Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why I'm a Feminist

I started thinking about this post about a week or so ago, after Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke -- a Georgetown Law student who testified before Congress in favor of insurance coverage of birth control -- a "slut" and a "prostitute."  I'm not going to bother linking to the video, or to one of the many stories online now about the controversy.  Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week, you've heard it already.

I've self-identified as a feminist since college, after I took a media and cultural studies class that talked about the theories and attitudes behind feminism.  Prior to that, I don't believe I thought about gender activism much.  In my young life, I had never felt repressed or restricted because of my gender.  I had grown up with family and teachers who told me I could do whatever I wanted.  If I thought of feminism at all -- and I'm now ashamed to admit this -- I thought of the angry, man-hating "womyn" often satirized on television and in film.

But in that class, I started to see the subtle, yet insidious, ways gender roles are reinforced in media and film.  Take, for example, a movie like Clueless.  Cher, the heroine, is depicted as flighty and shallow, concerned only with clothes and boys, until she falls in love with her activist stepbrother Josh and changes herself so he'll like her.  Or Sex and the City, where intelligent, educated women with successful careers spend entire episodes talking to each other solely about men and fashion.  Or any of the numerous romantic comedies and romance novels where thirty-something (or even twenty-something!) women, often with successful careers and social lives, are ridiculed or pitied by their families and friends for not being married (The Wedding Date, Picture Perfect, Bridget Jones' Diary, 27 Dresses, et al).  (In contrast, when was the last time you saw a movie about a guy being harrassed by family and friends because he isn't married?)  Or even take the not-so-innocent 1978 musical Grease, where the grand finale features goody-two-shoes Sandy dressing in spandex and leather to woo her biker bad boy.  No one remembers that Danny spent a good chunk of the movie going out for sports teams and going all All-American High Schooler to win Sandy, because as soon as the spandex and platform heels came out, there went Danny's letter sweater.

I was also introduced to a new idea of feminism, one in which the main idea was that both men and women should be treated and regarded equally in society.  Well, of course, I thought, I believe in all that stuff.  My professor then went on to point out that, as a woman especially, why wouldn't you be a feminist, when the only requirement is the belief in male and female equality?

Since then, I've been subjected to questions -- from boyfriends, from friends, from coworkers -- as to why I would identify myself as a feminist.  After all, men and women are equal now, right?  Women can now vote and go to college and get jobs and do whatever they want.  What more could we ask for?  And if there are movies and books and television shows and comics out there that perpetuate stereotypes, so what?  It's just entertainment, right?  No one actually watches Grease and thinks, "Gee, I really need to give up my poodle skirts and cardians and start wearing spandex and heavy makeup."  It's not like anyone even wears poodle skirts anymore, anyway.  I'm clearly reading too much into it.

But then comes a debate like this.  Should private organizations be required to provide insurance coverage for birth control, even if such medication violates the core beliefs and principles of that organization?  But instead of discussing that point, Limbaugh resorted to calling Fluke -- who had done nothing more than testify her point of view to Congress -- a slut and a prostitute, and saying that Fluke should post her sexual encounters online.

Limbaugh has since apologized for his statements.  Whether because of genuine remorse, or because his advertisers starting fleeing from the show, I don't know.  It doesn't really matter.  The fact is, Limbaugh himself has acknowledged that his remarks were inappropriate and uncalled for.  So why does it matter?

It matters because a discussion that should be about the authority of the government and the rights of private institutions has instead focused on women's sexuality.  If a woman advocates for having birth control subsidized by insurance companies, it must be because she's having so much sex.  Let's overlook the fact that women take birth control for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with sex, including regulating their periods, lessening painful periods or heavy periods, managing hormonal disorders and ovarian cysts, and even clearing up acne.

But let's pretend, just for a minute, that every woman who takes birth control is taking it for contraception, that they are sexually active and choosing to use birth control pills to prevent pregnancy.

So what.

That's a statement, not a question.  So what.  What does it matter?  Don't women have the right to have sex with whomever they want, whenever they want?  If one woman wants to have sex with one person, or one thousand, how is it anyone's business but her own?

Yet so much of this debate has focused not on whether the government should force private institutions to subsidize birth control in their insurance plans, but on whether we should pay women to have sex.  And every time the debate turns in that direction, there's that unspoken -- or, in Limbaugh's case, spoken -- accusation: that women having sex are bad and dirty and whorish, that it's not acceptable for a woman to have sex, outside of marriage, possibly with multiple partners.  Subsidizing birth control will encourage more women to have sex, and that's not okay. 

Yet we also live in a society that often encourages men to "sow their wild oats," so to speak, to go out and have sex with as many different partners as possible.  If it's not actively encouraged, it's at least overlooked.  Certainly men who do so are not subjected to the same cruel rhetoric as women are.

Yes, we live in a society that allows us to educate ourselves and get jobs and pursue our own happiness -- no matter what our gender -- and I'm grateful for that.  But we also live in a society that still holds double standards for men and women.  And it's not only bad for women; it's bad for men, too.  We still live in a society that teaches men to view women with sexual histories as sluts.  We still live in a society that teaches women to feel ashamed of their own sexuality.

And that's why I'm a feminist: because we're still not equal.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Things I need to do

I've found over the past few years that I need defined, measurable goals to keep myself focused.  National Novel Writing Month, which I completed back in November 2009, was a boon for me, productivity-wise, because it kept me on task.  In order to make the 50,000-word goal by the end of November, you need to write approximately 1,667 words every day.  It was an ambitious goal, but I found that it was a doable one.  I could mark my progress daily, figure out whether I was on target, and adjust my work time and output if I was not.

In 2010 I wrote a novel, which I spent a good chunk of 2011 revising.  Unfortunately, in 2011 life got in the way, and my output of new material was...well, crappy.  I got a new job, which altered my work hours.  (I had previously been writing mostly in the mornings, before I had to go to work at 10:30.  Now, I have to be in the office by 7:30.  Somehow, getting up at 7 and writing for two hours is a lot less daunting than getting up at 4 and writing for two hours.)  I also had to travel for work a lot more, especially during the summer.  Plus, there was a lot of other stuff going on in my personal life that took my time and emotional energy, some of it good, some of it...not.  I had thought things would calm down after the New Year and I'd be able to write more, but so far I've been lacking.

I think I need to set a goal for myself again.

So I'm thinking about doing my own mini-NaNo, in which I set my own personal goal of 50,000 words in a month.  One of my Facebook friends pointed out that 50,000 may be too ambitious a goal.  He may be right.  I completed NaNo without a problem in November 2009.  But in November 2009, I was single with a job that required no traveling.  Here in February 2012, I have to live with the fact that the office may send me away at very short notice--and frankly, I don't get much done while traveling. 

Plus, I'm no longer single; I'm now involved with a guy who lives three hours away.  The distance is not terrible (especially considering that, once upon a time, I kinda/sorta dated a guy who lived in the United Kingdom!), but it does mean that some thought and planning and coordination are required before I see him--not to mention the travel time there and back, if I go there.  Plus, once I'm there, I'm not really thinking about my fictional world; the real one is so much more engaging, at that point.  (And writing is a very, very solitary activity for me, and I have difficulty forcing so much as a sentence of fiction out with other people around.) 

Frankly, I want to see him whenever I can.  I dig him.  Things are pretty much cupcakes with a side of ice cream right now.  So yeah, it's definitely a time suck that I didn't have two and a half years ago.  But it's a time suck I want, and it's non-negotiable.  Writing may be good for my mental health, but so is he.

So yeah...50,000 words was doable back in November 2009, but in February 2012 it may be a strain.  That said, I need to find a way to fit writing into my life now, without sacrificing the things that are important to me.  I need to set a goal for myself that is both ambitious enough to feel like an accomplishment, yet realistic enough to be completed without killing myself.

The aforementioned Facebook friend suggested three pages a day.  Since word counts are something that my damned left brain (which I keep trying to get rid of), I'm thinking maybe 25,000 words in the next 30 days.  Total of 834 words a day.  Doable, right?  And also something I may be able to progress into future months.

And if I make it, I'm totally buying myself something nice next month.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I don't know what I don't know

I am an agnostic.

