first 200 pages.  But but that couldn't be true, right?  By the end, more than wanting my money back, I wanted those hours of my life back.

But I still bought the next one.  Yeah, this time I waited until it was sold at significant discount, but I bought it. I read it.  I stared in horror after reaching the end that was basically a letter reading, Dear good guy, I was the bad guy all along.  Bwahahaha!  I commiserated on message boards, read all the posts saying, "'ve got a lot of readers drawn to the sex and your career has exploded, but what about those of us who have been here since the beginning?  We've gotten all our friends to read your novels.  We've put up with the bad editing and fought the urge buy plane tickets and find your house to personally hand you a thesaurus.  We're not even asking you to take the sex out, we just want real stories again."

Anger grew as we read interviews explaining that Americas are repressed sexually.  Certainly far too many of us are, but do you really think these are the same people reading your books?  Hell, anyone who bought into the series through book clubs got the book in spite or because of the explicit sex warnings.  I can't speak for all of us, but lemme tell yah, I like sex.  A lot.  Most of us read other series that include sex--some, I'm given to believe from the boards, come from romance or erotica backgrounds and don't read much that doesn't include sex.  But remember when the adventures were so much more than that?  We just want to come home.

That, if you haven't guessed, is why so many bitched for so long while the stories got worse and worse.  Why so many talked about the books (often for years) after we stopped reading.  And why so many still complain and yet buy the books as soon as they come out, taking what they can of the characters and world no matter what happens.  Some of those who "type" the loudest about Anita and her magical vagina will still pre-order the book or be in the stores for the first day of sales, wanting to come home.

 I would give every remaining second of my life to ride in the kooky kastle just one more time.

So I read Flirt.  By the end of the first chapter, I knew what the action of the story would be--and had a moment of being annoyed that Anita pulled a 'too stupid to live' move and didn't see the threat coming--but I didn't care.  It was Anita.  The "why do you all love me?" and revelation of her grandmother's nastiness was little more than a rehash of crap from before I stopped reading, and almost kept me from going on.  It certainly made me want to sit character and author both down and introduce them to (a) the wonderful world of therapy and (b) the real world where millions of white women are not blond haired and blue eyed, let alone billions of non-white women, and neither dark hair nor bitchy relatives make you ugly.  

I kept reading.  I lived through the almost sex and the inevitable sex with the bad guys (no less), because there was plot.  There was the old Anita, using her mind and her power, and not just her magical vagina.  It was almost like coming home.