This isn't something I'm closed-mouthed about, or something I hide from people.  However, it's not usually something I talk about so openly (certainly not on a public blog) because religion and personal belief systems are icky topics that tend to make people uncomfortable and, sometimes, angry.  If they don't believe the same way as you, you must be right and they must be wrong.  How many wars can trace their roots back to differing belief systems?

But I decided to air this one over my blog, and on Facebook, because I'm tired of misunderstandings and misconceptions, and I have a few things I need to say.

As an agnostic, I neither believe nor disbelieve in some sort of higher power, deity, or deities.  Honestly, I just don't know, and I don't think I have enough information either way to make a decision.  On the one hand, it's difficult for me to believe in something I cannot see, hear, touch, smell, or taste.  On the other, I'd like to say that I keep an open mind to the world of possibilities.  I think the world--and the universe--is a big and mysterious place, and we cannot begin to quantify it all in terms and concepts we can understand.  On the other, just because something hasn't been explained doesn't mean it cannot.

This is not a place I arrived at quickly or easily.  I started questioning my own personal belief system when I was in my early teens.  This was where I arrived after years of reflection, and I've been here for the better part of a decade now.

I think maybe the ambiguity of it is uncomfortable for some people.  I have friends who are religious, and I have friends who are atheists.  (A roughly equal number of both, as a matter of fact.)  I find that I receive pressure--from both sides--to "decide," to "figure it out."  Do I believe in a higher power or not?  Pick a team, pick a side.

The atheists in my life, when I question the idea of where did we come from, how--if there is no higher power--something could come from nothing, say to me, "Oh, I was there once.  The chicken-and-egg argument.  You'll get to where I am eventually."

The religious people in my life, when I question why, if there is a higher power, the world tends to be such an incredibly screwed up, cruel place to so many, say, "You've just lost your way.  You'll find it again."

(And before I go on, I'd like to note that this is not all the atheists in my life, or all the religious people in my life, by any means.  But responses like this seem to happen almost every time my beliefs come up.)

I am not lost.  I am not undecided.  I have decided that I don't know.

I am not saying that this can't, or won't change.  But I don't think it's likely.  Sometimes I envy people who have faith--and I include atheists in this number.  Religious people have faith in a higher power.  Atheists have faith there is none.  It must be nice to feel like you have answers instead of just questions.  But I'm not wired that way.  Any answer I try only leads to more questions, and I'm not satisfied with answers that leave so much doubt.

I believe in asking questions.  I believe in questioning your assumptions.  I believe in keeping an open mind.  I believe in using words like "impossible" and "never" sparingly, because you don't know what you don't know.

I believe in possibility.

I also believe in respecting others and their belief systems.  I think this is one of the reasons why I've had friends from so many different nationalities, backgrounds, political affiliations, and belief systems.  As long as you respect me, and I respect you, it's all good.

You're allowed to disagree with me.  Most of the people I know do.  But don't patronize me.  For me, this is not a "stepping stone" to a less ambigious belief system.  I am not naive, nor am I having a crisis of faith (or a crisis of doubt, as it may be).  Until I see a vision in the sky saying, "This is the answer," I will continue to ask these questions.  (And even after I'd see such a vision, I'd probably still ask questions, like whether I should get an MRI to check for possible brain tumors.)

I could say, "I believe in a higher power," or "I am an athiest."  I could choose my faith, pick my side.  It would certainly be easier for me.  But that would make me a liar, and a hypocrite, and I respect myself too much to be either one of those things.

Personal beliefs are exactly that: personal.  Mine are no different.  When I tell you that I'm an agnostic, I'm not looking for help or guidance.  I'm okay with where I am.  I only ask that you respect that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sometimes People Suck, Part 2

I wonder sometimes if I'm just too damaged for relationships.

I guess I could make the argument that I'm talking about all interpersonal relationships, but there's definitely something different--something MORE--about romantic relationships.

I'm stubborn, argumentative, and quick-tempered.  All my life, people have told me how "difficult" I am.  After awhile, such descriptors stick to you, to the way you see yourself.

I know happy relationships exist.  I've seen them.  But I wonder sometimes if that's even possible for me.  Maybe I'm just too broken, too unwilling to compromise, too unable to change.

Or maybe I don't trust enough, won't let anyone close enough to my heart.  And why should I bother?  When I do, I get hurt.

I don't know if people are worth it.  I don't know if relationships are worth it.  For whatever momentary happiness they bring into your life, they seem to be accompanied by so much pain and aggrivation.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Because People Suck

I am a loner.

This is not news to anyone who knows me.  I can, during the best of times, lock myself in my apartment, turn on my Kindle, and forget about the rest of the world.

I thought, for a long time, that my reclusiveness was just a function of my character.  After all, both writing and reading--my two primary sources of escape--are solitary activities.  (Especially since my brand of writing involves talking to myself and pacing.  Lots and lots of pacing.)

But I'm beginning to wonder how much of it is driven by my character, and how much of it is self-preservation.

Sometimes I think it would be easier to live a life where I cut myself off from people altogether.  Sometimes I think it would even be better.

When you start to care about other people, they frequently disappoint you.  That's a lesson I have learned over and over again throughout my life.  It's not that most people are inherently bad, it's that they're selfish.  When you need to depend on them, selfish impulses will often override whatever care they have for you.  I have a theory, that the selfishness of people can be measured on a bell curve.  66% of people fall within one standard deviation of the midpoint--i.e. true neutrality, neither selfish nor selfless.  They're not going to kick your puppy or burn your house down, but they're not going to give up their seat on the bus when you're carrying heavy packages or give you change for the pay phone if you've lost your cell.

Even the people you think you're supposed to be able to rely on, the ones who will have your back no matter what, aren't immune.  In my life, family members have frequently been the worst offenders.

When you open yourself up to people, when you allow yourself to care about them, you're opening yourself up to get hurt.  I've been hurt enough to hesitate to take the risk.

A life of solitude might get lonely, but you'll never get hurt, either.  You'll never trust someone who betrays you.  You'll never love someone who abandons you.  You'll never grieve for someone who dies on you.

So you have to decide: what's the more worthwhile option?  Do you risk yourself and allow other people into your heart, or do you protect yourself and keep others out?

Right now, I'm honestly not sure.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Letting Go

So I haven't written in awhile, and since I'm planning to go out this will probably be a short one.

I spent my morning working on my novel.  I'm in that sort of "final revision/editing" stage where I'm not doing much actual substance change, but merely cleaning up typos and tweaking words here and there.  After over a year of writing, I'm almost ready to start sending it out the door.

And this is overwhelming to me.  As a writer, I am bombarded with tales of how difficult it's going to be, how many rejections I'm going to get, how long a haul this will be.  Yet this novel is something precious and me.  These characters live in my head.  I've spent over a year with them now.  I know them better than I know most of my friends.  If I were sane, I'd pick another dream, something easier, something less likely to crush me, something not nearly impossible to achieve.

Yet, as much as I hate hearing these messages of negativity and pessimism over and over again, I understand why they're out there.  Editors and agents get tons of submissions every day, and there are people out there who think they can throw a few words on paper and voila, it's a novel!  Writing fiction, like everything else, is a skill, one that takes time and practice to develop.  I've been writing fiction since I was six or seven years old.  I honestly don't know if I'm any good now.  I believe I can put words together, make them clear and concise.  I believe I can write without an overwhelming number of typos or editorial mistakes.  After spending five years as an editor, I would have been in big trouble if I couldn't.  But as to whether I can bring a story together and have it be interesting, entertaining, and coherent...I still doubt myself some days.

I have worked hard on this book.  I have written and rewritten and reviewed and workshopped and revised and then revised again.  I tried to make this book the best that it could be, the best I could make it.  Whether anyone else will recognize that, I don't know.  I hope so.

But now, there are only two paths left for my fledgling novel: out the door, or back into the bowels of my computer where it will remain forever.  And if I choose to leave it on my hard drive...well, then my dream really will be impossible.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mid-Year Round-Up

Just past the midpoint of the year, I have read 161 books -- approximately 85% of them new reads.

My reading peaked in March, dropping off in the last couple of months.  Why is this?  Busier at work, busier with writing, and -- now that the weather is nicer -- I'm actually trying to get outside more.  Also, I've begun to experience a bit of burnout.  I don't want to read constantly as much as I did before.  Sometimes, I really do just want to watch TV.

Just finished Bloodlust by Michelle Rowen -- awesome contiuation to the Nightshade series.  I've got a literary crush on Declan.

Up next...probably Hammered by Kevin Hearne.  I love the voice of those books.  Urban fantasy can often get really, really dark -- and my work-in-progress is certainly no exception.  But Hearne's books are both action-packed and incredibly funny.  One of my favorite characters is Oberon, the protagonist'  Definitely something to check out if you're looking for something a little different in your urban fantasy.

Recent interesting find: Megan Hart.  Her books are considered romance/erotic, but I don't think that quite fits.  They are erotic, and some are romantic, but they're not ROMANCES, per least not all of them.  They're more character-driven than traditional romance, and certainly more than most erotic fiction.  They're emotional, and can be quite devistating at times.  I was sobbing when I finished Broken about a week or so ago.  Definitely something different, impossible to catagorize.  Be warned: some of her books can be difficult reads.  (I've read three so far, and two definitely meet that standard.)

And my goal for the remainder of the year: I need to check out some new and different stuff altogether.  I still love urban fantasy, but I'm getting harder and harder to impress.  I spent much of 2011 reading romance, and while it's enjoyable, and I've found some romances I really, really's not really my genre.  Overall, I tend to like books with romance in them more than romance books.  I'll probably continue reading romances, but the genre will never own me the way urban fantasy does.  It's also probably not something I'd write myself.  (And if I did, it would involve a lot of blood and death and violence.  I'm really not a very romantic person.) the hell is it July already?  I need a vacation.  In the words of Simon and Garfunkle, "Slow down, you're moving too fast; you've got to make the morning last."  Apply that to a year!  (Though, I'll admit, this is not the year I'd really want to last, anyway.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

50 things I love about me

About 10 years ago, a friend of mine posted something in her blog, an entry detailing 50 things she loved about herself.  I liked the idea, so I stole it, and since then I've been posting odes to myself periodically -- usually when I'm feeling like I need a pick-me-up.

Now is one of those times.  I've been feeling curiously contemplative of late.  Things are unsettled, on a lot of fronts in my life.  Plus, with my currently chaotic work schedule, both my eating and sleeping habits are suffering -- not a good thing for a girl who needs seven hours a night and regular caloric intake to maintain her equalibrium.

When I did this the first time, I thought it would be fun, a silly little exercise in extolling my own awesomeness.  Girl power, and all that.  Now...self-indulgence?  An excuse for narcissism?  I don't know, except I'm pretty sure I didn't think about it this deeply a decade ago.

But it doesn't matter, not really.  Sometimes, I just need to remind myself that I'm not that bad.  I believe it most of the time, and I fake it really well the rest of the time, but sometimes, I need a reminder.

So here it is:

1. I'm pursuing my dreams (i.e. writing novels), and I've been treating it seriously for about the past year and a half now.

2a. I read a shit-ton of books.

2b. As CC2K's Book Editor, I don't have nearly enough time to write about all the books I read, so I resolved some time ago to make most of my reviews positive rather than negative.  I know that might make some take my opinions less seriously ("That Beth, she likes everything.") but I'd rather build up the books/authors I like than tear down the ones I don't.

3. I am stubborn.  Mules have nothing on me.  It was a trait that got me labeled difficult in childhood, but has served me well as an adult.

4. I will fight for what I believe in.  I try to choose my battles based on what I think is important, not those I think I can win.

5. I trust my intuition.

6. I don't have very many friends, but I'm very loyal to the ones I do have.

7. I really admire my mother, and will tell people so.

8a. I'm unfailingly honest.

8b. I will tell people the truths that maybe they don't want to know, but I try to tell them in a way that won't hurt or upset them too badly.

9. I'm a cheap, and easy to please, date.  Pizza (good pizza, that is), a good movie, a long walk, good conversation, a guy who will give me his jacket if I get cold...makes me a very contented Beth.

10. I really like hot sex scenes in romance novels.  (And non-romance novels, for that matter.)

11. I make really good chocolate chip cookie bars.

12. I got a tattoo, even though no one I knew thought I would get one.  (Partially because no one I knew thought I would get one.)

13. I adopted a cat, even though I was terrified of them.  (Partially because I was terrified of them.)  Now I like Annabel (the aforementioned cat) way better than most of the humans I know.

14. I'll admit it: I love the color of my eyes (very, very blue).

15. I can remember really random facts and details.  I kick ass on trivia games, especially entertainment trivia.  (Managed to flummox my coworkers the other day when I came up with Salieri as the name of Mozart's rival in Amadeus.  Probably would have flummoxed them even more if I mentioned I had never actually seen the movie.)

16. I have resolved never to be anyone's doormat.

17. I love kick-ass heroines in books/movies/TV -- both the kind of heroines who kick ass physically, and the kind of heroines who kick ass because they're really intelligent and strong.  Those are the women I aspire to be like.

18. I laugh a lot.

19. I don't hold grudges.

20a. I don't believe in diet soda.  Diet soda is not healthy, not with all the chemicals and crap in it.  If you're going to drink soda, just own it and drink the regular stuff.  If you want to drink something healthier and with fewer calories, drink water.

20b. I drink regular soda a lot.  I'm a Coke girl.  I know it's unhealthy.  But screw it.  I like it anyway.

21. When I finally saw Titanic all the way through -- about 10 years after it came out -- I thought, "This isn't as bad as I thought it would be...but it needs more sex and violence."

22. My imagination tends to dwell on the dark side, and it's only become worse as I've gotten older.  I don't need monsters in the closet; I create them myself.  I don't think I'm even capable of writing a normal, happy story without death and destruction at this point.

23. I am completely indepedent.  I can -- and do -- take care of myself.

24. Even though I've finally learned to appreciate the appeal of a pretty dress, I still come home at night and immediately change into yoga pants, a t-shirt, and slippers.  (Sometimes, I'll get invited to go out again, and I have to change back.)

25. Sometimes, I'll turn up the music loud ("Come on, Eileen" is always a good choice) and jump up and down around my apartment.  My downstairs neighbors must love me.

26. When I really like a song, I often Google it so I can memorize the lyrics.

27. I'm a strong person.  Not physically -- the average guy (hell, maybe even an average girl) could kick my ass.  But you'd be hard pressed to find someone who could dominate or intimidate me.  And if you did, I'd move heaven and earth to make sure it didn't happen again.

28. I try to live without regrets.

30. I wear my heart on my sleeve.

31. I love kids.

32. There are few things as fascinating to me as an old cemetary.

33. I call myself an agonistic, but I'm not sure that's exactly accurate.  I like to keep my mind open to possibilities.

34. I don't particularly like wearing makeup.

35. Heard this story from my mom: at my first birthday party, I was toddling one, maybe 2 steps at a time.  I saw some of the older kids (i.e. 18 months-2 years) running around.  I jumped up and ran over to catch up with them.  So I literally ran before I could walk.

36. My favorite movie is Harold and Maude, this cult classic from the early 1970s about a suicidal 20-something who develops this friendship with a lively octogenarian.  I can't explain it adaquately, so you should just watch.

37. My conversations tend to be very stream-of-consciousness.

38. I don't own a car.  When I start to get frustrated by how much of a nuisance this is, I just think, "But my carbon footprint totally rocks."

39. I can laugh at myself.  Most of my anecdotes consist of stupid things I've done.

40. I bruise easily.  When I'm bored, I try to invent interesting stories for how I obtained said bruises.

41. I use big words in everyday conversation.  It's not an affectation; it's just the way I've always talked.

42. I am a musical anachronism.  Most of the music I like is 20 years old or better, and was popular long before I came of age.

43. I use sunscreen on my face every day.

44. I'm not afraid to speak my mind.

45. I take my Kindle with me almost everywhere.

46. Sometimes, I really like being alone.

47. I don't take crap from anyone.

48. I've thrown up in public no fewer than three times, and none of those times has ever been because of drunkenness.

49. Forget liking to travel; I like to move.  (To different places, not just different apartments.)

50. I know what I want, and I try my best to work toward it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


There's not much writing advice that I put much stock in, but one piece of advice that I do is this one: know your characters.

I recently read a book that I loved.  One of the revelations the book had to offer was that the two main characters had been engaged in a sexual relationship -- even though they were adopted brother and sister.  Once I turned off my immediate "ick!" reaction (there's something about two people who were raised together -- even if they aren't biologically related -- having sex that immediately stirs that reaction), I realized it made sense for the two characters, and that it also made sense, given the character's personalities and the first-person narration, that it wouldn't have been revealed earlier in the series.  (This was book two of a three-book series.)  Reading the comments on the author's blog regarding that relationship, I realized something: she (the author) didn't seem entirely comfortable with it, either, or at least hadn't been when the story started to go in that direction.  But she took it there because that's what those characters would do, and because it made sense within the story -- knowing full well that it could make people uncomfortable.

It worked well.  At the end of the story, I was still rooting for those characters, still hoping for everything to work out for them.

I've discovered that most of the authors I really, really admire can tell you just about everything about their characters, often right down to what breakfast cereals they prefer and what kinds of pajamas they would wear.  It's not a "genre fiction versus literary fiction" thing, either: contrary to the conceptualization that genre characters are not as well developed as literary fiction characters, I've found genre fiction pieces where the characters are incredibly complex and well-developed.  I've also found literary pieces where the characters seem flat and cliched.  (And vice versa, of course.)  To me, fiction -- whether high-action and plot-heavy, or subtler and more contemplative -- is driven by its characters.  I'll often give stories with lackluster plots a chance if they have engaging characters.  Likewise, I'll give up on fiction that has interesting stories if the characters aren't interesting.  Good characters are often more memorable than the particular twists and turns of the plot.  If we're talking series fiction, strong characters are essential: if I care about what happens to the characters, I'll come back for more.

A lot of writing how-to guides that I've seen suggest things like creating character dossiers or answering pointed questions about your characters.  (If your character was a tree, what type of tree would he/she be?)  For better or worse, I started writing long before I realized how-to guides were even an option (most seven year olds don't spend a lot of time in the self-help section).  At any rate, I'm too set in my ways, writing-wise, to follow such guides.  Maybe they work for some people.  They tend to make me feel like an idiot.  Whatever.  Not like I'm in any sort of position to offer writing advice to anyone.

For me, the getting to know my characters comes from the act of writing the story.  When I started my current work in progress, I had one scene: a young woman wakes up next to a dead man; she knows she killed him, because this has happened before, but she doesn't know why.  At the time, I didn't know why.  I also didn't know what triggered the blackouts she went into when this occurred.  Hell, I didn't even know her name.  Some of these questions were answered very easily, but some of them took 300 pages of writing to figure out.

I've been hanging out with Dale (which is my protagonist's name, but not her real one) for a year now.  I can tell you what breakfast cereal she prefers (Cheerios) and what she wears to bed (t-shirts, often with retro cartoon characters on them, paired with sweats in the winter or boxers in the summer).  She reads a lot of children's books and fantasy, light and escapist.  She watches a lot of old movies, and listens to a lot of old music.  She picked out her current alias -- Dale Highland -- because the last movie she had seen was Flash Gordon, and the last book she had read was Outlander.  She doesn't believe in using aliases like "Jane Doe" or "Jennifer Smith," because she thinks they're too obvious.  She hates wearing makeup, but she'll do it because she often has to change what she looks like.  She's not evil or crazy, but she thinks she might be.

I'm close.  It kind of hit me last night.  I'm working on cleaning up the climactic scene, and then there's one more scene I want to go back and do some major tweaks on -- mostly adding some stuff, because it wasn't quite as sensory as I wanted it to be.  (In other words, it needed more heat.)  Then a final read-through of the whole thing for consistency and continuity.  And then...and then I'm going to take a deep breath and start submitting.

After that, I probably won't talk about this project much anymore, unless there's news.  I don't want to jinx anything.
I've heard that writing for publication is not for the faint of heart.  I'm trying not to be.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why, you had to hide away for so long!

Finally feeling like I'm getting back into the revision groove.  A couple of weeks of taking a break/working on another piece have helped significantly.  I've also passed page 100 in the draft, which means I'm more than 1/3rd of the way through the full go-through (at least, go through the first.)

What helped me most, though, was sending the draft to someone--a woman who has been in my writing workshop several times, but she and I will be in different sessions this term--and having to explain to her what will be changing from this draft to final.  And when I put it all down in words like that, I was like, "Oh, wait, this isn't that bad.  I can do this."

What I am not happy about are these annoying, gnat-like insects that have made their way into my apartment, again.  I don't know what they are--gnats, probably--but I had the same problem last year, and cleanliness (or lack thereof) doesn't seem to matter to them.  My theory is that they come in through the window, because they're small and I only seem to notice them after I've had the window open (which I did this afternoon), and because they always seem to hang out by the window.  (Although one adventureous gnat has wandered over to bug me while I'm writing--which is how I discovered they're back.)  But it's weird--I'm on the 11th floor, and I thought bugs generally stayed closer to the ground.  Bug spray kills them good n' dead, but they come back periodically.  It annoys me, and I wish I knew how to get rid of them.

But I sprayed them dead for now, and I am ready for bed.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

April: A Month in Review

Holy shit, it's May!  How the heck did that happen?  Just a second ago, I was happily proclaiming that it was April, and now...May!  Time flies when you're having fun, or something like that.  Though in actuality, I'd like time to stand still for awhile, or save time in a bottle, as the Jim Croce song says.  But that is neither here nor there, and not something I want to talk about on this blog--or at least, not in a month-in-review post.

Anyway...the best thing about April, other than warmer weather, was all the BOOKS!  Not just quantity, but quality.  I read so many books that often, at the end of the month, they all seem to blend together and I can't think of what books I'd like to talk about.  This month, not so much.

Nightshade by Michelle Rowen was absolutely wonderful.  It focused on Jill, an aimless office temp, who is caught in a Mexican standoff of sorts and injected with a formula that makes her blood posionous to vampires...and yet irresistible.  Afterward, she is kidnapped by Declan, a half-vampire/half-human hybrid who suppresses his "evil" vampire side (i.e. his emotions) with a serum, and is horribly scarred from his years of battling vampires.

This year, I've been reading fewer and fewer urban fantasies, eschewing them in favor of romance.  I read so many of them in 2009 and 2010 that I started to feel a sense of "been there, done that," that maybe I had already experienced everything that could be explored in urban fantasy.  This book reminded me of why I fell in love with the genre in the first place.  Jill is swept up into this world she knows nothing about (vampires' existences are secret to the general population), and her kidnappers--Declan's employer/foster father--frequently take advange of her ignorance to manipulate and use her.  But as the book progresses, we get to see that Declan's as much a victim as she is, which sets up an interesting parallel between them.  Much as I enjoyed Jill's character, it was Declan I really fell lin love with.  He grew a lot as a character in this book; his beliefs and worldview are shaken to the very core.  It doesn't hurt that tortured heroes are very, very sexy!

Nightshade has everything I love in fiction: a heroine who remains strong and determined in spite of everything that happens to her, a hero who grows and evolves just as much as she does, and a plot that kept me on my toes.  I can't wait until the sequel, Nightshade, is released in July.

The other book I want to highlight for April, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, is also from a genre I have backed away from: young adult.  Now, my reasons for backing away from YA are a lot different than my reasons for backing away from urban fantasy.  With urban fantasy, I still love it, but I just felt like I wanted to read some different stuff for awhile.  With YA, I made a conscious decision to stop reading it as much.  It had started to depress me; I was tired of reading about heroines who were 16 years old.  Don't grown-up women in fiction have adventures, too, I wondered.  It was that wondering that brought me to urban fantasy in the first place.

But I never gave up YA completely.  There were always books that stuck out, books that lingered in my memory long after I read them.  Forman's If I Stay was one of them.  The protagonist, Mia, is involved in a horrible car accident that kills her family and leaves her comatose.  Told primarily through flashbacks of Mia's life, Mia must make a decision: to stay and live, or go.

Where She Went picks up three years after If I Stay, and is told from the perspective of Mia's high school boyfriend, Adam.  No one dies here, but in its own way Where She Went is just as harrowing as its predecesor.  It's a fantastic book, and it answered all the lingering questions I had after If I Stay and then some.  It was one of those cases where, although a sequel might not have been necessary, it certainly added to the story.

And in writing-related news, I hit a bit of a wall with my revisions, as I already talked about.  It's not surprising, really.  First of all, I've been hanging out with these characters for almost a year now; my brain needs a break!  Second, I just got...overwhelmed, I think.  Revising over 300 pages of prose is not an easy task, and I started to feel like it would never be done.  Plus, I've discovered that it's much harder to discipline myself to write in the evening than it is to write in the morning--especially when that "writing" is actually "revision," which isn't as much fun to me.  I am considering--though I haven't decided yet--whether I should just start getting up earlier in the morning (say, 4:00 or 4:30) and writing in the morning.  Problem is, I'm not a morning person, and getting up at 5:45 or 6:00 is hard enough!  I'm not sure my brain would be awake enough to even write in English, at that point.

Other option is just trying to up the self-discipline.  Set aside a time, turn off the ringer on my phone, unplug my internet cable, and just go at it.  Unfortunately, self-discipline has never really been my thing.  So we'll see.

The good news is, I think I've gone over the hump on revision.  I sent someone in my writing workshop (which, unfortunately, I won't be attending this term--I switched to another day) the complete draft of my story.  As I did, I wrote an e-mail saying, "These are the big things that I need to change."  As I went through it, I realized it wasn't as bad as I thought.  There are four important scenes that need to be either rewritten or added to, two for content and two for excitement.  The rest is just minor tweaking based on what I did in those scenes.  Four scenes.  That's all.  I can do it!  (Where's Tony Little when you need him?)

And that, my friends, was April.  I resolve, in May, to blog more frequently.  We'll see how that goes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bitching and moaning about revision (what else?)

As I have mentioned before--several times--the revision fairy is not kind to me.

I love first drafting.  It's free and spontaneous and fun.  Revision is like pulling teeth.

I am approximately 1/4th of the way through my first round of revisions of my novel.  My goal is to start submitting it to agents/publishers by June.  I am...not even close.  My new work schedule has been hard to adjust to; it was easier, for me, writing between 7 and 9 am than it is writing between 7 and 9 pm.  There are a lot of changes to be made.  A few of them are minor things, but a few of them actually change the story somewhat (primarily, the relationship dynamic between the hero and heroine).  I'm moving stuff around, so I have to remember to take it out of the story later.

But what's really frustrating about this is that I don't feel anywhere close to FINISHING.  I don't even feel like I'm making any progress.  Back when I finished the first draft on December 31, I had a complete novel.  It may not have been perfect, but it was a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  What I have now feels more like...Swiss cheese.

I think I need a new plan of attack.  The hitting things up in order worked for awhile, but it's not helping anymore.  So I'm going to send the latest draft to my Kindle, read it again, and figure out the "big things" I need to change.  I'll hit those scenes first.  Then I'll go back through again and make little tweaks: continuity errors, repetitiveness, etc.  The frustrating thing right now is that I know where I want to go (kind of), but I feel like I'm not getting there.

I also, probably, need to rotate my revision with some new first drafting.  I had always intended to do that, but haven't managed to sustain it thus far.  It's hard for me because I suck at multi-tasking.  When my mind is on one project, it's hard to switch over to another.  I think it's the same type of limitation that makes it difficult for me to write stories out of order, no matter how much that intense climax scene is poking at my brain when I'm only 20 pages in.  I'm right-brain dominant, but my left brain is kind of a pest and won't leave me alone unless I do all that silly creative stuff HER way.  But I think breaking up the monotony with some new characters and new worlds will help; I have spent almost a year nonstop with my current crop of homocidal (but loveable) freaks!  I've had some ideas bouncing around in my head recently, so maybe a little bit of writing just for writing's sake will help me out.

Last week, one of my favorite writers, Carolyn Crane, posted a blog entry with writer Layla Messner about having a preference for first drafting or revisions.  Layla, like me, was in the first drafting camp, while Carolyn strongly prefers revisions.   She says that she imagines there's a "hidden perfect story" within the first draft, which she's getting closer and closer to finding.

I think that's my problem right now: I feel farther away from an end point than I did when I finished the first draft!  Maybe because "the end" of revisions is a lot harder to define than the end of a first draft.

To top it off, my back is killing me at the moment.  Not the kind of debilitating pain that prevents me from moving, but the kind of annoying pain that just makes things difficult.  The last time I strained my back like this was last August, when I made the mistake of trying to carry a shoulder back with a computer and a weekend's worth of clothes with me while walking to work (a 25-minute walk).  But I can't figure out what caused it this time...though I'm sure sitting in yoga-like positions on desk chairs (a bad habit I developed in high school and never managed to break) probably doesn't help.  So yeah, it's just annoying and making me a bit irritable.  Painkillers and I don't get along very well, either.  Rather than killing pain, anything opiate-based tends to make me look and feel like I'm auditioning for a role in a remake of The Exorcist.  No fun.

So for now...I will go re-read my manuscript, again, and I'll figure out how to approach my revisions, again.  And hoepfully by Monday I'll be feeling better, mentally and physically.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The first cut is the deepest

Why is it that we remember criticism so much better than compliments?

Seriously, I think it must be hardwired into our DNA--at least, for those of us who aren't raging narcissists.  Once, a boy told a friend of mine that I looked like I was on drugs, because the circles under my eyes were so dark, and that I looked like I was pregnant because my lower stomach--the area I not-so-affectionally refer to as my "pooch"--stuck out.  I was 11 and in the sixth grade at the time.  He was the same age.  To this day, the first thing I do when I put on makeup in the morning is slather concealer under my eyes.  As for the pooch...well, given that every single woman in my family has one of those, there's not a hell of a lot I can do about it.  Even with crunches and some junk food cutbacks, it'd still be there.  It's how I'm built.  (For the record, I'm a size 6.  I'm actually proportioned smaller on the bottom than on the top.  But I've still got a pooch.  I don't like wearing short shirts.  I'm self-conscious in flat-paneled skirts.  All because some middle school-aged jackass made a snide comment 16 years ago.

Let's just pretend I had a whole entry here.  Then let's say that I decided not to post it, because this blog is published under my real name and there are certain things about me that probably should not be Googleable.  The gist is this: I got a criticism recently, levied in such a way that I believe the person was trying to make me look bad, or at least being incredibly passive-aggressive.  I think the criticism itself was overly nitpicky and unfair, and I received plenty of positive responses that should have offset this criticism.  But it doesn't.  I'm hurt and self-doubting, and I feel really deflated right now.  I don't like those emotions, but I can't really do anything about them.  So I'll do the next best thing: I'll transmute them into anger (or at least pretend that's what they are).

So, to the person whom this entry concerns:

Go fuck yourself.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

March: A Month in Review (featuring The Write Stuff)

Yeah, I know, it's already the 10th of April.  Sue me.  I've been quite busy with my new job, running around like crazy, and trying to get back into the revision groove so that I can have my novel ready to query by June.

The big thing for me in March, other than the new job, was attending the Write Stuff Conference, sponsored by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers' Guild, from March 25-26.  The conference was fantastic and amazing, and I had a great time.  I got to meet some amazing people. 

I won The Siren by Kiera Cass as a door prize, and I read it on the bus ride home.  It was fantastic, a very sweet, odd little story about a siren who falls in love with a human, but she literally can't speak to him because her voice will lure him to drown himself in the ocean.  Coincidentally, I also got to meet and speak to Kiera pretty extensively during the conference.  We discovered that we're both "texture eaters" when we both ordered plain burgers and soda with no ice.  Kiera is the author of the upcoming YA novel, The Selection, coming in summer 2012, and I'm really, really looking forward to reading it.  I also met Sara Davison; I just got her book, The Watcher, in the mail, and I'll be reading it later this month.  Got some autographed books from YA author Cyn Balog, which I'll be giving away on CC2K soon.

The best part was meeting so many writers in all stages of their careers.  A few years ago, that would have really intimidated me, would have given me a bit of a complex about my lack of accomplishment, but now, it was more like, "Well, obviously someone is getting published, so why not me?"  I think I have more faith in my writing and my abilities than I did the last time I went to the conference (in 2007).  I look back on where I was in my writing in 2007, and where I am now, and the difference is night and day.  Not only am I writing more, and more consistently, but I also believe in myself a lot more.

I still have some stuff to work on.  I still don't do particularly well in crowds, still have trouble introducing myself to people I don't know.  I was still intimidated by the prospect of approaching editors and agents and trying to "sell" myself.  I have trouble pitching my story.  How do I explain it in 50 words or less?  Instead of focusing on all the cool stuff, I end up going, "Uh, uh, it's about demons, and, uh, stuff?"  Yeah, real impressive.

Agent Donald Maass was our keynote speaker, talking about the direction of fiction in the 21st century.  One of his arguments was that genre lines are disappearing, that no longer will fiction stick to the strict boundaries of genre.  Instead, fiction readers of the future will be more concerned with getting a great story with great writing, mixing the elements of literary and commercial fiction (great writing, exciting plot).  Genres will mix and weave and blend.  And we're already seeing this: paranormal romance, urban fantasy, romantic suspense, etc., all have elements of genre mixing.  (Shortly after I came back, as if just to confirm this, I read a paranormal steampunk western romance--Wilder's Mate by Moira Rogers, to be specific.)

And that, my friends, was March.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fake it 'til you make it.

Just a quick entry, because I'm tired, but I wanted to share.  Lookee what I got for the conference I'm going to this weekend:

My new business card!  Behold the prettiness.

(On a slightly unrelated note: I covered up the right portion of the card with my thumb, because I really don't want my address and phone number going out over the entire internet.  But now I can't stop staring at my thumb.  Is it really that ugly?  My nails are pretty ragged and bitten at the moment, and God knows it's been months since I had a manicure, but sheesh!  Also, why do I have those weird little divots in my nail?  I suspect the chronic nail biting and the freaky-ass nail texture are interrelated.)

So this might seem a bit odd, given my recent post whining about self-doubt, but it's all kind of related.  On the one hand, I wonder if I'm being arrogant, tooting my own horn when there isn't anything to toot about.  I used to hate people who would talk about their writing as if they were already on the New York Times bestseller list.  I, meanwhile, kept hidden in a corner somewhere, afraid people wouldn't take me seriously when I told them I wanted to be a writer.  (It was a legitimate fear: they often didn't.)  I was afraid people would tell me I wasn't good enough.

I'm still afraid, and I still worry that I look arrogant.  Maybe I do.  But I'm trying not to care.  After all, if I don't believe in myself, who will?  And even if I don't really have the confidence I want to have, I'll just fake it for awhile until I do.

Now...let's hope I can take that feigned confidence and use it to actually talk to people I might want to give my business card to at this conference.  But that, my friends, is a completely different story.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Revision Angst

It took me six months to write the first draft of my novel.

Now, three months into the revision process, I feel like I'm going nowhere.

I'm trying to go through the story in order, hoping it'll feel less overwhelming that way.  I'm on page 64...of 309.

Yeah.  So much for that.

There are some reasons for my slowness, besides just the general ickiness of the revision process for me.  Between traveling and Sex Week, February was kind of a wash for me.  And I just started a new job (at the beginning of last week, actually), which meant that for several weeks before that, my mornings--which I had normally been spending on writing stuff--had been spent doing fun stuff like getting those damn dental appointments out of the way.  (On a side note: getting crowns--not fun!)  My new job requires me to get in by 7:30.  The good news is that I'm usually out by 4:00.  The bad news is that I have to be awake, showered, dressed, and out the door by the time I was previously stumbling out of bed.  Daylight Savings Time also hit this week, which means that I was actually getting up two hours earlier than I was used to.  The rapid schedule change gave me an on-and-off headache that lasted up until yesterday.  As such, I spent most of my non-work hours last week...well, sleeping.  I haven't reoriented myself to write at night yet.

I know.  Excuses excuses.

But I need to try to look on the bright side.  The two complete read-throughs I've received so far have really helped me see where I need to go and what I need to do.  I think I have a good sense of the characters and the direction of the story now.  And the stuff I've revised and workshopped thus far has been getting really good feedback, so I think I'm going in the right direction.

Still, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed, knowing I'm only a fifth of the way into the book and that the scenes that are likely to be hardest to revise are yet in front of me.

About a year and a half ago, I decided to stop treating my fiction writing as a hobby and start treating it like a career.  After years of writing, reading, and, more recently, blog-stalking reading some of the online wisdom of my favorite authors, I realized that the only one keeping me from pursuing a writing career...was me.  I could make all the excuses in the world: I don't have time to write, I'm not good enough, it's not a "real" career, you'll never make money that way, etc.  A lot of it was fear talking.  Well, fear and all those sad people I've met in my life who don't believe in dreams.  (And unfortunately, there are a lot of them out there.  I'd say, in my ever-so-cynical realistic worldview, the vast majority of people don't believe in dreams by middle adulthood.  And many of them, despairing their own disillusionment, like nothing more than killing other people's dreams.)  But I decided to say, "Fuck it all!" and not be a quitter.  It may never happen for me.  But at least I won't wonder, "What if?"

That said, it's hard to channel the Pollyannish optimism I need when, three months into my revisions, I feel like I'm getting nowhere.  The worst of it is that I haven't even gotten to the hard part of the process!  Forget revision, which is a pain in the ass for me, but still very much within my own personal control.  Soon enough, I'll be sending this poor little novel that I've worked so hard on out into the world.  I'll be writing query letters and synopses and flooding the post office with self-addressed, stamped envelopes.  And I know what'll come after that: rejection.  I got plenty of them even when I was treating writing as more of a hobby than a career.  What I will likely get in the future will make the angst I felt then look like a day at Disney World in comparison.

I'm not being pessimistic.  I'm trying to be realistic, to brace myself for the inevitable.  Sure, I'd love to be one of those authors who gets multi-million dollar, multi-book deals on their first sales, but I'm a nobody from nowhere, and I don't have that kind of luck. 

You see, this can-do, fuck-it-all attitude of mine is a relatively new thing for me.  Most of my life, my attitude has been more like, "When the going gets tough, give up."  I'd like to think the new worldview is a sign of maturity and personal growth.  Of course, it also hasn't been tested much yet, and old habits die hard.

I believe I can do this.  It will take time.  It will also take patience and a thick skin--neither of which are personal strengths.

I believe I can do this.  But I have to keep going.  So tonight, having whined myself out, I'll go to bed at a reasonable hour, wake up all refreshed, and go to work in the morning.  Then, when I come home, I'll put in a couple of hours of revising time before dinner.

I believe I can do this.  I just can't let my doubts get in the way anymore.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What type of book am I?


You Are Fantasy / Sci Fi

You have an amazing imagination, and in your mind, all things are possible.

You are open minded, and you find the future exciting. You crave novelty and progress.

Compared to most people, you are quirky and even a bit eccentric. You have some wacky ideas.

And while you may be a bit off the wall, there's no denying how insightful and creative you are.

Real blog post coming soon. Between starting a new job, and fighting off a headache this weekend, I've been a bit off.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why I like my cat better than most people

I am Annabel. Revel in my cuteness.
So, in the tradition of extraordinarily self-indulgent blog posts, I've decided to do a posting about something very near and dear to my heart: my cat, Annabel Lee.  (At the shelter, she was called Annabelle, but, being the morbid type that I am, I decided to name her after an Edgar Allan Poe poem about a dead girl.)
I adopted Annabel Lee from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington on September 12, 2010.  She was, at the time of her adoption, approximately six years old, and she had been taken into the shelter as a stray.  She's very well socialized.  She doesn't scratch or bite or chew on odd things or fail to make it to the litterbox.  I suspect that she had an owner, and the owner, rather than taking her to a shelter, dumped her out.  This infuriates me.  It's not the first time I've heard of something like this happening.

My friends, family, and coworkers were shocked that I adopted a cat because, up until that point, I had been terrified of cats.  I was attacked by two cats a few years ago--not strays, but house pets.  For years after that, I couldn't stand to be in the same room as a cat.  But I wanted a pet, and a dog simply wouldn't work with my schedule.  Plus, I couldn't stand the idea of being ruled by fear.  (It's the same reason I often volunteer to rent cars and drive in strange cities, even though I'm terrified of driving.)  So adopting a cat it was, even though I practically broke out in a cold sweat at the shelter.  I had read Annabel's profile online, and I thought her gentle disposition would be a good match for me.  (And just as a side note, the shelter staff was extraordinarily understanding when I told them that I wanted a gentle, easygoing cat, and I explained my fears.  I honestly thought they'd look at me like I was nuts and kick me out.)

Who, me?
The shelter staff brought Annabel out, warning me that she was often shy at first.  She came up to me, rubbed against my hand, started purring, and attempted to nuzzle my face.  I was hooked.

To be fair, I still, if asked, wouldn't call myself a "cat" person--in no small part because that label annoys the hell out of me.  I think people try to use whether you're a "cat" person or a "dog" person to say something about your personality, and I enjoy nothing more than defying such easy catagorization.  Also, I don't think it's fair.  Cat person, dog person, bird person, not-an-animal person, whatever.  So long as you're not kicking puppies or drowing kittens (or dumping them out on the side of the road when you decide you don't want them anymore), it's all good.

But I also wouldn't call myself a cat person because I'm still not comfortable with other people's cats.  It's not the bone-shaking fear of a few years ago, but more like...a healthy, wary respect.  I stay out of their way, and they stay out of mine.  Cats are, from what I understand, territorial creatures.  As am I.  I love Annabel not because she's a cat, but because she's my cat.

Which kind of brings me to the subject of this entry: why I like Annabel better than most people.

I am deeply cynical about the human race.  As a former extrovert who became a jaded introvert at a very early age, I find myself constantly on guard around people.  Most people are inherently self-serving; I'm certainly no exception.  If you're lucky, you'll have a few people in your life who will have your back.  But in most cases, what you'll find is that people are "fair weather friends."  Sure, they're there when things are easy and fun, but when things get more difficult...not so much.  There's nothing wrong with that, really.  Some people you're just not as close to, and you drift apart.

I have very little use for fair weather friends.  It's one thing to not be as close to someone, it's another to feign closeness when it doesn't really exist.  It's why I don't consider myself "close" to many people.

Furthermore, people always have their own agendas.  I work in an office.  Office politics are brutal.  I've seen some things go down recently that just enrage me...moreso, because my actions were the catalyst of some of these things.  I love how people can be all nice to your face, and then turn around and stab you in the back.  Why bother?  I mean, if you're going to take someone down, at least be straight about it.

Annabel likes to expand her mind by reading books and
watching soap operas.
Which brings me back to Annabel.  There is a complete and utter lack of artifice there.  She's a cat; what would she need artifice for?  When she's happy, she purrs and nuzzles me.  When she's unhappy, she snaps at me.  (Though she's rarely unhappy; she's quite the contented cat.)  When she doesn't want to be petted but she's willing to indulge me, she makes this noise that is the cat equivalent to an "ungh" with an eye roll.  When she's hungry or wants attention, she meows.  When she's near me and doesn't feel I'm paying her sufficient attention, she'll nudge her head/paw/body in between me and my Kindle/my computer/my iPhone until I pet her.  There's a delicious amount of selfishness to her behavior.  She wants what she wants.  She shows me what she wants.  I give it to her, or I don't.  (If she's trying to get me to pet her while I'm doing work, for example, I may not satisfy her desire.)  She gets happier, or she jumps off the couch or bed and moves on to something else.

She doesn't pretend to be happy when she's not.  She doesn't act nice to my face and then say things behind my back.  She isn't conspiring to "get" me.  I feed her and give her clean litter.  She sleeps on my chest and purrs in my ear.  It's a very straightforward relationship.  I don't have to feel constantly on my guard, listening to all the things she doesn't say or reading between the lines.

She doesn't hold grudges.  When I was away for a few days at Christmas, I had a friend come to feed her rather than putting her in a kennel.  When I came home, my normally docile Annabel ran into my lap and started going crazy nuzzling and head-butting me.  You'd have thought I was gone a month!  For weeks afterwards, Annabel would follow me all around the apartment.  She'd meow plaintively outside the door when I went into the bathroom.  I had to keep pushing her off my lap when I needed to work.  A human would have been angry that I left.  Annabel was just happy that I came back.

There are very few humans in this world with whom I feel I can totally let down my guard.  It's the constant back-and-forth, the dance of conversation, of interaction.  But with is what it is.  She is a reasonably content house cat, and I am an oft-grumpy human who sometimes prefers to lock herself away in her apartment with her Kindle than interacting with the rest of the world.  We dig each other.  It works for us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

February: A Month in Review

February was...well, February was a crazy month.  I didn't post much, because I was crazy busy with Sex Week for a big chunk of it (which was awesome, by the way).  And then afterwards...well, afterwards, I pretty much just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep for a month.  I swear, my sleep rhythms are still recovering.

I read 30 books in February.  How the hell did I manage to read 30 books in 28 days, you ask?  Three things: 1) I read really, really fast, 2) I don't watch much TV, and 3) I have a very limited social life.  The latter is by choice, I swear.  I have friends, and I have opportunities to go out.  But...well, I think the best way to describe myself is as an introvert who was born an extrovert.  I was the kid who would walk up to anyone and everyone and start a conversation.  The "don't talk to strangers" conversation must have been a nightmare for my parents.  Then I got into school and spent the next 10 or so years of my life being ostracized by my peers.  I moved around quite a bit growing up.  I went to three different middle schools, and then high school in yet another state.  Still, I was always the "weird" kid, and--after realizing that no amount of wishful thinking on my part was going to change it--I embraced it.  I eventually made some friends, and spent four years of high school in the same place, but my deep-seeded mistrust of humanity remains.  I can talk to people.  I'm told I come off as confident, outgoing, and assertive.  But when I get off of work at the end of the day, I'd often much rather curl up with my Kindle than deal with other people.  And I've been feeling particularly reclusive this month.

That said, February hasn't been a bad month for me.  I got hired for a new job, which I am greatly looking forward to.  It'll move me into a different field--training--and allow me more opportunities for traveling.  I start on March 14, and I've got a crapload of stuff to do before then.  Since I'll be working with people more, I think I need to go out and buy grown-up clothes.  Since I'll be standing up in front of a class all day, I think I'll need to buy some sensible shoes.  (All my dress shoes have heels, and I cannot stand in those things for extended periods of time.  I know.  I've tried.)  I know I have some grown-up clothes somewhere (a few, at least), so I need to clean out my closet to see what I have and what I should throw away.  Within the next week, I'm heading for the dentist and the veterinarian--though not at the same time, and not for the same reason.  I need to get a haircut.  And dammit, tomorrow I'm going to eat ice cream...and see a movie!

Anyway...I digress.  This blog is, primarily, about writing and reading.  And as you can tell, it's been a busy month.

Book series that I just discovered (and wondered why I was so late to the party): The Downside Ghosts series by Stacia Kane.  Oh my God.  These books are friggin awesome.  I've heard the description "dark urban fantasy" used before, and I didn't know what it meant exactly...until I read these books.  Urban fantasy is not a light genre anyway, but these books make many of the other urban fantasies I've read look like children's cartoons in comparison.  The heroine, Chess, is a drug addict trying to escape the demons of her past (namely being abused and molested by her foster families).  The male lead, Terrible, is an enforcer for the drug dealer/pimp/mob boss who raised him.  Their world is an unnerving, dystopic combination of Puritan New England and Poltergeist: 20-odd years earlier, ghosts invaded the world, angry and hungry and wanting nothing more than to feed on human life force.  An athiestic church emerged and forced the ghosts into an underground city.  Now, everyone knows the city is where you go when you die.  There's no God, but there is an eternity of hunger trapped in an underground city.  Most people think it sounds wonderful.  Chess thinks it sounds like hell.  I'm inclined to agree.  All other religions have become obsolete, and there is only the Church.  If you don't agree with them, don't follow their rules...well, let's just say they've resurrected stockades and public executions.  Chess works as a debunker for the Church, investigating ghosts sightings and (hopefully) proving them false.  (The Church doesn't much like real hauntings, since they have to pay the victims mucho dinero for failing to protect them from the ghosts.)  The Church is the only place where she's felt accepted, yet she hides herself, knowing if her drug addiction is revealed, she'll be punished and exiled.

See?  Bleak.

I was worried I wouldn't like the protagonist when I heard that she was a drug addict.  Yet I found myself rooting for her more and more.  Yes, Chess is an addict.  She's often preoccupied with getting her next fix, and this addiction is often used against her by others (as blackmail fodder, mostly).  She also lies constantly, usually to cover her own ass and hide said addiction.  But there are reasons she's so incredibly fucked up.  And she genuinely tries to do the right thing, even if she screws up as often as she succeeds.  In spite of everything, she really does want to help people.  What I loved about Chess and Terrible is that they're fighters.  In spite of everything that's happened to them, in spite of the craptastic world around them, they fight--for themselves, each other, and for the world.  They are beaten but not broken, and I love that about them. 

These books were awesome, and I can't wait until book 4 (which, sadly, I think is not being released until September, and I can't even find comfirmation of that).  They are dark, and they definitely fall into that "morally ambiguous" area some people hate.  But if that works for you, read them now!

Old friends who came to visit: Jeaniene Frost's This Side of the Grave came out this month.  The Night Huntress (Cat/Bones) series was one of the first urban fantasies I read, and I was instantly hooked.  Five books into the series, the dynamic between Cat and Bones feels a bit different than it did in Halfway to the Grave, as well it should: it's been seven years since they met, and Cat has matured a lot.  One of the things I love about these books is that she didn't stop the story at their "happily ever after."  Instead, Frost portrays a couple in a committed, long-term relationship--one that still has ups and downs.  Things are a bit more stable for them than they were in the last book, Destined for an Early Grave.  They're an "old married couple" now.  Yet they're still hot.  They still have the kind of sex that makes me both titillated and jealous.  (Kelley Armstrong also does a fantastic job with this in her Women of the Otherworld series, especially with Elena and Clay.)

The action is not as intense here as it has been in some of the previous installments, but it was also the most emotional of the series for me in a lot of ways.  It felt like a transitional book.  In the last book, Cat finally decided to leave her half-human status behind for good and convert into a vampire; in this book, she's still struggling to adjust to her newfound abilities and lifestyle.  But in a symbolic way, it felt like this book was where Cat said goodbye to her human life, and the things that tied her to it, for good.

But it was also, oddly enough, probably the funniest of the series.  The side characters, especially, had me in stitches.  Vlad was awesome, and now that I've heard Frost is going to do a spinoff starring him, I can't wait.  Meanwhile, another old favorite who I've been wondering about made an appearance: Timmie, Cat's college neighbor and friend.  (And thank goodness, too!  I've been waiting for him to show up again for four books now!)

So while I'm a little sad to say goodbye to half-human Cat, not-quite-dead vampire Cat seems like she'll have some interesting adventures in the future.  And Bones is...Bones.  I love him.  I love the series.  And I'll be anxiously awaiting book 6.

And now, it's March.  The winter is almost over, spring is creeping in, and I couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Anatomy of a Sex Scene, Part 1: The Setup

Last week, I posted an article for CC2K's Sex Week arguing that romance novels are often used for the same type of sexual release in women that pornography is used for in men.  In preparation for that article--and honestly, also because it was fun--I read a lot of romances.   Seriously.  Take a look at the books I've read since January 1; I'd say about 75% of them are romances--as in, they may have other factors (paranormal, usually, because this is me), but they're primarily romance.  Of the rest, almost all of them have some kind of romantic subplot.  Hell, I think the only book I've read in the past few months that didn't have a sex scene was Clockwork Angel, and that's only because it's YA!

So it makes sense that I've been thinking a lot about sex scenes, both as a reader and as a writer.

Within the romance world, sex scenes come in all shapes and sizes (whoa, bad pun).  You have the Jane Austen-esque novels that don't show anything at all.  (Did anyone even kiss in a Jane Austen novel?  Much as I love Jane Austen, there's some definite sexual repression going on there.)  You have the Nicholas Sparks-type novels where you might get a sex scene or two, but they're...tasteful.  Discreet.  Imagine the written equivalent of a PG-13 movie.  It's enough that you know what's going on, but not enough to really be enticing.  Then there are sex scenes that are quite graphic and descriptive.  The level of descriptiveness can definitely vary a lot.  I've been going a bit off the beaten path with my book selections these last few months, so I've read some sex scenes that have definitely pushed my own personal boundaries.  But I've also realized that the boundaries between romance and erotica are becoming murkier all the time.

If we're sticking to non-erotica romance, and you wanted to rank, on a scale of 1-10, the hotness factor of sex scenes...J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series would be a 10.  (And, just for the sake of honesty: yes, I am jonesing at the moment.  Lover Unleashed, the ninth book in the series, will be released at the end of March.  I'm psyched about this one, because for the first time in the series, it's the female character we've been following for several books, not the male.)

I love BDB.  It would be so easy to dismiss these books as a guilty pleasure, because they're romances about vampire warriors and the women who love them, but the truth is Ward does her work extremely well.  She's created this incredibly complex world with incredibly vivid characters.  Whereas other paranormal romance series may only be loosely related to one another, BDB has an ongoing, overarching plot.  Although the "main couple" is the focus of the book, side characters and plots are always integral to the story, especially as the series has developed and the world has grown.

Ward's sex scenes are incredibly hot.  Yet they're all incredibly different, always an outgrowth of the characters being featured and their relationship.  For example (spoilers ahead):

--In Lover Eternal, Rhage fears he'll never be able to really "give" himself to Mary because whenever he gets close to her, the beast that lurks within him awakens.  (He's afraid he'll shape-shift into the beast and eat her.  I'm sure there's something deeply Freudian about that.)  So ultimately, Mary proposes he has himself chained to a bed so that she can see if she's able to take him without the beast appearing.  Their relationship has been, up to this point, very loving and tender.  Mary seems fairly inexperienced, and Rhage is quite protective of her.  It's not surprising that she's kind of freaked out when she sees him chained to the bed (versus thinking it's kinda cool and kinky), but that she tries to tough through it...or that, when Rhage realizes how nervous she is, he kisses her and performs oral sex on her until she has orgasmed and is more comfortable.

On the other hand...

--In Lover Unbound, Vishous is definitely into S&M, as a dominant who very much gets off on control.  In life, he's smart, cunning, and ruthless.  When Jane enters his world, she's one of the few people who is able, and willing, to go toe-to-toe with him.  When Vishous takes Jane back to his apartment and allows her to take him--becoming, for once, the submissive partner, it's an incredible moment.  Yes, having Vishous bound and gagged is very kinky, but the important thing is that he's giving her control--something he had always clung to, prided himself in.  He's giving himself to her.  And though Jane's a little overwhelmed by his Dungeons R' Us setup at first, she quickly finds herself getting into the action.

End spoilers.

So there you go.  Both of these involve someone being tied up. But they both evoke different reactions from the characters.  (Afterwards, Mary indicates she doesn't want to repeat the experience, whereas Vishious and Jane are later shown much enjoying their games of dominance and submission.)  And both scenes make perfect sense in the context of these books, and these relationships.

I could probably go through and describe sex scenes from each of the eight books, just from memory.  They're all very different--who knew you could have sex so many different ways?  But sex scenes in fiction aren't just about positions or fetishes.  Instead, they're about characters and feelings--which is why I argued that romance novels are often more effective as sexual releases for women than porn.  It's harder, if not impossible, for us to separate the sex from the feelings, and from that particular relationship, whatever it may be.

There is one somewhat graphic sex scene in my WIP.  On my scale of hotness (a 1, just for the sake of argument, being Nicholas Sparks), it would probably be about a 6 or a 7.  But as I'm going through my revisions, I'm not quite happy with it.  It's tender and soft and kind of poignant...but that doesn't make sense in the context of these characters.  These are two people who were crazily attracted to one another on first sight...but also hated one another.  Their dynamic is hard and contentious and lustful--even moreso now that I'm doing revisions.  Two people who don't like each other much (or like each other more than they'd want to admit) and don't trust each other might have sex.  But they wouldn't have soft, sweet, "lovemaking" kind of sex.  No!  It'll be hard and rough.  It might even be a bit violent.  And it'll also be crazy hot.  6 or 7?  I've got to crank that up to about an 8.5 or more!

But, as I said, it's all about the relationship.  The type of sex fictional characters have should be, as in real life, an outgrowth of who these characters are.  For my two, it makes sense for them to have hard, violent sex.  In another story, with other characters, that might not work.